Estadio La Rosaleda, Malaga
December 22, 2012; 19:00 GMT
Real Madrid continued their surprisingly inconsistent start to the season with yet another slip-up in the last Liga fixture against relegation-threatened Espanyol when they could salvage only a 2-2 draw at home. The unfavorable reports in the press regarding dressing room unrest(s) have not helped their cause. Having fallen 13 points behind leaders Barcelona in La Liga and needing to overturn a one goal deficit against Celta de Vigo in the Copa Del Rey, Real Madrid must start their season all over again. There will be more calls than ever to prioritize La Decima after being handed a glamour tie against Manchester United, as the prospect of retaining La Liga becomes more distant than ever.
On the other hand Malaga have had a convincing and exciting start to the season. After early season fears of an implosion on account of financial problems, Malaga have dusted themselves up and apart from a blip midway in the season, Los Boquerones have largely been successful in their endeavors so far. They have qualified for the knock-out rounds of UEFA Champions League and are in contention for a top-four finish this season as well. Having been drawn against Portuguese club FC Porto, Malaga will fancy their chances of making it to the quarterfinals.
Team News and Tactics
On the injury front, Malaga have Jeremy Toulalan ruled out for the fixture and Julio Baptista continues to be a long-term absentee. Club captain Weligton will also be missing from the starting line-up on account of his suspension which could prove to be a decisive blow.
Manuel Pellegrini has tweaked his formation through the course of the season but Malaga will be expected to line up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, as they have done for majority of the season. Willy Caballero will keep the goal, while the back four will comprise of Martin Demichelis, who has arguably been Malaga’s best defender, and Sergio Sanchez in the center of defence while Nacho Monreal and Jesus Gamez, who will take the armband, will play on the left and right.
On account of Toulalan’s injury, Manuel Iturra will be expected to lineup alongside Ignacio Camacho in the midfield pivot. Malaga will field the attacking trio successfully deployed in the Andalusian Derby with the talented Spaniard Isco, who has been linked with a host of European clubs, playing behind the striker and Joaquin and Eliseu taking positions on the right and left flanks. Pellegrini has consistently rotated his strikers and as a result Javier Saviola will be expected to start ahead of Roque Santa Cruz.
Malaga like to play possession-based football while being highly proficient on the wings at the same time, demonstrated by Joaquin being Malaga’s highest goal-scorer in all competitions so far and Eliseu wrapping up a host of assists. Coming up against a Real Madrid midfield that will itself be looking to control the game in midfield, Malaga’s best chances can be expected to come from the flanks. In Javier Saviola, they have a natural goal-scorer who will be hoping to add to his goal tally against a suspect looking Real Madrid defence. Likewise, Malaga will do well to prevent against Real Madrid’s quick counter attacks – an area they have been found out time and again this season.
Probable Starting XI [4-2-3-1]: Caballero (GK); Gamez, Demichelis, Sanchez, Monreal; Camacho, Iturra; Joaquin, Isco, Eliseu; Saviola
On the injuries front, Real Madrid continue to have long-term absentees in Gonzalo Higuain, Marcelo and Raul Albiol. Fabio Coentrao too is doubtful to start after his discomfort was all too apparent against Espanyol but Karim Benzema, who suffered a slight injury to his ankle in the Copa Del Rey, is expected to shake it off and make it to the starting line-up.
In the absence of Coentrao, Jose Mourinho will again face the dilemma of starting with either Nacho or Michael Essien, with the former expected to get the nod on account of his pace. Rest of the back four will comprise of Sergio Ramos and Pepe playing at the center of defense and Arbeloa as the right full back. Captain Iker Casillas will be in goal for Real Madrid.
The midfield duo of Xabi Alonso and Sami Khedira will form the holding pivot. Mesut Ozil will be expected to take up his usual position in the central attacking midfield role, flanked by Cristiano Ronaldo on the left and Angel Di Maria on the right, with Luka Modric making way. The presence of Di Maria provides a different dimension to Real Madrid’s attack when compared to similarity of roles both Ozil and Modric excel in, and in a game where Madrid will be looking to hit Malaga on the counter more often than they usually prefer to, Di Maria makes for a more reliable choice than Modric or even Jose Callejon. The latter will make way for returning Karim Benzema, whose return is expected to boost Los Blancos’ dwindling fortunes. He and Cristiano Ronaldo will be looking to exploit an unfamiliar presence in Malaga back four.
Likewise, young left-back Nacho will have his task cut out on the wings against Joaquin who has been one of Malaga’s finest players this season. Ignacio Camacho and Isco, another of Malaga’s star performers, could prove to be a handful for Real Madrid duo of Xabi Alonso and Khedira who are yet to settle down as a pair like they did last season. Real Madrid will do well to cut down the service on the flanks.
Probable Starting XI [4-2-3-1]: Casillas(GK); Arbeloa, Pepe, Ramos, Nacho; Alonso, Khedira; Di Maria, Ozil, Ronaldo; Benzema
- Jose Mourinho will manage his 400th First Division match.
- Real Madrid are undefeated against Malaga in last 24 matches in all competitions.
- Real Madrid are undefeated in 35 of their last 38 fixtures in La Liga
- Cristiano Ronaldo is Real Madrid’s highest goal scorer against Malaga, ever.
Player To Watch Out
Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid)
Cristiano Ronaldo has been in the press again. With claims and counter claims flying around him, the Real Madrid ace will be looking to put it behind him and put in a decisive performance. His pace and versatility could be crucial in what is decidedly a tough fixture for Los Blancos.
Malaga 2 – 2 Real Madrid
With midfielders on both sides cancelling each other out in the center of the park, the game will be decided on who utilizes the flanks better. With talented wingers and full backs on both sides, the game will prove to be an exciting duel and will end with both Real Madrid and Malaga sharing the spoils.
Blast from the Past