In a disheartening transfer window for Malaga fans, the single ray of hope was the arrival of Javier Saviola from Benfica. Despite the loss of an array of attacking talent, Saviola’s bright early-season form has helped inspire Malaga to a series of convincing displays that sees the club unbeaten six weeks into the campaign.
Such a successful start is all the more surprising given that both of last season’s top scorers – Solomon Rondon and Santi Cazorla – were sold off during a summer of turmoil for Los Boquerones. Meanwhile, an experienced member of the supporting cast, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, hung up his boots.
Concerns were therefore raised about the source of the goals the club would need to maintain their position in the upper echelons of the Primera and undertake a respectable debut campaign in the Champions League.
Filling the boots of that attacking trio is the one-time South American Player of the Year Saviola. Having played an ever-diminishing role at Barcelona, Sevilla and finally Real Madrid, the 30-year-old’s reputation in Spain is one of unfulfilled potential. From when he burst on to the scene at River Plate as a precocious teenager and until he fell out of favour at Camp Nou in 2004, the striker guaranteed 20 goals a season.
Despite an impressive campaign as part of Sevilla’s UEFA Cup winning team in 2005-06, it was a rate he has never been able to since match. A peripheral role at Real Madrid, where he was trusted to start just six League games in two seasons, did little either for his reputation or for the wider development of his game.
The Argentine thus arrived on the Andalusian coast with much to prove. Revitalised and razor-sharp, the striker marked his debut with a goal and an assist against Levante. Another strike followed in the dismantling of Zenit in the Champions League, and he added a third in four games in the comfortable victory over Real Betis at the weekend.
For the first time in his career, the diminutive forward is operating in a team which does not enjoy overwhelming territorial domination. As a result, he has been able to use his blistering acceleration to exploit space behind opposition defences. With Malaga attacking down the flanks more than 18 of the other 19 Primera outfits, the lack of strength that has undermined his hold-up play elsewhere has not been a problem.
But perhaps the most impressive facet of the 30-year-old’s performances has been his link-up play with Joaquin Sanchez, Isco and Francisco Portillo. Of the eight teams faced by Malaga this term, only Athletic Bilbao have been able to withstand their incisive combination of wing-play and one-touch passing. Within a matter of weeks, Coach Manuel Pellegrini has managed to instil the type of fluidity to their play that normally takes years to nurture.
In a well-gelled outfit, with a club playing to his strengths, the scene is set for Saviola to continue rebuilding his reputation in the Primera Division.