Spain’s Segunda often produces drama, unpredictability and tension that is unrivalled in the more illustrious La Liga. Last season did not disappoint – both the final automatic promotion spot and dogfight to avoid relegation went down to not just the final day but the final seconds, while Las Palmas eventually triumphed in an enthralling set of play-offs.
Seven of the 22 competing sides this season are new entrants. Andalusian duo Cordoba and Almeria both lost their top flight status and they were joined, eventually, by Elche. Los Franjiverdes finished 13th in La Liga last year but were demoted in hindsight due to unpaid debts, ensuring that Basque minnows Eibar were retrospectively spared relegation.
Elche have since seen their squad decimated by player departures, most notably that of striker Jonathas. The Brazilian, who had been on loan at Elche from Italian outfit Pescara and netted 14 La Liga goals last season, has signed a five-year deal with Real Sociedad. Coach Fran Escriba has gone too, appointed as boss at Getafe. Other high profile departures include Polish goalkeeper Tyton, defenders David Lomban, Damian Suarez and Enzo Roco, attacker Victor Rodriguez, Chelsea loanee Mario Pasalic and striker Christian Herrera – who has departed for Almeria.
Unlike Elche, Los Almeriensistas have retained the core of their squad from their two seasons in the top flight and made some canny additions to their ranks, including defender Carlos Cuellar from Norwich City and Bosnian winger Eldin Hadzic from Real Zaragoza. The Andalucians will fancy their chances of bouncing back to La Liga at the first time of asking, guided by former Barcelona player Sergi Barjuan, who joined in April this year having previously been at the helm of Recreativo Huelva.
Zaragoza also start as strong favourites for promotion, having missed out on goal difference in the play-off decider against Las Palmas in June. 18-year-old captain Jesus Vallejo will once again play in Ranko Popovic’s side, having signed for Real Madrid in the summer before being loaned back to the men from Aragon. There are also a raft of fresh faces in the ranks, including goalkeeper Manu Herrera [Elche], striker Angel [Eibar], Polish midfielder Cezary Wilk [Deportivo La Coruna] and Japanese midfielder Aria Jasuru Hasegawa [Cerezo Osaka].
Other promotion candidates include Cordoba, whose first season back in La Liga after a 43-year absence ended in total disarray as they were cut adrift at the bottom of the table. They do have dangerous players, including Xisco, who Newcastle United once spent £7m to bring to St. James’ Park, and Romanian attacker Florin Andone.
Real Valladolid are another club who will feel like they belong in Spain’s highest division and should once again make the play-offs at least, backed up by a raft of loanees.
Catalan minnows Girona, so close to automatic promotion last time around, may be mentally scarred from blowing those traumatic events of early June, when, had they held out for just a few more minutes, they would have been in the big time. Once again operating on a small budget and without a number of players including top scorer from last time out Frandisco Sandaza, who has moved to Japan.
It is also worth keeping an eye on Real Mallorca this campaign, after 16 consecutive years in La Liga they have struggled massively in the second tier with 17th and 16th placed finishes despite investment in the playing staff. Once again they’ve undergone a massive overhaul, including five South American loan signings. Expect a greatly improved finish.
Other recently-fallen La Liga sides include Osasuna, who avoided relegation in the dying moments last season and have had major financial difficulties over the past year, but their squad has enough experience to once again improve this time around.
Of the four promoted sides, Real Oviedo appear to have the strongest squad and though successive promotions may be beyond them, they will be aiming for a top-half finish, while Bilbao Athletic, the reserve side of Athletic Club, should fare much better than Barcelona B, who were relegated last season.
The aim for other promoted sides Gimnastic and Huesca will be to avoid relegation back down to the regionalised third tier, and this may be problematic, particularly for the latter. Lugo, Mirandes, Tenerife and Elche at this stage appear most likely to be involved in a relegation dogfight.