Around Europe’s top-flight leagues this season in England, Spain, Germany, France, and Italy, there weren’t any surprises atop the table. Chelsea, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, PSG, and Juventus all won their respective leagues in 2014–15; big deal, right? Nowadays what typically counts as shocking is when a club makes a climb up the table that we weren’t expecting.
So without further ado, and in no particular order, here are a handful of clubs that made impressive strides this campaign:
What more is there to say? Augsburg was arguably the biggest surprise of the season. From being this close to relegation in consecutive seasons, they’ve qualified for the Europa League—even finishing ahead of Bundesliga staples like Dortmund and Schalke.
Typically what we see the following season is a club out of their depth in European competitions. Will Augsburg defy the odds?
Like Augsburg, this is a no-brainer. Not only that, but they’ve qualified for Europa next year as well. From their summer exodus to laughing at the rest of us 21 weeks into the season, they were one of the more attractive English clubs for the entirety of the Premier League season. Not only did they achieve their best ever finish (seventh) while accumulating a club record 60 points, they conceded just 33 goals—the second-best mark in the league.
New manager Ronald Koeman implemented strong and attractive attacking football throughout the campaign while also displaying a wonderful defensive mind. They didn’t always beat the top clubs but they more than held their own, perhaps giving us a taste of what to expect next season in Europe.
Maybe this isn’t as much of a surprise given that this season was their first without European competition since the 2005–06 season, but last season they fell all the way to eighth.
Fast-forward to the present and despite there being five La Liga clubs in the UCL next season—Sevilla via winning Europa League—Valencia surged to fourth place with a helping of 11 goals from their budding 21-year-old striker Paco Alcácer and a club-leading 12 from midfielder Dani Parejo.
More impressively, their defense was the third-best in the table after league winners Barcelona and Atlético Madrid. While a La Liga title is most likely not on the cards in the near future, Valencia will gladly welcome a return to the Champions League in 2015.
There’s a good chance Juventus won’t lose Serie A for about the next two decades, but like La Liga with Valencia, the 2015 UCL welcomes back Lazio after seasons of finishing seventh and ninth, respectively.
The biggest reason why? Miroslav Klose. The 36-year-old World Cup-winning German striker tallied a club-best 13 goals while adding six assists. If retirement is on the cards he’s not letting us know. With how his season progressed in 2014, there’s no reason to think about it quite yet.
As for him being linked to a non-UCL EPL club in Tottenham, I wouldn’t count on it. His contract may be up at the end of the season but there’s no reason for him not to re-up with the Italian side for one more season, not to mention a Champions League swan song.
To be honest, Ligue 1 over in France never offers much in the way of surprises, but something worth noting is Caen—one of the three clubs promoted from last season—and the only one that managed to stay afloat as we saw Metz and Lens go straight back down.
Lyon made the jump from Europa to Champions League this season but they’re routinely in the top five. As for Caen, their goal difference of -1 was most impressive considering four clubs ahead of them had far worse differentials (-9, -9, -14, and -7). I don’t imagine an Augsburg-type situation next season for Caen, but I suppose you never know.
Although in Ligue 1, you typically do.
And now, for some honorable mentions:
Nigel Pearson’s Leicester City (as well as the following club) deserve their due. For the majority of the campaign, they were at the bottom of the barrel until a three-match winning streak with a couple of months left in the season sparked their salvation.
So they surged to 14th on 41 points with a goal differential of only -9. Their wins early on in the season against Manchester United and Stoke City turned out to be a tremendous help, as well as earning one point apiece through Everton and Arsenal in two of their first three EPL matches.
Aside from Southampton, I believe they were the most intriguing story in England.
In 2011, Wolfsburg finished eighth in the Bundesliga on 44 points. In 2012, they slipped to 11th on 43, followed by a jump up to fifth on 60 points in 2013. But with wonderful additions over the past couple of seasons such as budding superstar Kevin De Bruyne and Andre Schürrle, Wolfsburg closed the never-ending gap on Bayern to 10 points, finishing second on 69 points.
De Bruyne tallied the second highest amount of goals for his club with 10, while tying a Bundesliga record with 20 assists. He turns 24 in June and despite being a hot commodity around Europe’s elite, Wolfsburg insist he’s going nowhere. Of course, what else are they going to say? That said, regarding De Bruyne, the smartest bit of business they’d accomplish this summer would be doing nothing at all.
Did anyone else in Europe surprise you? Come back next week for our list of disappointments.