“It was about time we put on a show at La Roselada,” explained Malaga Coach Manuel Pellegrini in the aftermath of his side’s convincing 3-0 victory over Zenit St Petersburg last night. The reaction from the Boquerones faithful throughout the match was enough to decipher the collective performance of the Chilean tactician’s men.
The Russian champions were tormented from start to finish by the Spaniards, who made their first ever group stage appearance in the Champions League a dream debut. Malaga’s attacking trident of Francisco ‘Isco’ Suarez, Joaquin Sanchez and Javier Saviola dominated a lacklustre defence, and kept the supporters at La Roselada on the feet for the majority of the 90 minutes.
Last night’s exceptional display typifies the Costa del Sol outfit’s campaign to date, following a turbulent summer off the pitch. It has propelled the club to the top of Group C, on top of one of their best ever starts domestically has left them second in La Liga and only two points behind Barcelona.
Blanquiazules President Sheik Abdullah Nasser Al-Thani’s funds shot the side to a fourth place finish last term, but cutbacks this summer initially made that seem an impossible feat to repeat. Playmaker Santi Cazorla moved on to Arsenal, striker Salomon Rondon to Rubin Kazan and centre-back Joris Mathijsen transferred to Feyenoord. One predominant figure has remained constant throughout, however.
Pellegrini watched on last night with a wry smile, as his efforts under unforeseen circumstances were finally paying dividend. The former Real Madrid man could only watch on as his prized assets moved on over the seasonal window, but he stayed true to his project. “I still have a lot of motivation to carry on, and the performance against Zenit is the way to show off our developing project,” reflected the 59-year-old yesterday.
Working under increasing pressure and with limited resources, Pellegrini has still managed to bring in several experienced players to mix with what still remained a promising young squad. Crucial departures have left the tactician with no choice but to rely on youth, with the squad looking increasingly thin last night without long term absentee Julio Baptista joined by Jeremy Toulalan on the sidelines.
Veteran Argentine striker Javier Saviola has already received two standing ovations from the Malaga faithful since arriving in August. Cameroonian forward Fabrice Olinga became the youngest goal-scorer in La Liga history on the opening day and at 16 his raw ability is clearly evident. On-loan Manchester City man Roque Santa Cruz has been added as useful backup.
Isco has been promoted into the playmaker role to unprecedented success, with several stand out performances this season suggesting that he will be the main man. Joaquin and Sergio ‘Duda’ Valente have combined well with the Spaniard, and their guidance will be vital in his progression. Ignacio Camacho has proved his worth in the holding position in the middle of the park.
A concrete defence with veterans such as Martin Demichelis and Weligton will command the team from the back. Goalkeeper Carlos Kameni has healthy competition in the form of Willy Caballero, an important asset in keeping both on their toes. American international Oguchi Onyewu has been brought in as backup from Portuguese side Sporting Lisbon.
While it can be categorically ruled out that Malaga can challenge the Real Madrid and Barcelona, a strong season could see Valencia finally have solid competition for that third spot in La Liga. And a wavering Milan and an inexperienced Anderlecht is all that is holding them back from progressing from their Champions League group.
“We have a testing month of domestic and European football now, we can only wait and see if physically we can foot the bill,” concluded Pellegrini last night. It remains to be seen if he can guide the club to back-to-back record-breaking seasons, but the early signs are good.