The return of Pellegrini as Real Madrid host Malaga

Real Madrid v Malaga, La Liga, March 2, 2011

Real Madrid 1.187; Draw 7.990; Malaga 16.100

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Even before knowing anything about anything to do with this game, it’s suspected that 99.99% of people would plump for a Real Madrid win over Malaga.

Such is life in La Liga that when either Barca or Real are faced with opposition that isn’t one-another, banking on a home win is almost a foregone conclusion. The Spanish top flight is virtually non-competitive at it’s upper echelons. It’s sadly all too predictable.

So what are the facts?

Thursday night’s late match pitches second-top against second-bottom. The mirror-inversion of the sides also translates into their form guides, as Real have won three-on-the-spin only to draw last weekend, while Malaga reversed a three game draw sequence with a 3-1 home triumph over Almeria last time out.

Manuel Pellegrini also connects the two outfits intimately. It was a case of Pellegrini out, Mourinho in last May as the Chilean was ousted from the Bernbaeu hotseat. Pellegrini then pitched up La Rosaleda after Jesualdo Ferreira’s horrible start to the season, where he has been facing a relegation scrap from day one.

Harking too much on Pellegrini’s time and dismissal from Real may not have too much impact on the final result on Thursday, but it’s interestingly nevertheless.

According to the rumour mill, Pellegrini was never wanted by Florentino Perez in the first place, as he was only offered the job after it became apparent that top target Arsene Wenger was steadfastly against taking the position. Thus, as second choice he started that chapter of his career in the shadows, and the truth is he never managed to escape it either.

The hex placed on Pellegrini from the start at Real made his position virtually untenable. It was if he was a dead-man-walking from the off. And when he slipped up – which he did in a 2-nil home loss to Barca, the Champions League exit to Lyon, and the fateful Copa del Rey humiliation by Alcorcon – the media in particular pounced.

Marca, Real Madrid’s number one fan, were particularly nasty. They repeatedly demanded Pellegrini’s head in a similar fashion to the manner in which Arab despot dictators Ben Ali, Mubarak and Gaddifi have now been challenged by their own people.

After Alcorcon, Marca splashed with: “Go now!” After Lyon it was “Get out!” And after Barcelona they headlined with “Well, well. The lie that is Pellegrini is finally over.”

Six months later, one may have expected Pellegrini to be slightly ruffled ahead of his return to the Bernabeu. In fairness he has plenty of reasons to be prickly towards the Madridistas. But no, he isn’t. Rather he remains hopeful, optimistic and perhaps a little disillusioned about his time in the job.

Pellegrini: “I expect a cheerful welcome from the fans. They were very supportive when I was in charge. I will always be grateful to the Real Madrid faithful and I’m grateful for being able to work in the footballing world. I’m quite proud of what I achieved with Real Madrid. Football allowed me to enjoy the most successful league campaign in the history of Madrid.”

Whether Pellegrini has any inside information which he can impart to his Malaga team to aid them to what-would-be even a sensational point at Real, is doubtful. Malaga – the league’s leakiest side having conceded 51 goals in just 25 games – have virtually no reasons to think they can stifle a Madrid side who have won twelve out of twelve at home his year.

Nevertheless, after spending big bucks in recent times, Malaga have a squad which, on paper at least, has players who are capable of producing the goods. Young Venezuelan striker Jose Salomon Rondon looks a real threat alongside Sebastian Fernandez, while their midfield has several bright spots with Quincy Owusu-Abeyie, Eliseu and Apono all capable players. Defensively, they’ve pinned their hopes on winter signing Martin Demichelis being able to shore up their porous backline.

For Real, Cristiano Ronaldo will be looking to get back on the scoresheet after only netting twice in the club’s last nine matches. That is about the extent of Real’s immediate problems ahead of the match, with Mourinho lucky to have virtually a fully fit squad at this stage of the season.

Lastly, consider this. In 19 matches between the two sides Real have won 15 and drawn four. Accordingly, it’s arguably more likely that hell will freeze over before Malaga eventually chalk up that first triumph.

101gg predicts: Real Madrid 5 – Malaga 1

Real Madrid 1.187; Draw 7.990; Malaga 16.100

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