When Leicester City won the Premier League title in 2015-16, it was described as a historic moment that may never be repeated in modern football. The reason is the huge amount of money involved in the modern game, which makes it near impossible for any club not in the wealthiest tier category to win a 38-game long season.
However, Girona in La Liga probably didn’t get this memo. After 13 rounds of games in the Spanish league, it is a Catalonian club that is top of the table, and for the first time in a very long time, it is not Barcelona.
With 11 wins, one draw, and one loss, the Catalonian outfit have surprised all by catapulting themselves to the top of the league table. And they have done so while playing some beautiful football. Girona’s rise is important because the Real Madrid and Barcelona duo have dominated the league for the better part of this century, and they have won 20 out of the last 23 titles.
Another factor is that Girona have played 13 games, which is one-third of a season, proving that their rise is no fluke, and Barcelona and Real Madrid will need to be at their best to keep the new rising giants from scripting a miracle.
Girona attacking stats
When an underdog team catapults itself to the top of the table, it is usually associated with several factors, such as luck, a defensive strategy, and a group of two to three players doing most of the work in a game. Girona debunk all three of these in the current season. First, they have amassed 31 goals with only Bayern Munich, Bayer Leverkusen and Manchester City scoring more.
Their goals conversion rate is also an impressive 17.32 per cent, the fifth-best in the top five leagues. Stats from Soccerment show that Griona have overperformed their Expected Goals (xG) tally by 4.72, one of the best in the league.
The team manager Michel has perfected a tactic that allows the team to express their creativity in attack. Their motto is simple: play an aggressive high press that suffocates the opposition.
It is reflected in the Gegenpressing Intensity Percentage (GPI), a metric that measures the amount of press exerts the high press in a game. Girona have a GPI of 55.08, the fourth-best in the league.
In the transfer window, Girona lost first-team starters such as Santiago Bueno, Oriol Romeu, and Ramón Terrats. And it is here that a combination of two things helped them replace these players and make their squad even better.
With a modest budget of around €20 million, Girona made some smart recruitment. First came the duo of Daley Blind and Paulo Gazzaniga, who came on a free transfer. In addition, they added Artem Dovbyk, Jhon Solís, Yangel Herrera, Ivan Martin, and Portu, which improved the squad’s quality and bench strength. Another thing that came in their favour was that they are part of the City Football Group (CFG). This helped them get Savio, their best performer this season, on a loan from sister club Troyes, who play in Ligue 2. They also got high calibre players such as Eric Garcia and Pablo Torre on loan.
After getting these players, Michel’s mandate was simple: create pressure and play a highly attacking style. He knew the team was not as strong in defence as some of the bigwigs in La Liga, so they needed to outscore their opponents to keep pace.
And the results have been impressive. In the current season, Girona have scored three or more goals in five different games. Also, they have scored in every game, barring one. The addition of Daley Blind has been one of their best moves. The experienced defender has a fantastic passing range, which greatly helps the team.
Girona tactics: Create overloads and the Blind-Savio combo
Michel knew that his team was not stacked with talent all across the team. This meant he had to identify the strengths and create a system that negates the team’s weaknesses. Girona play a 3-4-3 system, but only when they are not in possession. However, all that changes when they get the ball with Daley Blind, who plays as the left centre-back, comes into the midfield.
This changes the formation to 2-5-3. With Blind in the midfield, Girona now have one of the best passers of the ball, controlling the game. And the stats back it up. Daley Blind has an Expected Threat (xT) rating of 1.49, the best in the Spanish league. The xT is a metric that measures how much threat a player offers in a specific pitch area, either through his passing or ball-carrying ability.
Blind’sBlind’s impeccable passing has been one of the reasons why Girona have managed to create so many chances this season. Blind is also among the top five passers in the league, along with teammate Aleix Garcia.
And if Blind is controlling the midfield, the onus in the attack is on a 19-year-old Savio. Signed on loan from sister club Troyes, the teenager has taken no time to adapt to the demands of the new league.
Savio has the second best xT rating in the league. On top of that, his Expected Offensive Value Added (xOVA) rating is 4.93 among the best across the top five leagues. Michel has given the free role to the youngster, which allows him to express himself at his creative best.
Savio also has completed 30 successful dribbles, the second-best in the league and on par with Vinicius Jr. Apart from these two; the other players have played a simple role in ensuring the team has lots of possession and creates and always creates overloads across the pitch.
Michel knows he does not have the luxury of fielding 11 world-class players backed by a world-class bench. And thus, their best bet is to ensure they play to their strengths and hope it overpowers the opposition.
And this is the only template that they can follow if they want to become Leicester 2.0. Based on signs till now, they have the ability to etch their names in the golden pages of football folklore.
This article is sponsored by Sportsmint Media.