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Long Shots: A Season with the struggling clubs of Europe’s big-five football leagues

I have a thing for sports teams that outshine expectations, teams that put it up to the big guns and battle the fiscal realities of modern sport to make an impact. I feel there’s less glory in winning when you had all the advantages, and it’s what everyone expected. I guess I’m a sporting romantic.

I’d argue it’s never been harder, in football, for the up-and-comers, the relatively unestablished clubs. Of course, there’s always an exception, like Leicester City’s magnificent Premier League win a few seasons ago, but the reality is that most sides in Europe’s big football leagues these years, winning something is a pipe dream, and being stripped of your best assets for a large chunk of money – which in turn you can use to bring through a another team – is arguably the most likely of positive outcomes.

Has this always been the case? Well not always, but in modern-day football, arguably so. There have certainly always been periods of dominance in football, but the dominance on display at the moment, is, perhaps, as substantial as its ever been. As an illustration, here’s where we currently stand in Europe’s top six leagues (in my view) over the last ten years:

England: Manchester City (4), Manchester United (2), Chelsea (2), Liverpool (1), Leicester City (1)

Spain: Barcelona (6), Real Madrid (3), Athletico Madrid (1)

Italy: Juventus (9), AC Milan (1)

Germany: Bayern Munich (8), Borussia Dortmund (2)

France: PSG (7), Monaco (1), Montpellier (1), Lille (1)

Netherlands: Ajax (5), PSV (3), Feyernoord (1), void (1)

The above is not what excites me. In all of the above leagues, you’d probably get 50/1 on anyone outside of the top five or six clubs (and in some cases two or three clubs) winning the title, and those clubs change very ltitle season on season. The bottom, frankly, is more interesting.

So I’ve decided to spend a season learning about some of the teams at the other extreme. I’ve picked the five European leagues most likely to produce a Champions League of Europa League winner, in my view (with apologies to Ajax and the Dutch – victims themselves of the asset-stripping I talked about above). But instead of following Liverpool, Bayern, PSG, Real Madrid or Juventus, I’ll be keeping a close eye on whichever team the bookmakers say are the favourites for relegation on the first day of the season, and I’ll be following those five teams all season long.