El Centrocampista

Malaga surpass all expectations as Italian giants come to town

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Photo: Sergio Torres/AP

They are only one of two teams left in the Uefa Champions League yet to concede a goal and have also scored the second highest amount of goals in Europe’s premier continental club competition. They have conceded less goals than any other team in La Liga and go into Wednesday’s match against Serie A powerhouse Milan topping a table that also includes big spending Zenit St Petersburg and Belgian giants Anderlecht.

After  a summer which almost saw them fall into the financial abyss, it is fair to say Manuel Pellegrini’s Malaga have had an impressive start to the season – both domestically and in Europe.

The club have surprised everyone with what has been exceptional form both in the La Liga and in their debut season in the Champions League. From the turmoil experienced over the summer has emerged a squad perfectly balanced and with a determination to win. Youthful flair is complimented by a wealth of experienced campaigners and a belief that they can do great things as a football club.

What can be achieved is hard to tell, however, and with the threat of financial trouble still hanging over the club, things could just as quickly deteriorate should things take a turn for the worse. Nevertheless, For now shrewd investments have kept the club moving forward.

For now the players don’t mind, they are enjoying their football and it shows. Their league form shows no sign of letting up, a win against Valladolid on Saturday their fifth of the season. The success has been built on defensive rigidity, it hasn’t been flashy, but they have had their moments, bursts of brilliance from Isco a particular highlight.

On Wednesday the club plays host to what is arguably the biggest game in their history, certainly one of the most prestigious, as they welcome Italian outfit Milan to Andalusia. It feels strange to say but Malaga are favourites, a situation hard to imagine over the summer.

In stark contrast to Malaga, Milan enter the fixture in disarray. The Serie A side have made their worst start to a league campaign for 80 years. It got worse on Sunday as they lost 3-2 to high-flying Lazio – although the scoreline probably doesn’t tell the whole story as Milan were 3-0 down in the game until a late flurry from De Jong and El Sharaawy made the scoreline more respectable.

Coach Massimiliano Allegri is under severe pressure and it looks highly unlikely that he will be in a job much longer – that said, Milan still possess a hugely talented squad of players and if they hit form, have the ability to beat any team in Europe.

Whatever happens, it should be an enthralling encounter. Both teams are sitting comfortably in the group and looking likely to qualify, which probably means it is not a crunch encounter, however,  if there is to be a victor then the winning side will have made themselves favourites to win the group.

The success of Malaga relies a lot on the fact they have done it before. True, the club hasn’t, but the team is full of players who have played, and won, on the big stage. Saviola, Demichelis, Santa Cruz (and others) are all hugely experienced campaigners and despite entering the the twilight of their careers, they continue to show they can still perform at the highest level of the game.

Malaga have to remain realistic, the season is still in its infancy and there are many games still to be played, nonetheless, for now the team are flying high and enjoying their football. Whether it will last is unclear, however, it is a situation no one could have predicted during their difficult summer – not least fans of Malaga.




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