How this season’s European overachievers broke into the UCL


If you like tension or things coming down to the wire, this probably hasn’t been your favorite European soccer season. It feels like months since Bayer Leverkusen and Inter Milan clinched their respective league titles, and among Europe’s top seven leagues, only the Premier League‘s title is still up for grabs. (And that’s only if you consider it possible for someone other than Manchester City to win the Premier League eventually.) Outside of Italy, there’s less drama than usual in the relegation fight, too, and even the race for UEFA Champions League spots has been mostly sewn up before the deadline.

Who will get some of those Champions League spots, however, is absolutely fascinating.

Only three of England’s Big Six clubs will likely play in the newly expanded tournament next season because Aston Villa is closer and closer to sewing up a spot. Stuttgart, which narrowly survived relegation last season, is definitively Germany’s third-best team. LaLiga‘s Girona and Ligue 1‘s Brest, which have never finished higher than 10th and eighth in league play, respectively, are currently second and third. Bologna, which last finished in Italy’s top four back in 1967, is quite likely to do so again.

That’s a lot of new blood right there!

Oh, and depending on if Borussia Dortmund wins this year’s Champions League final (and France‘s fourth-place team survives a qualification playoff), Europe’s Big Five leagues could have as many as 23 teams in next year’s 36-team Champions League field. But nearly a quarter of those bids could go to teams that began the season as afterthoughts in the race.

How did we get here? How did we stockpile so many surprising upstart stories at once? Let’s break down what each team has done so well this season and, in this mercenary environment of top-level European football, let’s look at the key players and/or coaches each club will have to fight to hold onto this summer.



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