El Centrocampista

The Malaga machine rolls on as Europe’s big time beckons: Espanyol 1-2 Malaga – Tactical Analysis


Malaga’s Champions League aspirations came closer to fruition on Sunday after a devastating two-minute burst sunk Espanyol at the Cornella-El Prat. The 2-1 triumph was the Andaluz side’s fifth victory in six games and moved them level on points with third-place Valencia in the chase for Europe.

Team Setup

With Jeremy Toulalan suffering a season ending ankle injury and Joaquin out with a quad injury, Pellegrini had to make changes. Malaga lined up in a 4-3-3, and moved Martin Demichelis into Toulalan’s defensive midfield role. Isco, Maresca and Cazorla played in midfield with Rondon up top.

Espanyol manager Mauricio Pochettino set the home side out in a 4-2-3-1. With Sergio Garcia and Cristian Alvarez out injured, Pochettino gave Kalu Uche the start up front. Verdu played behind him with Coutinho on the left and Weiss on the right. Baena and Gomez played in central midfield but struggled to contain Isco and Cazorla.

First Half

Both sides started the match brightly, with intent to score early. Early in the match, Espanyol attacked down the left via Coutinho. The Brazilian loanee from Inter Milan linked with Verdu, who pulled defenders out of position so Coutinho could run inside. Coutinho found the most space when he tucked in front of the back four but beside Demichelis. Javi Lopez was eager to push forward from his right back slot to try and overlap with Weiss.

Considering Toulalan has been so vital in starting the attack and also recovering the ball this season for Malaga, Demichelis was not expected to adequately replace him but did a decent job at filling in. To aid the Argentine, Pellegrini started Maresca in the center to play in a box to box role but more importantly solidify the middle. Without Joaquin, Malaga had an unbalanced shape and primarily attacked down the left.

Isco tended to drift left and link up with Eliseu. Cazorla did not play as a right winger, but as an attacking midfielder roaming closer to the center. Rondon was the lone striker, looking for crosses from the left. Another tactical tweak by Pellegrini resulted in Sergio Sanchez and Nacho Monreal keeping an eye on Weiss and Coutinho instead of pushing forward to support the attack.

In the 23rd minute, Coutinho was clipped by Weligton at the top of the box. He cleverly hit the free kick under the wall and into the right corner. Caballero was upset at his wall electing to jump when staying on the floor would have made Coutinho bend the ball over the wall; a much lower percentage attempt.

Former Espanyol keeper Kameni was forced to come on and face his old team and got a warm embrace from the supporters in the 35th minute. Caballero tried to continue after hurting his hand diving to try and save the Coutinho free kick. In a bizarrer coincidence, Malaga seemed to control the match after the introduction of Kameni.

In the 36th minute, Maresca struck the post with a header from a curling Cazorla free kick from the left side. Malaga had success working the ball through the middle via Cazorla and Maresca and then finding Eliseu out wide to cross. He did just that in the 37th minute and his cross for Maresca was only partially cleared and fell to Isco who cracked the post with a right footed half volley. Rondon had a chance five minutes later from a corner but Espanyol scrambled the ball away in time.

The Espanyol central pairing of Baena and Gomez battled well against Cazorla and Maresca. Their weakness was allowing Isco to find space in the left channel. At the end of the half, Weiss made two slalom runs showing his skill and trickery on the ball but failed to produce a killer pass or a dangerous strike.

Second Half

Once again, Coutinho found space between Demichelis and Weligton and carried the ball into the box, but his shot was blocked. The Argentine’s frustration at his Brazilian rival culminated in him picking up a yellow for hacking him down in the 52nd minute.

The match opened up in the second half and you could sense more goals coming. Seba Fernandez came on for Eliseu in 59th minute, playing as a second striker. Two minutes later, Javi Lopez overlapped and ran into the box but his pull back for Uche was cleared. Then, Romaric replaced Weiss to have two strikers up top. Verdu moved wide left and Coutinho to the right. Since his legs were fresh, Romaric was quick to drop into the midfield when Malaga had possession. His free kick in the 69th minute was dipping under the bar but Kameni pushed it over.

In the 73rd minute, Ruud van Nistelrooy came on for Maresca. Ruud paired alongside Rondon and Seba moved out wide. Santi Cazorla dropped deep in central midfield next to Demichelis. For Espanyol, Cristian Gomez came off for Albin, a surprising attacking change to try and retain possession which they had failed to do most of the match.

The substitution and formation adjustment by Pellegrini led to the equalizer in just three minutes. Cazorla picked up the ball at the halfway line and launched a long diagonal pass behind the defense to Isco. Javi Lopez recovered quickly and muscled Isco off the ball, but the old poacher van Nistelrooy pounced on the loose ball and leveled the match.

Two minutes later, Malaga were in dreamland. Santi Cazorla’s in-swinging corner was headed by Rondon but saved by Casilla. However, the rebound fell to the back post to an unmarked Demichelis who slotted home the winner. Isco nearly added a third in the 90th minute after skipping past two defenders on the left side but his effort was saved and Seba’s rebound was blocked.


Espanyol will be bitterly disappointed losing a lead they held for 50 minutes of the match. They defended well for most of the match but were unable to keep the ball and push for a second goal. This lack of attacking impetus came back to bite them.

In a span of seven days, Malaga picked up seven points versus Real Madrid, Rayo and Espanyol. These three results have powered the Anchovies to a third place tie with Valencia, and more importantly, a place in pole position in the pursuit of bringing Champions League football to the beaches of Andalusia.


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