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.