Rayo Vallecano have achieved a comeback win away at Girona, winning 2-0 in the LaLiga SmartBank playoff final second leg on Sunday (20 June), after having lost the first leg 1-2 at home in Vallecas.
This means that Rayo Vallecano have returned to LaLiga Santander just two years after their last relegation. In a short space of time, the capital city club have rebuilt in LaLiga SmartBank and are back at LaLiga Santander along with LaLiga SmartBank champions Espanyol and the runners-up Mallorca.
There was a wait to find out who would secure promotion through the playoffs and it was Rayo Vallecano who have achieved the final ticket, after finishing sixth in the regular season.
After falling in the first leg against Girona at their own stadium, there was little the Catalan club could do against Andoni Iraola’s men in the second leg. Rayo Vallecano were able to take a lead on the aggregate scoreboard through goals from Álvaro García and Óscar Trejo, before holding on in epic fashion.
They can now prepare for their 19th campaign at LaLiga Santander level. All three promoted clubs are historic and will look to shake up the top flight, bringing quality players with them who could cause problems for Spanish football’s giants.
The secrets of a quiet Rayo side
Andoni Iraola, the team’s young coach, has been able to get the best out of a squad containing many veterans and some quality talents. These include Trejo, the promotion hero after scoring the goal that made the difference, as well as Moroccan striker Yacine Qasmi and Peruvian full-back Luis Advíncula. The presence of some youngsters has helped too, such as José Pozo and Óscar Valentín.
Rayo Vallecano qualified for the playoffs quietly. Even though they lost in the final round of the regular season when they faced Lugo, Sporting Gijón couldn’t capitalise on that defeat. That left Rayo Vallecano sixth and still dreaming of promotion.
Few teams display their commitment quite like Rayo, who gave their all to overcome Leganés in the playoff semi-finals and then Girona in the final, eliminating the two favourites who blocked their path.
Mallorca and Espanyol can make life tough for anyone
Next season, the teams in Spain’s top tier will have to be wary of all three of the newly-promoted sides as they all have experience and history at this level.
Espanyol are more established than most, having been outside of LaLiga Santander for only five seasons since the league was founded in 1929.
The Catalan club are one of the top division’s most regular sides and they boast top-quality players who could start for most LaLiga Santander teams, players like this season’s LaLiga SmartBank top scorer Raúl de Tomás or the skilled midfielder Sergi Darder.
Espanyol returned to the top tier after just one season away, as did Mallorca. Mallorca's third-place LaLiga Santander finish from 2000/01 may have been a long time ago, but the team coached by Luis García have proved to be a tough test for any opponent and this will be their 29th campaign at LaLiga Santander level. This year’s promotion is also their fourth in five years.
There is no doubt that Espanyol, Mallorca and Rayo Vallecano will bring history and a vintage feel to the competition, but they’ll also raise the level and add even more competitiveness to LaLiga Santander. It should be quite a show.
Confirmation of the LaLiga Santander and LaLiga SmartBank clubs
With Rayo Vallecano’s promotion and the fact that Girona FC are staying in the second tier, the 20 clubs of LaLiga Santander and the 22 clubs of LaLiga SmartBank are now set for the 2021/22 campaign.
Rayo Vallecano, along with Espanyol and Mallorca, will replace Huesca, Real Valladolid and Eibar in LaLiga Santander, as these three teams have been relegated down to LaLiga SmartBank.
At the other end of the second division, Sabadell, Logroñés, Castellón and Albacete were relegated down to the third tier, while Ibiza, Burgos, Amorebieta and Xabi Alonso’s Real Sociedad B have come up to LaLiga SmartBank level.
As happens every season, there will be seven new clubs among the 22 who make up LaLiga SmartBank, one of football’s most competitive competitions.