Overachieving Minnows: 6 European Teams You Need to Watch in 2018

As league campaigns across Europe move into the second half of their respective seasons, there are plenty of familiar names dominating the headlines across the continent.

Behind them however, there are a number of less recognised sides embarking on noteworthy runs of their own; with one even looking to claim their first league in their history. 

Here's a rundown of some of those teams to look out for between now and May:

1. S.D Eibar

In simply winning promotion to La Liga for the first time in 2014, SD Eibar were a team punching well above their weight. Following a flying start to their debut season, a dismal run of form in after the Christmas period meant they had to be narrowly saved from relegation by the financial troubles of Elche CF. Since then Eibar have become cemented as a mid-table La Liga side, finishing 14th and 10th in their two subsequent seasons.

A poor start to this season that yielded just eight points from their opening eleven games had many fans worrying that this would be the one to bring the relegation from which some believe the club is too small to ever return.

Fortune however can change quickly in football, and a run of five wins and a draw from their last six games mean that they will return from the winter break just three points off what would have once been an unthinkable European spot.

2. Girona

Like Eibar just a few years before them, Girona have enjoyed an impressive first half to their debut season in Spain's top tier. The Blanquivermell currently sit just inside the top half of the table, eight points clear of the drop heading into the second half of the season.

The highlight of the season has undoubtedly been the 2-1 victory over the giants of Real Madrid. 

The target now for Girona will be to avoid the second half tail off that almost cost Eibar their place amongst Spanish football's elite in just a matter of months.

3. Benevento

One side who have had far from a dream start to their debut season in their country's top flight is Italian side Benevento, who marked their arrival by suffering 14 consecutive defeats from the start of the season; a record in Europe's top five leagues.

They did however end that run in spectacular style, as a 95th minute header from goalkeeper Alberto Brignoli earned a dramatic 2-2 draw with AC Milan. The unfancied minnows then ended their winless run with a 1-0 win over Chievo Verona in their final game of 2017.

Benevento may remain eleven points adrift at the bottom of the table, but the confidence of those two results coupled with the fact they will feel they have nothing left to lose could see the southern Italian side produce some more incredible results.

4. Nantes

When manager Sergio Conceicao departed Nantes for Porto in the summer, many fans of the French club would have been concerned at the loss of a manager who had taken them from relegation battlers to seventh in the league in little over half a season. 

In stepped Claudio Ranieri, and the Italian has quickly put to bed any implication that his unceremonious departure from Leicester had left him with any scars. Les Canaris are fifth in the league at the halfway stage, having developed an ability to grind out narrow wins, and will be hopeful of stealing a European place if they can maintain such an impressive run.

It wouldn't be Ranieri's greatest managerial achievement, but it wouldn't be far off. 

5. Lille OSC

While Nantes continue to enjoy their place at the high end of the table, Lille, for the second time in as many seasons find themselves fighting for their survival at the wrong end of the table.

The enigmatic - and often controversial - Marcelo Bielsa was brought in in an attempt to avoid a repeat scare; it was a move that backfired spectacularly. The Chilean was suspended by the club in November for a breach of contract, and sacked a month later. The club now sit third from bottom at the halfway stage of the Ligue 1 season.

Having left St Etienne after eight seasons in the summer, Christophe Galtier is now the man tasked with keeping a side who lifted the title in 2011, in the league.

6. Istanbul Basaksehir

Last season, Turkish giants Besiktas were pushed all the way in the battle for domestic glory by Istanbul Basaksehir - a side who have never won a major trophy in their short history, having only been formed in 1990.

This season, while Besiktas have stumbled, it is Basaksehir who have strode forward and currently lead the Super Lig. While their challenge fell away somewhat in the second half of last season, if Basaksehir can maintain their position this season, they will become just the sixth team ever to be crowned Turkish champions.