Fish out of water in Europe?

Málaga has quietly risen to the Champions League places in La Liga

Santi Cazorla celebrates with teammates after scoring against Racing on Monday.
Santi Cazorla celebrates with teammates after scoring against Racing on Monday. Jorge Guerrero (AFP)

When José Mourinho arrived at Chelsea, he famously claimed he was not arrogant, good lord no, but was indeed a special one. The media quickly latched on to the statement to dub the Portuguese as such and it has followed him everywhere since. In a similar vein, doubtless some news outlets in Málaga performed a swift control+c, control+v when Mourinho held forth on the coastal club last season, waiting to return his words not just with a middle finger but also a thumb.

"If I left Real Madrid, I would never coach a club like Málaga," Mourinho sniffed, continuing his obsession with denigrating Manuel Pellegrini, whose one season in charge of Real gleaned 96 Liga points, a result no worse than the previous five seasons under various coaches in Europe, and the unfortunate King's Cup incident with Alcorcón.

Pellegrini had coached Villarreal, a modest team that debuted in Primera in 1998, to second- and third-placed Liga finishes and the Champions League semifinals before his Real experience. Now, at Málaga, the Chilean is on the cusp of taking the side into European competition via the direct route for the first time in its history after last weekend's 3-0 win over Racing lifted it to third place, pending this week's results.

Málaga has competed in Europe once before, the 2002-03 Uefa Cup, by winning the much-maligned Intertoto Cup, defeating Villarreal along the way. And it is in El Madrigal, Pellegrini's former fiefdom, that the quest for the Champions League continues tonight.

Pellegrini's old club is in dire straits, hovering above the relegation zone four points ahead of resurgent Zaragoza. Sporting and Racing are woeful enough to suggest there is only one place left on the death barge to Segunda and Manolo Jiménez's Zaragoza has the easier run-in. Because of his ties to the club and its current predicament, Santi Cazorla said he will not celebrate if he finds the net. He will be alone among Anchovies fans though, not least because another three points will go some way to ensuring a bitter taste in the mouth of one J. Mourinho Esq. at season's end. 

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