The 2021/22 season sees the return of three familiar names in LaLiga Santander. Espanyol and Mallorca, who were both relegated at the end of 2019/20, sealed automatic promotions and bounced back immediately. Following a dramatic season, Rayo Vallecano ended their two-year stay in the Segunda with a play-off final win over Girona.
Here, we break down each of these three newly-promoted sides and dive into what can be expected from them in 2021/22.
2021/22 LaLiga – The Newly Promoted Teams
Espanyol played second-tier football for the first time in 26 years after their horror 2019/20 campaign saw them finish rock bottom with only five wins. However, with the quality in this side, they were never going to be staying in the Segunda for more than a season. Executing just what was expected from them, Vicente Moreno’s Espanyol remained seemingly untouchable in the top two and secured promotion with four matches to spare. With a slice of luck towards the end, Los Periquitos were also able to pip Mallorca on head-to-head for the title as the icing on the cake.
The star of the season was undoubtedly Raúl de Tomás whose 23 goals crowned him the league’s top-scorer. The 26-year-old will be starting his second full season in the Spanish top-flight. He had a good stint with Rayo Vallecano three seasons ago although his contribution of 14 goals went in vain as the Madrid side ended up getting relegated. Many believe the RDT of 2021/22 will be the real deal and is fully ready to set the stage on fire.
Los Pericos do have plenty more firepower in attack in the shape of Adrián Embarba, who had 9 goals and 14 assists last season and 23-year-old academy product Javi Puado returning with a silver medal from the recently concluded Olympic Games in Tokyo. Also, the loan deal of Landry Dimata was made permanent for around €2m in what’s seen as a good deal for the Catalans.
Espanyol also roped in defender Sergi Gómez from Sevilla for a million euros and will be expected to lead the defence given his plentiful LaLiga experience. An important cog in the midfield could be Keidi Bare. The young Albanian international was influential in Espanyol’s race for promotion and will be keen to make a mark in his first top-flight venture. Los Pericos also have two young fiery full backs in Adrià Pedrosa and Óscar Gil. One particular area coach Vicente Moreno wanted to solidify was the midfield and the signing of Manu Morlanes on loan certainly helps. The transfer window doesn’t close until the end of the month and the possibility of more signings cannot be ruled out.
Espanyol has seen some really mixed seasons lately – a 7th place finish in 18/19 brought European football back to the club after 12 years but was followed by a first relegation of this century. All fans desire is some consistency and stability in the coming years. Escaping relegation comfortably is the least expected out of Espanyol this season and they surely look capable of that. Vicente Moreno is not a manager known for risk-taking and too much experimentation. We might not see a lot of fancy football but one thing’s for sure – the frontline is the strongest point of this Espanyol team and we can expect a healthy amount of goals.
Mallorca have started in a new division every season for each of the last five years. After back-to-back promotions saw Los Bermellones climb from the third tier to LaLiga for the 2019/20 season, a 19th place finish sent them back down. They’ve returned to LaLiga once again, winning automatic promotion following quite a comfortable Segunda campaign. The job now, in coach Luis García Plaza’s hands, is simple – to retain the top-flight status and put an end to half a decade of continuous yo-yoing.
On paper, Mallorca fans must feel more hopeful about survival this time than two seasons ago. They have made some quality additions in a lot of positions and possess decent squad depth. Veteran midfielders Dani Rodríguez and Salva Sevilla were the fulcrum of the team last season with a combined 15 goals and 9 assists. The quality, creativity and experience of these two will go a long way in determining Mallorca’s fate this season. Signing Rodrigo Battaglia on loan gives more rigidity in the middle of the park and with other impactful players like Iñigo Ruiz de Galarreta and Idrissu Baba, it’s fair to say that the strongest feature of this Mallorca team is its midfield.
One clear weakness however, is the absence of a strong number 9. The sale of Ante Budimir to Osasuna is a tough pill to swallow, especially given that the Croatian top scored for the Islanders in 2019/20 with 13 goals. Although Ángel Rodríguez has arrived on a free from Getafe and is a proven goalscorer at the top level, he has only started 20 matches in the last two seasons. It remains to be seen what the 34-year-old brings to the table. Mallorca, however, have signed young striker Fer Niño on loan from Villarreal, who could make the grade on the island. The 20-year-old looked promising last season with 3 goals in 17 league matches for the Yellow Submarine.
