So can Malaga do it? It’s a bit of a stretch to describe their European run as a fairy tale, bloated as it is by oil money and marred by the financial issues which have made a repeat of such heroics next season apparently impossible. But it has still been a terrific adventure, and this match offers them a chance to go even further into the unknown and clinch a place in the last eight of the Champions League.
It’s not an easy match to predict, and not merely because the first leg leaves things tantalisingly poised, but because neither side has hit the heights since then. Malaga haven’t won in three matches, the codicil that a draw against Atletico isn’t necessarily all that bad an outcome counterbalanced by the fact that they also played Real Betis into form as they were battered 3-0 in Seville.
As for Porto, they’ve slipped from the top of the Portuguese league and have stuttered in their last two matches in the absence of Joao Moutinho, who has been suffering with a thigh strain.
The midfielder is expected to be fit for the match, and Porto will be desperate to see him return to the side. He scored the only goal when the sides first clashed three weeks ago, of course, but his value runs far deeper than the odd crucial goal. Moutinho makes Porto’s midfield tick: without him a key component of their side would be missing and his absence, coupled with the return from suspension of Jeremy Toulanan, could tip the midfield balance decisively in Malaga’s direction.
Another potentially crucial injury problem for Porto lies at the back. Stopper Eliaquim Mangala is a real doubt according to some outlets, but a certainty to be fit according to others. Certainly he would be missed, and if Maicon has to step into the heart of the defence in his absence Roque Santa Cruz might well be able to impose himself decisively.
Malaga will be concerned that they’ve been in a similar situation lately and failed to follow through. Admittedly, the opposition was Barcelona, but still, they failed to take advantage of a fervent home atmosphere after keeping the tie alive in the first leg.
They need to be more ruthless this time around: after all, the deeper they get into the tournament the more leverage they might feel when asking UEFA to let them off and admit them again next season. Michel Platini might find it hard to justify theur exclusion while handing the trophy over to Duda!
15/2/13 League Beira Mar 0-2 Porto
19/2/13 UCL Porto 1-0 Malaga
23/2/13 League Porto 2-0 Rio Ave
2/3/13 Sporting 0-0 Porto
8/3/13 League Porto 2-0 Estoril
16/2/13 League Malaga 1-0 Athletic Bilbao
19/2/13 UCL Porto 1-0 Malaga
24/2/13 League Real Betis 3-0 Malaga
3/3/13 League Malaga 0-0 Atletico Madrid
9/3/13 League Real Valladolid 1-1 Malaga
Malaga: Eliseu, Julio Baptista
Probable Formation: 4-2-3-1
Probable Line-up: Caballero; Gamez, Weligton, Demichelis, Antunes; Toulalan, Camacho; Joaquin, Isco, Piazon; Santa Cruz.
Tactics: The Barcelona Copa del Rey second leg, or the win over Real Madrid are surely the templates. With a passionate crowd egging them on they got on the front foot, harried and didn’t allow their opponents to settle.
Probable Formation: 4-3-3
Probable Line-up: Helton: Danilo, Maicon, Otamendi, Sandro; Lucho Gonzalez, Fernando, Joao Moutinho; Rodriguez, Martinez, Varela.
Tactics: A compact, energetic 4-3-3. Will they have the inclination to defend a lead, I wonder? They certainly don’t have to adopt such tactics often – their formation is at least to some extent formulated so they can batter weak Portuguese opposition week-in week-out. Instead, with impressive attacking talent at their disposal, expect them to look for that crucial away goal.
Santa Cruz v Otamendi
Otamendi is solid, but if Mangala is absent he’ll need that attribute in spades. Santa Cruz will need to bring his A game to this match and not only inconvenience the back four, but hold the ball up for Malaga’s attacking trio behind him.
Joaquin v Fernando
Fernando would rather not spend his evening tracking Joaquin, but the consequences of leaving the mercurial Spaniard unattended could be fatal. He has enjoyed a fine season and, while the admirable Isco has dazzled and captured so many headlines, Joaquin has been delivering creatively on as consistent a level as he’s managed in his career.
Mouth-wateringly balanced, but I’m afraid I fancy Porto to pinch and away goal. Malaga win 2-1, but Porto go through.