For much of last weekend’s clash with Granada, it looked as if basement boys Malaga were at last beginning to get to grips with their season. By far the better of the two Andalucian sides on the night, Javi Gracia’s men led 2-0 with less than 10 minutes remaining, yet they still failed to win the game.
Malaga had even responded to going a man down by immediately increasing their lead. Fernando Tissone’s second red card of the season, rightly shown after an appallingly rash tackle, was swiftly followed by teenager Pablo Fornals smashing in his debut goal for Los Bianquiazules to add to the opener from Charles.
Malaga have found scoring goals a major problem this season and had only managed five in 12 games before Saturday’s Andalucian derby. Conversely, their defence had been miserly, with only 13 conceded prior to the encounter against Granada.
Despite their numerical disadvantage, Gracia’s side coped well until their hitherto resolute defence conceded two late goals leaving Malaga still in the relegation zone with only two wins to their name and just seven goals scored.
The draw with Granada was only the third match of the current campaign in which Malaga have managed to find the net. They failed to score in any of their first six games and have yet to hit the target away from La Rosaleda.
This is Malaga’s eighth consecutive season in Spain’s top flight, the longest ever run in La Primera for a club that oscillated over the years between the top two divisions. Not for the first time, their problems on the pitch have reflected difficulties off it.
Those difficulties have escalated since Qatari owner Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser Al-Thani’s decision to withdraw his financial backing from the club three years ago and the sacking of general manager Vicente Casado at the end of November is the latest backroom disruption, with sporting director Mario Husillos reportedly on the brink too.
The likeable Gracia, who took Malaga to a ninth-place finish in La Liga last season, narrowly missing out on a Europa League slot, has said he does not fear the sack, accepting no doubt that dismissal is an occupational hazard for a Coach, especially when he is not delivering results.
Brazilian striker Charles scored a hat-trick in Malaga’s 3-1 win over Real Sociedad in October, but has not stepped up to be the prolific striker so badly needed to convert possession and chances into goals. Furthermore, if the re-signing of veteran Roque Santa Cruz represents the limit of ambition, the faithful at La Rosaleda have reason to worry.
A tally of just 17 goals in 70 appearances was a meagre return from the Paraguayan’s first spell spanning two seasons with Los Boquerones and, despite coming back on loan from Mexican side Cruz Azul in August, Santa Cruz only made his second debut for Malaga with a five-minute cameo against Granada.
In contrast, Gracia has seen the lively 19-year-old midfielder Pablo Fornals establish himself as a regular matchday fixture, followed into the side by Javi Ontiveros and Hachim Mastour, 18 and 17 years of age respectively. They might be the future of the club, but Weligton, Duda, Nordin Amrabat and other more experienced heads are needed to secure its present.
Tonight brings a welcome distraction from La Liga as Malaga travel to play La Segunda outfit Mirandes in the Copa del Rey. A first-leg win against the second-tier side could provide the confidence boost needed to kick-start Malaga’s season, while defeat could see the beginning of the end for Gracia.