One thing we love about football is that it can be entirely, and utterly, unpredictable and there’s been a number of shocks and surprises in the early weeks of the new campaign.
Sure, Bayern Munich might be chasing a 12th consecutive Bundesliga title and Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City targeting similar dominance in their respective divisions, but football is still capable of springing surprises that keep us on the edge of our seats.
Here are five of the biggest surprise stories in European football from the 2023/24 campaign so far.
Five surprises from Europe’s top leagues this season:
Girona challenge Spanish supremacy
The usual suspects lead the title race in La Liga, as Real Madrid look to wrestle back the title from arch-rivals Barcelona. Just four teams have been crowned champions in Spain in the last two decades, with that number not expected to change in the near future.
Nestled in among the big boys this season however, is Girona. In just the club’s second season since being promoted back into the top division, Girona sit second in the table, ahead of both Barcelona and Atletico Madrid. No team in La Liga has scored more goals than Girona (24), whose only defeat of the season came against Real Madrid.
Artem Dovbyk has hit the ground running with five goals in 10 league games, having signed for Girona on the back of a 29-goal campaign for Ukrainian outfit Dnipro last season, while Eric Garcia has shone on loan from Barcelona.
Girona have scored more league goals this season (24) than:
◉ Real Madrid (21)
◉ Liverpool (20)
◉ Napoli (20)
◉ PSG (20)
◉ Man City (19)
◉ Arsenal (18)
And as many as Chelsea (13) and Man Utd (11) have combined. 🤯 pic.twitter.com/GMT5AZHuNd
— Squawka (@Squawka) October 22, 2023
Girona had only reached the top division for the first time in 2017, were relegated two seasons later, before bouncing back 16 months ago. Their success this season has come despite losing a quartet of key names in the summer, Oriol Romeu and leading scorer Taty Castellanos among them. Dovbyk has done a fine job in replacing Castellanos’ contribution, while compatriot Viktor Tsygankov and Savinho have added real quality in wide areas.
Few expect Girona – 10th in the table last season – to remain in the title race, but a first European qualification is within reach.
Guirassy goes goal mad
Erling Haaland blitzed his way to the European Golden Shoe last season, but even the Manchester City machine has been left trailing in his bid to win back-to-back awards.
Serhou Guirassy is the surprise name leading Europe’s top five leagues for goals, following a record-breaking start to the Bundesliga campaign. No player in history has scored more Bundesliga goals after eight games, with the 27-year-old having smashed home 14 goals.
Stuttgart’s Serhou Guirassy is the leading scorer in Europe’s big five league this season 🔥
— The Football Faithful (@FootyFaithful_) October 24, 2023
Stuttgart have clung on to their top-flight status in the last two seasons, but are riding high in second on the back of Guirassy’s goal-glut. The forward’s sharp-shooting leaves him five goals clear of Bayern Munich’s Harry Kane in the race to be the league’s leading scorer.
Fabrizio Romano this week revealed Guirassy has a release clause of just €17.5m in his contract at Die Roten. Expect a queue of clubs to be at his door when the January transfer window opens.
Ajax in crisis
Ajax are the most successful club in Dutch football history, with the Amsterdam outfit four-time European champions and winner of the Eredivisie in seven of the last 12 completed campaigns.
However, Ajax are now searching for a third permanent manager since the start of last season after the decision to sack Maurice Steijn this week. The decision was made with Ajax second-bottom of the Eredivisie table, having won just one of their opening seven games of the campaign.
◉ 18.2% win percentage
◉ 17th in the table for the first time ever
◉ 8-game winless run for the first time ever
◉ As many games suspended (2) as games won (2) across all competitions
Ajax have parted ways with head coach Maurice Steijn with immediate effect. 🙃 pic.twitter.com/hpmZyI6Xlh
— Squawka (@Squawka) October 23, 2023
Steijn is the second manager sacked since the departure of Erik ten Hag to Manchester United in 2022, after replacement Alfred Schreuder was dismissed in January. Steijn has lasted even less time, with the former Sparta Rotterdam coach leaving after just four months in charge.
Ajax are already 22 points behind PSV Eindhoven in the table.
Bellingham bossing the Bernabeu
We knew Jude Bellingham was good. You don’t get your pick of Europe’s top clubs without having something a little special.
But Bellingham’s first months in a Real Madrid shirt have exceeded even the greatest expectations. The 20-year-old has already matched the best goalscoring season of his league career, having hit eight goals in nine La Liga games for the Spanish giants.
Bellingham’s burst of goals means the midfielder is La Liga’s leading scorer, ahead of Antoine Griezmann and Robert Lewandowski. More established and experienced players than Bellingham have been chewed up and spat out at Real Madrid, the world’s biggest football club and one where nothing but winning is accepted.
Jude Bellingham this season 🌟
🇪🇸 Man of the Match vs Athletic.
🇪🇸 Man of the Match vs Almería.
🇪🇸 Man of the Match vs Celta.
🏴 Man of the Match vs Scotland.
🇪🇺 Man of the Match vs Union.
🇪🇸 Man of the Match vs Girona.
🇪🇺 Man of the Match vs Napoli.
🇪🇸 Man of the Match vs… pic.twitter.com/59C2PdmYlc
— Fabrizio Romano (@FabrizioRomano) October 17, 2023
Bellingham has taken that pressure in his stride to become La Liga’s outstanding player so far. He might be better than we even imagined.
Lyon are another side suffering this season with the French side rooted to the bottom of the Ligue 1 table. Lyon ended last season seventh in the table and reached the Coupe de France semi-finals, with a 31-goal season from returning hero Alexandre Lacazette spearheading their campaign.
This season has been a disaster however, with Laurent Blanc sacked as manager after a winless start to the campaign. Fabio Grosso has arrived to take charge of his former team but has been unable to stop the rot so far, with Lyon without a win after nine league games.
🇫🇷🔻 Lyon are BOTTOM of Ligue 1… 🤯
They just lost 2-1 at home to Clermont Foot. pic.twitter.com/OhBeDKa18b
— EuroFoot (@eurofootcom) October 22, 2023
That run includes heavy home defeats to Montpellier and Paris Saint-Germain, leaving Lyon six points from safety. The current team are a far cry from the Lyon side who dominated Ligue 1 at the turn of the millennium to win seven consecutive league titles, but there’s enough talent to be doing much, much better.