It was a highly eventful and incredibly tight Segunda division in Spain last season. A campaign, which lasted longer than a year, brought a highly unpredictable race for promotion, where anyone was capable of beating anyone.
Incredibly, just 10 points the top eight teams, but after a thrilling end to the delayed season, three clubs were promoted to the elite of Spanish football: Huesca, Cádiz and Elche. Let’s check out how they made it to Spanish football’s top table.
Huesca were promoted back to La Liga after a one-year absence. Based in the north east of the country, Huesca finished with a flourish to win the title with three wins in their last four games. A key point in their promotion was a crucial win against Aragonese rivals and bigger cousin Real Zaragoza in their Romareda home in the run-in. Their one-goal away victory at the death gave them the belief to kick on and go on a late run. Huesca duly went from playoff contenders to capture the league title on the final day of the season.
Stadium Information: Huesca play at the modest El Alcoraz. Its capacity is just 7,638 but presents an intimate atmosphere for the opposition. Expect the majority of their points to be won on home soil.
Player to Watch: Shinji Okazaki. A familiar name to British supporters. After all, the Japanese striker played an integral role in Leicester City’s march to the Premier League title in 2016. This season, he swapped England for Spain and has been a key figure for the team. His 12 goals in 36 games helped fire Huesca to the big time. In addition, Okazaki has played an impressive 119 games and scored 50 goals with his country. He will be the talisman for Huesca next season.
The Andalusian club are back in La Liga for the first time since 2006. Yet, the team had a very strange season and did not make it easy for themselves to gain promotion. They were long time leaders of the Segunda having had a substantial early lead of 15 points. But Cádiz blew their huge gap and slipped out of the playoffs. However, the team found their feet again and rose to the topa although they were piped to the title in the last round of matches by Huesca.
Stadium Information: Their fabled Nuevo Estadio Ramón de Carranza stadium hosts many summer pre-season tournaments. It was recently upgraded with a capacity of 25,033. The ground hosted the Spanish national team when Spain took on Malta.
Player to Watch: Álvaro Negredo. The former Spain international has bags of La Liga experience with spells at Almeria, Sevilla and Valencia. His record demonstrates his knack of goals and scoring at crucial times at each of his club. Cádiz will be pinning their hopes on the forward to maintain their La Liga status.
Relegated for financial mismanagement in 2015, Elche are back in La Liga. It was an amazing end of their season too. The club from Spain’s south east sneaked into the play offs by way of Fuenlabrada losing in injury time to Deportivo La Coruña – Fuenla only needed a point to secure their playoff spot. Elche won against Girona in the playoff final 1-0 on aggregate with a 96th minute winner scored in the second leg. The goal arrived in dramatic fashion and headed in by Elche’s winger Pere Milla. Elche also have a new coach with the Argentine Jose Almiron replacing José Rojo ‘Pacheta’ in the dugout. He took the club from the third tier of Spanish football to La Liga. With only three weeks until the new campaign begins, Elche face a race against time to be ready. Their odds of staying up may be attractive for onlookers, with Gclub also worth paying attention to.
Stadium Information: Estadio Manuel Martínez Valero has a capacity of 33,732. It was one of the biggest stadiums in the Spanish second tier and will be fit for purpose in La Liga.
Player to Watch: Juan Francisco Martínez Modesto (Nino). With over 500 matches and nearly 200 goals, Nino is a prolific veteran striker. Remarkably, he is still in the goals in the twilight of his career as a 40-years-old. He is also a legend of Elche with his career spanning two spells. Earlier in his football journey, he commenced his career with Elche. He would score 87 goals in 273 games over eight years. And in 2016, he returned to his spiritual home and in four years he has scored 38 goals in 154 matches. This included seven goals in 40 games this past season. Goals which included strikes in the play offs to further enhance his folklore. Nino will feature in La Liga once more and be the experienced figure his team needs in their return campaign.