|Surprise La Liga Leaders Girona Thriving with Manchester City's Support|
When Girona marked the date of Real Madrid's visit on their calendar this Saturday, little did they expect to be hosting Carlo Ancelotti's champions at their Montilivi stadium, with a capacity of under 15,000, as the leaders of La Liga.
In only their fourth-ever season in Spain's top flight, the Catalans, who were promoted in 2022, have been on a remarkable run, securing six consecutive wins and maintaining an undefeated record, amassing 19 points from seven games.
This extraordinary situation has been a dream come true for Spanish coach Michel and sporting director Quique Carcel. However, they emphasize that the club's primary objective remains modest – to secure survival in La Liga. Quique Carcel expressed this sentiment, stating, "We're making the most of this exceptional moment. We have a very clear objective, which is to stay up, but the fact that we already have 19 points gives us a lot of security," in an interview with 'AFP'.
Girona, founded in 1930, was acquired by the City Football Group in 2017, the UAE-based parent company of Manchester City, with Pere Guardiola, brother of City coach Pep Guardiola, serving as Girona's chairman. Pere Guardiola succinctly summed up their partnership, saying, "50 percent of the work is done."
Despite their remarkable ascent to the top of the La Liga table, Girona coach Michel remains grounded, urging supporters to capture a screenshot of the team's position but insisting, "the only objective is to stay up."
Girona's historical roots in lower leagues make their measured approach understandable. Nevertheless, their impressive start to the season has garnered admiration from afar. Barcelona coach Xavi Hernandez commended their performance, stating, "They deserve a lot of credit for being a spectacular team. They've been doing things well for a number of years, their project is very clear, and they have a very good coach, Michel," in a press conference.
Known for their attacking style, Girona finished last season in tenth place, just four points behind Osasuna, who secured a spot in the Europa League Conference play-offs. Quique Carcel acknowledged their progress, saying, "It's true that we feel a lot stronger than when we first entered La Liga in 2017. We have to remain humble but also have the ambition to take a step forward this season."
Impressively, Girona has managed to thrive despite losing key players from last season, including defensive midfielder Oriol Romeu and top scorer Taty Castellanos, who was on loan from New York City.
Girona's smart recruitment this summer, facilitated by the City Football Group's expansive scouting network, has been pivotal to their success. Ukrainian striker Artem Dovbyk, Venezuelan midfielder Yangel Herrera, and Brazilian winger Savinho have been standout performers. Additionally, they secured Dutch defender Daley Blind and Barcelona loanee Eric Garcia, whose recent goal against Villarreal propelled Girona to the top of the table.
Quique Carcel credits the City Football Group's support for giving Girona a competitive edge, particularly in areas like infrastructure, scouting, care, and nutrition. On the pitch, Michel's tactical prowess and the squad's attacking talent have combined to yield impressive results, with Girona scoring 18 goals in their first seven games, more than any other La Liga side.
Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti acknowledges the advantage Girona holds by not participating in European competition, allowing them ample time to prepare for league games. He stated, "They have the chance to prepare well for games each week. We have tiredness, injuries, we don't have time to recover."
Girona will seek to capitalize on this advantage as they face Real Madrid at Montilivi, where they have previously beaten the Madrid giants twice in their last four encounters, including a 4-2 victory last season, with Castellanos scoring all four goals.