5 Teams Who Are Surprising Their League

With the season underway, let’s look at a handful of teams that are currently under the radar, and performing exceptionally well. It’ll be one team per league.

Bundesliga – Hertha Berlin

I covered Hertha Berlin and their surprise victory over Bayern Munich, so let’s go into a bit more depth. Hertha finished in a very underwhelming 10th. They drew 13 games, which showed how maybe they were unable to put the nail in the coffin in certain games. Their priority going into this season was to add more goals in the side. And I’d say that was achieved. They are currently sitting in fourth, with the same amount of points as Bayern. Their great form is down to a few players. But by far the stand out player has been young midfielder Javairo Dilrosun. He was signed on a free after being released from Manchester City (another player excelling in Germany that maybe City might be regretting) and he has truly been great. He has already scored 2 and assisted 3. While he would prefer to play in the middle, he has been excellent on the left of a 4-2-3-1, playing alongside Ondrej Duda and Soloman Kalou. What’s important to note is that he is still only 20, meaning that there is still parts of his game that needs improving. His 1.2 key passes, in a side that averages less than 50% possession, is impressive for his age. What else has actually impressed me is his work rate. The Dutchman is putting in 2.2 tackles and interceptions in an advanced possession, showing how he isn’t afraid to do the hard yards for his team. XG shows how he is definitely overperforming, with Dilrosun only expecting 1.55 assists this season. It means there is a chance that he might be unable to keep up this great early form he’s showing. But it is still good to see a young player showing good performances in a top league. Another who has performed very well (that isn’t Ondrej Duda) is Valentino Lazaro. The full back’s move was finally made permanent, after initially being on loan at Hertha. I’ve already said so many times that the full back position is by far the most important position in football at the moment. It is a position that is in such high demand, and can give so much in attack, to free the players in front to drift in to more central areas. With Marvin Plattenhardt on the left, and Lazaro on the right, it gives Hertha a great foundation to build on. Lazaro has already scored and assisted 2 this season. While his attacking output is clearly effective, with 1.2 crosses and 1.8 key passes per 90, his defensive work is not being left behind, with the Austrian completing 4 tackles and interceptions per 90. If he keeps up this brilliant start, some bigger clubs (and hopefully not Bayern) could be coming in for him. Hertha Berlin have a real chance to compete for European football this season. With both Schalke and Leverkusen looking a shadow of their former selves, it could be a chance for Hertha, and Mönchengladbach, to really fight for that 4th spot.

Ligue 1 – Lille

Ligue 1 has gained a reputation for having a very clear one horse race (farmers league is strangely used very often). While I understand why, with Paris having such a superior team compared to their rivals, it doesn’t mean the other sides are necessarily bad sides. Both Marseille and Lyon are very good (as proven with the former getting to the final of the Europa League last season, and the latter beating champions Manchester City away from home). However both have started the season in such mixed form. Marseille had a 3 game run, where they started to look so good. However after losses to both Lyon and Lille, there are still question marks. Lyon have the same problem. They are such a fun side, yet have stuttered throughout their start this season. The team I’ll be discussing today is actually in 2nd, and deservedly so, and that is Lille. The former Ligue 1 champions have recovered after a dreadful 2017/18 season, which resulted in them finishing 17th, thanks to a terrible start under Bielsa. Their squad needed a refresh, and with the huge sales of Bissouma, Amadou and Malcuit, it left them with plenty of cash to spend. They spent their money wisely, and now look to be back to their best, thanks to an entertaining style of play, which includes taking the second most shots a game (14.9), which even betters the league leaders (14.3). They almost through the kitchen sink at sides, and thanks to two certain wingers, Jonathan Bamba and Nicolas Pepe, they seem to have those two magicians, who have the flair and quality to put you over the line. Their most impressive victory so far was easily their win over Marseille. While the Europa League finalists did rest a few key players, including Dimitri Payet, but that doesn’t hide the fact that Marseille were humiliated by a better side. Both Bamba and Pepe were excellent in the game, with both scoring in the game. They have both scored 5 goals in 8 games, and both look to be the next best thing to come out of Ligue 1. Pepe is taking the second most shots in the league, with only Fekir taking more shots in the league. What’s most impressive is that a crazy 2.9 shots are taken inside the area, meaning not all of his chances are being wasted. He is a big reason on why Lille have been so good this season. For the sake of the league, I seriously hope they can keep it up, and at least challenge for a European spot.

La Liga – Sevilla

After the departure of Jorge Sampaoli, Sevilla dropped off a cliff. They were so unorganized last season, with their goal difference dropped from +20 down to -9. They went from an organised side into a side who could score a goal, but would struggle to hold the lead. After the sacking of Montella (a manger who was fired twice in a single season), they appointed Pablo Machin. The Spaniard did excellent work with Girona, making them one of the best defensive sides the division, in their first season. He would hopefully help organise Sevilla, while also using their new attacking signings, like Silva and Promes, to continue to score goals. They have been so good this season. With Barcelona looking like they will continue as champions, and Valencia looking unable to win games, it could give Sevilla a chance to sneak right back into the champions league. Goals have been a key component on why they are looking so good. They already have scored the second most goals from open play in the league, with only Barcelona scoring more (a team that beat Huesca 8-2). Machin has played a 3-5-2, with The Spaniard playing a very attacking side, with both Sarabia and Banega starting in midfield. However their stand out performer has to be Andre Silva. The Portuguese international had a horrid time in Milan, where he only managed 2 goals in the entire league campaign (he did do pretty well in the Europa League however). He has already outscored that record, with Silva already scoring 7 goals in 7 games, contributing to 44% of Sevilla’s goals. He has shown every quality we knew he had to perform at the top level. His performance against Madrid was especially great. He was so quick, strong and powerful against the Champions League holders, and put in a man of the match performance, scoring 2 goals in their 3-0 win. His stats this season highlight his excellent form. He is taking 3.1 shots per game. That is already a great amount, but what’s most impressive is where he’s taking his shots. 2.1 of those shots are coming inside the penalty area, showing how the chances he gets are good chances. Seeing a striker score a goal a game, and get in good positions doing it, proves how this isn’t luck, but in fact ability. Another player who deserves a mention in Jesus Navas. During his time at Manchester City, he used to be one of my least favourite players in the league. While his speed and dribbling were useful in beating full backs, he just had zero end product, and it was frustrating to watch a premier league title challenger put up with such inconsistency. However he has been very good at the start of he season. Navas has played his football on the right midfield, where it is his responsibility to stretch the opposition defense, which would leave space for either Silva or Ben Yedder to exploit, or to create a goalscoring chance. He has done plenty of the former, with the Spaniard already assisting 3 goals. He is making 1.6 key passes, while also taking 1.1 shots per game. He has been an important piece for why Sevilla have been so good at the start of the season. Win the fun style of football they play, coupled with their goalscorers, who are currently in excellent form, Sevilla could seriously shake up La Liga again.

Premier League – Wolves

The promoted teams this year in the Premier League have been very interesting. Cardiff have looked absolutely hopeless, as if they gave up before even starting. Fulham have at times looked good in an attacking sense, but have been very poor defensively so far this season, already conceding 14 goals, one less than Cardiff. But Wolves, however have started so well. After walking the Championship last season, many expected the club to invest in the summer, and improve and add the quality that is necessary to stay in the Premier League. They haven’t went too crazy, like Fulham, and have at least tried, unlike Cardiff. Their first bits of genius was signing both Diego Jota and Willy Boly on a permanent basis. They were excellent last season and already know what Nuno will want in the following season. However their best bits of business were some of the best in the whole of Europe. Because of the drama surrounding Sporting Lisbon, they were able to sign Rui Patricio on a free transfer. It was just incredible at the time, being able to bring in an elite shot stopper to a newly promoted side. João Moutinho was later signed for only £6m. A bargain for a player with great technical ability and has had plenty of experience in Europe’s most elite competition. They have yet to make a single change in their starting eleven, being the first side in premier league history to play their first 9 games without making a change. Nuno sets his side up in a 3-4-3 formation. He likes to use his midfield pairing of Moutinho and Neves, to sit deep and protect the back four, while then moving the ball through the wing backs into the front 3, where Raul Jimenez is used as vocal point (thanks to his incredible aerial ability) to link the attack together. While they have been relatively okay in attack, it’s in defense where they have easily been most impressive. They have only conceded 5 goals this season, and that is thanks to a very organized defense, which only allows only 11.6 shots per game, which is better than Tottenham, Bournemouth and Crystal Palace. While all of their back three have been impressive, Willy Boly has carried his championship form into the new season. He’s putting in 4.1 tackles and interceptions, winning 3.3 aerial duels, and has a solid pass accuracy of 83%. Another stand out player has been Matt Doherty. He is another individual who has shown so much for his side in the new season. Both him and Jonny have been very good, but the Irishman has arguably been one of the best full backs in the league so far. He has already scored and assisted 2 this season. While his 1.3 key passes is in fact very impressive,

