The dream of every professional footballer is to play in a major championship for a top team. Every year three teams are relegated from La Liga and with those slots open, second division teams get the chance to be promoted to the Spanish top flight. Each team has to deal with it; different conditions but for all of them the dream is the same. Advance it to the first division and stay there, eventually maybe even make a run for the title or a European berth, at the least.
As of 2010-11, the Liga Adelante contains 22 teams that play each other in a 42-match season. The top two teams earn an automatic promotion while the third team to be promoted is elected through a series of play-off ties between the next four best qualified teams in positions 3 through 6 (reserve teams are not eligible for promotion). The play-offs comprise two-legged semi-finals followed by a two-legged final.
Coincidentally, the teams joining the first division this season are all entities who had to go through serious restructuring to return to the Primera Divison, they all feature new coaches as well. Yet, the way they managed to get back to top flight football couldn’t be more different.
After being relegated two seasons ago, Almería lost many of its key players and took a while before the club could get back on its feet. Last season they made it all the way to the playoffs only to lose in the finals to Granada. But this season they finally managed to assemble a solid team based on a strong offense with only 5 ‘survivors’ from that season where they were relegated.
The team changed a lot since its relegation starting the season with a new coach, Javi Garcia, and economic restrain. But with many new additions in the summer transfer window both from abroad and the reserve team, taking advantage of free transfers and loans Almeria managed to gather a squad capable of accomplishing the desired promotion. The best signing of the season proved to be Charles, who arrived on a free transfer with the intention to form a pair with Ulloa, last season’s Pichichi, but the latter ended up being replaced by the former on goal acumen alone.
Additions in defense included the center backs Angel Trujillo, and Mejía, returning to Spanish football after a stint in Turkey. The midfield was expanded by adding Carlos Calve and Iago Falque, on loan from Tottenham Hotspurs.
The season started with a 4-5 away win against FC Barcelona B. Almería were the only ones to be able to keep up with pace setters Elche but with three losses towards the end of 2012 they hit a bump on the road. At the back of these recent results, the first match of 2013 proved to be a very important one for the team. After being unable to open the score against Girona, an unexpected direct competitor for promotion, the coach turned to Chumbi, a reserve player with less than 10 minutes played in the Liga Adelante, and the bet paid off, winning on a 1-0 score.
The second half of the season started on a high with Charles showing just how effective he was in front of goal, with 10 goals in 8 matches. But March became just as grim as December with dip in form that took the direct promotion slot from them. Andrés Viral, a summer signing, began to show more of his class, yet it wasn’t enough to prevent Almeria from suffering another dip in form that led to a streak of losses in the matches against Elche, Lugo and Alcorcón Though the club didn’t manage to qualify for the direct promotion to the Primera Divison, it still could achieve its target through the play-off rounds.
The semifinal draw against Las Palmas proved to be a very tight endeavor over two legs. The first match proved to be the hardest with a 1-1 tie, while the second leg was a carbon copy, down to the result (1-1) that forced the extra time after Charles missed a penalty during the regular 90 minutes. But he didn’t repeat his error later on giving Almería the lead in a hard earned 2-1 win.
The final against Girona was a perfect contrast to the preceding semifinal; Almería demonstrated their superiority by winning with an aggregate score of 4-0. Ending the season on a high seemed like the best way for the team to make it back to the first division after two seasons in the Liga Adelante.
In defense, veteran goalkeeper Esteban was the only one to play all 45 matches and he seems to have found the perfect place for the final stretch of his career. Right-back has been the most contested spot with Rafita and Gunino being alternated all season but the latter accumulated the most matches in that position eventually. In the center-back positions Angel Trujillo and Pellerano proved to be great defenders. But Trujillo started the season coming on from the reserve and was expected to play less. Due to some accounting mistakes in Pellerano’s transfer, that kept him away from the pitch for 4 months, Trujillo saw more playing time and cemented his position even after the former was cleared to play. Unfazed by the inconsistency in the rest of the defense Cristian managed to cement his position as left-back and became a constant attacking threat, even becoming the third best goal scorer for the team.
