When Villarreal and Málaga line-up for the pre-game formalities on Monday at La Rosaleda, our players should be forgiven if they feel weird. They will be shaking hands with Santi Cazorla in the blue-white strip of the Andalucian club. Our fans also might feel strange. For sure, I will have some mixed feelings. Santi meant so much to our team, to the town and to all our fans. Another little side story is Garrido and Pellegrini. It is no exaggeration to say that the Chilean was the architect of our distinct style and achieved success domestically and in Europe to put Villarreal on the map of the European and world football. But it is safe to say that the more emotional reunion will be when Málaga visit El Madrigal in April 2012.
On the pitch, the two teams have taken a completely different trajectory in the league so far. Málaga was quick off the blocks but has slowed down a bit of late with some inconsistent play and bad results. Málaga currently sit in 5th position on 20 points. A win for us would man we will be just 3 points behind Málaga, who many expected would probably take the 4-6 spots. A loss would mean we will fall 9 points behind a direct rival for the European sports.
In its infinite wisdom, the LFP has scheduled this game for a Monday. An additional day of rest definitely helps the team after a tough game at the Allianz Arena on Tuesday. But it doesn't help the cause of a lot of fans abroad who might be in the middle of their working day.
Opposition and tactics
At an overall annual budget of about 110mil euros, Málaga is a distant 3rd behind Real Madrid and FC Barcelona. They have made some signings purely to raise the profile of the team like they did with Ruud Van Nistelrooj. A few very good signings for the future like Isco and Nacho Monreal, especially Isco who looks like a star in the making. Toulalan, Santi, Baptista, Joaquin are signings for the present with an eye on the immediate future.
Coach Manuel Pellegrini has been trying to install his usual 4-4-2/4-2-2-2 at Málaga. He hasn't been successful so far simply because he doesn't have the personnel for it. It was made worse by the longterm injury to "La bestia" Julio Baptista. The team has generally struggled to score goals in his absence. They switched to the more vanilla 4-2-3-1 with Joaquin-Santi-Isco behind Salomon Rondón as the lone striker. Portuguese Duda and Toulalan form the doble pivote.
Ruud Van Nistelrooj hasnt been a factor for Málaga all season. Pellegrini did start him in a bunch of games but frankly, he looked off pace and lost. It seems like his troubled knees cant cope with the pace of La Liga anymore. Meanwhile Isco has cemented his place in the starting eleven after a string of impressive cameos off the bench.
For Monday's game, Joaquin is also out. This is a significant blow for Málaga as Joaquin has been playing very well and is one of their most consistent players apart from Santi Cazorla and Isco.
The biggest question marks for Málaga are in their central defence. Both DeMichelis and Mathijsen are slow and suspect. Their backups aren't any better either. Jesus Gamez (who is unavailable for Monday's game) and Nacho Monreal at the right and left fullback spots are steady but nothing extraordinary.
Sid and Ravi talk about the game.
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For us to get a result, two things need to happen:
- Contain the influence of the axis of Santi-Isco. If Bruno and Senna play in the double-pivot, they are both superior to whatever Málaga will put out there. Santi has been excellent setting up goals as well as taking freekicks. Isco can shoot, pass and cross. Mario at RB will have his hands full defending Isco.
- Run at the Málaga defence to try and expose their lack of pace. If we had Rossi and Nilmar fit, they would have salivated at the prospect of going up against Demichelis and Mathijsen. In their absence, Hernán Pérez becomes pivotal. If he can have the same impact as he did against Betis and Espanyol, Málaga will suffer a lot when he has the ball. His match-up with Monreal is one of the battles I am looking forward to very keenly. Borja should be able to find spaces to run in the Málaga defence.
Squads & projected line-ups
Málaga Squad: Willy Caballero, Rubén, Kris, Demichelis, Camacho, Toulalan, Van Nistelrooj, Seba, Santi Cazorla, Mathijsen, Monreal, Isco, Maresca, Duda, Buonanotte, Sergio Sanchez, Rondón and Juanmi
Málaga projected line-up: 4-2-3-1
Willy; Sergio Sanchez - Demichelis - Mathijsen - Monreal; Duda - Toulalan ; Isco - Seba - Cazorla ; Rondón
Despite some murmurings leading up to the weekend, No Nilmar or Cani in the squad. Probably a precautionary move. Garrido also called up another canterano, 17-yr old Moisés Gómez who can play behind the striker. Gonzalo has passed the fitness test which is a big boost for the defence. Also included are Florian Lejeune and Joselu.
Villarreal Squad: Diego López, Mariño, Gonzalo, Ángel, Musacchio, Marchena, Joan Oriol, Lejeune, Senna, Bruno, De Guzman, Borja, Hernán, Wakaso, Moisés Gómez, Marco Ruben and Joselu
Villarreal projected line-up: 4-2-3-1
López; Mario - Musacchio - Gonzalo - Oriol; Bruno - Senna; Hérnan Pérez - De Guzman - Borja ; Marco Ruben
We will win our first away game of 2011-12 season. If we can limit the damage caused by Santi and Isco, there is no reason why we cant beat Málaga. 1-2.