Ranking the dark horses in Europe’s top-five football leagues

The 2022/23 season is already in full swing across Europe’s top five football leagues, and we have already witnessed some exciting action as well as upsets to go with it

The dark horses of football have always been those teams that, flying in the face of their description, give colour to the respective leagues they play in.

As expected, a number of top bookmakers have already decided on the teams most favoured to secure their domestic titles. However, every new season brings surprises and a side that goes on to defy the odds and perform far greater than expected.

We examine these ‘dark horses’ of football in the context of the 2022/23 campaign across Europe’s top five leagues.


Arsenal makes this list for good reason, after their uncharacteristic positive start to the Premier League season. No one could have predicted that the Gunners, would emerge on top after six games. They even enjoyed a five-game winning streak, before seeing it come to an end after a 3-1 defeat to Manchester United at Old Trafford.

Regardless, Arsenal is currently at the top of the Premier League standings, leading the way ahead of both Manchester City and Tottenham.

The team was one of the year’s big spenders, surpassing the £100m mark for the second summer in succession. It is, however, the shrewd nature of their acquisitions that have attracted admiration, with their new signings strongly improving the team’s performance.

The duo of Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko — the latter of whom joined from Manchester City — have fit in seamlessly at the Emirates stadium, Arsenal’s home ground, while the introduction of William Saliba after a spell on loan with Marseille has brought an energy to the team that gives the Frenchman the air of a new signing.

Few could have predicted Arsenal’s strong start this season, and it is now a question of for how much longer can they keep up this performance.


To say that Villarreal have enjoyed a positive start to the season is an understatement. Ahead of every La Liga campaign, Real Madrid and Barcelona are usually considered the stronger sides to watch, something which, so far, has been the case for the 2022/23 season. However, both giants much watch out for the Yellow Submarine, who seem committed to winning the tournament this time around.

Securing ten points out of a possible twelve in the opening four games leaves Villarreal as the only unbeaten side alongside Real Madrid and Barcelona. Even more impressive, is the fact that Unai Emery's men are the only team yet to concede a goal in the Spanish top flight, sitting in third place just two points behind league leaders and reigning champions Real Madrid.

Only Atletico Madrid have managed to break the duopoly between the Spanish top flight’s leading two sides, but that doesn’t rule out the chance of Villarreal achieving an undisputed feat of their own.


What are the odds that a team aside from Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich would stand at the top of the Bundesliga after five games? Few could have predicted this outcome, and, even if they did, fewer still would have expected the team in question to be Freiburg.

Breisgau-Brasilianer have exceeded early expectations, and continue to do the impossible at the moment. Securing four wins out of a possible five, and twelve points out of a possible fifteen sees them take their place as joint-leaders of the Bundesliga alongside Borussia Dortmund, and one point ahead of reigning champions Bayern Munich.

While not many observers expect them hold that place indefinitely, they nonetheless continue to deliver stellar performances befitting their current position. How long they can remain at the top of the league is something that only time will tell. 


PSG’s dominance of the Ligue 1 is well documented, having won seven of the past ten editions, inclusive of four successive league triumphs. The reigning champions might boast the best players by far, but several sides seem ready to challenge them for their established place in the league. One of these is fallen giants Marseille, who will aim to restore their lost glory after a bright start to the current campaign.

Marseille have enjoyed a flying start to the 2022/23 season, remaining undefeated after five games. They are joint-leaders alongside PSG, and a recent 2-0 victory against Auxerre at the time of writing means Les Phocéens have now won their last four games in succession, while scoring at least two goals themselves in three of those games.

PSG remain the overwhelming favourites to win the Ligue 1 title, but it may prove unwise to overlook Marseille as possible contenders given the flair and confidence they are exhibiting in matches at the moment.


Atalanta have seen their stock rise in the Serie A over the past few seasons, having finished third in three out of the past four editions. The only exception to this was the 2021/22 campaign, where a late-season culmination saw them perform poorly, ultimately finishing in eighth place.

La Dea are top of the Serie A standings after five games, and lead the way with 13 points; two ahead of Napoli and AC Milan in second and third places respectively. They are one of four sides to be unbeaten early on in the tournament, and, despite being known for their skill in attack, two conceded goals so far means they have the best current joint-defensive record in the league alongside Juventus.

It is not out of reach to expect Atalanta to emerge as one of the top three sides by the end of the season, but, given the right circumstances, they may even surpass this expectation this time around. 

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