Four debutants in early running for group stage

Four debutants would qualify for next season's UEFA Champions League group stage as it stands – UEFA.com gets the local line on some surprise packages.

Ronald Koeman celebrates with his players after another victory
Ronald Koeman celebrates with his players after another victory ©Getty Images

With the major European leagues now starting to take shape, UEFA.com looks at some of the early contenders to make next season's UEFA Champions League.

As it stands, there would be four teams to qualify automatically who have never before been in the group stage ...

PAOK FC (GRE)
League position:
1st in the Greek Super League
Star performers: Răzvan Raț, Stefanos Athanasiadis, Róbert Mak

What they say: "I am wary of congratulations. In my career I have learned to start working in the summer and leave any celebrations for the month of May. He who celebrates in the middle of the season is finished." Coach Angelos Anastasiadis

What the media say: "PAOK have determination, energy, rhythm and enthusiastic players. But they have a small squad – a factor that could hold them back in their effort to win the league and at the same time earn direct qualification for the Champions League group stage." SportDay

PAOK coach Angelos Anastasiadis
PAOK coach Angelos Anastasiadis©Getty Images

Most recent European appearance: 2014/15 UEFA Europa League group stage
Last in European Cup (competition proper): 1985/86 first round

Southampton FC (ENG)
League position:
2nd in the Premier League
Star performers:
Fraser Forster, Nathaniel Clyne, Dušan Tadić, Graziano Pellè

What they say: "I'm not looking too much at the rest of the teams; maybe only in the sense that I think I haven't seen until now teams much better than Southampton. It [a top-four finish] would be fantastic. But we said before, you live game by game and we have to work hard to keep picking up these wins and these points. But you never know." Manager Ronald Koeman

What the media say: "Pessimism surrounded a summer of upheaval at St Mary's but after this start to the season, Koeman has Southampton fans daring to dream of something even greater than what was an undoubted success last term. European football has to be the goal in the coming seasons and the foundations for that level of achievement are certainly there now." The Guardian

Most recent European appearance: 2003/04 UEFA Cup first round
Last in European Cup (competition proper):
never

VfL Borussia Mönchengladbach (GER)
League position:
3rd in the Bundesliga
Star performers: Max Kruse, Raffael, Christoph Kramer, Yann Sommer

What they say: "We have always reinvested our money wisely and increased the quality even after losing big names. This summer we took the money we got from FC Barcelona for Marc-André ter Stegen and brought in Yann Sommer and Thorgan Hazard. Players who sign for us come here knowing that they will improve and can impress bigger clubs." Sporting director Max Eberl

What the media say: "The team just keeps on learning and developing. Lucien Favre has a lot of real team players. They understand the methods of their coach, they appreciate rotation and success is the result. Credit must be given to sporting director Max Eberl and his transfer policy, while Lucien Favre is, in my opinion, one of the coaching greats. He is a detail fanatic." Jupp Heynckes in Westdeutsche Zeitung

Most recent European appearance: 2014/15 UEFA Europa League group stage
Last in European Cup (competition proper):  1977/78 semi-finals

Guimarães have been in fine form
Guimarães have been in fine form©AFP/Getty Images

Vitória SC (POR)
League position:
2nd in the Portuguese Liga
Star performers: André André, Bernard Mensah, Hernâni, João Afonso

What they say: "We do not forget where we came from. We know we will go through some bad moments, we know we will not win all our matches, but we know we will win many. For me, success cannot only be evaluated by results. We are doing a good job; we do not know for how long we can keep going, but we believe in what we are doing." Coach Rui Vitória

What the media say: "No one can stop Vitória dreaming. They will probably not be champions, they might even fall from the podium, but no one will steal their pride in never being afraid to dream. This team already has a place in history, with their best start to a season ever. They have a destructive attack that has already scored 20 goals [in ten games] and at the same time they are consistent in defence." Record

Most recent European appearance: 2013/14 UEFA Europa League group stage
Last in European Cup (competition proper):
never

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