Morning all! Our La Liga coverage for the day gets underway from La Rosaleda as Malaga
welcome Real Zaragoza
. Neither team has been on a particularly good run of form in recent weeks, but Malaga’s impressive form early in the season has meant that they are the favourites to finish fourth. That will not earn them a Champions League place, however, following their European ban for off-the-field troubles.
In terms of the recent meetings between the two sides, Malaga have certainly enjoyed the best of it. They have scored six goals in their last two matches against Zaragoza, winning on each occasion. Zaragoza have enjoyed recent success in this stadium, however, with a 2-1 win in January 2011. But much has changed at both clubs since then.
Let’s take a closer look at how both sides have fared in the league this season, starting with Malaga. As mentioned, they regained fourth position from Real Betis last week with an away win over Real Mallorca. They have been in disappointing form in recent weeks, but three of their last five matches have been against Barcelona (twice in the Copa del Rey).
Malaga’s home form has been impressive with six wins, two draws and three defeats from their 11 matches. Meanwhile, they have also been in good form on the road with four wins from their 10 matches, taking 15 points in the process. Their impressive league position has been built on their defence, however, as they currently hold the best defensive record in the division, conceding just 19 times.
They have also impressed down the other end with 33 goals in their 21 matches thus far. Perhaps not too surprisingly, Barcelona top the goals scored table with 71 strikes. Incredible. Right, the team news is just filtering through, I will bring you the ins and outs in the next couple of minutes.
MALAGA: Caballero; Lugano, Weligton, Gamez; Joaquin, Toulalan, Camacho, Portillo, Eliseu; Isco, Santa Cruz
ZARAGOZA: Jimenez; Paredes, Abraham, Fernandez, Alvaro; Movilla, Apono, Montanes, Mari; Postiga, Victor
So there we have it. Malaga recall Jeremy Toulalan to their midfield. Meanwhile, Roque Santa Cruz will operate as the lone forward, with Isco just behind. Zaragoza recall Helder Postiga
to their starting side, alongside Victor Rodriguez in attack. Paco Montanes and Movilla also return to the midfield.
Zaragoza, meanwhile, have taken just four points from their last six matches, with Getafe the only team in the league to take fewer points (three) from the same period. They have conceded 30 goals thus far, while they have hit the back of the net just 21 times, the third-worst record in the division. That said, their away form has been impressive this season with four wins from 11 matches, taken 13 points in the process.
Should Malaga pick up all three points this evening, then they would strengthen their grip on fourth position as the end of the season begins to draw closer. Zaragoza are also in desperate need of the points, however, with the club sitting in 17th position, just three points outside of the relegation zone. As has always been the case in Spain, there is about seven or eight teams currently battling the drop zone.
Here we go then. Both sets of players join us on the pitch ahead of kickoff. The pre-match handshakes have been undertaken and the flags have been exchanged. Just about time for my pre-match prediction. I just cannot see any possible way how Malaga do not win this football match. It is a 3-0 home success for me.
Just a quick reminder of what we have to come this afternoon. Our second La Liga commentary of the day gets underway at 3.30pm as Sevilla host Rayo Vallecano, before Valencia face Barcelona and Atletico Madrid welcome Real Betis in the late kickoff. Be sure to join us for that. Right, the away side get the action underway.
Not a full house inside the stadium, but a good crowd nonetheless with the sun shining in Malaga. A reminder that the home side are without Nacho Monreal, who was sold to Arsenal on the final day of the transfer window. It's a strong start from the home side as Portillo drives a low cross into the box, but Paredes is on hand to clear.
Malaga continue to dominate the early stages with solid possession in the final third. It does appear that they are lining up with a three-man defence in attacking lineup. Not too much in terms of chances in the opening four minutes, but Toulalan and Ignacio Camacho have seen plenty of the ball in the early stages.
It's good work from Apono as the Zaragoza midfielder floats a high cross towards Victor Rodriguez, but Eliseu, who is operating in a withdrawn role this afternoon, is on hand to clear for a throw. You just get the feeling that if Malaga score early then it could be a very difficult afternoon for the away side. Lively opening to this match, but no clear chances thus far.
Again it's good work from the home side as Camacho collects possession before finding Isco just outside the penalty area. The playmaker turns before slipping a low pass behind the Zaragoza defence, but Roberto Jimenez is quick off his line to clear, with Santa Cruz in close proximity. Zaragoza attack down the other end with Jose Mari, but the move breaks down at the vital moment.