Perhaps the best addition to the squad is the return of Takefusa Kubo on loan. The 20-year-old shone brightly in his previous stint with Los Bermellones in 2019/20. One of the great young talents in the league, the Japanese international is sure to add a boost of creativity and speed on the right flank. Kubo also comes on the back of an impressive campaign in the Olympic Games, scoring three goals and assisting one. Additionally among the forward options, there is Abdón Prats, team’s top-scorer last term with 10 goals and Amath Ndiaye, who had 9 and had his loan deal from Getafe made permanent in the summer.
Other than that, Mallorca have bolstered their full back options, signing Jaume Costa for free and Pablo Maffeo on loan from Stuttgart. Costa brings eight seasons worth of LaLiga experience with him, while Maffeo the young right-back, had a great season with Huesca last term. With two explosive players in Maffeo and Kubo on the right flank, they are sure to cause havoc upon many defences this season.
Luis García Plaza was admired for his team management and pragmatism last season and for much of the Mallorca faithful, it feels like he’s the right person to finally cement the Islanders’ presence in LaLiga. Simply put, another relegation will not go down well. Surviving will be a great achievement. Nothing’s grey for Mallorca this season. Only black and white.
The last team to book their spot in this season’s LaLiga was Rayo Vallecano, returning via the play-offs after spending two years in the Segunda. It was almost a backdoor entry into the play-offs and Rayo required a little bit of fortune too with results elsewhere on the final matchday confirming their place in the top six. But with massive wins over Leganés and Girona in the play-offs, they demonstrated why they deserved the last promotion spot, especially against the latter in the Final where Los Franjirrojos overturned a 1-2 deficit from the first leg to win 3-2 on aggregate.
After the sheer joy of the promotion, it’s back to reality. And the reality is that things don’t look so encouraging after their return to the top flight. They haven’t really made any solid additions to the squad and off the field, the friction between fans and the highly unpopular club president Raúl Martín Presa is at an all-time high.
The good news is that their coach, Andoni Iraola is one of the most talented young coaches in Spain. The 39-year-old has really overachieved in his short managerial career. On his CV, he already has a top-half finish in the Segunda and a semi final run in the Copa del Rey with newly promoted Mirandés before last season’s promotion with Rayo Vallecano. Andoni Iraola in the dugout will be the major source of whatever little confidence Rayo fans may have going into the season.
In the transfer market, it’s all rather gloomy. There hasn’t been any highly-experienced arrival in the summer, especially when most of the squad lacks big stage experience. Positive news has been the permanent signing of Fran García from Real Madrid. The young left back was one of the best in his position in the Segunda and played a big role in the promotion.
To strengthen the midfield, Rayo raided neighbours Fuenlabrada, signing both Randy Nteka and Pathé Ciss for a combined fee of just over two million euros. The pair had a good season, in particular the 23-year-old Nteka who scored 8 goals. Experienced right back Luis Advíncula departed for Boca Juniors and Rayo signed Iván Balliu from Almería in his place. The Albanian does have top division experience under his belt having spent two seasons at Metz in Ligue 1.
Rayo have reinforced their wide positions by the loan signings of Kévin Rodrigues and Martín Merquelanz from Real Sociedad. The former had a forgettable previous season, starting in only 11 matches for eventually relegated Eibar. Iraola is reunited with Merquelanz who played amazingly under him at Mirandés two seasons ago, scoring 15 goals in the Segunda. He’ll hope to reciprocate that form as he once again gets to work under the tutelage of Iraola, this time in the top flight.
As is the case with many lower strata teams of the league, Rayo also lack a dominating striker up front. Winger Isi Palazón was the top scorer with 9 goals last season and should definitely be their most significant leader in offense. On the left, Rayo will depend on Álvaro García, who had 9 assists last season, for much of the chance creation. A lot will also be on the shoulders of captain Óscar Trejo, Rayo’s principal creative midfielder.
Rayo for sure have great quality in key positions but what they don’t have is depth. They club has failed to make the most of the transfer window so far. They really need to work their socks off to bring some big names in because it almost certainly feels like the Estadio Vallecas might be in for its toughest ever season in the top flight.