The race for the fourth Champions League place in La Liga took another twist last night, as Valencia demolished Malaga to enhance their chances of qualification with just six games of the season to go.
The game itself was a fairly uneventful affair for the opening 25 minutes, but Ernesto Valderde's side produced a stunning six minute show, scoring four goals before half time to effectively end any hopes of a Malaga comeback.
Goals from Dani Parejo, Sergio Canales and two Roberto Soldado strikes put Valencia in an unassailable position at the break, despite Julio Baptista's reply on the stroke of half time.
Ever Banega sealed the win just shy of the hour mark, but the damage had already been done – Valencia now leapfrog Malaga into fifth place, leaving Manuel Pellegrini dumbfounded at the nights events.
“In the second half we tried to reverse the score, but 4-1 after the break is very difficult to neutralise. It was a very bad night and even in the second half, when we created more chances, the difference is the score did not change. The truth is, it’s difficult to find an explanation for what happened and how they could score so many goals against us in such a short period of time.
“It’s true that Valencia came out stronger than us, but didn’t have many chances before it was 1-0. We need to forget about this quickly.”
Pellegrini's future has been in doubt recently, with Chelsea rumoured to be interested in making the Chilean their new manager. Their anticipated participation in the Champions League could prove tempting to a Coach who has received numerous plaudits for his work with Los Boquerones this season under difficult circumstances.
However, the defeat at La Mestalla could leave Malaga seven points adrift of fourth place by the end of the weekend, as the current incumbents take to the field later today.
Valencia now sit just one point behind Real Sociedad, who have been this season’s surprise package under Phillipe Montanier's stewardship. With only one defeat in the last 21 games – a 4-3 defeat by Real Madrid away from home – La Real are in fine form as the season enters its final stretch.
Tonight's local derby game against Osasuna represents a chance for the Frenchman’s side to establish a four point lead over Valencia in the frantic race for Champions League qualification.
Goals haven't been in short supply for the Basque side, as their 57 this season sits them behind only Barcelona and Real Madrid in terms of goals scored. Spearheaded by Carlos Vela, Antoine Griezmann and Xabi Prieto, they have the ability to outscore opponents – shown by their 3-2 win over the Blaugrana in January.
Defeat for Sociedad in Pamplona tonight would reinvigorate Valencia's quest for the fourth spot, but also provide Malaga with some hope of catching both teams. With just six games to play after tonight, this race could go right to the finish line.