Serie A – Sampdoria

I’ve already covered Sampdoria quite a few times, so I won’t go into the same detail as the others. Sampdoria have been excellent since the start of the season. They have excelled and proven some surprise results, including a huge 3-0 victory over Napoli, and a 5-0 smashing of Frosinone. What they have excelled at his providing their two front men. Both Defrel and Quagliarella have been a great partnership so far, with Quagliarella assisting his team with 4 assists, while Defrel has scored 42% of his side’s goals, with 5. They play a narrow 4-3-1-2, which ensures they are able to dominate the game. Having an experienced player like Quagliarella helps with linking up play, means it can make attacking much more unpredictable. Another player who has stood out has been Lorenzo Tonelli. The former Napoli player has been very solid since his arrival. While his defensive work hasn’t been massive, his distribution has been excellent, with his 84% pass accuracy. While I would like to get excited, like the other teams here, but I really don’t think they can keep it up. They rank in the bottom half of Serie A for shots in the penalty box, meaning they aren’t creating many great chances. Another reason is their main striker Defrel. While scoring 5 goals is impressive, he has hugely been overperforming. Expected goals shows how he should be on roughly 2 goals. He is very clinical at the moment, but his shot numbers are all incredibly low for a forward, with 1.6 being its highest. Good strikers get at least 2.5, while elite forwards get even more (Messi touches around 6). While they should be commended for their form, it could only be temporary.

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Bundesliga – Leipzig’s 5 goal thriller. Mönchengladbach Keep Pushing

Leipzig have not been so great this season. They began their season with a defeat to Dortmund, and then drew against newly promoted side Fortuna, a team they should be beating. But they finally got their first win, with a 3-2 victory over Hannover, thanks to goals from Werner and Poulsen. Leipzig went for a more defensive set up here, starting 3 in midfield, with Kampl being the only real attacking threat from it. It worked in a way, with Leipzig winning more tackles and aerial duels. It didn’t stop Hannover’s threat however, with the away side getting more shots and dominating possession, with 68% in their favour. It was a scrappy game for Leipzig, but having a clinical striker like Werner is what gets you through tough games like this, when you are not at your best. Werner was particularly good in this game. He only touched the ball 34 times, but still managed 6 shots. It shows how he was getting in good areas when taking shots, because of the lack of build up play he was involved in. Hannover will feel hard done by here. They should have won the game based on how much of the ball they had, but just failed to capitalise. Asano had 6 shots, yet only got 1 on target and failed to score. It’s the difference between the two sides. Leipzig seem to be missing Keita. His ability to cover the defence and advance the player, just isn’t seen in the current side. It is a big season for Leipzig, so let’s see where they go from here.

Mönchengladbach have started the season very well so far. Their 2-1 win over Schalke keeps them unbeaten, and puts them at 5th in the Bundesliga. It was a very equal in most ways. The possession was split evenly in half, and both sides had similar shot numbers. The difference in this game was that Mönchengladbach took their chances. Ginter wasn’t marked for the first goal and was given a chance, and he took it. Schalke just didn’t do the same. While Ginter did score the opening goal, one player who had an excellent game was Alassane Plea. The Frenchman was key in linking the attack, with his 4 key passes being the highest for the home side. He also completed 2 dribbles. While his shot numbers weren’t the highest, only managing a single one goal, he was instrumental in keeping their attack ticking. As for Schalke, it seems they will get out of this rot soon. Their forwards just haven’t been performing, resulting in their only goal in this game being their third this season. Mark Uth did manage to get 3 shots on target, but didn’t manage to score. Eventually the ball will start to hit the back of the net, and when it does, they will finally start fighting for the top 4. What makes it even more difficult for Schalke now is they have Bayern next, and judging by not only their form, they also have a Champions League game, which could not help in their hope to stay competitive in the Bundesliga.

