Seven surprise packages in Europe this season: Frankfurt, Lille, Alaves
With the likes of Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and AC Milan making slow starts to the season, the door has opened for a number of lesser-fancied teams to catch the eye in 2018-19.
There is an argument to be made that some of the bigger sides in Europe have been affected by a post-World Cup slump from many of their star players, meaning the league tables at this stage of the season make for an interesting read.
We’ve taken a closer look at seven teams who have taken advantage of that opportunity with encouraging starts to the campaign.
It wasn’t meant to happen like this. After leading Eintracht Frankfurt to a shock German Cup victory over Bayern Munich, who he had already agreed to join as manager, Niko Kovac was supposed to make the step to the next level.
The early signs were good. Kovac led Bayern to a 5-0 thrashing of Frankfurt in the German Super Cup to start the season, but things have since gone badly wrong for the Bavarian giants, whereas his former side appear to have actually improved on last term.
Adi Hütter replaced Kovac as manager in the summer having guided Young Boys to their first Swiss title since 1986, and the club now sit fourth in Bundesliga, one place above Bayern on goal difference.
Thanks to a front three of World Cup semi-finalist Ante Rebic, hot prospect Luka Jovic – who leads the division’s goalscoring charts – and former Newcastle target Sebastien Heller, Hütter’s side have also already secured qualification out of their Europa League group with four wins from four.
“It’s great to look at the table at the moment and we’re enjoying that,” Hütter recently told the club’s official webiste. Niko Kovac is likely to disagree.
While unbeaten Borussia Dortmund currently lead the way in Germany, Monchengladbach, who finished ninth last season, are sitting pretty in second.
Home to English youngsters Mandela Egbo and Keanan Bennetts, as well as Eden Hazard’s brother Thorgan, the high point of their season to date undoubtedly came in October as they thrashed Bayern 3-0 in their own backyard.
They also provide good value for money, with 11 of their fixtures this term producing three or more goals. We’re particularly fond of their German Cup results, which involved an 11-1 demolition of fifth-tier Hastedt followed by a 5-0 defeat by Bayer Leverkusen.
On the same day Monchengladbach were putting three past Bayern, Alaves were recording their own famous victory with a 1-0 victory over Real Madrid, courtesy of a 95th-minute winner.
After finishing 14th in 2017-18, the club currently sit fourth in La Liga, having already secured almost half of the 47 points they reached last term.
The names Borja Baston and Jonathan Calleri will ring bells with Premier League fans, despite supporters of Swansea City and West Ham trying to forget them, while Ibai Gomez has caught the eye on the wing.
Even John Guidetti is part of the fun. Well, he isn’t playing that much, but he’s there.
Sitting two points behind Alaves, and one above Real Madrid, Espanyol could have gone joint top of La Liga with victory at Sevilla at the weekend, only to be foiled by Wissam Ben Yedder’s late winner for the hosts.
Whether they can maintain their encouraging start remains to be seen, star defender Mario Hermoso is reportedly set to rejoin Real Madrid in January, with Marca suggesting the club are resigned to losing the 23-year-old.
After finishing sixth in 2015-16, Sassuolo reverted to a couple of mid-table finishes in Serie A over the past two seasons but currently find themselves in seventh, only three points off a Champions League spot.
Kevin Prince Boateng joined the side from Eintracht Frankfurt in the summer and has already bagged five goals in 11 appearances playing in a slightly more advanced role.
Their fixtures usually produce fireworks, with five of their 12 Serie A fixtures featuring red cards this season.
They also scored our favourite goal of the season.
PSG are typically running away with Ligue 1, but don’t let that mask a remarkable turnaround by Lille.
After finishing just one point above the relegation play-offs last term, Lille are currently second amid a tight contest for one of the two remaining Champions League spots.
Forwards Nicolas Pepe (eight goals and five assists) and Jonathan Bamba (seven goals and one assist) are leading the charge, while we can also rest easy in the knowledge that brothers Jose and Rui Fonte have once again been reunited.
We’re not going to pretend to be experts of Turkish football, but the current league table certainly made us raise our eyebrows.
Istanbul Başakşehir may be in first with Galatasaray not too far behind, but Besiktas are down in eighth with Fenerbahce as low as 13th.
Yeni Malatyaspor, a name we did not recognise until this morning, are in fourth, two points behind a Champions League place, after finishing 10th and 29 points off the pace last term.
They have already beaten Galatasaray and drawn with Başakşehir, while their most recent result saw them thrash Trabzonspor 5-0.
It’s also nice to find out where former Arsenal prospect Nacer Barazite is playing.