Friday, 17 January 2014

Malaga 0-0 Valencia: Entertaining Goalless at La Rosaleda

Honours were even at La Rosaleda, as Malaga and Valencia took a point apiece. A 0-0 draw was a very unfair reflection on the game itself, an exciting contest with plenty of chances. Both goalkeepers deserve great credit for keeping it goalless, in a game that would have much more fittingly finished 3-3.

It was meeting of two teams who are somewhat underachieving in La Liga. Malaga, who finished sixth last season under Manuel Pellegrini, were down to fourteenth prior to kick-off, having lost back-to-back games since the Christmas break. Valencia, meanwhile, might have been buoyed by recent takeover news, with a reported €50 million available to spend during this transfer window. With good news off the pitch, they needed to improve things on it. Los Ches are down eighth, having recently lost to Celta Vigo, and they had already lost more matches than last season.

It was an open first half of football. In the first few minutes, both teams struggled to keep hold of the ball. Malaga looked to knock the ball around at the back, before launching an attacking run from their fullbacks. Antunes drove forward from left back, and from his cross, Garcia Samu forced a double save from Diego Alves in the Valencia goal. More of him anon.

Soon after, it was Valencia who had a half-chance, as Pablo Piatti took a snap shot on the turn, straight from the keeper’s goal-kick. From that point onwards, Valencia began to have more possession, and stamp their authority on the game. However, their final ball left much to be desired. Pizzi’s side relied on hopeful, at times aimless balls towards their strikers, rather than placed passes, meaning forward men Alcacer and Piatti were forced to work hard to create space for themselves.

Yet in the midst of Valencia’s dominance, Malaga came closest to breaking the deadlock. Valencia’s Jeremy Mathieu, recently converted from full-back to centre-half, gave away a free-kick with an untidy challenge. Versatile midfielder Duda took the free-kick, and forced a save from Alves. 33-year-old Duda has not started many matches this season, preferred as an impact sub due to fitness concerns. However, he was Malaga’s most creative player in the first half, and showed some technical ability.

But Valencia continued to have most of the play, and looked particularly threatening down the right hand side, with Piatti and Jonas interchanging. Pablo Piatti forced a corner, with a threatening run inside from the right, and it required a well-timed interception from Camacho to avert danger. A free-kick from Parejo was pushed away by Cabellero, who needed his reflexes to save again from Jonas, though he was partly fortunate the shot was hit straight at him. Just as Duda was Malaga's main technician, Jonas was that for Valencia. He put in a dangerous cross to the back post for Parejo, before a very late flag from the assistant. And shortly afterwards, Jonas was at the centre of attention again, this time in less positive circumstances, briefly picking up a head injury after colliding with Ignacio Camacho.

Roque Santa Cruz, who will be no stranger to Manchester City and Blackburn fans, missed a good chance. It was a fabulous ball over the top from Antunes, fine movement from Roque Santa Cruz, but he side-footed it wide. Left-back Antunes seemed to provide a lot in an attacking sense, but was sometimes caught out of position at the back, and required defensive cover from Camacho.

They were able to create a number of chances in the first half, but Malaga still struggled to keep hold of the ball, with a number of misplaced passes. They improved at the beginning of the second half. Applying a lot of pressure, the hosts had a number of set piece opportunities, with Duda’s delivery looking dangerous. Valencia had to do their share of defending.

Ten minutes into the second period though, it was some acute football from Valencia which set up the best chance of the match. A diagonal ball to the right found Alcacer out wide, who played it short to the inward running Jonas, who fed Parejo. The midfielder was now one-on-one, but Malaga's Willy Caballero dived at his feet to smother the ball. In the process, he picked up a knock to the head, and had to have some brief treatment.

To his credit, the goalkeeper recovered remarkably quickly. He made an excellent reflex save from star man Jonas, who skied it at the second attempt. With saves like that from Caballero, it may not be too late for the 32-year-old to get his first cap for Argentina.

After a succession of Malaga corners, Valencia had another chance. Parejo threaded the ball through, and Jonas dinked it wide. Whereas in the first half the visitors had possession but were not always productive enough, they now looked a frequent threat whenever they got into Malaga’s half.

Valencia had the ball in the net for the first time, only to see their goal chalked off. The impressive Piatti’s free-kick was touched in by Ricardo Costa, but it was rightly ruled out for offside.

That incident did not put Valencia off, as they continued to probe patiently as the coach, Juan Antonio Pizzi, smelt blood. He put on Sofiane Feghouli for Daniel Parejo. This was a very attacking move, taking off an established central midfielder for another winger to boost numbers in the advanced areas.

However, this decision worked against Valencia to some extent. They lost some of the solidity in midfield which allowed them to get hold of and keep the ball in the first place, so it was now Malaga who came to the fore.

They were denied by an arguably world-class save from Diego Alves. It was slightly reminiscent of Gordon Bank’s stop from Pele in 1970, only this time it was a Brazilian who was the saviour, rather than the man denied. The save, from Pablo Perez, was made all the more impressive after a period of play when Alves had had little to deal with - he ensured that Caballero wasn’t the only South American keeper to excel.

A looping ball over the top from Duda, found Santa Cruz. The Paraguayan hit a fierce first time shot, straight at the invincible Alves. On the whole, Santa Cruz did well up front for Malaga, he provided a physical presence and worked hard to make it uncomfortable for Valencia’s centre-backs at times.

Teenage winger Juanmi came on for the hosts, Malaga looked to stretch play and force a goal, as it looked like it would be them who were to finish the match the strongest. In truth, the last five minutes were very end to end. Tackles were flying in, both teams were trying to get the ball forward and neither were willing to accept the draw.

Both teams should take credit for their attitude and positive play this evening. Given that neither side look like they will have much to aim for in the second half of the season, and the fact that it finished 0-0, you might have guessed that this fizzled out into a drab affair. It could not have been further from the truth. Both Malaga and Valencia played some entertaining football, and the fans got their money’s worth in this clash of southern Spain.

However, this result changes little in the context of the league table. Malaga move up one place to thirteenth, but the teams around them are yet to play this weekend. Valencia remain in eighth, and are still much closer to midtable than an outside European place.

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