La Liga – Girona Win in Style

It wasn’t exactly an eventful week in La Liga. I’ve already spoken enough on Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid. With Madrid dropping points, Atletico continuing their awful start, and Barca winning again, there just isn’t much to add. So I thought let’s take about the most exciting game of the weekend, being Girona’s win over Celta Vigo, which ended with Girona beating their opponents by 3 goals to 2. It was definitely a deserved win as well. While Celta did control the game, it was a great counter attacking lesson from Girona. They only managed 11 shots compared to Celta’s 20, but they made their chances count. Christian Stuani in particular was excellent. The Uruguayan only managed 3 shots on target, but still scored a brace. He has been excellent for Girona since his arrival from Middlesbrough. He scored 17 last season and seems to be continuing where he left off. Girona’s defending in this game was very balls to the wall. What sums that up is Stuani’s contribution. He managed 3 tackles from an attacking position, showing how much of a team effort it was. However when talking about defensive work, one cannot leave out Álex Granell. The Spanish veteran managed a frankly ridiculous 12 tackles and interceptions in this game, while also making 3 key passes, the most in the side. On a side note, the 2nd goal from Stuani was excellent showing of a counter attack done right. They moved so fast and made quick short passes to move the play up. Girona are a good side, and it’s good to see them win games like this, by playing a very straight to the point way of football. As for Celta, on another day they would have won this, but they were exposed. Girona noticed that they were weak on set pieces and in the air in general. They exploited this through crosses. The first two goals came from the full backs advancing far up the pitch and just putting in a ball in the box. Celta tried a similar way, to take advantage of Maxi Gomez’s superior aerial ability, but didn’t work. Hugo Mallo, the Celta Vigo captain, attempted the most crosses for them, yet out of the 7 crosses he managed, only 1 caused significant danger. Like I said, on another day, it could have went their way. But it cannot be argued that Girona deserved the victory.

Ligue 1 – Lille’s Great Start. A Payet Inspired Win

With PSG cruising the league as usual, let’s put some focus on a side who have started excellently, being Lille. The 2011 Ligue 1 champions have started the season in great fashion, already getting 3 wins this season. While their wins haven’t came against tough opponents, they are scoring goals and doing well defensively. They beat Amiens 3-2, with Pepe getting all three goals. He was absolutely great in this game. He managed 5 shots on target, made 3 key passes, and completed 2 of his dribbles. He played in the game more as a striker than a winger. He was constantly getting in central positions, which explains why he was able to get so many shots on. He also won the penalties he converted. He is now on 4 goals in 5 games, and his opposite winger, Bamba, is on 3. Both are performing well for their new side, and look to help push Lille back to their successful period when the likes of Hazard, Cabaye and Gervinho were performing in that side.

Marseille had another good week. They followed their dramatic win over Monaco, by beating Guingamp 4-0. It was definitely a deserved win, They had much more possession, allowed their opponent zero chances to attack, and completed 86% of their passes, compared to the away side’s 75%. This is Marseille’s third win of the season, leaving them on equal points with Lille, and 5 behind Paris. While they are not in a good place to challenge for a title, it will leave with an advantage in the fight for top 4. Back to the game, Marseille actually didn’t score until the second half of the game, and for a reason. They failed to capitalise on the many chances they were creating in that first half. Mitroglou notably missed a header from a couple of yards away, which perfectly summed up Marseille in that first half. However in the second half, they just came out with a a bang. Marseille took their chances against a Guingamp side that just couldn’t keep up with them. The midfield partnership of Strootman and Sanson performed very well, with the pair completing a combined 15 tackles and interceptions. They did a great job in shielding the back four. Their captain, Dimitri Payet, was another who performed excellently. He was at his creative best with the Frenchman making 5 key passes. His goal was by his highlight. It was easily the best goal scored this season. It was as if it was a cross more than a shot, but yet still got it in the goal. What a great talent, who will always be remembered as the player who should have been at a higher level. While Payet was fantastic, Thauvin was the man of the match. The world cup winner scored two and had a great game. He was a constant threat on that right side, and was key to Marseille getting over the line. He has been their best performer in their recent resurgence. In this game he showed that, by completing 3 dribbles, and making 3 key passes. It just shows how much of a complete winger he is, being able to score, dribble and create. He is the whole package. Marseille have a big season ahead of them, and they have started it in great fashion.

