MALAGA, SPAIN - JANUARY 10: Sergio Ramos (L) of Real Madrid heads the ball before Sebastian Fernandez of Malaga during the round of 16 Copa del Rey second leg match between Real Madrid and Malaga at La Rosaleda Stadium on January 10, 2012 in Malaga, Spain. (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
Manuel Pellegrini's Málaga visits the Santiago Bernabéu tonight (21:30 CET). This will be the fourth and last time Real Madrid plays the Andalusian team this season. Málaga is currently fifth in la Liga's table (although Levante has already played this week and got a win against Villarreal).
Málaga's Santi Cazorla, Isco, Joaquín and Rondón are starting to play great football and are getting good results. But Málaga's best player is arguably Jérémy Toulalan, the French defensive midfielder who is now injured and won't be able to play at the Bernabéu.
When in shape, the French player is probably one of the best defensive midfielders in the world. It just amazes me how wrong the boards of the Champions League contenders were by not giving him a shot in their respective teams.
Luckily enough, Pellegrini will probably need to send one of their attackers on the bench. When Toulalan is playing, the Chilean coach uses a 4-1-4-1 formation with Toulalan on the base, Cazorla, Isco, Joaquín and Eliseu in the attacking line and Rondón in the forward spot. No other player in Málaga's roster seems ready to play by himself in the midfield, so Pellegrini will likely pick Demichelis and Camacho, while Eliseu should be benched.
On the other hand, Mourinho has not given us any hint about today's lineup. Marca speculates that Lass, Callejón and Granero might be starting in Arbeloa, Kaka and Khedira's spots, while Benzema would return to the starting lineup. Marca has its sources, but it just doesn't seem likely that Mourinho will rotate so many players in what will be a difficult game.
It might be a good idea to play Granero in today's game. Málaga will attempt to hold onto most of the possession, but El Pirata would allow Real Madrid to fight back for higher possession rates. However, that would also give Cazorla, Joaquín, Isco and Rondón the space they need to create danger through counterattacks. Ramos and Pepe are the quickest pair of center backs in elite football, but they would need some help from the midfielders to stop these plays--Marcelo and Alonso's transition defense isn't as good as when Khedira is on the pitch to assist them.
Both Benzema and Higuaín would be good fits against Pellegrini's team. Málaga weakest point is on defense. Mathijsen, Demichelis, Sergio Sánchez and Duda will be at a loss against Real Madrid's strikers. This means that if Mourinho's team is able to keep a clean sheet or prevent Málaga from scoring more than one goal, the strikers should find their way through Málaga's defense, thereby giving Madrid the three points and putting Barcelona 10 points away from the top once again after Guardiola's team defeated Sevilla yesterday.
Who will win the match?
Real Madrid (93 votes)
Draw (18 votes)
Málaga (4 votes)
115 total votes