In Germany, minnows Mainz are the darlings of the Bundesliga at the moment. After briefly losing top spot to Borussia Dortmund last week, Thomas Tuchel’s vibrant young team again lead the standings on 24 points, with usual suspects Bayern, Schalke and Bremen some way off the pace.
However, Germany is not the only place where an unfancied club has rocketed to the summit of the league. Lucerne sit proudly on top of the table in Switzerland, although champions Basel have been chipping away at the lead recently and are now only a point behind.
"We definitely didn’t expect to be where we are in the table, but we’re enjoying it. The work we did in pre-season was optimal. However, I think we’re definitely benefiting from the fact that the top teams - Basel, FC Zurich and Young Boys Berne – haven’t shown anything like peak form yet,” Lucerne boss Rolf Fringer told FIFA.com.
"Morale is high throughout the team and we have lots of character. On top of that, continuity has been our watchword for this season. We only made a few, carefully selected transfers. Finally, one of the factors for our success is our attacking potential,” Fringer explained.
The Stadion Allmend last truly erupted back on 10 June 1989, when Lucerne and German head coach Friedel Rausch claimed the club’s first and to date solitary league title. In 2005, Lucerne made the final of the Swiss cup as a second division team, but were beaten 3-1 by Zurich. They returned to the top flight Super League in 2006 and made the cup final again in 2007, although they lost to Basel by the only goal of the game.
At the moment, Fringer’s ambitions for the season remain modest. "Our target is to finish comfortably in mid-table, although we obviously have half an eye on a place in the Europa League!" Winning the championship would, of course, be one way of securing European football next term.
The situation is arguably even more remarkable in Austria, where promoted Wacker Innsbruck spent fully six weeks at the summit of the Austrian Bundesliga. However, a home defeat to Red Bull Salzburg on matchday 12 saw coach Walter Kogler’s men displaced by Sturm Graz. The gap is still only a single point, and Mainz reclaimed first place after a week away in Germany, potentially a good omen for Wacker?
"We’re delighted we’re in such a good position in the league. We’ve come on a very long way in the last two and a half years. This team has stayed together and grown together, which is why we’re up there at the top for now. But the real priority for us is to keep developing the team,” coach Kogler explained to FIFA.com.
"Our strengths are our ability to play at pace and keep possession once we’ve won it. We’re very aggressive and always try and seize the initiative. My team always plays with passion, and we get a long way with our high-tempo passing game."
The Innsbruck passion was already in evidence last season in a neck-and-neck race to the promotion line. Wacker finally sealed their return to the top flight thanks to a last-day brace from Marcel Schreter in a 2-0 win over Red Bull Juniors Salzburg.
Despite the current lofty position, Kogler’s targets in the league remain unchanged. "Our pre-season target was to see genuine development in the team. Once we were promoted, our aim was simply to give a decent account of ourselves in the league. Our ultimate goal is to bring the team on to the extent that we can mix it at the top in Austria again over the next few years. That remains our target. The fact we’re among the leading group at the moment is very welcome. It shows the team’s come on a very long way in a relatively short space of time, but the process is by no means finished yet."