We all have a soft spot for the underdog. A team that is normally less than its opponents, but suddenly rises above itself, gets a lot of sympathy. In the past season, there were three teams that amazed the football world. A new Italian top club, a sleeping giant and a special village club.
New Italian top team: Atalanta
Can Atalanta win the UEFA Champions League? A few years ago, this question was unthinkable, but this season no one excludes the Italian side. The team of Gian Piero Gasperini competes in the top of the Serie A with attacking football and is still active in the most prestigious European club competition. Paris Saint-Germain is their opponent in the quarter-finals and because the French already have summer break, Atalanta might even be the favourite team to reach the semi-finals.
With high pressure play and attacking fullbacks, Atalanta is stealing the hearts of football fans in Italy, the country that is praised for its defensive tactics. Last year La Dea (The Goddess) was the most scoring team in Italy and this year Atalanta is heading for hundred goals. The team also broke their own points record. The 72 points from the 2016-2017 season have already been exceeded. Atalanta exceeds everyone’s expectations and can give this season even more shine.
Wolves has set the bar high
Wolverhampton Wanderers was a low-flier at England’s second league three seasons ago, but is now disappointed with the seventh place in the famous Premier League. The club from central England was in the race for direct qualification for the UEFA Europa League, but fell down at the end of the season. If Arsenal win the FA Cup, Wolves can still play European football next year. It is the new reality of Wolves under the Chinese owner Jeff Shi and trainer Nuno Santo.
In the first season under Nuno Santo, Wolves promoted to the Premier League. With three experienced Portuguese players – Rui Patrício, João Moutinho and Rúben Neves – and the goal scoring Mexican striker Raul Jiménez, the team survived at the highest level. Wolves already competes with the top teams for two seasons and won twice against Manchester City (0-2 and 3-2). The English outsider is also in the race for the Europa League title. The Greek side Olympiacos is their next opponent. Wolves was a sleeping giant for years, but is now awake.
Villarreal is full of suprises
Villarreal is a village in Spain with only 50,000 inhabitants. Most people will know the name because of the football club: Villarreal CF. The club’s stadium, Estadio de la Cerámica, offers space for 25,000 people, half of all city residents. Looking at the achievements in recent years, it is no longer surprising that Villarreal is performing well in La Liga. For years, they have been playing on the highest level and they even made it to the semi-finals of the Champions League back in 2006. They often finished fifth or sixth in recent seasons. But last year, the club was put down to earth with a bad season and a fourteenth place. A more logical position for the club, you would think considering the size of the city.
This season however, Villarreal is back on track. Under the new head coach Unai Emery the team has backed up after one bad year. The Spanish side finished in fifth place, just when everybody thought the fairy tale was over. Villarreal is full of suprises.