Siege mentality suits Malaga for Dortmund clash

Posted by David Cartlidge

It has served them well and you can't blame Manuel Pellegrini for once again playing up the siege mentality that has surrounded Malaga's season so far. "Nobody gave us a chance at the start and yet the players have responded so well..."

You can't disagree with the Chilean either, given the rollercoaster ride that has been this season for Malaga and their fans. Another scintillating high on the ride was triumphing over FC Porto last month, with the backdrop being a volcanic La Rosaleda, packed with those very fans who at one point were waking up every morning to a new story about their club.

- Uersfeld: Lewandowski becoming a legend
- Delaney: Road to Champions League final long
- Joaquin: Spain is behind Malaga
- Reus: Dortmund can win UCL

The reward for the players and Pellegrini is this Champions League quarter-final game against Borussia Dortmund. Pellegrini certainly sees it as reward too, as he gushed about the quality the reigning German champions have at their disposal. "Dortmund have a great team, they have five players who start for the German national side. They have huge potential, are very creative in midfield but I think their main strength is in attack."

He then went on to single out Mario Gotze, Marco Reus, Robert Lewandowski and declared it's a "pleasure to watch them playing". Pellegrini spoke for a second as if he was a fan of the Germans, but it was purely down to his own passion - attractive football.

The Chilean achieved it with Villarreal and although this Malaga team are more based upon function than flair and more focus than South American fusion, he has still managed to create an interesting, exciting team which is the story on the south coast of Spain. Surpassing Dortmund here, in fact, would match the achievement of 2005-2006 when Pellegrini took an unknown Villarreal side into the semi-finals in their debut season. Another parallel then, given Malaga too are in their debut season and continuing to surprise anyone and everyone - they became only the fourth debutants to win their first three games in the UEFA Champions League too, after AC Milan (1992-93), Paris Saint-Germain FC (1994-95) and Juventus (1995-96).

If Malaga are to dispatch the Germans then there will need to be more confidence and command when in possession. They showed against Porto, at times, the blood and thunder approach brought about by this siege mentality can also be detrimental. Pellegrini again asked for a balanced display in his pre-game press conference while indicating he has the mindset of the tie being decided in journey.

Dortmund's free-flowing attack has already graced Spanish shores this season when they scared Real Madrid but only came away with a point, due to Mesut Ozil's late strike saving the Spaniards. Jurgen Klopp's side were glorious that evening and won the plaudits of the Spanish press who were glowing about the approach of this bright yellow swarm. Diego Simeone, the Atletico Madrid coach, even suggested in an interview with Marca that Dortmund could go all the way and win the competition. Malaga of course could have something to say about that, and it's defensively where they might in fact speak the loudest. They have nine clean sheets in twelve Champions League home games now and will look to improve on that record to halt Klopp's machine, with the likes of Willy Caballero, Weligton and Jeremy Toulalan all key parts in this regard.

If Pellegrini was glowing about the likes of Gotze, then he was even more so about one of his own in Isco. The 20-year-old has been boosted ahead of the game with praise from his coach, but also a challenge. "Isco has already shown his technical capacity and that's where he makes the difference" he enthused about the player, before insisting he "hopes to see the best version" of the player. Eyes will be fixed upon both the Spaniard and German attacking midfielder pair, but once again it feels like Isco's stage to perform upon. He certainly did against Porto with a wonder goal when the game was in danger of being reduced to all passion and no precision - it was his third goal of the competition, he, too, like Malaga is experiencing his debut season with Europe's elite.

Pellegrini has insisted nothing will change in the mentality of Malaga for the game, and any unnecessary chances will not be taken. This of course goes for attitude on the field as well as off it. Manuel Iturra, one of the revelatory players of this squad this season, perhaps best summed things up: "Our objective is to play our style of football regardless of the rival and location, impose our dominance on the game and maintain ball possession."

The belief and clarity of his comments optimise the Malaga mentality and ethic, of working together as one against everything that threatens to destroy them. Dortmund certainly has that intent, but Malaga will look to thrive once again when under siege.

ESPN Conversations