Every season, in every league, some teams do better than expected and some do worse. It is the nature of football and the game is far richer for it. No doubt supporters would quickly lose interest if every game and league standing was known before a ball was kicked. Sometimes a team can overachieve very briefly, making a flying start before fading away or dropping like a stone. On other occasions a shock meteoric rise can be maintained, and a teams future built off it.
Currently in November, different leagues across the world are at different stages. Most central and western European leagues are between a quarter and a third of the way through their season, whilst Northern European and South & North American leagues may have already finished their season or are coming to a close. As such, some of these teams have only overachieved for a small period, whereas others have done so for a much longer stretch of games.
The way in which a team’s ‘overachievement’ can be measured is in relation to the size of the club, quality of their players and, most importantly, the general consensus and expectations of the team before the season began. Here are the top 15 overachieving soccer teams in the world right now:
15. Akhisar Belediyespor
Turkish club Akhisar Belediyespor were founded in April 1970. They have spent 40 years of their 45-year history as either an amateur club or playing in the third and fourth tiers of Turkish football. Beladiyespor have been on a meteoric rise ever since 2010, when the club was first promoted to the second division, and in 2012, they won promotion to the Turkish Super Lig for the first time in their history. As one of the minnows of the Super Lig, Belediyespor are current having an incredible campaign, and find themselves in fourth place in the league, behind only Besiktas, Galatasaray and Fenerbahce.
14. Watford FC
Premier League new-boys Watford were one of the favourites to be relegated this season following their promotion from the Championship. Whilst the other promoted clubs, Norwich and Bournemouth, have struggled with injuries and heavy defeats, the Hornets have suffered no such problems, and are currently sitting pretty in 11th in the Premier League table, ahead of the likes of Swansea, Stoke and Chelsea.
Crucial to Watford’s success has been the goals of Odion Ighalo, who is currently the second highest scorer in the Premier League behind Jamie Vardy.
Italian football threatened to become something of a one-horse race in recent years, with Juventus routinely winning the title at a canter. Not this season though. The Old Lady find themselves way down the standings behind Fiorentina, who have been exchanging the lead with Inter for much of the season. The Florence-based outfit are by no means minnows, but few expected them to challenge for the title this season. Fiorentina emphasized their class in a recent trip to Inter Milan, where they thrashed their fellow title hopefuls 4-1.
12. Portland Timbers
In ESPN’s comprehensive 2015 MLS predictions produced in March, 10 experts, writers, journalists and analysts were tasked with predicting a number of outcomes ahead of the forthcoming MLS season. None of them had the Portland Timbers down to win any silverware, and whilst that may well be the case, three had Sporting Kansas City down to win a trophy, who the Timbers just knocked out of the MLS Cup. Furthermore, 6 of the 10 pundits didn’t even have the Timbers down to finish in the playoffs, yet the club finished third, ahead of both the Seattle Sounders and LA Galaxy.
11. Celta de Vigo
It is fair to say Celta de Vigo are not one of the giants of Spanish football. They spent five consecutive seasons in the second tier, before finally winning promotion in 2012, and were almost relegated upon their La Liga return. Having survived though, the club began to make great strides. They finished 9th in 2013-14, 8th in 2014-15, and are currently on course for their most impressive season in well over a decade.
10. SM Caen
Founded in 1913, SM Caen were renowned as one of the countries most successful amateur teams. There is some leap from amateur football to professional football though, and the club finally took that leap in 1985. Since then, Caen have become a perennial yoyo club; rarely spending more than a few seasons in the top flight but regularly proving a force in the second tier. Relegated once more in 2012, they returned to Ligue 1 in 2014, and are currently fifth in Ligue 1, which would match their highest ever league finish. With 21 points from 10 games, Caen are currently situated above the likes of Nice and Monaco.
9. IFK Norrkoping
With 118 years of history, IFK Norrkoping are one of Sweden’s most famous clubs, and have won a total of 13 national championships and been the homes of Swedish legends Gunnar Nordahl and Nils Liedholm. In recent years, the club has failed to challenge though. They have spent a number of seasons in the second division and since returning to the Allsvenskan in 2010 they have twice been almost relegated, in 2011 and 2014. From near relegation in 2014 to the title in 2015, the turnaround in remarkable at Norrkoping. It was their first league title in 16 years and the club appear to be a force again.
8. Montreal Impact
Another team who have defied expectations in the MLS this season have been Montreal Impact, who have been spurred on by the arrival of Didier Drogba, who scored 11 goals in his first 11 games for the Canadian club. Having finished dead last in the Eastern Conference last season, few predicted much for the Impact in the 2015 season. In the ESPN predictions alluded to earlier, only two of the 10 pundits had them to make the playoffs and none had them down to win any silverware.
