Malaga 4-0 Valencia: Pellegrini gets the better of Pellegrino

November 26, 2012

The starting line-ups - Malaga's attacking band of three rotated

Isco was the catalyst for a fabulous demonstration of movement and interplay from Malaga’s front four.

After rotating heavily for the trip to Zenit in midweek, Malaga coach Manuel Pellegrini played a more familiar XI, unchanged from the draw at Osasuna last week.

Mauricio Pellegrino’s major decision was the use of Ever Banega – rather than Jonas – at the top of his midfield triangle. Roberto Soldado was out, so Nelson Valdez started upfront.

Malaga were well worth the win – the only surprising thing about the scoreline was that they weren’t out of sight sooner, having to wait until 74 minutes for the second goal.

There were only two major factors here – and both involved the two sides’ individual systems, rather than the actual clash between them.

Valencia disjointed

The absence of Soldado was clearly a significant blow for Valencia – Valdez is a decent target man and a very hard worker, but he lacks Soldado’s raw quality and his technical ability. Because of that, Valencia really needed to support the Paraguayan with midfield runners, but the use of Banega instead of Jonas was the complete opposite move – Banega sat deep in midfield and made sure Valencia retained possession well in the centre of midfield, but the away side had no connection between midfield and attack.

Because of Banega’s deep positioning, Sofiane Feghouli had to take on a different role – playing narrower and higher than usual, trying to use his energy to get up the pitch and support Valdez. But his ambition was compromised by the aggressive positioning of Malaga left-back Eliseu, who pushed him back into deep positions. Andres Guardado had more freedom to attack on the opposite side, but could have done more to support Valdez – the Mexican isn’t a natural goalscorer.

It’s also worth pointing out that Jeremy Toulalan, 6′0 and capable of filling in at centre-back, often dropped into a deep position in front of Valdez, making it even more difficult for him to win aerial balls.

Malaga system

This match was about Malaga, however, and in particular their exciting attacking quartet. Javier Saviola played as the main forward but often dropped into deeper positions, encouraging the other three to exploit spaces by dribbling at speed.

The three attackers behind him rotated their positions, but played different roles. Joaquin was the widest of the four, usually staying out on the right – happy to take on Aly Cissokho down the outside (he attempted seven crosses, more than the rest of the side combined), as well as duck inside and link up with others. On the opposite flank, Portillo drifted inside quickly to combine with Isco. To compensate for that, Eliseu sped forward on the overlap and retained left-sided width.


But the main man was Isco, who sometimes switched with Portillo but was more frequently in the centre of the pitch. He was something of a central winger, always darting from side to side in order to overload the full-backs. His combinations with Portillo and Joaquin were very good, and the key to Malaga’s performance was the fact the attackers often got two men into one tight zone, enabling them to quiclyk pass around an opponent at speed, keeping moves flowing quickly.

Yet despite the fact attackers sometimes found themselves in close proximity, rarely did they become congested and suffer from a lack of an out-ball. This was partly because Joaquin and Eliseu naturally moved to the touchlines, but also because they attacked at speed before Valencia could get men behind the ball, so were rarely starved of space.

Malaga defensive shape

Without the ball, Malaga’s shape wasn’t particularly good. They half-pressed, with Isco (or Portillo, if he was central) joining Saviola to press Valencia’s centre-backs two-versus-two. Fernando Gago dropped into the back to allow Valencia to pass out and push the full-backs forward, while Banega’s deep positioning offered a simple forward passing option alongside Tino Costa.

When Valencia had long spells of possession, Joaquin retreated well into a second bank of four. On the opposite side Portillo and Isco were much more slack, and a better full-back than Antonio Barragan would have exploited this – although the fact that Feghouli was higher up than usual also made it difficult for Barragan to overlap.

Latter stages

Pellegrino introduced Jonas for Banega after 55 minutes which gave Valdez more support, but now Valencia’s passing quality suffered – no-one else adjusted their role, with Gago very deep and Costa trying long balls rather than moving higher up the pitch. There’s a balance to be found somewhere between the two systems (surely with the latter format, with Jonas on the pitch), but Valencia simply never got into a good passing rhythm either way.

Malaga’s only problem was finishing – for much of the game, at least. They had 22 shots compared to Valencia’s five, yet too many were wayward and it was only in the final 15 minutes, as Valencia pushed forward, that they secured the win.


The irony of Malaga’s victory is that their system – a fluid, rotating front four within a 4-2-3-1 system – is exactly what Valencia became famed for, particularly in the days when Juan Mata, David Silva and David Villa were in the same side.

Of course, that quartet was often completed by Joaquin, while Isco is a Valencia youth product, having come through their academy before spending a season in their B team, and making four first team performances – Malaga out-Valenciaed Valencia with former Valencia players.

The gaps between Valencia’s front four in this game – particularly the isolation of Valdez – meant they were miles away from playing that style of football.

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