El Centrocampista

The Malaga express rattles on as Pelligrini’s men eye third

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EPA/ALEJANDRO GARCIA

Even the news that two key players may miss the rest of the season seems not to have been enough to derail a Malaga train which is now picking up speed on the back of that excellent draw at the Bernabeu earlier this month.

It is possible that those really in the know would have been instantly aware of the gravity of key midfielder Jeremy Toulalan’s injury, but it took until yesterday for the rest of the world to find out, with an operation on his foot carried out in his native France which seems likely to end his campaign.

Meanwhile on Sunday ‘keeper Willy Caballero broke his hand trying to keep out Pedro Coutinho’s opener for Espanyol, and there was a more than a touch of irony about the man who made his debut in the Malaga goal when he replaced him. Carlos Kameni made his name in the Catalan capital, and was at one stage linked to possible moves to a string of big clubs.

However a spectacular fall from grace meant that by the time he moved south to Andalucia in the January transfer window, he was considered third choice ‘keeper by Espanyol coach Mauricio Pochettino. It must have been particularly satisfying for the Cameroon international to have ended the night on the winning side, especially given that he played no small part in the success, making a couple of vital saves.

All of a sudden everything seems to be falling into place for Manuel Pelligrini’s men. Even the most optimistic of fans would never have predicted that trips to Real Madrid, Getafe and Espanyol would have yielded seven points, especially given that this represents just one fewer than those garnered from the previous twelve games on the road.

After a hugely underwhelming season by his own standards, Ruud van Nistelrooy came off the bench to score a vital goal as the game was turned on its head in a two minute spell late in the second half. And Martin Demichelis again performed with distinction in the holding role in midfield, thus going a long way towards negating the effect of Toulalan’s absence.

With Valencia stuttering and ahead in third place only on the two sides’ head to head record, there could hardly be a better fixture list for April than one which includes games against four of La Liga’s bottom seven sides, all of whom have been struggling for points recently. First up is an Andalusian derby against Real Betis at La Rosaleda on Saturday evening, which will presumably spell the return of Jesus Gamez at right back, as he and Sergio Sanchez appear to rotate in that role depending on whether it is a home or away fixture.

Other than that the side is likely to be unchanged from that which triumphed in the Estadio Cornellá, with van Nistelrooy’s goal unlikely to be enough for him to displace Rondon as the lone striker.

Finally the club are on the verge of taking their first steps towards trying to market themselves on a global scale. The early finish to the La Liga season because of the European championships is far from ideal for those not taking part, who would effectively have two months off. A plan to go to Pelligrini’s native land of Chile had initially been hatched, but doubts have now been expressed that the fixture scheduling could actually be arranged, and so plans to play three friendlies over a two week period are now being examined.

It is not quite on the scale of a $1bn island resort and theme park, but with third place suddenly looking a very real possibility, it is little wonder that the club is already thinking about how to maximise the long term effect of a potential first ever appearance in a Champions League qualifying group in 2012-13.




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