El Centrocampista

Málaga 1-0 Levante: Talent disparity evident between fourth place contenders

La Rosaleda hosted two sides trying to finish fourth and qualify for next seasons Champions League. Málaga essentially lined up in a 4-3-3. Toulalan was behind Isco and Santi Cazorla in central midfield. Rondón was the central striker with Eliseu on the left and Joaquin primarily on the right, but he tended to drift around the attacking third. 

The two fullbacks Gámez and Monreal pushed high to provide width. Levante aligned in a 4-4-1-1. The two banks of four sat deep, with only right midfielder Valdo supporting, central striker Koné and deep lying striker Ghezzal. Barkero and Farinós did a decent job in battling central midfield.

First Half

In the first forty-five minutes, the pace and tempo was dictated by the home side, and more specifically Jeremy Toulalan. The French international bossed the match and was the most influential man on the pitch. He won the ball in midfield without fouling and kept Málaga’s back four shielded. His influence provided a calming presence to his team, resulting in a patient possession style. Málaga held 74% of the possession in the first half. When they gave the ball away the Anchovies pressed high to quickly recover it.

Levante contributed to the possession disparity by sitting back and allowing Málaga to keep the ball. Additionally, Koné was the lone wolf attacking the opposition’s back four. Abdel Ghezzal operated as a second striker behind Koné but was often stuck too deep defending to link up play with the Ivorian. As a result, Levante relied on long balls and set pieces to threaten the goal. However, Málaga dealt with the set pieces well and Weligton matched Kone’s pace and physicality.

Málaga nearly opened the scoring in the fourth minute when Santi Cazorla swung in a free kick from the right side. Rondón made a sliding attempt to turn it in but was too late. Rondón had a header from an Isco corner cleared in the ninth minute. The striker had a header cleared off the line by Del Horno one minute before halftime.

Ghezzal was able to counter down the left after the right back Jesús Gámez was caught upfield but Demichelis covered. This was the lone instance where Ghezzal or Valdo were able to exploit the space vacated by the attacking fullbacks.

The central three of Málaga: Isco, Santi Cazorla and Toulalan did not allow Levante to play. They closed down the space and harassed Barkero and Farinós. Málaga’s approach to breaking down the deep defense of Levante was methodical. The passing was patient and they were content at keeping possession rather than giving the ball away to allow a counter attack.

In the 45th minute Jaoquin forced a save from Manúa after cutting across the box on the left side. Eliseu played the pass after Nacho Monreal overlapped which widened the defender and gave Joaquín space. Also, Isco and Santi Cazorla drifted wide to create a numbers advantage and create a triangle with the wing player and the fullback.

Second Half

Three minutes into the second half, Levante nearly took the lead. Demichelis gave the ball away in his own half to Valdo who found Ghezzal just outside the area. The Algerian’s strike was just wide. The visitors would rue that missed chance three minutes later. Joaquín swung in a free kick from the left side and Rondón rose above Ghezzal to flick the ball into the back post.

After the goal, Málaga’s attacking impetus declined and they focused on preserving the lead. Levante introduced Arsenal loanee Botelho to provide an attacking presence on the left to balance the work Valdo provided on the right, but he did not see much of the ball.

Koné had a chance in the 60th minute off of a cross from Botehlo but Caballero came out quick and forced the shot wide. Levante was able to threaten when they switched the point of attack from side to side quickly, which made the Malaga defense slide across. They did just that in the 74th minute and Ghezzal nearly found Koné at the near post but Demichelis deflected the cross for a corner.

Málaga had a few half chances to counter and add a second but lacked a finishing touch, from Isco in the 71st and substitute Seba in the 80th. Pellegrini brought on Camacho for Eliseu in the 71st to give the midfield more steel alongside Toulalan.

Levante nearly salvaged a draw at the death when the ball fell to El Zhar after a scramble in the box but his volley went onto the roof of the net.

The result was deserved by Málaga. Pellegrini said his side played their best and most complete match of the season and they move two points ahead of Levante. They controlled the first half and defensively contained Levante. Levante fought hard and were organized but did not have enough bodies forward or the necessary quality to score a goal.


For more tactical analysis follow John on Twitter @kpngacleansheet


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