Why Malaga vs. Real Madrid Is the Game to Watch in La Liga This Weekend

Samuel MarsdenFeatured ColumnistDecember 21, 2012

Pellegrini used to manage Los Blancos
Pellegrini used to manage Los BlancosAngel Martinez/Getty Images

When Jose Mourinho landed the job at Real Madrid he replaced the outgoing Manuel Pellegrini. The latter had just led Real Madrid to an astonishing 96 points—unfortunately they only finished second.

Pellegrini has since turned up at Malaga, and it would appear there is little love lost between him and Mourinho.

On Saturday, Malaga entertain Real Madrid, and their relationship will be in the spotlight again.

The Portuguese branded the Chilean "best loser" after his then record point haul for Los Blancos failed to bring the title.

Another time, in another dig at the former Villarreal boss, Mourinho said "if I leave Real Madrid, it will be for a big club in either Italy or England—not a club like Malaga."

Throughout these jibes, a recurring theme has been Pellegrini's calmness. Whether this is a sign of his statesmanship and respect which has earned him many plaudits, or a result of the huge defeats Madrid inflicted on him in his early days at Malaga is not yet obvious.

His first match against his former employers was a return to the Santiago Bernabeu. Malaga lost 7-0. They have improved steadily since then though—although the next match was a 4-0 defeat at La Rosaleda.

Last season's showings in the Copa Del Rey were a vast improvement. They lost both legs—3-2 and 1-0—but it was a sign that they could compete with Madrid's superstars.

Then came Santi Cazorla's free-kick, wonderfully stealing a late draw at the Bernabeu en route to Champions League qualification at the tail end of last season. A point at last!

Whether it was the confidence gained from those improving results, or a tiredness of Mourinho's constant mind games and back-handed comments, Pellegrini eventually found his voice:

"I don't like coaches who are interested only in results" he said. "The concept of the spectacle and creativity are fundamental to me."

Another victim of the intense pressure Mourinho puts people under? Or merely a man confident of a scalp against a flagging Real Madrid?

This Saturday's match up is third vs. fourth, a win for Malaga and they would proceed to the Christmas break in La Liga just two points behind Madrid, in a Champions League qualification spot and already through to the knock out stages of this years edition.

The key, as ever this season, will be in defence. For all the beauty that Isco adds and the experience of Joaquin and Javier Saviola, it is the fact they have conceded just 10 league goals this season that has been the backbone of their success. No other team has conceded less.

The back four—protected by Manuel Iturra and Ignacio Camacho—have another job to do this weekend. They will seek to stop Cristiano Ronaldo and his glittering supporting cast from finding the net in Andalucia.

If they can do that, then Manuel Pellegrini will have what he's desperately sought since taking the reigns in November of 2010—three points against Real Madrid.