La Liga: Pellegrini engineers Mlagas miracle run
Andalusians are in fine form going into historic Champions League clash with Porto. Meanwhile, Messi keeps scoring for Bara and Real Madrid win despite an early red card.
Mlaga are the unlikeliest of Champions League challengers, following a summer of discontent during which they were forced to sell some of their best players, including Santi Cazorla and Salomn Rondn, while others had to be persuaded not to take legal action against the club for unpaid wages. But tonight is the biggest game in the clubs history, a last-16 meeting at FC Porto.
The two-legged knockout tie is given all the more prominence given that this could be the only European action Mlaga experience for up to four years regardless of where they end up in the liga table at the end of the season, after UEFA declared the Andalusian side will be banned from European competition due to their unpaid bills.
Despite the Portuguese teams European pedigree they have twice been European Champions, most recently under Jos Mourinho in 2004 Mlaga have fared well in the Champions League, finishing top of their group on 12 points having remained unbeaten in all six group games against AC Milan, Zenit St Petersburg and Anderlecht.
But ahead of the game, at the weekend coach Manuel Pellegrini was taking no chances in la liga, and he sent out an almost full-strength squad to take on Athletic Bilbao, resting only Joaqun and Jrmy Toulalan, who began the game on the bench.
A first-half goal by Javier Saviola was enough to earn Mlaga a 1-0 home victory as the striker shot high into the net on 18 minutes following a pass from Lucas Piazn. But goalkeeper Willy Caballero was the star of the night as he produced an outstanding double save to deny Aritz Aduriz a goal before the break and then performed more heroics to keep out three efforts from Ibai Gmez in the second half.
Mlagas impressive form is not going unnoticed in England and Italy with Manuel Pellegrinis agent confirming he had turned down offers from AS Roma in recent days, as well as rejecting advances by Chelsea intermediaries who were interested in the Chilean. A story in sports daily Marca also linked him to the Manchester City job and it is no surprise, given his managerial history.
Nicknamed El Ingeniero the engineer due to his studies before beginning his career in football, the softly-spoken coach has a knack of building strong teams. In his time as Villarreal manager, he took the small side to a Champions League semi-final. Only a missed Juan Romn Riquelme penalty stood in their way to the final.
In his one-season stint at Real Madrid, though the team finished second to Barcelona, they earned 96 points in la liga then a record for the team and ended the season just three points behind Pep Guardiolas champions.
Pellegrini is attracting many admirers and if his Mlaga side continue their impressive run in Europe, he could have plenty more.
Meanwhile, Lionel Messi notched his 300th and 301st career goals for FC Barcelona in a 2-1 comeback win at Granada on Saturday, as they stayed on course to reclaim the league title with their 21st win in 24 matches. The goals extended his record scoring run to 14 league games while the result was the Catalans first away win in three matches.
In the Spanish capital, Real Madrid overcame the early dismissal of Sergio Ramos to defeat Rayo Vallecano 2-0 at the Santiago Bernabu on Sunday.
On his first league start for Los Merengues, lvaro Morata tapped home a cross in the third minute to put the hosts in front before Ramos, who had already got on the scoresheet himself with a powerful header, was shown a red card in the 18th minute after collecting two soft bookings in 30 seconds.
Madrid remain in third place, four points behind city rivals, Atltico Madrid who were impressive 3-0 winners at Real Valladolid and still 16 points adrift of leaders Barcelona.
RCD Espanyol 1 0 Real Betis
Real Madrid 2 0 Rayo Vallecano
Real Valladolid 0 3 Atltico Madrid
Valencia CF 2 0 RCD Mallorca
Real Sociedad 1 1 Levante UD
Osasuna 1 0 Real Zaragoza
Granada CF 1 2 FC Barcelona
Mlaga CF 1 0 Athletic Bilbao
Getafe CF 3 1 Celta de Vigo
Sevilla FC 3 1 Deportivo La Corua
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