As the 2020/21 European club football season enters its last stretch over the next two months, several squads have unexpectedly surprised in their domestic leagues, challenging for titles and European places, creating some of the most surprising teams.
Therefore, which clubs have overachieved, shattering all of their pre-season expectations?
Here are the top five most surprising clubs in Europe’s five major leagues (one team from each league) this season, ranked based on their performances.
Most Surprising Teams in Europe
5. Real Betis
The Andalusian side are currently sixth in La Liga, with 46 points accumulated from 29 matches. They have a great chance of clinching a spot in the UEFA Europa League, which is impressive considering their 15th placed finish in 2019/20. Real Betis are managed by former Manchester City title-winning manager Manuel Pellegrini, who has brought his tactical nous and much-needed experience to the club. Despite losing 11 times in the league, Betis have won 14 times, including a pivotal 2-1 victory over Villarreal in February. Leading the way is attacking midfielder Sergio Canales and striker Borja Iglesias, with seven goals each.
4. AC Milan
The Italian and European giants have not won Serie A since 2010/11, but for most of the season were in contention for the title. It was not until a 3-1 defeat to Juventus in January when AC Milan lost their first match in the league, after going 15 matches unbeaten. I Rossoneri were at the top of the table throughout the autumn, before a slump in form at the start of the new year pushed city rivals Inter Milan ahead.
Despite the Scudetto looking out of reach now (Inter are 11 points ahead with nine matches remaining), Milan, under manager Stefano Pioli, are in a position to reach the UEFA Champions League group stages for the first time since 2013/14. Ageless wonder Zlatan Ibrahimović has scored 15 goals in 16 league matches to help form one of the most surprising teams of the season.
3. Eintracht Frankfurt
In 2018/19, Eintracht Frankfurt’s Bundesliga form collapsed in the spring, and they missed out on Champions League qualification on the final matchday. However, after a disappointing ninth-place finish last season, Adi Hütter’s side are sitting in fourth, seven points clear for the final Champions League place after defeating fifth-placed Borussia Dortmund 2-1 on April 3.
They have only lost three times this season, which is the same number as league leaders Bayern Munich, who Frankfurt defeated back in February. Additionally, they have scored 55 goals, tied for second-most in the league, behind Bayern’s 79. With only seven matches remaining, a golden opportunity for the Champions League beckons. Portuguese striker André Silva leads the team with 22 goals, the second-most in the Bundesliga.
2. AS Monaco
The gamble to bring in former Bayern Munich manager Niko Kovac has paid off for Les Monégasques so far, as they currently sit third in Ligue 1, just four points off leaders Lille and one behind Paris Saint-Germain. Kovac’s squad have been ruthless since the new year, scoring 36 league goals (out of their 64 total), while picking up 33 points from a possible 42, including a massive 2-0 victory over PSG in February (who Monaco also beat in November).
A blend of veterans and youth make up the squad, with strikers Wissam Ben Yedder and Kevin Volland scoring 15 and 14 league goals respectively. The performances of 21-year-old defensive midfielder Aurélien Tchouaméni have also garnered interest from clubs abroad. Following abysmal 2018/19 and 2019/20 seasons, Monaco have returned as an elite member of French football.
Most Surprising Teams in Europe This Season
1. West Ham United
There is really no other option for this top spot. The Hammers, led by manager David Moyes, have surprised the Premier League by sitting in fourth with eight matches remaining, with the prospect of unthinkable Champions League qualification becoming a possible reality. West Ham’s consistency this season has been remarkable, with victories over top-four rivals Leicester City, Everton and Tottenham Hotspur to show for it. They also held champions-elect Manchester City to a 1-1 draw back in October.
Defensive midfielder Tomas Soucek is the stand-out performer for the club, with (considering his position) a ludicrous nine league goals to his name. Additionally, the play of striker Michail Antonio and winger Jarrod Bowen (seven goals each), along with Manchester United loanee Jesse Lingard (six goals) have catapulted West Ham to a potential top-four finish, after staving off relegation last season. As a result, they are the most surprising team in Europe’s top five leagues this season.
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