What it really feels like to play in the La Liga playoffs

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Here’s an element of pressure you get in the playoffs that you won’t find anywhere else. You know you don’t want to win these games; They are the ones you need to win.

You have to be focused and play perfect football. Since these are two legs there is potential to bounce back, but you don’t want to be left behind in these games where so much is at stake.

In the playoffs of the LaLiga Segunda División, you play two legs in both the semi-finals and the final. These games take place in quick succession, so the dynamics are enormous and a quick start is vital. Players need to take care of themselves both physically and mentally as these games will fly towards you one at a time.

Once you’ve played these games, it definitely gets easier with experience. The first few games are too stressful to enjoy, but after playing them a few times you can feel the excitement. The expectations of the fans are immense; If you accept that and use it to your advantage, you will see how special these games are.

These games aren’t all that different from the championship playoffs in England. I remember in England when I was in Swansea we had two weeks to prepare after our semi-finals. We had two games in three days followed by a two week hiatus. It didn’t make sense and it was horrible. Every time you went to bed, you just counted the days until the game, which made it very difficult to avoid your nerves.

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In England these games are much more money driven. Since it was the £ 100 million game, we knew that this one game would make a huge difference to Swansea’s future. We won and the feeling was euphoric.

With the playoffs in England now over, all eyes should be on the LaLiga Smartbank playoffs.

There have been many iconic moments over the years. I remember well when Michu helped Celta Vigo with a penalty shoot-out in the 2011 semi-final against Granada, but missed the decisive penalty. Granada then won this shootout and rose in the final. Other big names besides Michu who play in the smartbank playoffs are Jago Aspas, Odion Ighalo and Fabián Orellana.

There are so many factors in playoffs that make these games difficult to predict. All four of these teams are well coordinated and all have the potential to do so.

Almeria has spent the most money from these teams and finished fourth, but for me they are favorites on paper. You are under the greatest pressure because not advancing is just not an option. They have some quality players like Umar Sadiq, who has scored 20 goals this season, and João Carvalho, who is on loan from Nottingham Forest.

I would love to see Girona piss you off and go all the way to get a promotion. They are a well run club just 90km from Barcelona and the club staff and fans are good people. They didn’t look like they were going to make the playoffs but have taken 22 points from their last eight games. So if they can maintain that positive dynamic, they stand a great chance.

In the other semifinals, Leganes will face Rayo Vallecano. Leganes are in great shape and beat Real Zaragoza 5-0 away in their last game. They play good football and could be in a good position on their day to win those playoffs.

Finally, Rayo Vallecano. You have some players who used to play in the Premier League like Beb̩ at Manchester United and Leonardo Ulloa at Brighton. They have firepower and they looked great at times. However, they are inconsistent, as demonstrated by the last game of the season Рwhere they lost at home to the relegation battle against Lugo.

My head is telling me that Almeria will win promotion because they have the best squad of any of these teams but I hope Girona is doing it and I think they have a great chance if they get their current form maintained.



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