Slightly scrappy period of the match in the last few minutes with neither side taking too much care in possession of the ball. Meanwhile, a couple of free kicks have slowed the tempo further. Malaga attempt to attack once more with Isco, but the Spaniard cannot find Santa Cruz with a searching pass and Jimenez collects.
Good pressing from Zaragoza in the early stages as Apono and Montanes both push forward onto the Malaga defence, but Lugano, who join the club on loan from Paris Saint-Germain this month, finds a way out. Meanwhile, the home supporters are in good voice as they attempt to raise their side.
Not too much to get excited about at the moment as both teams attempt to gain some sort of control in this match. A half-chance does arrive as Mari whips a dangerous cross into the Malaga box, but Toulalan is on hand to clear. The resulting corner also causes concern, but the danger is cleared, for now.
GOAL! Malaga 0-1 Real Zaragoza (Postiga)
Wow! What do we have here? Zaragoza take the lead against the run of play as Postiga ghosts into the penalty area before thumping his effort into the bottom corner. He was simply not picked up by the Malaga defence. Silence in the stadium.
Malaga attempt to strike back early as Santa Cruz combines with Portillo in the penalty area, but the former just cannot find a strike on goal. Zaragoza attempt to break immediately with Mari, but Eliseu comes across to fell the Spaniard. Suddenly it is all happening here.
Decent possession from Malaga since they fell behind with Isco, Portillo and Santa Cruz all enjoying touches in the final third. However, the Zaragoza defence continues to squeeze the play and the home side cannot find that final pass. Meanwhile, another Zaragoza attack breaks down with Movilla losing possession.
Again it's good work from the away side as Mari twists and turns in the penalty area before curling an effort towards the bottom corner, but it just takes a deflection before moving behind. Meanwhile, Eliseu appears to have a real problem here as he falls to the ground in the penalty area. It seems unlikely that he will be able to continue.
PENALTY TO MALAGA: Malaga break down the other end as Gamez darts into the penalty area before whipping a low cross towards Isco, but the danger is cleared for a corner. The resulting set piece causes unease in the box, with Paredes deemed to have handled in the box.
Meanwhile, the home side are forced into a change as Sergio Sanchez replaces Eliseu. It appears that Isco will take the spot kick. He has the chance to level with 23 minutes on the clock.
GOAL! Malaga 1-1 Real Zaragoza (Isco)
Isco does indeed level proceedings as he sweeps his effort into the bottom corner. Just about as cool a penalty as you are ever likely to see. How will Zaragoza respond from that blow? High-tempo opening 24 minutes to this match with the score level at 1-1.
Malaga create another opportunity as Isco collects a pass from Joaquin before driving behind the Zaragoza defence, but the linesman raises his flag at the vital moment. Although replays have shown that the midfielder was indeed onside. Zaragoza restart play with a free kick.
Zaragoza force some more ground as Apono wins a free kick outside the penalty area. The resulting set piece is taken by Montanes, but the Spaniard can only fire his effort straight into the wall. Fairly even match at the moment with neither side taking control of proceedings. Little over 15 minutes of the first period remaining.
Not too much to report in the last couple of moments with both sides enjoying spells in possession. It's good work from Fernandez as the full-back drives into the Malaga box, but he decides to shoot rather than find a teammate in the penalty area. Malaga do not look too comfortable in defence at the moment.
It's good work from Joaquin as the Malaga winger picks up possession before cutting inside and slipping a low pass towards Santa Cruz, but Jimenez is out to gather at the feet of the striker. Zaragoza launch an attack down the other end with Postiga, but the Portuguese just cannot find Victor with a searching pass.
Slightly scrappy period of the match in the last few moments with neither side taking too much care in possession of the ball. Both have had a couple of counter-attacking opportunities, but there has not really been a clear chance since Malaga levelled from the spot. Zaragoza have defended well thus far.
CHANCE! Glorious chance for Malaga to take the lead as Santa Cruz meets a corner from Isco, but Apono is on hand to head off the line. The former Malaga midfielder has just saved his team there. The pressure continues with Joaquin, but his cross is headed clear by Abraham.
Little over five minutes of the first period remaining and still the score sits level at 1-1. Neither side has really done enough to be leading in this contest thus far. It is ever so slightly laboured from Malaga with Santa Cruz not offering too much movement in the final third, we could be seeing Javier Saviola sooner rather than later.
