Even though so much went on in English football, it wasn’t exactly dull in leagues on the continent either. There were a host of pleasant surprises with new names rising to the fore, as well as some older names finally regaining some silverware. It means that the continental competitions will see some interesting sides appear and prove as tough challenges to the established clubs. So who were the pleasant surprises in European football this season?
The rise of Union Berlin
If anyone doubted Union Berlin’s rise to the top, then there’s no stopping them now. Union have proved all their critics wrong and their 5th place finish in the Bundesliga showed they belong with the big boys. Big wins over the likes of RB Leipzig and Borussia Monchengladbach set them on the right path and they finished remarkably winning 6 of their last 7 games to come within one point of Champions League qualification. Even if the club may not have any household stars in their ranks, Union have reminded everyone that they are no pushovers 3 years after their top-flight debut.
Belgium’s changing of the guard
Before this season, Union Saint-Gilloise had not been in top-flight football for almost 50 years. Upon their return, they almost claimed the league title. Now owned by Tony Bloom – the owner of Premier League side Brighton – Union SG took on all of Belgium’s big guns and almost won. They were driven on by the 26 goals of German striker Deniz Undav and led the league before the play-off stage began. Ultimately, the club just fell short as Club Brugge claimed the overall title by four points as the title play-off round finished. However, the Brussels-based side can look forward to Champions League football next season – a prize many could only have dreamed off at the start of the season.
Zurich’s redemption story complete
Just five years ago, Zurich found themselves being relegated to the second tier of Swiss football as the club plummeted into freefall. However, Zurich gathered themselves together and climbed back into the Swiss Super League with a point to prove. They have done just that claiming the 2021-22 title with a commanding 14-point win after 36 games. Their victory certainly seems justified with Gambian striker scoring 20 goals and notching up 10 assists whilst goalkeeper Yanick Brecher kept 10 clean sheets. All this added up to Zurich’s first title in 13 years and a potential spot in the Champions League to enjoy as well.
Trabzonspor end their trophy drought
Turkey has seen Istanbul’s main sides dominate the league in recent years but Trabzonspor changed all that. The Trabzon-based side ended their 38-year title drought in style as they streaked away from Fenerbahce to win the 2021-22 Super Lig by 8 points. The club’s creative outlets provided by the likes of Edin Visca and Anthony Nwakaeme made them difficult to handle and let the club dominate all season long. The end result is the club’s 7th league title (first since 1984) and just the second time the league trophy has left Istanbul in the last 40 years.
Apollon Limassol’s European dreams
Limassol in Cyprus is best known as a holiday resort but the city could find themselves hosting Champions League football by the end of the year. This comes thanks to Apollon Limassol winning the 2021/22 Cypriot First Division for the first time since 2005. The club secured their fourth domestic title in a hard-fought battle with AEK Larnaca with Apollon claiming the title by just 4 points. What this means is that they have earned a spot in the final qualification round for the Champions League – with just one win sending them into Europe’s biggest club competition. A real coup for a city not known for their football.