Football has always been an unpredictable game that can leave you in tears of both joy and sadness; that is why we all love it so much. The moment those 22 men step onto the field nothing else matters and anyone can win.
Although there are always upsets and surprises in this sport, this season has seen some spectacular scenarios around Europe. Smaller teams in four of Europe’s top leagues have rejected the established hierarchy in their leagues and risen up the table in ways few would, or could have predicted.
Leicester: 1st Place, 28 games played, 57 points
Leicester City are, without doubt, the most notable of the four, although Bournemouth’s battle against the financial powers to make it to the Premier League have pushed them all the way.
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Last year, Leicester narrowly avoided relegation and will be perhaps remembered most for then-manager Nigel Pearson’s press conference in which he bizarrely told a journalist: “I think you must be an ostrich.”
However, times have changed. Pearson went and former-Chelsea boss Claudio Ranieri was his surprise replacement. Nobody expected anything from them and the Italian was even the bookies’ favourite to be sacked, as per the Mirror. Nevertheless, at the start of March Leicester City are top of the table, Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez dominate the scoring tables and Ranieri is almost a certainty for Manager of the Year.
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It is hard to say what has happened to Leicester, but it's safe to say we are all enjoying it. The Premier League era has been dominated by a few teams and only five teams have won it since it started in 1992. The biggest teams in England have never really seemed troubled by the rest of the pack. Sure they might lose to them occasionally, but their position in the table has rarely been threatened.
Leicester are doing that now. They are at the top of the Premier League table and have pushed their way past this elite group of teams. That is perhaps not the most surprising and impressive aspect about their campaign, though. Just look at the way they are doing it.
They have the joint second-best goal difference, trailing only Tottenham and have two of the top-six goal scorers. Their football is also very easy on the eye and, it is difficult not to enjoy watching the dynamic trio of Vardy, Mahrez and N’Golo Kante.
Three other teams are also surprising their respective leagues, although not to the same standard. But who are they and what are they doing?
Hertha BSC: 3rd Place, 23 games played, 39 points
The German capital has been a rather miserable place for football in the Bundesliga era, excluding a couple of appearances in Europe. In recent years Hertha Berlin have become a yo-yo team in Germany, bouncing between the top league and the Bundesliga second division. For six years, in fact, Germany had the only top league in Europe without a club from the capital. This season has been something of a revival, though, of their pre-Bundesliga success.
They are now under the management of club legend Pal Dardai and are surprising everyone with their good performances.
Former Chelsea striker Salomon Kalou and his team, based out of the historic and majestic Olympiastadion, have pushed their way up the table and currently sit third, behind Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. Hertha are yet to break into that top two but they are still above established German powerhouses like Bayer Leverkusen, VfL Wolfsburg, Schalke and Borussia Monchengladbach.
For a team that won the Bundesliga 2 as recently as 2013, we should agree that Berlin finally being properly represented in German football is a real feel-good story.
Angers SCO: 9th place, 28 games played, 38 points
This could just have easily been OGC Nice, who currently sit in fifth in the Ligue 1. At first look, 9th does not seem particularly special but Angers are a team that few would have expected to do this.
It is also worth noting that this is after a slump, before which Angers were in the top three. Why this still beats Nice's success is the history of the club. Between 1994 and 2015, Angers have either played in the Ligue 2 or below. In fact, the longest period of time the club has ever been in Ligue 1 was six years between 1969 and 1975.
As things stand, Angers are above teams that have, in the not too distant past, won the Ligue 1, such as Olympique Marseille, LOSC Lille, Girdondins Bordeaux and Montpellier. A brief look at Angers’ squad and there won't be too many names you would instantly recognise. Although that might not be the best barometer of their talents, it adds the surprise and a feel-good factor all the same.
SD Eibar: 7th place, 26 games played, 36 points
If known by those outside Spain at all, SD Eibar are likely to be regarded as the third-best team in the Basque Country, behind Athletic Bilbao and Real Sociedad. This season, they are in eighth place and just five points behind Celta Vigo and Sevilla in fifth and sixth respectively. Although they are currently sandwiched in between their Basque rivals, once again it is their history that makes this such a feel-good story.
In 2014, Eibar won promotion to the Liga BBVA for the first time in the club's history. Celebrations were premature, though, as they were immediately threatened with relegation to the third division because of their finances.
The club were forced to launch a campaign they called “Defend Eibar” to reach the required share capital and, thankfully, they succeeded.
In their first season, however, Eibar finished 18th, in the relegation places. Their stay in La Liga would have been cut short there were it not for Elche who, despite finishing 13th were relegated because of their own poor financial management. Eibar were thus reinstated and have not looked back - with their safety in Spain's top division all but secured for another year.
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