It's good pressure from the away side once more as they continue to pass and probe outside the penalty area, but the final pass has just been lacking this afternoon. Meanwhile, the home supporters continue to make their voices known as the sun shines in Malaga. What a fine day for a game of football.
Half-chance for the away side as Montanes meets a corner from Apono, but Caballero is on hand to collect the danger. The Malaga goalkeeper attempts to release Isco on the counter, but Apono comes across to clear the danger. Decent spell from Zaragoza as they continue to press Malaga into the their own half. However, Joaquin comes close with an effort down the other end moments later.
Little over one minute of normal time remaining in the first period, with the two sides level at 1-1. Malaga have just taken control once more with Santa Cruz and Isco both having strikes from inside the box, but neither comes close to opening the scoring. All one-way traffic as we enter the final stages of this half.
Not too much to report in the final minute of the half with neither side taking too much care in possession. A draw at this stage is just about a fair reflection of the first period. Meanwhile, the fourth official indicates that we will play an additional two minutes of football at the end of the half.
Decent possession from the home side in the final stages as Joaquin combines with Isco before driving down the right, but the latter's low cross into the box just would not fall for Santa Cruz. Zaragoza attempt to break down the other end with Apono, but the move breaks down at the vital moment.
HALF-TIME: Malaga 1-1 Real Zaragoza
So there we have it. The referee blows his whistle with the two sides level at 1-1. The away side took the lead after 13 minutes when Postiga found the back of the net with a cool finish, but Isco levelled from the penalty spot eight minutes later. It has been a lively 45 minutes of football.
Let's take a look at some statistics from the opening half of football. Malaga have just shaded the possession with 57%, but Zaragoza have had six attempts to the home side's five. Zaragoza picked up two yellow cards in the first period, but in truth it has not been that kind of match.
Let's take a look at both benches for this afternoon. The home side have Julio Baptista back in their squad, while Javier Saviola and Lucas Piazon are also on the Malaga bench. The away side also have options with Franco and Wilchez able to influence proceedings from the sidelines.
As it stands Malaga would remain in fourth position in the table, but would be just one point ahead of Real Betis, who play later this evening. Meanwhile, Zaragoza would remain in 17th position. It has not been a good weekend for them with the majority of the teams around them picking up three points.
Here we go then. Both sets of players join us on the pitch ahead of the second period. No changes for either side at the interval which is not too much of a surprise at this stage of proceedings. I am sticking with my pre-match prediction of a home win. Malaga get the half underway.
Slightly scrappy start to the second period with the ball spending more time in the air than on the ground. You just get the feeling that if the home side score the next goal then it would be a long way back for Zaragoza. The away side create a crossing opportunity as Apono drives down the right, but Weligton is across to clear.
Again it's good work from the away side as Postiga picks up possession before combining with Victor on the edge of the box, but the Portuguese just cannot fashion a shooting chance with Gamez across to clear the danger. Meanwhile, a big cheer erupts around the stadium as Baptista is put through his paces on the sideline.
Malaga just haven't really started in this second period as they continue to lose possession in the final third. There is no real movement in the final third with Santa Cruz more comfortable playing with his back to goal rather than spinning behind in the same way that Saviola would. They just need to find a way to win this football match.
Not too much to report in terms of chances at the moment, or indeed attacking opportunities, with both sides guilty of losing possession too easily. It has almost become a battle with the free-kick count continuing to rise. Apono has a half-chance from a free kick, but he fires his effort high and wide of the target.
Pretty much the story of Malaga's afternoon thus far as Joaquin combines with Santa Cruz before losing control at the vital moment. Zaragoza threaten on the counter with Apono, but Camacho comes back to help his defence. You just get the feeling that there is at least one more goal in this match as the hour mark draws ever nearer.
POST! This match is just starting to warm up as the challenges continue to fly in from both sides. Portillo is the latest player to have his name taken for a foul on Victor outside the penalty area. The resulting set piece is taken by Apono, but his effort thumps against the post. What a wonderful strike from the Spaniard.
Malaga really need to be careful here as they continue to give away free kicks in and around their penalty area. With each passing moment Zaragoza are gaining confidence as Victor is denied by a fine save from Cabellero. Two corners follow in quick succession, but the danger is cleared. It is all one-way traffic at the moment.
Still no movement on either bench, but I suspect that will change as the match enters its latter stages. A point would keep Malaga in fourth position, but they would miss the chance to move clear of the likes of Real Betis and Rayo Vallecano. Zaragoza, meanwhile, have been plunged into relegation trouble with results going against them this weekend.
