Girona: Analyzing the Breakout Stars of the La Liga Season’s Opening Weeks

Historically, the perception of Catalonian football has been overwhelmed by Barcelona’s football philosophy, which has been strongly influenced by iconic figures such as Johan Cruyff and Pep Guardiola. These individuals promoted a brand of football that is about playing beautiful, entertaining, and expressive football rather than the ruthless pursuit of results. 


This idealistic approach has earned Barcelona a global fanbase and admiration for its commitment to attractive and possession-oriented football. Despite this, it is undoubtedly true that clubs within the Catalan region view are ideologically clubs for the people. This season, one of the prominent stories in Spanish football has been the rise of FC Girona, which has patiently awaited its moment in the spotlight.


To conclude the seventh round of La Liga matches, Girona achieved a historic milestone by moving to first place in the top-flight for the first time in their history after winning 2-1 at Villarreal, their sixth straight victory, but their reign atop the table would not last long as Real Madrid came away with a 3-0 victory, a match that would see Girona squander several early opportunities and concede twice within a half-hour, suffering their first defeat of the season.


Girona were granted a UEFA license last May amid their pursuit of seventh place — the final European position — but they would finish 10th, missing out on a first-ever European qualification by just four points. Today, they sit in second place after heading into the international break with a 1-0 win against Cádiz, two points behind Real Madrid, one above Barcelona and three above Atlético Madrid, and they will be looking to continue their impressive form as they host last-placed Almería — the only winless team in La Liga — before closing out October with a visit from 18th-placed Celta de Vigo, who sit level on six points with Granada, three above Almería.


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While the football world marveled at their achievement, those associated with the club knew this was an achievement that had long been in the works. Football serves as a medium of self-expression and each touch has the potential to convey identity. It is about being simple, just as Johan Cruyff once stated: “It’s like everything in football – and life. You need to look, you need to think, you need to move, you need to find space, you need to help others. It’s very simple in the end.” 


In the region of Catalonia, footballing success is built on an ideology of simplicity, a culture, a belief and a philosophy of the fundamentals of the sport being strengthened. Girona, on the other hand, is reinventing what this could mean for a side in the region. For them, their unique identity is epitomized exhibiting intensity, control, and precision, values which Michel, the coach guiding their journey this season, instills within his players. 


Girona in Recent Years


Girona is a club with a great history who had their first taste of La Liga football in 2017 after a second-placed finish in the Segunda División behind Levante. On August 23, 2017, Girona was announced as a new addition to the City Football Group (CFG), a subsidiary of Abu Dhabi United Group, after they purchased 44.3% ownership of the club. Another 44.3% was held by Girona Football Group, led by Pere Guardiola, the brother of CFG-owned Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola. 


After just two seasons in the top flight, Girona were relegated on the last match day of the 2018–19 La Liga season. Subsequently, they sacked Eusebio Sacristán and were forced to reinvent the squad in the Segunda División once again. This reinvention saw three new managers and two back-to-back fifth-placed finishes in the Segunda División before finally setting up with Míchel, a coach who had achieved promotions with Huesca and Rayo Vallecano in recent years. As a result, Míchel achieved promotion with Girona in his first season and in 2021, Girona were back in La Liga.  


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Míchel’s Impact and Influence


Interestingly, the club finished tenth in La Liga the season after promotion, just as they did in 2017-18, finishing tenth in the 2022–2023 season. The Catalan side has proved its capability thanks to the dynamism, dexterity and tactical astuteness of Míchel’s brand of football. However, Míchel’s time at Huesca and Rayo Vallecano ultimately resulted in him being sacked midway through his team’s first season in La Liga. But there is a clear difference at Girona. 


“There was continuity which gave us tranquility,” Míchel commented on Girona’s approach to recruitment and the day-to-day work ethic of his squad.  


Girona had prepared to face a relegation battle last season but instead attacked the league and performed remarkably. Building on this, they have refined their playing style and become a much more fluid side. They create high volumes of chances and as evidence of this, they have amassed the third-highest xG in the league this season (17.72) behind only Barcelona and Real Madrid. 


Moreover, they’re a team that loves to play directly likewise in an asymmetrical structure, creating overloads on the left-hand side with switches of play being a common avenue for chance creation. A common feature of Girona under Míchel is that they often draw in pressure by overloading one side of the pitch, offering three of four passing options before directly attacking spaces vacated by the opposition pressing these options. 


It has one of the most composed and organized defenses in the league with Yangel Herrera and Daley Blind playing a huge role in solidifying the back line. While they are overperforming slightly on their xGA, they have built a strong base in defense with very clear tactical decisions being enacted on the pitch. An example of this is the man-marking approach in midfield that Míchel has instructed. As seen against Sevilla, Girona’s three-man midfield is so aggressive in their man-marking that they can sometimes be drawn out of position which created issues against both Sevilla and most recently against Real Madrid. 


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To conclude, there is definitely an overwhelming degree of positivity circling Girona’s start to the season but there have been slight cracks that have shown through the first few weeks of the season, none more so than in their defeat to Real Madrid. However, Míchel has been offered patience thus far in his stint at Girona and he is set to further the development of this exciting squad this season after some excellent acquisitions in the summer. It’s an exciting time to be a fan at the Estadi Montilivi right now, the one question is; how far can Girona take this? 


By: Ogunniyi Abayomi / @ogunniyibayomy

Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Alex Caparros / Getty Images