I don't remember a match preview headline in Managing Madrid history that actually focused on the other team. But the truth is that this match has more Málaga-based story lines than Real Madrid-based narratives. Sorry, madridistas, but things are actually looking pretty good on the Castellana, so this preview might stray a bit down south.
The big story coming into this match has to be new-Málaga's first match against one of the top two (big two?): up until this point they've only played mid-table semi-contenders or bottom feeders, with Sevilla thrown in there in week one for good measure. This week will be their first chance to really make a statement in the Liga, to throw down the gauntlet and say something like "We're here, and to win the Liga you're going to have to come through us." (No one is expecting them to win the Liga, but they could act as a kingmaker--if a team can grab all six against Málaga, then they'll have a better shot at getting through, etc.)
But the truth is that this outcome is unlikely. Málaga has a mediocre-to-bad defense, which borders on catastrophic when you throw in the fact that coach Manuel Pellegrini likes to build from the front then deal with all that defending nonsense later. Couple that with Real Madrid's lightning-quick counter attack and devastating goal scoring ability, and you have the makings of a pretty epic flameout.But that shouldn't take anything from this Málaga team. They're still looking to gel on the offensive end--Santi Cazorla's presence has been a godsend, and I don't think Ruud van Nistelrooy has even begun to show his true poach-master general stuff. They have the potential to challenge for third place, no doubt, and are stacked with talent on the offensive end: think Valencia circa 2006. But, and this is a big but, they can't defend, and don't have any exciting young talent, so they might be limited in their multi-year potential.
On the Madrid end, we're all still a little unsure whether José Mourinho is going to start Karim Benzema or Gonzalo Higuaín: on one hand, Higuaín has a streak of two consecutive hat-tricks in la Liga; on the other, Benzema was incredibly good in Madrid's mid-week Champion's League fixture against Lyon. Decisions, decisions. If it were me, I'd take Higuaín in the first half, as he's been the more consistent la Liga performer of late--but I'd have no issue taking him off quickly if he wasn't doing the job.
In other news, Málaga's acrobatic overhead kick star (and ex-Madridista) Julio Baptista won't be able to play against his ex-team because of an injury. Too bad: I know he's a good player and on of the centerpieces of Málaga's attack, but it would be nice to see him on the field against his friends. In the same vein, Ruud van Nistelrooy said recently that he didn't think he'd celebrate a goal against Real Madrid: a classy act from a classy guy. We all miss you, Van Gol.
In late-braking news, Fabio Coentrão will miss the match due to an injury in his calf muscle, José Mourinho confirmed today. It's discouraging to see Coentrão miss more time, as he was such a dynamic force at the beginning of the year. Mourinho will also be without Lassana Diarra, Raúl Albiol, and Nuri Sahin, who is working very hard to get back on to the pitch within the next week.