As it happened, the Impact have had a superb season, finishing third in the Eastern Conference, ahead of the more-fancied DC United and New England Revolution.
Their most impressive feat this season though, was making it to the CONCACAF Champions League Final, knocking off teams like Pachuca and Alajuelense, before falling to Mexican giants Club America in the final on a 5-3 aggregate score.
7. Heracles Almelo
Heracles Almelo are real minnows of Dutch football. After an absence which spanned decades, they finally returned to the Eredivisie in 2005. The club’s attendances are generally around the 6,000 mark and their stadium capacity stands at 8,500. Heracles have won two league titles, although the most recent of those was 74 years ago, and the other 88 years ago. Having finished 14th out of 18 teams in the 2014-15 season, Heracles have made a lightning start to this seasons campaign, sitting in fourth. After just 11 games they had already accumulated just three wins fewer than all of last season.
6. Rio Ave FC
Rio Ave FC are yet to win a major trophy in their 76 year history, with three second division titles and one third division title constituting as their only pieces of silverware to date. The team have been trying to establish themselves in the Portuguese Primeira Liga in recent seasons, with a respectable tenth place finish in 2014/15. This season though, the northern Portuguese club have exceeded all expectations, competing with the likes Porto, Benfica, Braga and Sporting Lisbon. It seems unlikely Rio Ave will maintain their current form but they would make history if they did.
5. SD Eibar
Another La Liga side, but when compared to Celta de Vigo, Eibar make Celta look like European colossuses. Eibar are without doubt the smallest club in La Liga, and the 2014-15 season was their first ever in the Spanish top flight. The club finished 18th, one place and three points above relegation, and a great success for a team of their stature. Most expected another season of struggle for Eibar, who have a stadium capacity of just 6,267, but the minnows are defying all odds in La Liga, ahead of the likes of Valencia, Bilbao and Sevilla.
4. FC Rostov
FC Rostov have been in the Russian Premier League since their promotion from the second tier in 2009, but they have been incredibly fortunate not to go down again. They have finished in the relegation playoffs in four of their six top flight seasons since promotion, winning the relegation playoffs on each of those occasions. One of those seasons was last season, in 2014-15, when the club survived only on goal differential before scraping through the playoffs once more.
Rostov seemed destined for the drop this season, but after 14 games they are flying high in the Russian Premier League, sitting in third, ahead of Russian giants Zenit St Petersburg and Spartak Moscow, and behind only CSKA and Lokomotiv Moscow. After less than half a season Rostov had already gotten two points off their total from last season.
3. U.S. Sassuolo Calcio
U.S. Sassuolo Calcio are probably in among the three smallest teams in the Serie A, along with Frosinone and Carpi. Sassuolo won the Serie B title in 2013, meaning that the 2013-14 season would be the club’s first in the top flight. They finished 17th and two points above relegation, but improved in 2014-15, finishing 12th.
Few could have predicted their start to the 2015-16 season though, as Sassuolo have been challenging the hierarchy of Italian football. So far, the club has experienced their greatest season in history.
2. Leicester City
After a decade outside of the Premier League, including a spell in the third tier, Leicester City returned to England’s top flight after winning the Championship title in 2014. They struggled for almost the entirety of the 2014-15 season, sitting bottom for roughly three quarters of the season. Seven wins in their last nine games and only one defeat ensured survival though, in one of the greatest Premier League great escapes. Despite the remarkable turnaround, the Leicester owners shocked the football world when they sacked the man who orchestrated such form, Nigel Pearson, over the summer.
Claudio Ranieri was brought in, on the back of a disastrous spell as manager of the Greek national team, and Leicester were put down as one of the early relegation favourites. The Foxes have made a blistering start to the season though. The form of Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez have been a huge influence upon this, with Vardy among the top of the Premier League goal scoring charts.
1. Angers SCO
The French Ligue 1 has become something of a one-horse race in recent years, with PSG’s financial muscle seeing them often coast to the title, and that is no different this season. The order of those behind PSG is rather more intriguing though, and one which has seen a fair amount of variation in recent seasons. Monaco, Marseille, Bordeaux, Lille, Lyon and St Etienne are all often in the mix, but this season has seen one team shake up the usual suspects. We have already seen Caen defying the odds in sixth, but even more remarkable than that is Angers SCO, who find themselves level on points with second place Lyon.
This season is the club’s first in Ligue 1 since they were relegated in the 1993-94 season, and few could have expected them to be sitting in a Champions League spot, above Monaco, Marseille at St Etienne with almost a third of the season gone. After a 21-year absence from the top flight, Angers were hotly tipped for relegation, and are currently overachieving more than any other top flight club in the world. Their highest ever league finish was fourth in Ligue 1, coming in the 1971-72 season.
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