This year we saw the unexpected rise of a few European clubs while some of the usual leaders failed to replicate their standards.
The year 2020 has been a year full of uncertainties and a lot of unpredictable things have happened all over the globe. In a year full of firsts, football also saw a lot of unpredictable events and happenings. While we are looking to end the year on a high, some teams are currently sitting pretty high on their respective league tables. Teams like Leicester City have shown character to be where they are in the Premier League while it looks like AC Milan have finally found their old mojo as they top the Serie A.
LOSC Lille’s trust in their scouting network have once again paid dividends as they look all set to fight for the Ligue 1 title with PSG, Lyon and others. Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid are in pole position to win the La Liga while Peter Bosz’s Bayer Leverkusen look like a solid unit to ruffle a few feathers.
We take a look at the underdogs from the top five leagues and also predict how they are going to end up this season.
The English Premier League has been very fiesty this season with a lot of teams lcosing on each other heading to the new year. Teams like Everton, Spurs, Leicester City and even Southampton have shown that they have it in them to compete with the best. While Liverpool sit at the top of the table, Brendan Rodgers’ Leicester City is just four points away at second position.
The Foxes have been brilliant throughout the season heading to the Christmas break with a convincing win against Tottenham Hotspurs. Their English talisman Jamie Vardy has been on song but he is very well complimented by youngsters like James Maddison, Harvey Barnes, Youri Tielemans, Wesley Fofana and Wilfred Ndidi. Rodgers has infused a great free-flowing system which the players have cherished this season. However, things have not been rosy for the Foxes this season as they have multiple players out with injury concerns which include star defender Caglar Soyuncu, fullbacks Timothy Castagne and Ricardo Pereira.
But some of the academy graduates have stepped up and filled up those important places in the starting lineup and have performed their heart out. Players like Luke Thomas, James Justin and Wesley Fofana have shown that they are no pushovers in this system at Leicester as they have shown great spirit to help Rodgers continue the push for postive results.
The Foxes will have a tough road ahead and amidst the top four battle between the likes of two Manchester clubs, Chelsea, Spurs and Everton, things will only get difficult from here for Rodgers and his men. Also Vardy has been scoring goals for fun this season as he has already registed 11 goals, a record only beaten by Mohamed Salah (13 goals) and matched by Dominic Calvert Lewin and Heung Min Son. But the 33-year old will also need support in terms of goalscoring and that is an area where the Foxes have looked a but dodgy as after Vardy, only Barnes, Tielemans and Maddison have scored thrice this season. So that will be a challenge for Brendan Rodgers and how he deals with it will decide the future for Leicester this season, a top four spot will be their primary target.
While underdogs may not be the term often associated with the Rojiblancos but when you are talking about beating the Spanish duopoly of FC Barcelona and Real Madrid to win the La Liga then the term is perfectly justified. Currently, at the top of the La Liga with a three-point lead over city rivals, Real Madrid a game in hand speaks volumes about the quality that this unit under Diego Simeone can produce.
Atleti have been very solid this season in the La Liga as they have only conceded five goals in 13 matches till now and have been uncharacteristically fluid in attack. The Rojiblancos have been resolute in defence just like any other Simeone team but to accomodate the likes of Joao Felix and Luis Suarez, the Argentine tactician has taken a different route. El Pistolero has made an immediate impact at the Wanda Metropolitano and his combination play with Felix upfront keeps their system ticking.
So the question lies whether Atleti and Simeone can repeat the historic La Liga win of 2013-14 and the answer is there arent enought reason to gauge why they should not. If they hold their defensive shape like this till the end of the season and play out the important games with more balanced approach then sky is the limit for this Atleti side.
It has been a sensational season for Bayern Leverkusen till now, they have been on a roll in the Bundesliga and were unbeaten before they faced Bayern Munich. Die Werkself have been a very fluid unit under Peter Bosz who forces his side to press high and uses the pace and power of his wingers to move forward. New signing Patrick Schick has been an instant hit at the club and has complimented the likes of Moussa Diaby, Lucas Alario, Floorian Wirtz and Leon Bailey.
Leverkusen are a team full of young and exciting players who are playing a very attractive brand of attacking football, something which has been concerning for some of the other German outfits. Bosz has found the perfect combination this season and now he simply needs to keep the young guns hungry and motivated throughout the season.
Die Werkself are currently in second position in the Bundesliga only two points below leaders Bayern. Bosz and his whole team will be delighted to enter the new year on the back of some scintilating performances and will look to continue in the same manner for the business end of the tournament. But logically, if Leverkusen finishes in the top four and qualifies for the Champions League next season then they will be more than satisfied, anything more than that will be a welcome surprise.
Last season they missed the Champions League berth by two points as they finished fifth but this season Bosz and his men have shown unprecedented zeal to hold opponents by the scruff of their neck by their relentless attacking football.
While there isnt much to separate the sides at the top of Ligue 1, LOSC Lille has to be the underdog when going up against the likes of Olympique Lyon and Paris Saint Germain. Les Dogues finished as low as 17th in the 2017/18 season but then with Christophe Galtier’s arrival at the club things changed drastically. None of the French football enthusiasts would even give Lille a chance to qualify for the Champions League next season let alone competing for the title with PSG. But Galtier’s men proved them wrong as they finished second in 2018/19. The positive vibe at the club continued as Lille finished 4th in a season which was ended abruptly due to the coronavirus.
Ever since his arrival Galtier has shown intent, in his style of play and also in his transfer dealings. The Frenchman has weaved a squad with plenty of young startlets around some of the veterans of the game. Players like Jose Fonte and Burak Yilmaz have rediscovered their form at Lille and they haved guided youngsters like Sven Botman, Jonathan David, Boubakary Soumare and others.
Over the years, Lille’s scouting network has been one of the best in all over Europe. This was the team which found out players like Franck Ribery and Eden Hazard in their early days and helped them take the bigger step in world football. With Galtier’s tactical prowess and ability to drive the young pack of exceptional players, Lille can once again compete for the title with the likes of Lyon, PSG and Marseille.
Football fans may rubbish the claims of calling seven time Champions League winners, AC Milan an underdog. However considering how the Rossoneri have performed in Serie A in the last decade, even some of the most optimistic fans would not have dreamt of them topping the Serie A table. Stefano Pioli’s men have shown tremendous character and hunger in their performances on the field. Youngsters like Theo Hernandez, Sandro Tonali, Ismael Bennacer, Rafael Leao have put up impressive performances this season while the experienced players like Hakan Calhanoglu, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, etc have rejuvenated their career under Pioli’s tutelage.
Once Milan looked like a mediocre side as they finished sixth last seaosn but the turnaround started with Pioli taking the mantle on his own hands. The Italian tactician has shown maturity and composure to lead a team that has not tasted success for a long time. The arrival of Ibrahimovic inspite of being at the twilight of his career made a difference as characters like him often charges up the entire dressing room and the Swede has also being helping and guiding the youngsters.
With Juventus struggling for form in the Serie A, Milan’s primary challenger will be their arch rivals Inter Milan. Antonio Conte’s side have been knocked out of the Champions League as they finished last in their group and therefore they wont be having any European comitments further this season. So it will be an advantage for Conte to concentrate only on the league but Pioli will believe that he has a good enough roster to trounce the Nerazzurris to the Scudetto. The Rossoneri are chasing their dream this season, a dream which has been eluding them ever since they won the Serie A back in 2010-11 for the last time.