Santa Cruz at the double as Malaga sink Real Madrid
Jose Mourinho’s shock move to drop Iker Casillas in favour of Antonio Adan backfired spectacularly, as a poor performance from the Real Madrid youth academy graduate saw Malaga edge a 3 – 2 win in a thrilling encounter at the Rosaleda.
It means that Real are now 16 points behind Barcelona in the title race, which is all but over for them, and are looking over their shoulders to secure third spot in the league, with Malaga now just 2 points behind. One can’t help but think of how Roberto Di Matteo got the sack after a bizarre team selection led to their virtual ouster from the Champions League race, and while Abramovich might not be Mourinho’s current boss, it would definitely seem the Portuguese manager’s days at Real are numbered.
The match began with a good tempo, as both teams looked to play good football, with neither willing to sit back and watch the ball in front of them. Cristiano Ronaldo nearly added to his tally for the season as early as in the fourth minute when a direct free kick was destined for goal, but was deflected wide by Malaga ‘keeper, Caballero.
The opening period continued to be evenly matched, with the ball changing possession mainly in midfield, with few real threats on goal from either team. In fact, it was only in the 25th minute that the next real chance to score came along, again for Ronaldo, who missed the target at the far post after receiving a good return ball from Di Maria.
In the very next minute, Ronaldo returned the favour with a delightful through ball to Di Maria, who saw his lob over the ‘keeper cleared off the line by Nacho Monreal. It was a sign of things to come, as Di Maria, Ozil and Ronaldo himself, on a couple of other occasions, would see their shot go narrowly wide, or be blocked by an excellent Malaga defence.
In between all this, Malaga only had one attempt on target for the whole of the first half, and it would come in the form of a Sanchez header, following a corner from Joaquin. Thus, with Ronaldo and co. increasingly trying their luck towards the end, half-time came as a much needed break for Pellegrini’s men, who seemed to benefit from it greatly, as they came out all guns blazing.
A total of 5 attempts on Adan’s goal in the first ten minutes saw the home team draw first blood, as Isco placed a ball into the bottom right corner of Madrid’s goal from the edge of the box. A cross found its way to Joaquin at a wide position in the box, and the Spaniard held it long enough for Isco to peel away from his marker, and then fed the starlet, who made no mistake, giving his team a 1 – 0 lead in the 49th minute.
A sustained spell of pressure post the goal bore no fruit for Malaga, and the slightly ineffective Saviola was replaced by Santa Cruz in the 64th minute. Against the run of play though, it was Real who scored next, after a good regaining of possession by Alonso saw him give the ball to Ronaldo who played it to the middle of the box, where the ensuing action saw it land up in the back of the net. Benzema, who saw his first attempt blocked, showed great determination to get his foot on the ball again, and this was sufficient to ensure that it deflected in off Sanchez, to make the score 1 – 1 in the 66th minute.
Malaga’s lead was soon restored though, as Joaquin popped up in the box after a good spell of play, and flicked Jesus Gamez’s cross towards goal, but saw it parried in an unsure manner by Adan. Unfortunately for the ‘keeper though, this fell right at the feet of Santa Cruz, who simply tapped it in to restore Malaga’s lead in the 72nd minute.
Four minutes later, the duo combined again, as a lovely reverse ball from Joaquin put Santa Cruz goalside of Ramos, and the Paraguayan took it first time, beating Adan at his near post, leaving Casillas looking aggrieved, and the scoreline at 3 – 1. Malaga held on to their lead well, until a poor backward pass from Camacho was picked up by Ozil, who then fed an unmarked Benzema for Real’s second goal in the 82nd minute.
The game seemed set for a nervy finish, but it is not without reason that Malaga have the best defensive record in the league. Showing great character to withstand Real’s attacks, Malaga ensured that Caballero had only one more save to make, and ran out 3 – 2 winners, acknowledging the support of their home fans, towards the end. In spite of Malaga’s financial issues, one would think, at the moment, that it’s Real Madrid who are in a mild crisis, and need to dig themselves out fast, perhaps with a little helping of luck.
Result: Malaga (Isco 49′, Roque Santa Cruz 72′, 76′) 3 – 2 Real Madrid ( Sergio Sanchez (OG) 66′, Karim Benzema 82′)