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Can Man City-owned Girona be the Spanish Leicester City? La Liga's surprise leaders threatening to break up the Barcelona-Real Madrid duopoly

Girona were not meant to have a strong season. Having finished 10th in 2022-23 and lost key players Oriol Romeu and Taty Castellanos during the summer, a bottom-half finish was most onlookers' prediction. Even after they made a strong start to the campaign, their 3-0 home loss to Real Madrid was meant to be the catalyst for them to come crashing back down to earth.

But the positive results have kept on coming since, and as domestic football returns following the final international break of 2023, Girona are top of La Liga, clear of second-placed Madrid by two points. They have won 11 of 13 games, and lost only one. They have beaten Sevilla and Villarreal, and scored 31 goals - more than any other team in the league. For a team who were only promoted back to the top-flight 18 months ago, this is a remarkable achievement.

But this is not a fairy-tale in the same manner as a certain English team who did the incomprehensible in 2016. That Leicester City side was a consensus pick to go down, operated on a minute budget to make a series of shrewd signings, and grinded their way to a Premier League title. Girona, meanwhile, are a member of the City Football Group — not necessarily owned by Manchester City, but beneficiaries of the financial clout, loan network and marketing nous of a global entity.

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Still, it is hard to imagine that this club, nestled in an area of Catalunya where most identify as Barcelona fans, was hoping that Sheikh Mansour and co could propel them to the top of the league. That they have done so is largely due to having their own unique identity, one that is unafraid to play attacking, expansive football.

Girona are a very good team who are managed well and have a defined playing style, and current signs are that they might have all of the pieces in place to pull off something very special.