With financial muscle in the transfer market and a meticulous approach to next season, can Malaga realistically challenge Real Madrid and Barcelona for one of the top two spots in La Liga?
Let's not look at this as an outlandish notion from a parallel universe—it has been done before.
The last decade has seen Villarreal, Valencia and, to a lesser extent, Mallorca make noticeable improvements and impressions on the top four in Spain. However, none of those teams were equipped with the financial backing that Malaga have.
Manuel Pellegrini's side never really looked like they would have a firm grasp on one of the Champions League places until the season began to draw to a close. But that final push over the finish line may be enough for the club to move ambitiously in the transfer market and launch an assault on the top two.
At this point it may be too early for the heavyweights of La Liga to take the potential threat of an outsider seriously. The points gap is simply too great.
But from a neutral perspective, wouldn't it be a wonderful boost for the entire Spanish league if a relative unknown were to amass a squad worthy of a place in the top two?
This current Malaga squad certainly have the foundation with which to build on over the summer. Isco is a fantastically talented midfielder who enjoyed a creator's role for much of last season, overshadowing the higher-profile signings of Santi Cazorla and Joaquin.
Meanwhile, Jeremy Toulalan has proven why he was one of Ligue 1's most coveted midfielders for a number of years. Sneaking in ahead of likelier suitors such as Arsenal, Malaga have ensured their midfield and defence are well guarded with the combative Frenchman.
In the dugout, Manuel Pellegrini may have done enough to convince onlookers that he is cut out for the job at an ambitious club.
Pellegrini has already achieved well beyond what was expected of him at Villarreal, taking the Yellow Submarine to the Champions League semifinal in 2006. His year at Real Madrid would have also prepared him for the big-name cavalry that is likely to arrive in Andalusia.
The real issue for the club, however—and one that is a problem for many of La Liga's top-half challengers—is consistency. Malaga will need to ensure that the smaller games are won and the canyon-sized gap in points between Real Madrid and Barcelona and themselves is closed. Significantly.
As has been mentioned, it can be done. It would be considerably demoralizing—for everyone, not just Malaga—if La Liga was viewed as Real Madrid and Barcelona's league. No one wants that, and it would be a massive boost to other clubs if the kingdom of the royals can be breached on a consistent basis.
Sure, Madrid and Barcelona have that unmatched pull of being able to lure any of the world's greatest talent, but that won't always count for a successful season. Malaga have shown what they're capable of in landing one of the brightest stars outside the top two in Santi Cazorla. And scattered around the rest of Europe, there are sure to be a few more Cazorlas and Iscos willing to join the "project."
Again, the capture of Champions League football next season could be the catalyst for the club to move through the gears at a much more rapid pace, even if the club's owners have suggested otherwise.
A real marquee signing is needed to enhance the forward line, and improvements to the defence will also be needed.
The club are in a position where their financial power will enable them to be more than just a one-season flash in the pan. In turn, they're a more attractive prospect than perhaps even Valencia, who are struggling to close the gap on the top two, and Europa League winners Atletico Madrid.
It seems such an unfortunate trait of Spanish clubs to follow up a promising, top-four finish by falling by the wayside the next season—even if it is beyond the club's control.
But Malaga could be in a position to truly turn Spanish football into a top three competition, rather than just a top two. It would be a great move if Malaga could really have an effect on the dynamics of the league over the next few years and force the issue of another genuine big team.
Those aspirations may be a little further into the future. But what is certain is that Malaga have the ability and ambition to compete.
Above all, it will be about being smart and consistent. Malaga's 1-1 draw against Real Madrid toward the end of last season might have been a victory to them on a much smaller scale. But there is a platform now for them to make a much bigger impression on Spanish football.
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