Previewing this season’s newly promoted minnows across Europe

Across Europe last season many smaller sides upset the odds in their respective divisions, for example Leipzig and Hoffenheim both qualifying for the Champions League while the likes of Schalke, Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Monchengladbach faltered in Germany; Atalanta finishing above both Milan clubs in Italy; and relative minnows Monaco pipping PSG to the French title.

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Even in the smaller leagues there were shocks – Rijeka became the first team since 2005 to win the title in Croatia ahead of the usually dominant Dinamo Zagreb and Basaksehir beat the two giants of Turkish football, Fenerbahce and Galatasaray to the final Champions League spot in Turkey.

Which side could potentially be the next to stir up a big shock this time around? Let’s take a look at some of the newly promoted sides from Europe’s top leagues who’ve came from nowhere to compete with the elite sides across the continent.

Serie A – SPAL and Benevento

Every season in Serie A we seem to be introduced to sides who against all odds win promotion from Serie B.

Recently we have seen Crotone, Frosinone, Carpi and Novara defy expectations and this season we will have two more.

Societa Polisportiva Ars et Labor otherwise known as SPAL were second tier champions, and will play in Serie A for the first time in 49 years after back-to-back promotions from Serie C and Benevento who gained promotion through the play-offs, with Inter loanee George Puscas scoring the only goal across a two-legged final with Carpi, after finishing fifth in Serie B will be competing in Serie A for the first time in their 88-year history.

As expected, both are huge favourites to go back down, but so were Crotone last season before they pulled off their great escape in the closing months of the season which shows anything is possible.

SPAL have bought the experienced Felipe from Udinese and loaned former Swansea striker Alberto Paloschi from Atalanta and have reacquired Alex Meret on loan after his sensational season last year which earnt him an Italy call-up.

Benevento have signed both Vid Belec and Gaetano Letizia who had Serie A experience with Carpi in 2015/16 as well as the promising Danilo Cataldi from Lazio on loan.

Both sides had clinical forwards last season which they will hope are capable of making the step up.

Fabio Ceravolo scored 20 for Benevento and they have also signed Massimo Coda from Salernitana who scored 16 whereas Mirco Antenucci who spent two years at Leeds bagged 18 for SPAL.

Serie B – Parma

A club with a successful past may well still have a successful future after what has been a disaster over the last few years.

The two-time UEFA cup winners were declared bankrupt in 2015 just a year after finishing sixth in Serie A with 218 million euros worth of unpaid tax and months of salaries still to be owed.

They were docked points for the 2014/15 season, finished bottom and were liquidated.

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Parma were instantly re-founded in 2015 and were allowed to compete in Serie D for  the 2015/16 season and within two years they have gone from the fourth tier to the second tier.

The back-to-back promotion was confirmed with a 2-0 play-off win over Alessandria and now Parma are within touching distance of the top flight again.

Forty-year-old captain Alessandro Lucarelli has been with the club since their relegation at the end of the last decade, their instant promotion back, their bankruptcy, their demotion and their double promotion, and will captain the side again this season.

The days of Buffon, Crespo, Chiesa, Cannavaro and Thuram are long gone, but they are making giant strides and making them quickly.

La Liga – Girona

Joining Levante and Getafe in gaining promotion to La Liga this season are Girona who will be appearing in the top flight for the first time after finishing second in the Segunda Division.

They will be aspiring to replicate Eibar’s successes since they were first promoted who despite being the smallest team ever to play in La Liga, are now in their fourth consecutive season.

Girona were the top scorers last season with 65 goals, but top scorer Samuele Longo has gone back to parent club Inter for the time being. Despite this they have still been very busy in the transfer market.

Goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz has joined from Atheltic Bilbao after making 315 appearances for them but was shifted out of the side last seaon by Kepa Arrizabalaga.

They have also bought Cristhian Stuani and Bernardo Espinosa from Middlesborough and loaned four youth players from Manchester City.

With all the chopping and changing going on, it will make survival much harder as they need to blend the new signings and loanees very quickly and they seem to lack strength in depth which will be a key factor as the physicality increases going up the divisons.

Ligue 1 – Amiens and Strasbourg

It will be quite some time before you see a promotion race as close as there was in Ligue 2 last season.

After the penultimate gameweek, just three points separated the top six of Strasbourg, Amiens, Troyes, Lens, Brest and Nimes with two automatic promotion spots and a play-off place up for grabs.

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Strasbourg comfortably beat Bourg Peronnas to win the title but second place Amiens were drawing 1-1 away to Reims and third place Troyes were losing 2-0 at Sochaux, meaning fourth place Lens were in the second promotion place until the 88th minute when Troyes completed an incredible comeback to lead 3-2 to go second.

Amiens sat sixth until Emmanuel Bourgaud scored with the last kick of the season in the 96th minute to send them up, knock Troyes into the play-off spot and Lens out of the promotion places completely.

That kick meant Amiens will be competing in Ligue 1 for the first time since they were formed in 1901.

Strasbourg meanwhile completed back-to-back promotions. After being liquidated in 2011, they started again in the fifth tier and now six years on, they find themselves back in the top flight.

Plenty of sides struggled in Ligue 1 last season so both could have a chance of survival.

Troyes will be hoping to stay for longer than a year this time round as they beat Lorient in the relegation play-off after they were relegated with a whimper in 2015/16 which included a 9-0 home defeat by PSG.

Russian Premier League – SKA Khabarovsk

All the representatives of the sides in the Russian Premier League would have been praying that Orenburg came out on top in their relegation play-off against Khabarovsk, purely because of the hassle and costs of flying there to play them.

5627 miles and seven time zones separates the very far-east Russian city from the capital. It is even further away from Moscow than Beijing is, which undoubtedly has sparked criticism.

Some have called for the divisions to be regionalised to cut back on travelling but nobody seems to think of the position Khabarovsk are in.

They have to travel across an entire continent and back every other week just to play one game.

This factor alone makes them almost certainties to go down as they will need to make the most of home matches and potential fatigue from visiting sides from the long journey to Khabarovsk, but they lost their first home game of the season to Zenit.

There was a similar scenario in 2006 when Luch-Enerigya from the city of Vladivostok, which is ten hours north of Khabarovsk, were promoted to the Premier League.

CSKA Moscow’s long-standing Goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev said they should be playing in the Japanese League after they were beaten 4-0 away in Vladivostok after a nine hour flight.

They remained in the Premier League until 2008 but have not returned since.

They are unlikely to cause many problems for the top sides on the pitch, but are a bit of headache for the sides located far-west in Russia as flights could take up to eight to ten hours as well as stop off times to board connecting flights.

After five matches, they have three points and sit 14th.

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Andrew Delaney

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