The midfield had few if any changes with Verza and team captain Corona being the heart of the defensive midfield. The former arrived right after Almería’s relegation and became a key piece for the squad, playing every game he was available for. On the right wing Alex Vidal displayed some of his best football when running into space and making full use of the width and length of the pitch. Arturo Soriano’s proved to be effective as an attacking midfielder with great distribution and also the benefactor of a lot of chances at goal that made him the second best goal scorer in the squad. During the second half of the season the left wing had a proper mainstay in Iago Falque. His natural skills and class show why Tottenham signed him in the first place and even providing hope for the future if Gareth Bale does leave the London side.
The attack showed the least movement and rotation. Even though Charles came on as a possible sub or partner for Ulloa up front, he managed to replace the former thanks to his goals the latter even left during the winter transfer season. He ended the season on a career high 32-goal which caught the attention of Celta, who signed him after losing Iago Aspas to Liverpool.
Javi Garcia had a short squad of 26 players with many being reserve graduates. Yet more often than not did his starting eleven change with few positions being in actual contest. This is how Almería managed to make it back to the Liga BBVA after two years.
U.D. Almería played a very attacking football last season that on more than one occasion lacked defensive insight due to inexperience and accounting problems in the defense. To stay competitive in the Liga BBVA next season, they’ll need to find an effective replacement for Charles now that he’s left for Celta de Vigo. But with a new coach for this next term, one will have to take a wait and see their approach to figure out just how much the team will change as they go back to the first division and the transfers as of late have all been in a position for position purchases, with the much needed reinforcements in defense nowhere to be seen as of yet.
Three coaches. That’s how many Villarreal had last season. After being relegated in the 11-12 season, Manolo Preciado never did manage to take his position as a sudden heart attack took him from this world the same day he was announced as the new coach for Villarreal’s plight back to first division. But he wasn’t forgotten to the fans as on the final match of the season banners could be seen praising the coach. After this unfortunate situation, the man trusted to take over was Juliano Velasquez, who was the previous coach of the reserve team. He seemed to be the perfect solution considering the club had lost almost all of its players in the transition to the second division, and these would have to be replaced with reserve players due to the lack of funds. Key players such as Diego López, Nilmar, Borja Valero and Giuseppe Rossi all left to help balance the books. But other players like Bruno Soriano, Cani and Marco Senna stayed on to create a foundation for the club.
The season began on a hard earned 2-1 home win against Real Madrid Castilla and didn’t lose until match day 8 against Sporting after a few tied games. This was the start of something that plagued the first half of the season with Velasquez – inconsistency. Eventually Villarreal would decide to replace Velasquez after finishing the first half outside the promotion slots. Marcelino Garcia, who initially turned down the club during the summer, was tasked to turn the ship around.
Marcelino’s Villarreal started on a low note with a 5-0 loss to Real Madrid Castilla making it clear that there was a need to reinforce the squad. During the January transfer window incorporation on all parts of the squad was seen with Jeremy Perbet, Jonathan Pereira, Juanma and Farinos as the more important ones. After this, Marcelino’s team still seemed ineffective on goal but once the gears started they never stopped with a fourteen weeks winning streak. Once the streak ended, it depended only in itself to manage the direct promotion.After losing so many players in the transition to second division, what Villarreal have managed this season is nothing short of an incredible achievement. The managers took full advantage of both the transfer market and the reserve players to build a competitive team.
Villarreal’s defense, with the second best goalkeeper in the league, Juan Carlos, accompanied by a young core of Mario Gaspar, Musacchio and Jaume Costa, all from the reserve and impressed all season long. Mellberg was the final piece of the puzzle bringing experience and leadership to the youngsters.
In midfield the Yellow Submarine could and can still count on Bruno Soriano, who stayed after rejecting big money moves along with veteran Marco Senna. However, the latter was shown tough competition by another youngster, Héctor Canteros, towards the end by. Cani and Trigueros complete a midfield with great passing and goal scoring. After arriving in the winter, Perbet made himself an opening in the lineup that few thought possible, eleven goals since January prove how effective he was in replacing the losses of Rossi and Nilmar. Playing next to him was Uche, their highest goalscorer, who managed to score in the biggest fixtures all season long. But the most decisive moment of the season wasn’t until the last fixture against Almería, in which ended with a 1-0 win, giving Marcelino his third promotion to the first division.
