“The instructions Manuel Pellegrini gives me are always simple, he just tells me to keep it simple!” Manuel Iturra smiled when interrogated on the subject of the Malaga tactician’s pre-match instructions. In the aftermath of the club’s victory over Milan in the Champions League, the Chilean international proved to be telling nothing but the truth. His personal performance spoke volumes about the extremely effective tactic being deployed in arguably the Costa del Sol outfit’s most significant outing ever.
Facing one of European football’s household names, the 28-year-old set the tone for his entire team as he dominated the middle of the park alongside Ignacio Camacho. Taking more touches than any opposition Rossoneri player and more than 11 of his 13 teammates on the night, the former Universidad Chile man broke up the play in style to kept his side ticking over, as they reduced the opposition to chasing shadows. With the highest rate of successful tackles on the night, he also allowed his teammates to open up and distribute the ball through Massimiliano Allegri’s lacklustre midfield, with simple but quick and effective passes.
In disruptive conditions, Iturra brought playmakers Isco and Joaquin Sanchez to the fore, while also contributing positively to in attack. In fact it was the ease in which he turned from concrete force to elegant distributor that caught Riccardo Montolivo and Massimo Ambrosini off guard on several occasions. After a frustrating opening hour for the home side in front of Marco Amelia’s goal, it was fitting that he was the one that also provided a pinpoint lofted ball from a still position for Joaquin to run on to and clinically finish.
Iturra’s performance completely justified him being Malaga sporting director Mario Husillos’ first signing in the role the Argentine took up in the summer. The pair had linked up at Murcia a year prior, and the former Boca Juniors forward insisted on him being the club’s priority arrival, even before he officially became Malaga’s sporting director.
Initially brought in to replace Enzo Maresca, who departed for Sampdoria, the Temuco native has effectively stepped in for French veteran Jeremy Toulalan in the starting line-up as he recovers from a thigh injury. The former Lyon man is a supporters’ favorite, but could potentially find his place permanently occupied when he returns to action.
Renowned in his homeland for a consistent thrust that makes him the embodiment of the true box-to-box midfielder, Iturra is now reaching his peak after leaving South America slightly late compared to several of his former teammates. He is reaping the benefits of a renewed desire, however, having previously explained in detail how he cannot picture himself at the top of the game for much longer.
“Hearing that Champions League music, it is a truly special feeling.” Despite being practically unknown outside Chile before this summer, Iturra could find himself humming along to the tune for a long European campaign to come for Malaga this season.