El Centrocampista

Malaga fans breath again after critical week at La Rosaleda

After experiencing what can only be described as a ‘difficult’ end to the summer, fans of Andaluz outfit Malaga finally have things to smile about this week. After securing Champions League football for the first time in their history last season, hopes were high La Liga’s established duopoly would finally receive some realistic challenge. However, those expectations came crashing down in spectacular fashion two months ago when financial implosion hit the club – forcing the club to sell the likes of Santi Cazorla, Solomon Rondon and Joris Mathijsen in order to stave off the threat of punishment from the Spanish Football Federation.

What should have been a landmark moment in the history of the Malaga CF, quickly turned into a fight for survival as rumours grew of yet more stars heading for the La Rosaleda exit. With the clubs Qatari owners saying little, uncertaintity spread around the club, with many predicting a downward spiral that would ultimately end in relegation – or worse. However, after three weeks of the new season, Malaga sit second in the table and have just qualified for the lucrative group stages of the Uefa Champions League after dispatching Greek side Panathinaikos 2-1 over two legs.

The draw itself has also been relatively kind for Malaga and they have a genuine chance of qualifying for the knockout stages after being pitted against AC Milan, Anderlecht and Zenit St Petersburg. Of course they will have to work hard, but with Milan likely to win the group it will be a close fight between the other three for the second qualifying place, one which many feel the Spanish side can win.  Better still for both Coach Manuel Pellegrini and fans, qualification to the group stage meant the predicted fire sale was avoided, with the club even managing to bring in some new faces before the transfer window closed on Friday. Admittedly they left it late, however, they seem to have done some fantastic business with Roque Santa Cruz, Javier Saviola, Oguchi Onyewu and Manuel Ittura all joining the club for little or no fee at all.

The signings of Santa Cruz and Saviola will look to address a problem which has plagued the club for a couple or seasons now – goalscoring. The departure of Rondon had made the situation even worse but in Saviola and Santa Cruz, Malaga have signed two talented strikers who also  know the league. Whether Pellegrini sees them as a direct partnership is open to debate at this stage, nonetheless, the vast experience they bring will be much  appreciated as Malaga look to compete both in the League and in Europe. Their presence will also aid in the development of young forwards such as Fabrice Olinga and Juanmi.

Manuel Ittura joins after a successful season in the Spanish second division with Murcia. He is a relative unknown quantity of course,  but the Chilean winger obviously did enough to tempt Pellegrini to sign him. As a Spanish speaker and former student of Marcelo Bielsa at international level, he should have no trouble adapting to the Spanish top flight.

Onyewu will look to sure up the defence. The American international has spent most of his career in Europe at various clubs, however, he has been deemed surplus to requirements at bigger sides such as Newcastle United and Milan – although he did have a very successful five year spell with Standard Liege in Belgium. At 30 he is heading towards the end of his career, but perhaps at Malaga he will finally find the club with which to establish himself at the next level.

It took a while for anything positive to happen at Malaga. Last season the fans were spoilt with marquee signings, this year it is a lot more subdued. However, there is still a quiet optimism rebuilding at the club. Pellegrini has addressed the main weakness in the squad, the lack of goals, and he has strengthened the previously weakened defensive and midfield line. The squad is still quite weak in depth compared to other teams competing in Europe but as long as they don’t struggle too much with injuries the team should be ok to compete on both fronts. The real tests are still to come but for now,  Malaga Club de Futbol are standing strong.

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