Going Up – Granada & Las Palmas promoted to LaLiga

You could trawl the football globe and study the history books, but you’ll struggle to find a promotion race quite as tight as the one that has taken place this season in Spain’s Segunda División. We reached the final matchday with no team having clinched automatic promotion and ended it with just four points separating the top five teams who have been jostling for positions for virtually the entire campaign.

Granada were the side to emerge as champions on the final weekend, with a comfortable 2-0 win over a Leganés side that had little to play for. Bryan Zaragoza’s 58th minute strike, adding to a First Half goal from Segunda División top scorer Myrto Uzuni, made the remainder of the game slightly more comfortable viewing for Granada fans whilst also ending any realistic prospect of 4th placed Levante jumping up into one of the automatic promotion positions.

The tension though was by this point unbearable over in Gran Canaria where Las Palmas (2nd) and Alavés (3rd) were facing off in a “winner takes all” showdown for promotion. The game largely went as might have been expected, with Las Palmas dominating possession in a match of few clear openings. 

It was a night where almost every last tackle, interception and action in favour of the home team was roared on by a partisan crowd. They didn’t ultimately get a goal to celebrate but there can have been few louder roars this weekend than in the 63rd minute when the visitors finally found a gap in the Las Palmas defence with Asier Villalibre racing through on goal, only to be denied by a save from Álvaro Valles.

That was the visitors’ big chance to spoil one big Canarian party, but there was no denying Las Palmas this time, a year on from play-off heartbreak at the hands of local rivals Tenerife.

Fortress Los Cármenes – Granada secure immediate return

For the two teams that ultimately clinched automatic promotion, there was a strong element of redemption in both cases with the mood in Granada and Las Palmas very different twelve months ago at the culmination of the 2021/22 season.

Granada suffered relegation in the most painful of circumstances. They were strong favourites to beat the drop heading into their final game, a winnable home fixture against an Espanyol side playing merely for pride. However a goalless draw, best remembered by Jorge Molina’s late missed penalty, cost the Andalusian side their top flight status. Los Carmenes had hosted a Europa League Quarter Final against Manchester United only a year previously, so relegation felt like a very sudden and sharp fall from grace.

Numerous mistakes were made during the 2021/22 campaign with some questionable January signings that did little to help preserve top flight status. Striker Uzuni, a €4m addition, certainly fell into that category and could only contribute one goal as Granada dropped into the second tier. However he has certainly come good this season with 23 league goals accounting for 42% of his team’s total. The Albanian celebrated promotion by proposing to his partner on the pitch at Los Cármenes, before topping off a day he’s unlikely to forget in a hurry, by jumping into a nearby fountain.

He has linked up well with veteran forward José Callejón, who despite being 36 years old, has clocked up more minutes than any other Granada player this term, appearing in every single league fixture.

The key factor in Granada’s title triumph has unquestionably been their home form. Their record at Los Cármenes reads played 21, won 17, drawn 4, lost 0 with only 6 goals conceded. It’s a fantastic return but one that is in total contrast to their woes on the road with the Nazaríes losing more than half of their away fixtures this term, averaging less than a point per game on their travels, compared to 2.62 points per home game.

The Granada board also deserve credit for getting the big decision right in November when former Levante boss Paco López replaced the sacked Aitor Karanka with the side down in 8th place. After more than twelve months out of work, the 55 year old was clearly keen to wait for the right opportunity to come up and his patience has clearly paid off and López is set to be a top flight coach again next season.

Las Palmas end 5 year wait for top flight football

For Las Palmas, achieving their return to the top flight has been a longer process. Fans of LaLiga will most likely remember the fun factor that they brought to the Spanish top flight during an entertaining three year stay between 2015 and 2018. The best part of that period came under the guidance of Quique Setién who left after a falling out with the board in 2017. For a while, things spiralled badly out of control as the club were relegated with just 22 points in 2018, before finishing in the bottom half of the 2018/19 Segunda División.

A period of second tier stability followed under Pepe Mel, but their bid to bring top flight football back to the Canary Islands really stepped up a gear with the January 2022 appointment of García Pimienta. It was a big move for a man who had spent the previous 15 years at boyhood club Barcelona, working as a youth coach and assistant before graduating to take charge of Barça B for three seasons before his dismissal at the end of the 2020/21 season.

It was also a big gamble from Las Palmas’ point of view as they opted to replace Mel after three years, despite the side being only just outside the play-off places at the time. Initially, it looked like the wrong call.

García Pimienta won just 1 of his opening 7 matches as Las Palmas sunk into the bottom half of the league. However a victory in Valladolid in March sparked a dramatic turnaround as the Canary Islanders won 9 of their final 11 games to reach the play-offs as a clear style and way of playing emerged and the foundations were laid for an ultimately successful push for automatic promotion this term.

“We built a lot last season in the months we were here” he stated following Saturday’s promotion-clinching draw against Alavés. “When things have not gone well, we have insisted that this was the path and that we were going to achieve it if we were united and believed in this way of playing.”

As you might imagine given his background, García Pimienta’s side favour a possession-heavy style of football. They’ve averaged a 66% share of the ball this season, 11% more than any of their promotion rivals and there is certainly a clarity about what they try to do. 

That ability to control the ball has helped protect the meanest defence in the division with just 29 goals conceded in 42 games. While their patient build-up hasn’t always led to an abundance of chances, the immense talents of captain and hometown hero Jonathan Viera has given them an offensive weapon that sets them apart from other teams at this level.

How all that translates into life in the top flight will be intriguing to watch. García Pimienta, whose contract is now up, is expected to sign a new deal, something you’d imagine both parties would be keen to agree in the coming days.

Assuming there are no late hitches, it’s hard to imagine we’ll see the 48 year old veer radically from this style of football despite playing at a higher level. That means there may well be shades of Setien’s Las Palmas about this current crop as they most likely continue to seek to try to control the ball against what in most cases will be superior opponents next season.

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