Once again, we find ourselves at the Santiago Bernabéu on a Saturday night, where the fate of the title will be decided. All 85,000 tickets have been sold and a chance to make history awaits. The two top teams, with a combined 100 goals, are far ahead of the rest. The home team remains undefeated and has the most points in all of Europe, while the visiting team has yet to lose on the road and the league title awaits the winner. The top goal scorers will go head to head, competing for the Pichichi trophy. The embodiment of Spain will face off against the team supported by the exiled Catalan president. In the capital, a massive banner appears, sending a message that they are coming for their opponents. It is shaping up to be a classic match, but it is not a clásico.
This is not a match between Real Madrid and Barcelona, but rather between Real Madrid and Girona. Despite being an underdog, Girona has managed to reach this point. If they win on Saturday, Míchel Sánchez’s team may start to believe that they have a chance to win it all. They have already defeated Barcelona and Atlético Madrid, and defeating Madrid would make their chances even more real. This club, which has never won a title or qualified for European competitions, only entered the first division in 2017 and was relegated soon after. In their fourth season in the top league, with a budget only 1/14th the size of Madrid’s, they could potentially become league champions.
“We aim to achieve something significant by the end of the season,” stated Míchel. “Finishing at the top at the Bernabéu would be an extraordinary feat and put Girona in the spotlight. However, we do not consider ourselves to be contenders for the league title. With 14 games remaining, Madrid and Barcelona are likely to secure many victories. Every match is a challenge for us. To win the league, a team typically needs 85-90 points, but we currently only have 56. Madrid and Barcelona have the potential to reach that total, and Atlético has already accomplished it. It is unreasonable for anyone to expect us to win the league.”
Even though there is no strong demand, there would be disappointment if Girona drops from their top position. This speaks to their impressive performance and their ability to defy expectations. Despite not being expected to compete at this level, Girona has consistently held onto their spot at the top of the table. They have been in first place for a total of nine weeks out of 23, and have moved into first place four times. If they win their next game, they will extend their lead to two points and hold onto the top spot for a total of 10 weeks. This has led to comparisons to Leicester, the team that famously defied odds and won the Premier League title.
Is Girona capable of replicating Leicester’s success? Based on their performance so far, it seems likely. With 56 points after 23 games and only one loss, they are actually doing better than Claudio Ranieri’s team, which ended the 2015-16 season with 81 points and three losses.
According to Míchel, the issue is probably with the other teams. In the year 2016, Arsenal came in second place with a total of 71 points, despite losing seven times. Meanwhile, Spurs came in third with 70 points. Currently, Madrid has 58 points and there are still 45 points left to be won.
Carlo Ancelotti stated on Friday that the victor of tomorrow’s game will hold an edge, but the current season is a lengthy one. He acknowledged that Girona is entering the game with high aspirations and drive, potentially allowing them to claim the top spot in the league. However, tomorrow’s results do not determine the ultimate outcome of the league, as it will be decided at a later time regardless of the outcome.
No matter what occurs, this has been an exceptional season, proven by the fact that anyone would even consider claiming that this is the determining match for the title. Recently, a massive banner was put up in downtown Madrid, echoing the campaign of Barcelona’s president Joan Laporta. Arranged by a human resources firm that sponsors Girona, it depicts their players rejoicing with the phrase: “Your resume isn’t everything.”
Girona’s stadium, with a capacity of 13,942, is the smallest in the first division. Located in a city that is not known for its passion for football, many residents instead support Barcelona, which is 99km away. This club has not won any major trophies, aside from one Catalan Super Cup and titles in Spain’s third and fourth divisions. Their squad is also quite small, with Daley Blind being responsible for over half of the players. Upon examining the players’ resumes, it is noted that they have a total of 37 relegations among them.
The recent news of Brazilian player Sávio joining Manchester City on a loan from Troyes highlighted a flaw in the seemingly perfect story. Troyes and Girona are both owned by the City Football Group, with City holding a 47% stake in Girona and Pep Guardiola’s brother Pere owning 16%. Carlo Ancelotti pointed out that their financial resources were evident in their ability to afford advertising space in Madrid.
However, solely relying on this fact does not fully account for or lessen what Girona has achieved on the field: only two players are owned by the City Group, their salary cap is €51m (£43.5m) while Madrid’s is €727m, and their most expensive player to date is Artem Dovbyk, who was acquired for €7m for 50% of his registration. Dovbyk and Jude Bellingham, who was purchased for €103m, are currently tied as La Liga’s top scorers with 14 goals each.
This is a team of players and a coach who were not expected to be in this position. They did not take the traditional route of being the defensive underdog, nor did they resort to dirty tactics. They have scored four goals against Atlético and Barcelona each, and have the highest number of goals scored in the league. They have had several high-scoring games, including three 4-2 wins, a 4-3 win, a 5-2 win, and a 5-3 win. Fourteen different players have scored for them. Sávio leads the league in completed dribbles and assists, while Aleix García has completed the second-highest number of passes. Their only loss was against Madrid, but they still managed to have a high number of shots on goal.
Girona lost their position at the top of the league, which they had achieved for the first time ever, that night. Everyone believed that was the end of it. Míchel stated, “We cannot match Madrid as equals.” However, they now have the opportunity to reclaim their spot. The president of the club, Delfí Geli, confessed, “We are in a battle we did not anticipate.” The fight for the league will take place on Saturday night at the Santiago Bernabéu.