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Blog - ESPN FC United
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ESPN FC  By ESPN

Which European club can follow Leicester's footsteps and win the title?

Leicester City's incredible Premier League title success from 2015-16 has the rest of Europe wondering if something similar can happen. Here, ESPN FC picks out one club from Europe's top leagues who could follow in the Foxes' footsteps.

SASSUOLO (Italy)

Eusebio Di Francesco has impressed at the club.

Name-checked by Claudio Ranieri himself -- "Sassuolo could be the Leicester of Italy" -- if the Neroverdi won the Scudetto, it would surpass the exploits of Hellas Verona in 1985 and even those of the Foxes last season.

Sassuolo had never even been in the second division until 2008 and debuted in Serie A only three years ago. Under Eusebio Di Francesco they have improved every season and are currently in the Europa League playoffs against Red Star Belgrade to try and secure their first ever European campaign.

Of course, Leicester didn't have that to deal with that last season, and a more congested fixture list makes an improvement on last term for Sassuolo, let alone a title challenge, distinctly improbable. But the makeup of the team chimes perfectly with the underdog story.

Sassuolo's entire population (roughly 40,000) is little more than the capacity of the King Power Stadium. Captain Francesco Magnanelli has been with the club through all four divisions; defender Francesco Acerbi has twice come back from testicular cancer; star striker Domenico Berardi was discovered playing a five-a-side game on a visit to see his brother at the University of Modena. It's a magnificent tale, but, to tell the truth, the impression now in Italy is that Juventus are so far ahead of the rest, they have made all the other teams look like Leicesters. If anyone wrests their crown away from Juve it would be a huge surprise. -- James Horncastle

MALAGA (Spain)

Juande Ramos spent four years with Dnipro.
Juande Ramos has high hopes for the coming season.

If things click quickly under new coach Juande Ramos, Malaga could challenge at the top of La Liga in 2016-17 after finishing eighth last season.

Los Boquerones were really well organised under previous coach Javi Gracia in recent seasons, and now former Spurs and Sevilla boss Ramos should add some more attacking flair.

The summer's transfer business has been excellent, adding attackers in Sandro Ramirez [from Barcelona], Keko [Eibar] and Jony [Sporting Gijon], as well as Serbian international playmaker Zdravko Kuzmanovic and ex-Lyon centre-back Bakary Kone.

Youngsters Juanpi, Pablo Fornals and Diego Llorente [on loan from Real Madrid] are set for breakout seasons, while defender Roberto Rosales and midfielder Ignacio Camacho are already top players, but have not yet won anything at all.

Much like Leicester's Claudio Ranieri, Ramos is a much-travelled veteran who has been unfairly written off in some quarters. Results in preseason friendlies have been excellent so far, with the players talking up the new coach's impact on training and tactics, and the canny Manchegan has experience of championship races with both Sevilla and Madrid.

A relatively straightforward opening fixture list provides a chance to springboard what would be an unlikely, but possible, title challenge. -- Dermot Corrigan

BAYER LEVERKUSEN (Germany)

Roger Schmidt's focus on energy and aggression should help Bayer Leverkusen spring a few upsets this season.

Champions Bayern Munich are widely expected to rack up a fifth consecutive title, but Carlo Ancelotti's relatively poor league record -- three titles in 20 years at mostly top clubs -- offers a glimpse of hope for rivals Borussia Dortmund. Thomas Tuchel's team are hardly the "German Leicester," however: in fact, there's every chance they will be even more competitive after adding half a dozen of exciting new players to their roster.

But if it's a genuine surprise champion you want, you might consider rooting for Bayer 04 Leverkusen instead. The Werkself ("company team") have never won the Bundesliga before but will pack a powerful punch thanks to Roger Schmidt's high-energy pressing tactics and typically shrewd moves in the transfer market.

Austrian midfielder Julian Baumgartlinger and highly rated youngster Jonas Meffert will offer protection in the middle of the park, German striker Kevin Volland can support Javier Hernandez up top and attacking midfielder Levin Oztunali, the grandson of German football icon Uwe Seeler, will be ready to play an important role following the end of his loan to Werder Bremen.

Most excitingly of all, perhaps, Chilean midfielder Charles Aranguiz is primed for a star turn. The 27-year-old missed three-quarters of last season with an achilles tendon injury but should really come into his own this year. Leverkusen probably won't win it, but they should be contenders, at least. -- Raphael Honigstein

RENNES (France)

Can Yoann Gourcuff lead Rennes to the top?

Leicester showed the way last season and Ligue 1 sides have the same dream as everywhere else, but one club in particular has the potential to cause a major upset this season: Rennes.

To pull the upset, you need a respected manager, on top of his game tactically but with a reputation that needs rebuilding. Christian Gourcuff is over 60 (like Ranieri) and is good manager but has no trophies on his mantelpiece at home, so he's well poised to prove his true worth.

You also need players who have something to prove, who had to go through tough times before making it to the big time. Who else better than the manager's son, Yoann Gourcuff, to epitomise this? The former France international spent six terrible years with Lyon (from 2010-2015) and last season at Rennes. But now he is hungry for redemption, as are, for different reasons, Clement Chantome, Paul-Georges Ntep and Kamil Grosicki. The departure of Ousmane Dembele to Borussia Dortmund may hurt, but it there is a team ethic there without any major stars.

Finally, you need a bit of luck. Rennes are owed some after losing the French Cup final in 2009 and 2014 and the League Cup final in 2013. Like Leicester, they have never won the French league and have struggled in a few domestic cup finals, and Rennes' last trophy was the French Cup in 1971. It's about time that changed, but the spectre of PSG looms large, so anything other than a PSG victory would be a massive surprise.  -- Julien Laurens

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