Eight minutes left to play for a place in the semi-finals, Eliseu struck a golden goal, or at least he thought, for Malaga to make it 1-2 on the night for the visitors. Cue celebrations and jubilations from the 3,000 travelling fans and the 1.6m population of Malaga, the province. Andalucia had made its mark and the team was about to make history.
Eliseu’s goal may have been offside but the manner in which his side were subsequently defeated, with two goals arriving in the space of two minutes in stoppage time, it was the cruellest of defeats on the competition newbies. Borussia Dortmund may boast a wickedly potent attacking force, but Malaga deserved more for their organisation, the manner in which they dealt with the pressure and for the tactics of their Coach, Manuel Pellegrini.
Los Boquerones had played the perfect patient game. The aim was to eliminate the notion of haste and concentrate on making the right passes and the right decisions to contain the home side’s attacking threat and construct clever attacking opportunities of their own.
With Jurgen Klopp’s men fond of playing the ball out from the back and relying on the likes of Ilkay Gundogan to spray passes forward, Malaga’s objective was to cut them off at the source and limit the number of penetrative passes forward. Indeed they were successful, with the home side managing only horizontal passes for much of the first half as they waited for an opportunity to inflict their pace and push forward.
A team possessed, Malaga’s defensive organisation was a sight to behold. Spaces were squeezed, gaps were occupied and players were closed down. Moreover, their passes were usually aimed forward with Jesus Gamez consistently looking for either Joaquin or Duda ahead of him to construct effective attacking passages of play.
Jeremy Toulalan in particular, dominated the midfield. Such was his impact on the match, that Mario Gotze was forced to shift from the middle to the right in order to escape the Frenchman’s constant attention. The midfielder intercepted and disturbed Dortmund’s passing rhythm, managing to produce more tackles than any other player on the pitch.
Once Dortmund overcame the powerful midfield, they then came upon an eager Martin Demichelis who appeared omnipresent on the night. The Black Yellows did not expect to face this many challenges going forward and they very nearly ran out of time.
Pellegrini, a master motivator, had spoken at length to his players about the need to fight for honour, to fight for the opportunity of a lifetime. Renowned for his attacking vision and willingness to play positive football, at Malaga, the Chilean has been forced to adopt a more defensive approach, to exploit the strengths of the current squad at his disposal. Together, the club had become monstrously difficult to overcome and with players boasting maturity and a winning mentality, they simply could not be intimidated.
There are no mind games with Pellegrini, no tough stances. He is kind with the players, displays genuine emotion and is always on hand to offer advice. The quiet authoritarian, he asked his men to play the game of their lives in Europe’s elite competition. Considering the fact Malaga have been banned from the Champions League next season, it was time to make an impact.
However, for the players, glory was not on their mind. They cared little for their own reputations. On Tuesday night, in Signal Iduna Park, the atmosphere thick with anticipation, Los Boquerones played for their Coach – for Manuel Pellegrini, to honour the man who led them so far and who put everything aside to ensure his squad’s glory. It was their time to repay him.
Having only arrived to Germany on the day of the game after the passing of his father, the Chilean quietly hoped to seek solace in the performance of his players. Their perfect play not only honoured him but Spain as a whole, showing the strength of a league often accused of possessing only two worthwhile teams.
Dortmund may have produced the better football in this competition overall but Malaga’s organisation and spirit deserved more. If only there was next year…