THE BLOG

Forget Leicester! Why 2017 Could Be the Real Year Of The Underdog

08/02/2017 11:07 GMT | Updated 08/02/2017 11:07 GMT

Andrea Bocelli singing into Claudio Ranieri's ear in the centre circle of the King Power at the end of the miracle season that was 2015/2016 is already starting to seem like a fairly long time ago.

The memory has been aided in its casual disappearance into the annuls of footballing history by this season's abject title defence from the Foxes. The unbelievable 5,000/1 season seemed to go as quickly as it came, with Leicester reverting to pre-2015 type - Robert Huth and Wes Morgan once again slightly lumbering, journeymen centre backs, Jamie Vardy a more miss than hit front man.

However, fear not for the magic of football.

The Premier League may have played out its once in a lifetime season, but cast your gaze beyond the confines of England's top flight and you'll see that four of Europe's 'big five' divisions just might end up with unfamiliar champions come May. This last weekend may have welcomed in the Chinese year of the rooster, but across Europe it could yet be the year of the underdog.

Starting in France, OGC Nice, who last lifted the Ligue 1 crown back in 1959, have lost just once this season and are equal on points with fellow south coasters Monaco - only trailing their free-scoring, richer rivals on goal difference.

Mario Balotelli's resurrection has caught attention abroad. The decision to take a chance on the former Liverpool outcast by the club has proved a gambled worth taking. The Italian, who has a pizza named after him at the restaurant where he allegedly agreed terms, has nine goals in 11 games this season, and is on course for his most prolific campaign to date.

Nice are, however, far from a one man team, Alassane Plea, ​Jean Michael Seri and Wylan Cyprien have all contributed to one of the league's most feared attacking units, while veteran Brazilian Dante, a former Champions League winner with Bayern Munich, marshals the division's stingiest defence.

Lucien Favre's side go away to Monaco on Saturday February 4 in a game that may be too early to make or break seasons, but could still have a significant impact on both sides' momentum nonetheless.

Moving westwards to Spain, the Primera Liga is feasibly open to a Sevilla win for the first time since 1946.

Andalusia's biggest club have tentatively invaded the Barca, Real Madrid hegemony and are currently four points off the top, having ended Real's 40 match unbeaten last month.

Jorge Sampaoli, whose career at Sevilla could've been over before it even begun after he was offered the Argentina national team gig in the summer, has followed the Atletico Madrid model in forming a relentlessly hard working team unit, not reliant on individuals.

Sevilla have won more league games than Barcelona so far, but will have to battle the dual demands of Champions League football alongside renewed league expectations.

Germany too could have an unfamiliar face lifting the trophy come May, as unpopular but no longer unfancied RB Leipzig sit just three points of Bayern Munich, despite losing two of their last six.

The infamously Red Bull-backed side spent around £50m in the summer in anticipation of their debut season in the Bundesliga.

The club was only formed in the fifth tier in 2009, but their rise through the leagues in the country of the world champions has been met largely with derision, apathy and outright disgust thanks to their supposed nouveau riche corporate sheen.

Nonetheless, the Leipzig are a disruptive force to be reckoned with this season and the likes of Naby Keita, Emil Forsberg and Timo Werner would love to add a league title to their breakout seasons, before (or perhaps to aid) the inevitable circling from Europe's traditional giants in the summer.

RB Leipzig's longevity and probably credibility in Germany will be judged by their ability to hold onto their stars and challenge beyond just 2017.

Finally, over in Italy, Serie A looks genuinely competitive for the first time since 2012. While Inter's 10-game unbeaten charge under Stefano Pioli may not be enough to mount a serious challenge, after the damage done in the early stages of the season, Napoli and Roma could push Juventus close to the wire.

Perennial top four contenders Roma are the best placed to achieve the seemingly impossible feat of knocking Turin's biggest club of their perch.

Luciano Spalletti, in his second spell at the club, has fashioned a free-scoring side, who still boast the second-meanest defence in the league. With Edin Dzeko and Mohamed Salah reinventing themselves post-Premier League, alongside Diego Perotti, Kevin Strootman, Radja Nainggolan and the ever-present Francesco Totti, the Giallorossi can without much argument lay claim to the strongest squad in Serie A - after Juventus.

While currently four points shy of the champions, Roma host Juventus in the capital on May 14. If they can keep pace until then, it could prove the game of the season as Rome chases its first Scudetto in 16 years.

There are, it seems, still ordinary miracles to be seen across the continent in the absence of another Premier League underdog.

At the time of checking, the odds on Roma, RB Leipzig, Sevilla and Nice all winning their domestic leagues is just 36,000/1.

Just five times more unlikely than Leicester's improbable triumph .

Stranger things have happened, maybe.

MORE: