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Not only is it a derby but it's also a clash between the teams currently third and second in the Liga table on Sunday at 9pm CET. Here's the lowdown on a team that's been raising plenty of eyebrows this season.
WHERE THEY'RE FROM
The capital of the province of the same name, in the north-east of Catalonia, Girona doesn't even make the top ten of the biggest Catalan cities, and until it's football team started achieving wonders, it was mainly known to the outside world for budget airline flights to the Costa Brava and for being one of the filming locations of Game of Thrones. It's stunningly preserved medieval old quarter was a very fine choice indeed.
Founded in 1930, until recently Girona FC was little more than one other of the many provincial Catalan clubs fighting it out in the lower leagues. As recently as 1999, they were down in the fifth tier 1a Catalana, and it wasn't until 2009 that they made it into the second division for the first time in almost 60 years.
From there, things just got better and better. After knocking on the Liga door in a number of seasons, they finally made it for the first time ever in 2017. That was also the year that the City Football Group, owners among others of Manchester City, bought a stake in the club. That certainly helped the Girona cause, but it would be grossly unfair to suggest that that is the only reason for their newfound success. This is a club that has done a lot of things very right.
After two seasons, they dropped back down to the second division, but in 2022 they earned their way back into the top flight. In their first season back, they impressed. In their second season, they've been simply amazing.
HEAD TO HEAD
This is just the fourth time Girona have ever played in La Liga, so the two teams have only ever met six times in the competition before. And to date, Barça very much have the upper hand, with four wins, two draws and not one defeat. Curiously, although Girona were hammered 6-1 on their first visit to Spotify Camp Nou, their other two trips to the capital were the games where they managed to pick up points.
Previous Liga meetings
10/04/23 Barça 0-0 Girona
28/01/23 Girona 0-1 Barça
27/01/19 Girona 0-2 Barça
23/09/18 Barça 2-2 Girona
24/02/18 Barça 6-1 Girona
23/09/17 Girona 0-3 Barça
After drawing at Real Sociedad on the opening day, Girona then went on an extraordinary six-match winning spree,which meant that by week 7, they were sitting right at the very top of the table. It was then that Real Madrid came to town and they were soundly beaten 3-0.
After that result, many assumed that the fairy tale start was over. Far from it! They won six of their next seven matches, the only hiccup being a 1-1 draw with Athletic Club, and as we go into week 16, they're still up there, level on points with league leaders Real Madrid, and four ahead of Barça.
And they've achieved that with some very nice football. And entertaining. In fact, with 34 goals, they're the top-scoring team in the competition so far.
And there's been no shortage of excitement in Girona games, that's for sure. Incredibly, half of their 38 points (19) have come in games where they conceded the first goal. In no fewer than six games, they came from behind to win, including last week's dramatics against Valencia, when they went 1-0 down with ten minutes to go and for the umpteenth time this season, people were saying their collapse had begun. Two late goals, and that was yet another win for this astonishing team!
Daley Blind (Netherlands, 103), Cristhian Stuani (Uruguay, 50), Viktor Tsyhankov (Ukraine, 50), Yangel Herrera (Venezuela, 33), Artem Dovbyk (Ukraine, 23), Eric García (Spain, 19), Yan Couto (Brazil, 2), Paulo Gazzaniga (Argentina, 1), Aleix García (Spain, 1)
There are four players in the Girona squad who have a past at FC Barcelona. In fact, two of them are officially on the Barça books and are just spending the year out on loan. Centre back Eric García was originally a La Masia resident but it was at Manchester City where he made his name before returning to Barça in 2021. He's enjoying his stint in red and white, by both keeping goals out and helping to make them, being currently the sixth highest-ranked defender for completed passes in the final third.
And midfielder Pablo Torre joined Barça from Racing Santander in 2022, switching between the first team and the reserves but ultimately not getting much football with either, and the hope is that at Girona he'll get more playing time.
Also, defender Arnau Martínez and midfielder Valery Fernández were at La Masia before joining l’Hospitalet and Girona respectively.
A number of Girona players have been getting attention thanks to the team's exploits, and perhaps none more so than Aleix Garcia, whose form was rewarded the other day with his first cap for Spain. The midfield playmaker leads La Liga for completed pass percentage (91.54%), and he's one of the main reasons why Girona are so brilliant at creating chances. The only midfielder to have created more goalscoring opportunities than García's 27 in this season's Liga are Gündogan and Kroos.
Another standout player has been Ukrainian Artem Dovbyk, who is the second highest-ranked in La Liga for goal participation (11, seven goals of his own plus four assists).
Brazilian Sávio Moreira has proved to be a great signing too. He's just the kind of player a team needs when the breakthrough isn't happening. He's not afraid to take men on. Only Nico Williams and Vinícius Jr have attempted more dribbles than he, while Sávio ranks second for those that were actually completed.
And Uruguayan Cristhian Stuani is belying his 37 years by continuing to knock them in. He has five this season, including the two that toppled Valencia last weekend.
Experienced Dutch international Daley Blind arrived on a free from Bayern last summer, and his ability to play pretty much anywhere in defence has been a huge bonus. Combining expertly with the likes of David López and Yangel Herrera (whose having a fabulous year but is currently injured), as well as our old friend Eric, Blind has made more passes than any other defender in la Liga (1,031) and 941 of those found their man, also the Liga high (941).
With Argentine keeper Paulo Gazzaniga looking solid between the sticks, Miguel Gutiérrez performing well at full back, and another Ukrainian, Viktor Tsyhankov, out on the wing, there is a lot to admire in this Girona squad. Barça are really going to need to bring out their A-game for this one!
Miguel Ángel Sánchez Muñoz, known as Míchel, spent most of his playing days at Rayo Vallecano, and that is also the club where he started out as a manager. He helped them to promotion into the first division, then did the same with Huesca, and completed the hat-trick when he led Girona up in 2021. There are certainly no flies on Michel's track record, and this year is turning out to be his best yet.
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