Los Blancos will aim to continue their strong home run against the struggling Boquerones...
Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid know that any slip they make will be heavily punished by league leaders Barcelona, and as if to reinforce the point, they slipped further behind the Catalan club at the weekend, having been held to a scoreless draw by Deportivo La Coruna. Los Blancos meet Malaga on Thursday night, eager to keep pace with their great rivals, who play 24 hours earlier.
The door had been opened for los Blancos to make an assault on the title a couple of weeks ago when Sporting de Gijon held Barca, but almost as quickly as crisis talk at la Blaugrana rose, Madrid’s inability to break down a packed and well organised Depor defence at the weekend has seen it quelled.
Mourinho evidently wasn’t impressed by the tactics adopted by the ultra-defensive Galicians at a venue that has previously proven cruel to los Merengues. “We played against one goalkeeper and 10 defenders for the second half,” he said after the draw. “Only one team played to win. The other played to exhaustion and defended and they won the prize. We, who tried to win, are penalised for this.
“I cannot criticise my players for their efforts as they did all they can.”
While it hasn’t been uncommon for teams to hold los Blancos to low scoring draws away from the capital, no-one has yet to breach the great club’s perfect record under Mourinho at their Bernabeu home. Madrid boast a perfect home record in all competitions this season, and they’ll expect to maintain it through this fixture, at least.
Real Madrid may be the masters at spending big, but comparatively speaking, Malaga have splashed the cash this season, though their efforts in the transfer market have come up drastically short. Despite a number of relatively high profile acquisitions both in the summer and during January, the Andalucian club find themselves towards the bottom of the table and in deep relegation trouble.
Former Blancos boss Manuel Pellegrini took the reins from Jesualdo Ferreira in November, but just as the ex-Porto boss struggled to get the team playing, so too has the Chilean, whose side arrested a worrying run of seven matches without a victory with their 3-1 win over Almeria at the weekend.
Pellegrini’s return to the Bernabeu should simply be a sub-plot for the coach, who needs to be targeting quick points for his side against any opponents. Presently, Malaga are on a run of four matches unbeaten, which includes a point earned against Villarreal at El Madrigal. That impressive tie was secured thanks to a late goal from Sebastian Fernandez, and recent draws against Sevilla and Getafe potentially point to a brighter future.
But Malaga’s season has been one long false dawn for the club, starting when they were bought by Sheikh Abdullah Al Thani in the summer. Anything earned at the Bernabeu would be quite remarkable.
Los Blancos will again be without Gonzalo Higuain and Jerzy Dudek. Pepe has had his yellow card from the weekend rescinded.
Julio Baptista, Helder Rosario, Javier Malagueno, Duda and Reuben Martinez are out due to injury problems.