Premier League – Hero Hazard. Villain Vorm

Chelsea have been very good at the start of the season. Sarri was able to fix a majority of the issues that Chelsea had at the time. He brought in a very good goalkeeper to replace the unhappy Courtois, one of the best game controllers in Jorginho, and a guy I’ve been wanting to see move for so long in Kovacic. However while all three have been good in their first season, one cannot compliment Chelsea without discussing Eden Hazard. The Belgian has been on fire since the World Cup (where he should have won the player of the tournament) and has continued his form into the new season. In his previous four, where he only made brief cameos in the first two games, he has contributed to four goals. He has been in the form of his life so far. In this game he more than doubled his tally, scoring his first hat trick in 4 years (and getting me plenty of points in fantasy football). It was the icing on the cake for his recent form. He was so involved in this game, getting on the ball 97 times, more than midfield star Jorginho. Hazard has always been key in driving the attack, but this is just insane. He is now carrying the attack on a new level. He completed 3 dribbles, scored all of his shots on target, and had an 89% pass accuracy, the third highest on the pitch. It was a perfect performance from Chelsea’s key man. With the way he’s playing, he could end the season as the player of the season.

While Hazard was the hero, Michel Vorm was far from that. The Spurs number 2 was at fault for the first goal and had an overall poor game as Liverpool won at Wembley, flattering Spurs with a 2-1 victory. Spurs continued to struggle against the top four, as again, they seemed to not know what they are doing. The full backs were travelling too far up the pitch, leaving Salah and Mane all the space in the world to press the centre backs, giving them no options to move the ball. However the biggest talking point by far is the continual poor form of Harry Kane. The golden boot winner has been absolutely dreadful at the start of the season. He just looks doesn’t look sharp, with the forward failing to get into good positions in the final third and seems to pass the game by. He reminds of Wayne Rooney in his later years at Manchester United. He lost his pace as the years went on, and just couldn’t lead the line in the same way. I am not saying that Kane has lost his ability, but he just isn’t playing as a traditional number 9 this season. He is dropping far too deep, instead of leading the line. Compare him to Icardi. The Inter captain has been compared to Kane over the years, because both started scoring an insane amount of goals at roughly the same time. However the difference is Icardi does not get too involved in build up play, and instead waits in the box and looks for space to exploit. Kane had a 16% conversion rate last season, and Icardi had over 25%. It proves that Icardi takes better shots than the Englishman. Kane needs to start playing as more traditional number 9, and allow the build up play to be done by the more creative players. A bad day for spurs, but a worse day for Kane.

Serie A – Ronaldo Finally Scores. The Sampdoria Show

By far the biggest talking point is Cristiano Ronaldo finally scored his first 2 goals for Juventus. The Portuguese forward scored a simple tap in to start, but then ended a good counter attack with an excellent side finish. He was a threat throughout the game as well. He has his usual incredible amount of shots, with the forward taking 9 shots. Which was more than half of Juventus’s total shots (14). This could be the boost he needs. Many expected Ronaldo to hit the ground running. While it has taken longer than expected for him to begin his scoring account, it will now push him to continue to score more, and break even more records. On another note, Douglas Costa was the opposite of a professional on the pitch. Never should a player hit or most of all spit at an opposing player. He should have been banned for more than 4 games, but a punishment is still a punishment. It will hopefully prevent players from doing these unacceptable actions no longer.

Sampdoria followed their absolute beating of Napoli, by beating Frosinone by 5 goals. They were better than their opponent in every department. Sampdoria had more possession, more shots, completed more tackles and had a better pass accuracy. The stand out performers again were their forward two. Quagliarella and Defrel have created one deadly partnership so far this season. Defrel bagged a brace, while his partner in crime scored and assisted. Both of Defrel’s goals were excellent. The first was a well taken volley, while the second was a great individual effort. While his goals have been impressive, what’s surprised me the most about the striker has been his work rate. Any player who starts alongside Quagliarella has to cover more yards, simply because the Italian has not got many years left in him, and needs to safe his energy. Defrel did this job to best of his ability, while contributing in an attacking sense. He made 4 tackles in the game, the second highest in the game. He is just the perfect partner for Quagliarella. Sampdoria’s run now is a difficult one. They have Fiorentina at home, and then Inter Milan. Getting points against these two could show us all where Sampdoria are heading this season.