The change is indeed made for the home side as Joaquin, who was struggling following a clash with Mari, is replaced by Saviola. The Argentine will take his place alongside Santa Cruz in attack. Malaga have just the one change remaining with Eliseu being forced off through injury in the first period.
Not too much to report in terms of chances in the last couple of minutes with neither side taking too much care in possession of the ball. You get the feeling that this match will be won by the next goal, should it indeed arrive. A point for Zaragoza would certainly be a good result based on their recent run of form. However, there is still 25 minutes of football remaining.
Decent spell for Malaga in the last few minutes with Isco and Portillo enjoying possession in the final third, but they have just struggled to find that elusive final ball thus far. Meanwhile, the away side make their first change of the afternoon as Movilla is replaced by Rodri. Little over 20 minutes of football remaining and the score stays level at 1-1.
The away side want a penalty as Postiga is felled by Weligton, but the referee awards a free kick just outside the box, much to the frustration of Zaragoza. The resulting set piece is taken by Apono, but the Spaniard just curls his effort over the crossbar. It was not too far away from their second of the afternoon.
Malaga make their third and final change of the afternoon as Julio Baptista takes to the field to replace Santa Cruz. Just about the biggest cheer of the match as the powerful forward enters the field. Can he make the best possible comeback in the remaining 18 minutes of this match? It would take the roof right off this stadium.
Malaga continue to pass and probe outside the penalty area with Isco and Portillo combining, but once more the final pass is just too long and Jimenez is out to collect. The pressure continues as Baptista wins a free kick in a wide position, but the delivery from Isco is just short and Fernandez heads clear.
The home side want a penalty as Toulalan strikes towards goal, with Fernandez appearing to wave an arm in the direction of the ball. However, the referee is not interested as he waves play on. Meanwhile, Zaragoza make their second change as Victor is replaced by Ruben Rochina, who joined form Blackburn Rovers in January.
Little over 10 minutes of football remaining and we are still waiting for the first real chance in the second period. It has been a bright 78 minutes, but chances have been at a premium. Malaga have the ball in the back of the net as Isco converts from close range, but the linesman raises his flag to cut the celebrations short.
Baptista is again involved as the powerful Brazilian wins a free kick outside the penalty area, but Isco's effort comes to nothing. Zaragoza advance immediately down the other end with Postiga, but the Portuguese just cannot sort out his feet in time and Weligton is across to clear the danger at the vital moment.
The match has just been slowed in the last couple of moments with a host of free kicks being awarded. The latest allows Zaragoza to whip a cross into the box, with Alvaro on hand to turn into the back of the net, but the offside flag is raised. You just get the sense that there will be some late drama in this match.
Really is a scrappy period at the moment as the challenges continue to fly in from both sides. However, the delivery of the set pieces has just not been up to the required standard. Malaga send all their big players into the box for an Isco delivery, but Alvaro rises highest to clear.
The eighth yellow card of this match is handed to Baptista with the Brazilian challenging Apono in the penalty area. The referee has just become slightly card happy in the second period. Again Malaga break with pace and purpose, but Fernandez, who has been excellent, clears once more.
It does not appear that we will have a winner in this match despite late pressure from both sides. Zaragoza have the chance to whip a cross into the penalty area once more, but Postiga can only turn wide of the post. However, the offside flag had been raised and therefore it would not have counted. Little over two minutes of normal time remaining.
Malaga remain the side in the ascendancy as Isco and Portillo both join the attack, but it is a case of too many cooks as Baptista loses possession and the danger is cleared. Meanwhile, the fourth official indicates that we will play an additional four minutes of added time.
Decent possession from Zaragoza in the final stages of this match as they launch a series of high balls into the penalty area, but the danger is cleared on each occasion, before Baptista is felled by Apono.
RED CARD: Zaragoza are reduced to 10 men as Jose Mari is sent from the field for a challenge on Baptista. It was fairly cynical with the Brazilian running into the opposing half. Meanwhile, the away side make their third and final change as Pinter replaces Postiga. Little under a minute remaining.
FULL-TIME: Malaga 1-1 Real Zaragoza
So there we have it. The referee blows his whistle with the points shared in a 1-1 draw. Thanks for joining Sports Mole for the action and be sure to join us from 3.30pm this afternoon for three back-to-back fixtures in La Liga. Until then!