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La Liga: Pellegrini engineers Málaga’s miracle run

Andalusians are in fine form going into historic Champions League clash with Porto. Meanwhile, Messi keeps scoring for Barça and Real Madrid win despite an early red card.


Manuel Pellegrini.

Pedigree: Manuel Pellegrini reached the Champions League semi-finals with unfashionable Villarreal. Now Málaga are benefitting from his calm approach.

Málaga are the unlikeliest of Champions League challengers, following a summer of discontent during which they were forced to sell some of their best players, including Santi Cazorla and Salomón Rondón, while others had to be persuaded not to take legal action against the club for unpaid wages. But tonight is the biggest game in the club’s history, a last-16 meeting at FC Porto.

The two-legged knockout tie is given all the more prominence given that this could be the only European action Málaga experience for up to four years regardless of where they end up in the liga table at the end of the season, after UEFA declared the Andalusian side will be banned from European competition due to their unpaid bills.

Despite the Portuguese team’s European pedigree – they have twice been European Champions, most recently under José Mourinho in 2004 – Málaga have fared well in the Champions League, finishing top of their group on 12 points having remained unbeaten in all six group games against AC Milan, Zenit St Petersburg and Anderlecht.

But ahead of the game, at the weekend coach Manuel Pellegrini was taking no chances in la liga, and he sent out an almost full-strength squad to take on Athletic Bilbao, resting only Joaquín and Jérémy Toulalan, who began the game on the bench.

A first-half goal by Javier Saviola was enough to earn Málaga a 1-0 home victory as the striker shot high into the net on 18 minutes following a pass from Lucas Piazón. But goalkeeper Willy Caballero was the star of the night as he produced an outstanding double save to deny Aritz Aduriz a goal before the break and then performed more heroics to keep out three efforts from Ibai Gómez in the second half.

Málaga’s impressive form is not going unnoticed in England and Italy with Manuel Pellegrini’s agent confirming he had turned down offers from AS Roma in recent days, as well as rejecting advances by Chelsea intermediaries who were interested in the Chilean. A story in sports daily Marca also linked him to the Manchester City job and it is no surprise, given his managerial history.

Nicknamed ‘El Ingeniero’ (the engineer) due to his studies before beginning his career in football, the softly-spoken coach has a knack of building strong teams. In his time as Villarreal manager, he took the small side to a Champions League semi-final. Only a missed Juan Román Riquelme penalty stood in their way to the final.

In his one-season stint at Real Madrid, though the team finished second to Barcelona, they earned 96 points in la liga – then a record for the team – and ended the season just three points behind Pep Guardiola’s champions.

Pellegrini is attracting many admirers and if his Málaga side continue their impressive run in Europe, he could have plenty more.

Meanwhile, Lionel Messi notched his 300th and 301st career goals for FC Barcelona in a 2-1 comeback win at Granada on Saturday, as they stayed on course to reclaim the league title with their 21st win in 24 matches. The goals extended his record scoring run to 14 league games while the result was the Catalans’ first away win in three matches.

In the Spanish capital, Real Madrid overcame the early dismissal of Sergio Ramos to defeat Rayo Vallecano 2-0 at the Santiago Bernabéu on Sunday.

On his first league start for Los Merengues, Álvaro Morata tapped home a cross in the third minute to put the hosts in front before Ramos, who had already got on the scoresheet himself with a powerful header, was shown a red card in the 18th minute after collecting two soft bookings in 30 seconds.

Madrid remain in third place, four points behind city rivals, Atlético Madrid – who were impressive 3-0 winners at Real Valladolid – and still 16 points adrift of leaders Barcelona.


RCD Espanyol 1 – 0 Real Betis

Real Madrid 2 – 0 Rayo Vallecano

Real Valladolid 0 – 3 Atlético Madrid

Valencia CF 2 – 0 RCD Mallorca

Real Sociedad 1 – 1 Levante UD

Osasuna 1 – 0 Real Zaragoza

Granada CF 1 – 2 FC Barcelona

Málaga CF 1 – 0 Athletic Bilbao

Getafe CF 3 – 1 Celta de Vigo

Sevilla FC 3 – 1 Deportivo La Coruña


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Published: Feb 19 2013
Category: Sports, Featured, Spain News
Republication: Creative Commons, non-commercial
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