“We are not Chievo,” asserted Coach Manuel Pellegrini in his Press conference ahead of Malaga’s trip to the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on Tuesday night, refuting claims that they would settle for a draw against Group C opponents Milan in the Champions League. The 59-year-old was visibly disappointed when journalists enquired about whether he had watched the Rossoneri convincingly dispatch a lacklustre Chievo Verona by putting five goals past them last weekend.
Pellegrini can rest assured his current batch are on a different level to that of The Flying Donkeys – having maintained their perfect record in the Champions League with three games played. However, the club’s performances domestically of late have unmasked deficiencies in several key departments. Their narrow defeat at La Rosaleda to Rayo Vallecano last Saturday was only the latest in a worrying patch of form in La Liga, that has seen them win only two of their last six outings.
Los Boquerones were troubled throughout by a Rayo side spearheaded by Piti and Leo Baptistao. The 31-year-old former bagged a brace that the home side was simply unable to respond to, despite their being half an hour left to play when the journeyman striker secured the winner. The Costa del Sol side were subdued and only Javier Saviola came close to netting an equaliser.
Malaga’s display in a stuttering stalemate with Espanyol a fortnight ago will also be cause for concern, as the desire that Pellegrini instilled at the beginning of the campaign simply was not there. For Pellegrini, the defeat to Rayo and draw to Espanyol are shrugged off with the claim that the performances were not ‘adequate’ on the day, but that the signs have been there for several weeks.
Notably, Malaga’s bright sparks of this season, young playmaker Isco and veteran Joaquin Sanchez, have been faltering of late since a rampant victory over Real Betis. Perhaps the atmosphere provided by the visit to the peninsula will spark a revival of form, as they prepare to go into what is arguably the biggest match this season. The spirit that drove through their early-season success must return, or Massimiliano Allegri’s men could reap the benefits of being the team returning to form.