Girona is currently in first place in La Liga, two points clear after 13 league games. Not Barcelona or either side from Madrid, but little Girona are leading the way in Spain’s top flight. Although not quite the miracle of Leicester City from 2015/2016, due to Girona’s financial ties to the City Football Group, Girona is still flying high and above expectations.
Anyone who has watched the club can see they play with a swagger that would suggest they are always the superior team, however, the side was only promoted from Spain’s second tier last season. Therefore, what is the secret to Girona’s success this season?
Girona may be affiliated with City Football Group, however, the assemblage of their current squad came cheap in relation to their league position. According to Transfermarkt, Girona’s net spend this season is €4.35m, which when compared to the league leaders in the other top five leagues, is next to nothing. For example, OGC Nice in France has a net spend of €27.10m, Bayer Leverkusen’s net spend is €12.10m, Manchester City’s is €126.60m and only Internazionale in Italy is currently in the positives.
This season, many of Girona’s best players exemplify Girona’s smart approach to the market. For example, the acquisition of star winger Savio on loan, who has contributed eight goals so far this season. Likewise, the decision to offer a contract to the experienced free agent Daley Blind has worked out brilliantly, and Blind’s versatility and technical ability have had a positive impact on the side’s build-up.
Even where Girona have dipped into their savings, their purchases have been well researched. For example, Artem Dovbyk, the former top scorer of the Ukrainian first division, appeared an unusual choice, however, the €7.75m man has already contributed 11 goals this season. Competing on a small budget is highly difficult in a financially driven sport, however, Girona are proving that buying smart can be just as effective as buying high, and the club’s smart business is a key reason behind their early season success.
Girona play with a swagger and confidence suggestive of an elite side, and given their league position this is a fair assessment of the small side. Girona’s coach Miguel Ángel Sánchez Muñoz, otherwise known as Michel, has lined up his side in both a four-man and three-man defence this season, but the ideal shape is almost always the same.
Left wing back Miguel Gutiérrez always looks to invert inside to form a double pivot with Aleix Garcia, whilst the two central midfielders move higher and the wingers hold the width. Using a modern 3-2 build-up, what makes Girona unique, is the movement of Blind, who often rotates with Gutiérrez to always create different outlets in build-up.
For example, Gutiérrez can drop in and allow Blind to progress the ball forward, and no player from Girona has statistically made more progressive carries than Blind this season. Girona’s constant rotations offer them multiple shapes, even at times being as bold as to form variations of a 3-1-6, and the 3-2-4-1 popularized by Pep Guardiola.
These aggressive attacking shapes also allow for a more aggressive press higher up the field, and winning the ball high up the field further helps Girona dominate the game in the opponent’s half. However, one of Girona’s strongest defensive factors is their control of match tempo and constant desire for possession.
Girona ranks in the top five in La Liga for possession and passing accuracy which is evidence of their determination to maintain control. Similarly, according to Opta Analyst, Girona ranks lowest for speed of play and directness which highlights their desire to maintain a steady tempo and possession. Furthermore, only Real Madrid and Barcelona have, on average, completed more passes per sequence of possession and have generated more attacks from build-up play.
Finally, Girona, like many traditionally weaker sides, excels at getting the most out of every goal-scoring opportunity, for example, set pieces. No side has created more expected goals from set pieces in Spain this season than Girona, and this is another factor Girona has in their arsenal this season.
It will be a long season for Girona. Being atop the table after 13 league games is impressive. However, against giants such as Barcelona and both Madrid sides, as well as the usual challenges such as injuries and a small squad, Girona may struggle to maintain their form.
However, similar to the impressive Leicester City triumph of 2015/2016, Girona may be helped by their nearest rivals not being at their strongest. Barcelona have had serious injuries already this season and have a relatively young squad, whilst Real Madrid have also had injuries, and are still lacking a true focal point in the striker position.
Although many neutrals may be deterred by Girona’s links to City Football Group, the small club’s achievement cannot be overlooked. If Girona can maintain this form, they may make history as one of the greatest stories in the history of Spanish Football.