Girona are ready to upset the La Liga status quo in 2024 as they look to throw down a title challenge to Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid.
The ‘Big Three’ have dominated Spain’s top league in the past two decades, winning every top-flight title since Valencia’s success under Rafael Benitez back in 2004.
However, despite 2023/24 being tipped as another straight battle between Atleti and the Clasico rivals, Girona upset the odds in the first half of the campaign. They were level on points with league leaders Real Madrid after the first 18 matches, seven points ahead of Barca and Atletico.
Now, Michel’s team are ready to power on in 2024.
Despite not having the experience of their rivals, there is a refreshing fearlessness about Girona, and they will be a test for any team they face in the months ahead. Here is a look at some of the star players trying to propel them to glory.
Who are Girona’s best players?
At the start of 2024, Girona are in the mix for a title push, with a seven-point advantage over Barcelona and Atletico Madrid in the table.
Their sole defeat of the the season so far — against Real Madrid in September — placed them just behind Carlo Ancelotti’s team based on head-to-head record at the beginning of the calendar year.
January will be a crucial month for Girona, before they travel to Real Madrid on February 11, followed by a trip to Atletico in April, and a home game against Barcelona in May.
Based on Girona’s 10th-place La Liga finish in 2022/23, their title tilt is all the more surprising this season — one based on coach Michel relying on a solid core of players
Ten or more players started at least 13 La Liga matches in the first half of the season, as Michel looks to balance youth with experience and utilise some eye-catching loan arrivals.
Artem Dovbyk: Striker
Girona made a bold move to sign Ukraine international Dovbyk at the start of the season in a club-record €7 million transfer.
His impact has been instant, with the towering striker offering a focal point for Girona’s attack to allow the Catalan team to progress up the pitch quickly.
A return of 11 league goals in the first half of the campaign shows how quickly he has adapted to Spanish football and he is a penalty-box menace for defenders.
🇺🇦 𝐀𝐑𝐓𝐄𝐌 𝐃𝐎𝐕𝐁𝐘𝐊 ⚽️ pic.twitter.com/7N6pkn75z9
— Girona FC (@GironaFC) November 11, 2023
All of his league goals in 2023 came inside the 18-yard area, and if the service is good, his physicality and sharpness causes problems for the opposition. That might explain why Chelsea are reportedly interested.
Aleix Garcia: Midfielder
Spain international Garcia arrived back at Girona in 2021 following a loan spell in Catalonia from Manchester City in 2017, and he played a key role in their initial promotion campaign.
His stock has continued to rise since coming back to the Spanish top flight, and despite dropping a major hint over his desire to play for Barcelona in future, he is not expected to be leaving in January.
🔵🔴 Girona manager Míchel on Aleix Garcia and Barcelona interest: “I feel that Aleix won’t leave us”.
“Honestly I’d hurt if Aleix left. I don’t say that because of Barça, but just because we’d lose a key player for us”.
— Fabrizio Romano (@FabrizioRomano) January 2, 2024
Four league assists and three goals in the first half of 2023/24 does not ignite the imagination, but his deeper numbers show his real impact as Michel has ushered him into a playmaking role.
At the start of 2024, he leads the La Liga charts for progressive passes (148), passes into the final third (169) and, crucially, in goal-creating actions (15).
Yangel Herrera: Midfielder
Herrera’s injury-enforced absence in December was covered as Girona maintained their unbeaten run, but the Venezuelan is a key part of Michel’s set-up.
The 25-year-old is another product of the City Football Group link that binds Girona and Man City, after also spending a loan stint at partner club New York City FC in his early career before spells at Huesca, Granada and Espanyol.
City loaned him to Girona in 2022/23 and the Catalans opted to exercise their purchase clause on him in July 2023.
Girona tiene Fe ❤️🤍🇻🇪 https://t.co/qV1PUFmdeo
— Yangel Herrera (@YangelHerrera8) October 28, 2023
He offers an ideal counterpoint to Garcia in the Girona engine room, and his tenacity and ball retention allows the pace of Savio and Yan Couto to support Dovbyk.
A knack of scoring vital goals has developed this season, but his key strength is pressing and bursting away in tight situations, and his expected return from injury should be by the end of January.
Daley Blind: Defender
The former Manchester United defender may not be the most exciting name on this list, but the 33-year-old has become a key leader for Michel.
In a squad littered with loan players, including Savio, Couto, Pablo Torres and Blind’s defensive partner Eric Garcia, the Dutchman has offered an ever-present solidity.
Michel has paired Blind with fellow veteran David Lopez at centre-back, flanked by Garcia and former Real Madrid left-back Miguel Gutierrez, and the duo have rolled back the years this season.
Lopez has shouldered more of the defensive side, with Blind filtering into a hybrid midfield role at times, and he is one place behind Garcia for La Liga passes into the final third (149) at the start of 2024.
Will Girona sign players in January?
Both Michel and club president Delfi Geli confirmed they are open to arrivals in January but the club will slam the door on offers for Garcia and others in the mid-season market.
There have been tentative links to bring Oriol Romeu back to the club following a mixed start after his summer move to Barcelona, but that looks unlikely.
A loan move for former Barcelona defensive midfielder Nico Gonzalez, currently at Porto, could be an option, but Michel will want to keep his squad tight.
The long-term concern for the head coach is the possibility of losing returning loan players at the end of the season with a list of other star names attached to buy-back clauses from former clubs.
Can Girona win La Liga?
The is the key question for neutrals at the start of 2024, and the possibility for a shock remains on.
Girona have the advantage of no European football in the second half of the season with their title rivals also tied up in the Spanish Supercopa in January.
That allows Michel more opportunity to rest players and keep his squad fresh as the title race steps up.
The cold pragmatism of La Liga suggest they will come up short, but a first ever Champions League place is not beyond them, with Sevilla faltering this season.