Villarreal C.F. is a team that even now is in the middle of a transition and they will need to find the sweet spot in their game to stay consistent throughout the season while reinforcing their back line that’s susceptible to mistakes. Yet this team has overcome the loss of key players, managers as well as tragedy. Perhaps the Yellow Submarine isn’t yet ready to reclaim its former glory, but very little can shake this boat.
A long, long, twenty five years. That’s how long Elche have been roaming around the second and third divisions of the Spanish Leagues. They finally managed to build a solid foundation capable to win Liga Adelante and the promotion to the Primera Division. The man entrusted with leading the ambitious undertaking was Fran Escribá. In retrospect, it’s something that seemed like an incredible leap of faith considering it was his first attempt at managing a team. Escribá’s track record at the time consisted of being an assistant to Quique Sánchez Flores, while the latter was in charge at Getafe, Benfica, and Atlético Madrid. Yet the pair separated in 2011 because Escribá wanted a shot at being Head Coach.
Elche’s decision turned to be an inspired one, as Escribá managed to form a solid and effective team. While FC Barcelona had the best first round of the in the history the Spanish top flight, Elche CF managed the same accomplishment in second division but the circumstances couldn’t be any different. Barcelona was achieving this thanks to their devastating attack (or Lionel Messi) whereas Elche proved to have the best defense in the Liga Adelante.
Elche CF can’t be considered an attacking behemoth; but what the team lacks in invention going forward it more than compensates in defense, which makes them a rather unpleasant opponent. Above anything Elche are an efficient side. A 1-0 victory is as good as any. This was how they made history with the best first round in the second division. Losing twice, once on penalties and the other on a late goal against Lugo, and four ties.
Even this mercilessly efficient Elche side suffered a dip of form that scared many fans, with only six of fifteen possible points in the opening 5 games of the second half of the season. But Escribá moved chips around and after winning against Villarreal 3-2, the club managed to open an 11-point difference on its closest rival. From there on out, it was hard for the rest to keep up and the season ended with Elche being five points clear from second placed Villarreal.
Fran Escribá has truly done something admirable last season by bringing the best out of all his players, starting with goalkeeper Manuel Herrera, who managed to win the Zamora trophy for the second division, under his guidance. Uruguayan right back Damían Suárez arrived from Sporting, the team with worst defensive record in the Liga BBVA in the previous season, to join the team with the best defense in the second division. Curiously, his arrival provided great defensive consistency but also a lot of attacking depth to the team. The centre-backs Etxeita and Pelegrin couldn’t be more different and yet so alike. Etxeita found his best level of play this past season by being solid in defense, while also contributing in attack, with 4 goals to his name. While in the three years since his arrival at Elche, Pelegrin has become his side’s reference in the defensive third of the pitch. Finally, the second highest scorer for the team comes from the left-back position, Edu Albacar, with 9 goals. While his attacking is great, his defensive game is rock solid too.
The defensive strength of this team can’t be understood without the balance that comes from the midfielders – Generelo and Mantecón. Both physical players, who not only provide defensive stability but also the perfect foil to trequartista Ribera, who gives the midfield that little something different.
In attack, Xumetra started the season on a high note scoring in the first three matches and while he couldn’t maintain his streak, he still proved to be a consistent performer for Elche in attack on the right wing. On the other side of the pitch, Fidel arrived from Recreativo Huelva and while he was brought on as a squad rotation player, he evolved into a real threat up front and played more minutes than what expected of him. The 23-year old is already rumored to have brought the attention of bigger teams; however, a move has yet to materialize. Finally, there’s Coro as the sole reference in attack. Coro has proved this season to be a lethal finisher as he rarely lost chances.
Something that has become common practice in the football world is for the teams in the first division to “clean house” by taking key players from the teams being promoted. But if these three manage to keep the foundation while adding depth to their squads, being competitive in the Liga BBVA is far from a dream.
Finishing next season anywhere in the middle table for these teams would be a success and staying back at all costs in top flight football in their first season, their goal.