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Falling at the first hurdle – Madrid lose two on Barcelona thanks to tireless Malaga
- Updated: 18 March, 2012
Upon gazing at the lineups for Malaga’s visit to the Bernabéu tonight, and seeing the name “Martin Demichelis” positioned in central midfield, my first thought was “Madrid will be pleased”.
How wrong was I? The Argentine centre-back by trade but tonight, midfielder by glory, put on his finest display that I have ever witnessed. His ability to win the ball back and, moreover, keep it when necessary and pass it to the right man otherwise was pivotal in Malaga’s hard earned draw in Madrid. It may even create a pleasant new dilemna for coach Manuel Pellegrini – with this kind of display from the big man as a midfielder, why not give it a go again?
Malaga dominated the first half, much to the surprise of myself and probably most pundits around the world. Defending rigidly, what looked like a system designed for backs to the wall morphed into free-flowing movement in attack. The only thing they lacked, as is the case so often this season, was someone to put the ball in the back of the net.
Which is exactly what Real Madrid have in abundance. Despite being under pressure for sustained periods, Karim Benzema popped up at the most opportune of moments to hammer home a sublime cross from Cristiano Ronaldo. Game over? Malaga had other ideas.
In the second half Pellegrini wasted little time before introducing new faces. Unfortunately, Ruud Van Nistelrooy could not give the away side the penetration they so clearly lacked. It’s disheartening to see Van Nistelrooy reduced to such a sorry state, but he really is a pale shade of the man who used to raise the roof on this same stadium. Of all the things I thought the Dutchman would lose, his movement was the last, but in truth he looked uninterested throughout.
Real Madrid should really have put the tie to bed, but a combination of some stunning saves from Willy (try not to laugh when saying that out loud) Caballero and some good fortune in terms of decisions from the referee gave Malaga a fighting chance. Then, suddenly, with only minutes to go, the one man in the Malaga team of true standout quality stepped up and proved his worth.
Santi Cazorla fired a stunning free-kick past a dumbfounded Iker Casillas, and in a flash, Malaga had what they deserved.
Moreover, Barcelona had a lifeline. If in his absence Santi Cazorla is still Villarreal’s most important player this season, he may yet be vital to Barcelona, too. You can rest assured that his name is being toasted in Catalunya tonight, regardless.
Culés should be cautious, though no doubt given some hope by the result. Madrid have been lacking their fifth gear as of late, and in the end Malaga seemed to have more in the tank – something unthinkable a few weeks ago. This was the first of a series of big hurdles for the league leaders, and it has to be said that they faltered. Eight points is still a massive gap, but not quite as massive as ten.
Looking forward, nothing has really changed for Barcelona: they must continue to win at all costs, and hope Madrid make a few more mistakes. All the while, Guardiola will insist that the league is lost, but we know what he’s really thinking.
Madrid meanwhile must now travel to Villarreal and face a team who they know little about in the buildup. With a new manager needed at El Madrigal, it’s difficult to predict exactly how the home side will set up against the men in white.
It’s not unsusual that a new manager picks up a victory in his first game in charge, and with Bernd Schuster as one name being touted for the driving seat at the yellow submarine, just how apt could this week prove to be?
Madrid will hope old ghosts don’t come back to haunt them.Follow @icentrocampista