2021/22 Spanish Segunda Division playoffs: How they work and a tactical overview of each team – tactical analysis
With the majority of domestic football finished for the 2021/22 season in Europe, many people are starting to look toward international matches. In Spain, however, the promotion playoffs for La Liga have only just kicked off in the Segunda Division. As with many of the playoffs, there is so much to gain for every team that is involved.
This data analysis will explore the structure of the playoffs before diving into a tactical overview of the teams in the promotion fight, providing a briefing of each team using data and statistics from the 2021/22 season.
Structure of the playoffs
The latest format of the Segunda División was adopted first in the 2010/11 season and is still used for the current season. This format is very similar to the English football leagues, like the EFL Championship, with the teams competing being the highest four league positions after the automatic promotion positions (in first and second). Usually, this means teams in third to sixth will compete, but if there are any reserve teams in the qualification positions it is transferred to the next best team since these reserve teams can not get promoted.
The matches start with two two-legged semi-final matches. These are with third place facing off against sixth place and fourth place facing fifth place. The lowest place team will always be home for the first leg with the second leg taking place at the opponent’s home stadium. Therefore the semi-finals for this season are Girona vs Eibar and Tenerife vs Las Palmas.
Since the new format, a new rule was established removing the penalty shoot-out from the semi-finals. This only takes place after specific circumstances but it gives an advantage to higher final league positions. The semi-final matches do have the away goal rule as well over the two legs, even up to the extra time of the second leg. Therefore in the case that the score is equal on aggregate over the two legs and remains even after the extra time, then the highest placed team will go through.
Eibar lost out of automatic promotion on the final matchday with them losing 1-0 to Alcorcon at the bottom of Segunda Division in a shock result. With a win, they would have been winners of the league by two points but now they must fight for promotion.
The team from the north will be the favourites for winning the playoffs with them having not lost against the other playoff competitors this season, winning five out of the six matches.
Eibar have lots of good players in their squad and have had a regular starting eleven during the season. However, they have not been as consistent with their formations having used 4-2-3-1, their most-used formation, for only 55% of their matches this season. They have used three-man and five-man defences numerous times as well with varying success, the most recent loss with their three-man defence was to 15th place Ibiza 2-0. The flexibility to change between formations may worry their opponents in the playoffs with Eibar’s ability to choose different formations in the semi-finals to the finals depending on their success with a four-man defence.
What sets Eibar apart from the other teams in the playoffs is their scoring tally, averaging 1.5 goals a match and reaching a total of 61 goals for the season. Their capacity to score so many goals comes from their number 19 Stoichkov, no relation to the Barcelona great. The Spaniard finished third in the top goalscorers with 21 goals, only one behind the first place, showing his threat in front of goal. He is also dangerous in making goals with Stoichkov finishing joint-top in the league for goals and assists for the season with 27.
In attack, Eibar are not afraid to keep the ball, having an average possession of 49% this season, but they usually look to get the ball forward quickly as they have the highest total ball losses in the top 12 teams in the league with 102 per match. They are comfortable playing out from the back using their central midfielders or full-backs to progress the ball, despite typically playing the ball long with their average of 44 long balls a match. From these long balls, they are dangerous when battling against the opposition defence, likely because of their ability to win second balls.
Utilising width is something that Eibar aim to do by getting their wide players to make runs beyond the opposition defence creating options for crosses, dribbles into the box, or shots from the wide areas.
This width doesn’t change when defending, with Eibar looking to get on the front foot against their opponents when pressing. This high press allows them to win the ball in the opposition half providing a quick platform to start an attack. They will often have their entire attack pushed up on the opponent’s defence with the midfielders looking to be aggressive if the ball is to go to the opposition central midfielders. Eibar are not afraid to send bodies forward with their full-back often competing for the ball in the opposition half.
With so many of the Eibar players upfield it allows any second balls to be collected and converted into shots on goal. On the other hand, Eibar have conceded 45 goals this season and only kept nine clean sheets, showing that these tactics don’t come without flaws, especially if the opposition has a high success rate in playing long balls or when the opposition can play out from the press, which is less likely in the Segunda Division than in La Liga. This style of play results in higher scoring matches with an average of 2.5 goals a match and is something Eibar will need to be wary of in the playoffs with the away goal rule.
Tenerife will be facing Las Palmas in their attempt to return to La Liga for the first time since 2009/10. This match has a huge rivalry with both teams being neighbours in the Canary Islands. Tenerife are coming into the knockout tournament with the worst run of form having lost their last three matches after their 1-0 win over Girona.
Tenerife have played with a 4-4-2 or a variation of it for 99% of their matches this season, showing they have lots of faith and understanding in their roles and responsibilities in this structure. Tenerife do rotate their squad a lot which has been an important part of being successful in the Segunda Division with the demanding 42 matches in the season excluding the playoffs and cup competitions.
When comparing Tenerife to the other teams in the playoffs they are the only team to have stuck to one formation for the whole of the season with many of the other clubs switching between different formations on numerous occasions. With Tenerife’s consistency can come some problems with the opposition’s ability to predict their style of play and formation creating a game plan to nullify it.
Tenerife have not got many star players to attack with as their top goal scorer Zorrilla only scored 11 goals this season. Their second-highest is only one goal behind Gallego who has been another regular feature for Tenerife this season in attack. Even with these low-scoring numbers, the overall goals for the team are not drastically different from the other teams in the playoffs with them only four goals behind Las Palmas on 53 goals.
Tenerife’s playstyle is unique to the other top six teams with them averaging the lowest possession with 47% compared to the other playoffs teams, however, they have the lowest number of goals conceded with 37 in the Segunda Division. To typify their defensive record, Soriano finished second in the league for clean sheets with 16.
Tenerife looks to stay compact when defending with a low defensive line at all times. The low defence line can cause them problems with there being large spaces in between the lines. However, the pressure the strikers put on the opposition with the knowledge that the defence is solid, forces the opposition to play quickly reducing their chances of making a killer pass. The strikers will also try to show the opposition down the wide channel as Tenerife have a wide defensive shape to cope with this area of the pitch.
In attack, Tenerife are very direct often looking to progress the ball quickly up the field through long balls trying to turn the opposition and get in behind the defensive line. Tenerife are effective in progressing the ball into the final third even with their 59% accuracy and their average of 52 long passes a match.
Their playmaking ability is something that is lacking within the squad with their top assist maker being Gallego on 5 for the season. This is most likely down to their playstyle with it looking for individual duels to be won and for them to pounce on any mistake made by the opposition instead of splitting open a defence with a killer pass.
Tenerife’s set-up will not be a huge shock to any team that they come up against with them consistently playing with the same style for the majority of the season, but it is not an easy team to stop if they are scoring in front of goals, especially with their defensive solidity.
UD Las Palmas
Las Palmas are going into the playoffs with a great run of form, having not lost in their last 11 matches of the season with only two draws in that time, with one draw against Eibar. The team from the Canary Islands have the best form and will be looking to carry this into their first semi-final against their rivals Tenerife, who they have already done the double over this season.
Las Palmas have been much more consistent with their formation compared to Eibar with them using a 4-1-4-1, 4-2-3-1, or a variation of a 4-4-2 for 75% of their matches. Most recently Las Palmas have opted for a 4-1-4-1, which is why the predicted squad is in this system.
Las Palmas have a few key players with goal scorer Jonathan Viera taking the majority of the headlines with his impressive goal and assist tally of 20. The Spaniard has also got the most key passes per game with 2.4 while also being third in the league for the most accurate passes per game with 57.3, with an accuracy of 84% on all his passes.
Las Palmas have a very unique system in possession of the ball when looking at the teams in the Segunda Division, with their central defensive midfielder dropping between the centre backs to get on the ball. This creates lots of space for rotations and movement in the midfield to break the lines and create problems for the opposition.
Las Palmas’ possession-based football is highlighted with the highest average number of passes in the league with 450 per 90 while they also have the highest accuracy with 86%. The majority of their passes are usually within the defensive line or safely in the midfield trying to move the opposition to create an option to progress the ball.
