La Liga: Early-season form leaves Málaga relishing Milan visit
Manuel Pellegrini’s side have overcome the trauma of the summer to prove their quality in both Spain’s Liga and the Champions League. Meanwhile, Lionel Messi keeps Barça top of the table.
By Halima Ali
“There is nothing that can distract us,” said Manuel Pellegrini before the weekend’s liga game, reassuring fans that his side would be focusing solely on the visit of Real Valladolid to La Rosaleda and not the impending visit of AC Milan in the Champions League in midweek.
But the coach’s words almost fell on deaf ears as Los Boquerones found themselves in danger of dropping points until the final minutes of the match. They got off to a bad start when Valladolid’s Manucho Gonçalves fired the visitors into a surprising lead just nine minutes in, but midfielder Francisco Román “Isco” Alarcón levelled the scores eight minutes before the break with an accurate low finish from an Eliseu Pereira cut-back.
The tide seemed to be turning for Málaga when Manucho was harshly sent off for a second booking nine minutes from time and then the hosts were awarded a spot-kick when Javier Saviola was brought down in the box, only for Joaquín Sánchez to blast his penalty over the bar.
However, the former Spain international made amends just two minutes later, pouncing after Dani Giménez could only parry Martín Demichelis’s header back into the danger area, to score the winner in the 87th minute.
The win ensured the Andalusians finished the weekend in the top three as they closed the gap on Barcelona and Atlético Madrid at the top, ahead of the next couple of weeks, which will see the club face seven-time winners Milan in a double-header in Europe’s elite competition.
The impressive start Pellegrini’s men have made to the campaign is a far cry from the disastrous summer, when the coach was forced to convince players not to take legal action as it emerged several had not been paid. An exodus followed, with Santi Cazorla and Salomón Rondón amongst those packing their bags and it was rumoured that the Qatari owners might be looking to sell the club.
But besides their superb liga form, Málaga have six points from their debut Champions League group games against Anderlecht, which they won 3-0 in Brussels, and Zenit St Petersburg, who also conceded three goals without reply, leaving the team top of their group.
Milan also faced an exodus in the summer when Zlatan Ibrahimović, Thiago Silva, Alessandro Nesta, Clarence Seedorf, Gennaro Gattuso and Filippo Inzaghi all departed the San Siro, but with contrasting results to those of Málaga, as they currently sit in 15th place in Serie A, their worst start in 60 years. Milan’s European form does not fare much better, having drawn 0-0 with Anderlecht and nearly let a 2-0 lead slip before eventually beating Zenit 3-2.
The stage is set for what could be an epic night in Málaga’s history, and a win this week in front of their home fans could confirm their place in the last 16 of the competition and prove a new landmark for the club.
Meanwhile, at the Riazor, Barcelona took their unbeaten streak to 12 matches courtesy of a thrilling 5-4 victory over Deportivo La Coruña that saw six goals scored before half time.
Jordi Alba, Cristian Tello and Lionel Messi made it 3-0 to Tito Vilanova’s side in the opening 20 minutes, but Luís Pizzi reduced the deficit with a penalty before Álex Bergantiños beat Victor Valdés with a half-volley from distance. Messi, then struck again to make it 4-2 shortly before the break.
Pizzi – on loan from Atlético Madrid – grabbed his second with a free-kick shortly after the game resumed before Barça’s Javier Mascherano was sent off for a second booking. Messi completed his hat-trick in the 77th minute but there was still time for more goals as Alba sent a volley past his own keeper, making it 5-4. However, the Catalans held on to maintain their position at the top of the table.
Sevilla FC 3 – 2 RCD Mallorca
Real Sociedad 0 – 1 Atlético Madrid
Osasuna 0 – 0 Real Betis
Granada CF 1 – 2 Real Zaragoza
RCD Espanyol 3 – 2 Rayo Vallecano
Getafe CF 0 – 1 Levante UD
Deportivo La Coruña 4 – 5 FC Barcelona
Valencia CF 3 – 2 Athletic Bilbao
Real Madrid 2 – 0 Celta de Vigo
Málaga CF 2 – 1 Real Valladolid
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