The European football leagues have played just over half their games this season, featuring fairly predictable results. There are a handful of teams that have surpassed expectations, but others that have disappointed. Let’s take a closer look at those teams and the reasons why they have performed as they have this season.
Most clubs have trouble performing well in their sophomore year following promotion, yet the Foxes have exceeded all expectations and currently find themselves at the top of the EPL table. Leicester has assembled a strong squad, starting with manager Claudio Ranieri, who has managed top flight clubs over the course of his career.
Leading their attack is 29 year-old Jamie Vardy, who had previously been plying his trade for League One teams and now finds himself as the EPL top goal-scorer. Their goalkeeper, Kasper Schmeichel, has proved himself as a top-shelf keeper and the prodigal son of former Danish international keeper Peter Schmeichel. Without a more talented bench to support the starting 11, it is difficult to see the Foxes finishing in the top EPL spot at the end of the season. But look for them to claim a Champions League spot next season, no small feat for a small market team.
West Ham United
Finishing in the 12th spot of the EPL last season, there was little reason to expect this squad to surpass their 2015 campaign as far as wins and losses go. Fast forward to this season, and the Hammers currently find themselves in sixth place, just a point behind Manchester United in the chase for a Europa League spot. Their roster consists of European league castoffs like Andy Carroll, Alex Song and Victor Moses, yet manager Slaven Bilic has his team playing lights out since arriving from Turkish powerhouse Besiktas in 2015. The Hammers have proven that while high-power superstars can help a team achieve success, playing well as a team can produce success in a top-flight league like the EPL.
Angers Sporting Club
Promoted to Ligue 1 for the first time in 21 years, few would have predicted Les Scoistes to be faring as well as they have this season. Yet Angers finds itself in third place in La Ligue, just coming off a rout of second place Monaco 3-0. With a squad largely comprised of former Ligue 2 players, Angers has proven to be a tough competitor in top flight European football. While almost half the season remains, Angers has demonstrated that after a 21-year absence in Ligue 1, they have returned home.
Last year saw The Blues lose three games all season. Yet they currently find themselves mired in 13th position in the EPL this season, having already lost more games than they’ve won. After sacking manager Jose Mourinho last December, interim manager Guus Hiddink took the helm to try to right the ship in his second stint as Chelsea’s interim manager. While the team’s talent has far exceeded its results with quality players like Eden Hazard, Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa, success has eluded the Blues. This season, Chelsea will probably be a top ten team, but not the top team in the EPL.
Any silverware this season will have to come from the Champions League or FA Cup. Expect the current roster to be gutted and resurrected with transferees after the season ends in May. After all, with a record of $289 million spent on transfers since the process began in 2003, building a Blues squad will be heavily reliant upon purchasing players from other teams and leagues.
While the Canaries were recently promoted from the Championship Division in 2015, expectations were high for this squad, since that this is their second promotion in three years. Given this timeline, it is somewhat surprising to see this team currently just one spot above the relegation zone. The Canaries have tried to shake up their front line, finalizing the sale of striker Gary Hooper to Sheffield Wednesday while signing Stephen Naismith from Everton to strengthen their striker corp. They have also signed 22-year-old striker Patrick Bamford on loan from Chelsea, hoping to add some speed to their front line. Time is of the essence, however, with the Canaries just two points out of the relegation zone and a goal differential of -15.
Is this real life? This powerhouse team is currently in third place in La Liga, just seven points out of the top spot. But this is Real Madrid, who spend lavishly on top talent and whose expectation are as high as those salaries. There has already been a managerial change for Los Galacticos, with Rafa Benitez sacked just six months after taking the helm. Enter Zinedine Zidane, club legend and next on the managerial carousel. While signed to a two and a half year deal, based upon the history at Madrid, it is unlikely that Zidane will see his term through in that capacity. With the club’s revenue of approximately $800 million last year and an average annual salary of $8.64 million, anything less that first place and additional silverware on the world stage is considered unacceptable. And looking up at rivals Barcelona and Atletico Madrid is not a situation that will be tolerated by management.