There is an element of pressure you get in the playoffs that you don’t find anywhere else. You know these games aren’t ones you want to win; they are ones you need to win.
You need to be focused and play perfect football. With it being two legs there is the potential to bounce back, but you don’t want to be behind in these matches with so much at stake.
In LaLiga Segunda División playoffs, you play two legs in both the semi-finals and the final. These matches are in quick succession, so momentum is huge and getting off to a quick start is vital. Players need to look after themselves, both physically and mentally, as these games fly at you one after another.
Having played in these games, it definitely becomes easier with experience. The first few games are too stressful to enjoy, but after playing them a few times, you feel the excitement. The weight of expectation from fans is immense; when you accept that and use it to your advantage, you realise how truly special these games are.
These games aren’t too different from the Championship playoffs in England. I remember in England, when I was at Swansea, we had two weeks to prepare after our semi-final. We had two games in three days followed by a two-week gap. It didn’t make any sense and it was horrible. Every time you went to bed you were just counting down the days to the game, which made it very difficult to avoid the nerves.
In England these games are much more money-driven. As it is the “£100 million game”, we went into it knowing that this one match would make a huge difference to Swansea’s future. We won and the feeling was euphoric.
As the playoffs in England are now done, all eyes should be on the LaLiga Smartbank playoffs.
There have been many iconic moments over the years. I vividly remember in 2011 when Michu scored to help Celta Vigo get to penalties in the semi-final against Granada, but missed what would have been the winning penalty. Granada then won that shootout and went on to gain promotion in the final. Other big names aside from Michu to play in the Smartbank playoffs are the likes of Iago Aspas, Odion Ighalo and Fabián Orellana.
In playoffs there are so many factors that make these games hard to predict. All four of these teams are well matched and all of them have the potential to do it.
Almeria have spent the most money of these teams and finished fourth, but for me they are the favourites on paper. They have the most pressure, as not going up is simply not an option. They have some quality players, such as Umar Sadiq who has netted 20 goals this season, and João Carvalho who is on loan from Nottingham Forest.
I would love to see Girona upset them and go all the way to get promotion. They are a well-run club, only 90km from Barcelona and the staff working at the club, as well as the fans, are good people. They weren’t looking likely to make the playoffs but have taken 22 points from their last eight games, so if they can keep that positive momentum going, they have a great chance.
In the other semi-final, Leganes face Rayo Vallecano. Leganes are on great form and in their last game destroyed Real Zaragoza 5-0 away from home. They play nice football and, on their day, could find themselves in a good position to win these playoffs.
Finally, Rayo Vallecano. They have some players that used to play in the Premier League, such as Bebé at Manchester United and Leonardo Ulloa at Brighton. They have firepower and have looked great at times. However, they’re inconsistent, as shown on the last game of the season - where they lost at home to relegation battling Lugo.
My head tells me that it will be Almeria who win promotion due to them having the best squad of all these teams, but I hope that it’s Girona who do it, and I think they have a great chance if they keep up their recent form.