In defence, Las Palmas look to stay compact getting lots of numbers in the centre of the pitch and keeping the spaces between the lines to a minimum. This is a great tactic for winning any aerial duels and stopping longer-range shots on goal. However, the structure is weak in the wider areas which can cause Las Palmas problems when facing the other teams in the playoffs.
Las Palmas have conceded the most goals with 47 in the Segunda Division, more than any team in the playoffs. Las Palmas also have the lowest number of shots conceded per 90 with 9, which is a very strange combination for a team to have considering there is usually a relationship between shots and goals.
The data reflects the shape that Las Palmas play defensively with them limiting their opponent’s shots by getting more bodies in front of the goal and around the box, but this just causes them to be weak outside the structure giving the opposition chances to find spaces on the wings to create chances.
Girona just qualified for the playoff spots, only edging ahead of Oviedo on the head to head results. They are coming to the playoffs on a shaky run of form having three wins in their last eight and not putting a string of results together.
The team from the northeast are facing Eibar who are the highest finishing team in the playoffs and will have the opposite feeling to Girona with them losing out by fine margins on automatic promotion. It is going to be a very tough match for Girona who are huge underdogs going into the semi-final match having not beaten Eibar since 2013.
Girona, much like Eibar, have not been consistent with their formations this season having switched between 5-3-2, 4-2-3-1 and 3-4-2-1 and so it will be very difficult to predict their shape. The 4-2-3-1 is something Girona have used in their last two matches and has also been used 12% of the time this season, therefore we will focus on their structure within this formation.
Even with the inconsistency in their set up Girona have been fairly steady when it comes to their squad selection this season, mostly rotating to accommodate for changes in formations. Girona do have a few stand out players in Garcia who has been a solid midfielder for the club as their consistent playmaker. The next stand out player is Espinosa in central defence with his aerial presence and experience helping Girona keep their 13 clean sheets this season. The final player is the former Middlesbrough forward Cristhian Stuani who finished joint-top goalscorer this season with 22 in the Segunda Division.
In terms of playstyle in attack, Girona look to use progressive runs (dribbling the ball 15-30 metres closer to the opposition goal) to create attacking chances with them having the highest total in the division and an average of 17 per match.
To create the opportunity for these progressive runs they look to circulate the ball around the back looking to play into the central or wide channel of the pitch. In these areas, there is a lot of room to break the lines, especially in the wide channel where a player can choose to cut inside or look to go down the channel to cross the ball into the box.
These runs can also draw opposition players to the ball freeing up spaces in other areas of the pitch. If there are no options to run Girona look for quick passes trying to break the lines through the centre of the pitch.
In defence, Girona look to get lots of players behind the ball trying to force the opposition backwards or out wide. Girona will usually get lots of numbers in the central channel of the pitch with the obvious aim to block shots of passes going through the middle of the pitch.
Girona have conceded the most shots against them with an average of 11 shots conceded per 90 the most out of the playoff teams. This suggests that their defensive structure of style is not as effective compared to the other teams fighting for the playoffs, potentially hindered by their inconsistency in their structure. This variance means that the players may be less drilled in their role within the formation, opening up spaces for the opposition to exploit.
In their semi-final match, Girona will be looking to outscore Eibar instead of holding onto a small advantage with both teams having defensive fragilities within their systems. If Girona are not well-drilled in their defensive shape, they will be punished by the goal-scoring ability of Stoichkov which is all the more important with the away goals rule.
To summarise, the Spanish Segunda Division playoffs are very similar to any traditional playoffs with two two-legged semi-finals taking place before the final. The main difference in the Segunda Division is the use of away goals and the eradication of penalty shootouts.
When looking at the teams in the playoffs, there are two different playstyles adopted by the four teams with them often resulting in the same weaknesses and strengths for the teams that use similar systems. Eibar will be the favourites going into the playoffs based on their league position and impeccable head to head results against the other teams. With many of these knockout playoffs, these are merely predictions with every team having the capability to get a result on the day.