Was it just an illusion or has this European football season had more upstart teams and closer league ladders?
Perhaps, in a sport where money dictates everything, we should just be thankful for small mercies.
Either way, when picking the biggest surprise team of the current campaign, it’s hard to put a finger on a clear standout.
In the Champions League, Ajax Amsterdam were a welcome addition to the final rounds, even if they didn’t make it all the way to the final. Ajax’s youthful exuberance caught the competition by surprise and they brought down some huge names, including Juventus and Real Madrid.
The latter stages of Europe’s top club competition have become an exclusive zone for the wealthiest clubs of Spain, Italy and England so it was pleasing to have some teenaged Dutchmen running amok through the middle of it.
Let’s have more of that next season. Perhaps the biggest surprise may yet be to come in that competition if Spurs beat clear favourites Liverpool.
In the second tier of European club competition, Eintracht Frankfurt was a big surprise. Who would have thought one of Germany’s most anonymous sides – they last won a German title in 1959 – could make it to the semis of the Europa League? I’m not sure whether the city’s bankers have even returned to their desks yet.
Looking across the domestic competitions, money undoubtedly continues to win premierships, but at least some of the leagues were a little closer this year. That Liverpool pushed Manchester City all the way to the final round of the Premier League season was fairly surprising, considering Pep Guardiola’s side cruised home this time last year by 19 points.
But, then again, perhaps we shouldn’t be too shocked, considering the Reds have a stellar coach and plenty of money in the bank to buy top-level talent – just like Man City. I know it wasn’t that long ago, but the age of “minnows” like Leicester City winning the EPL is surely over.
Admittedly, Spanish and Italian football leagues have been pretty much business as usual, with Barcelona and Juventus cruising to their respective titles. In La Liga, Real Madrid is miles off the pace, which is at least something different to years gone by.
In the Bundesliga, things are going down to the wire. Bayern Munich needs to at least draw against aforementioned Frankfurt to secure their zillionth Bundesliga title. Should Bayern slip up and Borussia Dortmund win their match, most German football fans will be dancing in the streets like it’s the 2014 World Cup.
Let’s see if Mario Goetze can score the winner against local rivals Gladbach this time too – his return to form this season has been heartwarming.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the European season took place in France though, where domestic football has suffered under the ever-increasing power of Paris Saint-Germain, a club which business magazine Forbes now values at close to one billion US dollars.
Although PSG easily won the French league they weren’t able to claim the domestic double. They lost the Coupe de France to underdogs Rennes despite goals in the final to their stars Neymar and Dani Alves.
The last time the 118-year-old club from north-west France last won the country’s premier knockout event was in 1971 – a year after PSG was founded.
How times have changed since then.