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The (multi) million dollar question – Will fourth be enough to save Manuel Pellegrini?
- Updated: 21 March, 2012
Just a month ago Manuel Pelligrini’s days as head coach of Malaga seemed numbered. His team had been comprehensively outplayed by Athletic Club, one of their main rivals for a Champions League place, and just two wins in the preceding eight games suggested that a change was imminent.
Fast forward just four Primera Liga fixtures, and the picture is very different. Malaga remain out of the top four, but only on goal difference. Three successive victories have been followed by the biggest morale booster of all, a deserved draw at the Bernabeu on Sunday evening. When one bears in mind that only Barcelona have avoided defeat there this season, the significance of this result cannot be underestimated. So why are there so many fans who remain unconvinced by the man in charge?
The Chilean has maintained throughout the campaign that it will take time for the team to gel, and that as long as they are still in the hunt for a top four finish going into the last third of the season, there is no need to be concerned. Certainly Sunday’s performance was good enough to suggest that the fluidity which has so often been lacking has finally been established, albeit that only a sublime free kick in injury time saved them from the same fate as so many other sides.
Pelligrini also benefited from an unexpectedly assured performance from Martin Demichelis in the holding role normally reserved for the injured Jeremy Toulalan, and the flexibility of several other key signings is also beginning to bear fruit. The likes of Isco, Cazorla and even Joaquin have shown in recent weeks that they can be deployed in various different roles within the team, although the main problem remains the lack of goals from the forwards.
The return of Julio Baptista from injury may well be as fundamentally important to their chances of reaching the promised land as his arrival last January ultimately proved to their bid to avoid relegation from the top flight.
However such is the nature of the expectations that come with such a huge cash injection at any club that there are a sizeable contingent of Malaga supporters still seem very reluctant to back Pelligrini. Many prefer to point out that their team might well have had two penalties awarded against them on Sunday, and that the league leaders missed a number of chances to put the result beyond doubt.
Even those prepared to accept the 1-1 draw as a significant turning point seem happy to draw unfavourable comparisons between him and Diego Simeone, who they argue has taken a lot less time to stamp his authority on an Atletico side going nowhere under Gregorio Manzano.
There can be no denying that for much of this season, Malaga have failed to provide the champagne brand of exciting, attacking football which so many neutrals , let alone their own fans, had expected of them back in August. Nevertheless with just eleven games remaining, they are within six points of third place, the highest that anyone could realistically expected them to have finished this year.
After a couple of tricky looking fixtures against Rayo and Espanyol, they then play four of the bottom seven in La Liga, three of them at home where they have picked up 29 of their 41 points so far this season. Yet the desire to win in style, a notion to which Pelligrini is well accustomed from his short time at Madrid, may yet end up ensuring that his time on the Costa del Sol is similarly brief, especially if fourth place is not secured.
It is to be hoped that having displayed an admirable degree of patience so far, the club’s Middle Eastern owners do not divert from what they proclaimed initially was a long term vision last summer.Follow @icentrocampista