Malaga's splurge of more
than 100 million euros of Qatari cash finally
appears to be paying off but their grip on fourth and a
Champions League qualification spot faces the sternest of tests
at leaders Real Madrid on Sunday.
Led by former Real coach Manuel Pellegrini and owned by a
member of the Gulf state's royal family, the Andalusian club
splashed out 20 million euros for Spain playmaker Santi Cazorla
alone in the close season.
Others including former Manchester United and Real striker
Ruud van Nistelrooy, France midfielder Jeremy Toulalan and
former Spain winger Joaquin have also joined the project and
will be fired up for their team's bid to achieve what no team
apart from Barcelona has managed this season: beat Real at their
imposing Bernabeu arena.
Shown the door to make way for Jose Mourinho at the end of
the 2009/10 season, Pellegrini can take heart from his team's
performance against Real in a King's Cup last-16 first leg in
January, when they opened a shock 2-0 lead before losing 3-2 and
going down 1-0 in the return leg.
Full-back Jesus Gamez is hoping some of the Real players
will be weary after their exertions in Wednesday's 4-1 Champions
League victory at home to CSKA Moscow, which put them through to
the quarter-finals 5-2 on aggregate.
"Madrid have a great squad, although hopefully some of those
who played [against CSKA] will play again and that could help
us," Gamez told a news conference on Wednesday.
"The way the coach has us playing, the team is on its best
form right now and the win at Getafe [on March 3] and three
straight victories overall helps you work better and go out
feeling less pressure," he added.
"Madrid have players who can hold on to the ball but their
biggest strength is their attacking ability and speed.
"We can try to keep the ball, we have our way of playing and
it seems to be paying off."
Real, who have won 11 league matches in a row since their
reverse to Barca in December, have a 10-point lead over their
great rivals with 12 games left and are closing in on a first
league title since 2008.
As they prepare for their game at erratic Sevilla on
Saturday, Barca are still waiting for coach Pep Guardiola to
announce whether he is staying on beyond the end of the
campaign, when his current contract expires.
Argentina international Javier Mascherano, whom Guardiola
has converted from a midfielder into an extremely effective
central defender, joined his team mates and club officials in
urging the former Barca and Spain player to stay on Wednesday.
"What club is ready for the most successful coach in history
to go? Nobody is ready," Mascherano told a news conference.
"We hope he will continue," added the former Liverpool man.
"The president, the board, the fans and the players - we all
want him to stay."
Third-placed Valencia, trailing Barca by 16 points and
leading Malaga by four, play at Athletic Bilbao on Sunday, with
coach Unai Emery under pressure to add more consistency.
In a congested middle section of the table, there are only
10 points separating Malaga from Betis in 14th, with Levante,
Osasuna, Bilbao, Atletico Madrid, Espanyol, Rayo Vallecano,
Sevilla, Real Sociedad and Real Mallorca in between.
Malaga have 40 points, Levante and Osasuna have 38, Bilbao
are on 37, Atletico and Espanyol 36, Rayo 34 and Real Sociedad
and Sevilla 33.
Bottom side Real Zaragoza, six points adrift of 19th-placed
Sporting Gijon, desperately need a win at home to Osasuna on
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