'Loser' Pellegrini targets Mourinho revenge

Manuel Pellegrini was replaced by Jose Mourinho in the Real Madrid dugoutGettyImagesManuel Pellegrini was replaced by Jose Mourinho in the Real Madrid dugout

They say revenge is a dish best served cold and, although not publicly admitting it, Manuel Pellegrini would love to serve up the best of dishes when his Malaga side welcome crisis-hit Real Madrid to La Rosaleda on Saturday night for the last round of La Liga matches before the two-week winter break.

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Christmas cannot come soon enough for Los Blancos and their under-fire manager Jose Mourinho. A manager who, unlike his battling character, all-but threw the towel in on retaining the title when his side could only muster a 2-2 draw against struggling Espanyol last time out. A late goal from the Catalans saw Madrid drop a huge 13 points behind runaway leaders Barcelona. Post-match comments aside, Mourinho has been cutting the figure of a man who looked to have given up on the title some time ago, and possibly given up on any hopes of remaining manager of Madrid beyond the end of the season.

Three points against fourth-placed Malaga will be top of Mourinho's Christmas list. If he didn't write one in years gone by, he will have this season. Victory over Pellegrini's men may not signal a turnaround in Madrid's title hopes, but it would at least mend some of the broken spirits as Mou and his men look for brighter prospects in 2013, with Thursday's Champions League round of 16 draw reminding Madridistas that all is not lost this season - not just yet. Victory against one of La Liga's best sides, away from home, would bring at least some happiness to what has been a pretty downbeat Bernabeu in recent weeks, and maybe lift the club's Portuguese boss out of his personal doldrums going into the break.

If there was one game the Madrid boss could have done without this weekend, however, it would have been a trip to La Rosaleda. Things are bad enough without the prospect of Pellegrini, Madrid's last manager before Mourinho's arrival, rubbing some salt into the wounds.

The pair have rarely seen eye to eye, ever since Mourinho took over from the sacked Pellegrini in the summer of 2010. The Chilean came under fire during his last season as Blancos boss, but actually secured a record number of points in a Liga season for Madrid and yet still lost out to Barcelona in the title race. President Florentino Perez had already given Pellegrini an ultimatum after crashing out of the Champions League against Lyon in the round of 16, and a failure to win La Liga, even against the brilliance of Pep Guardiola's Barcelona, saw him depart and Champions League-winning Mourinho succeed him.

"Second place is just the first loser" was Mourinho's jibe at his predecessor. "If Madrid were to fire me, I wouldn't go to Malaga. I'd go to a top-level team in Italy or England," he continued, fuelling the meetings between the managers, and the clubs. Pellegrini had been restrained in response, but said in an interview recently "I don't like coaches who are only interested in results. The concepts of spectacle and creativity and fundamental to me." The tensions, then, are well and truly in place for Saturday night's clash. Only this time, the boot is on Malaga's foot. Mourinho is not even the "first loser", as he so puts it, going into the match, he is the second loser. A win for Malaga would take them to within two points of their visitors. Last year they ended up 42 points behind.

Some reports have even suggested victory for Los Boquerones could spell the end for Mourinho at the Bernabeu. This probably will not be the case with the Portuguese likely to leave for pastures new come the end of the season - although this is Real Madrid and Florentino Perez that we are talking about so just about anything goes. It would be a cruel twist of fate to see Pellegrini put the final nail in Mourinho's white coffin, but that is exactly what the Chilean will come looking to do in front of a home crowd that will no doubt be baying for Portuguese blood.

Managerial rivalries aside, Malaga are not a side Madrid want to be facing right now. Much rather the winter break be in full swing and a trip south to come in the New Year. Despite the early season financial problems, and the set-up at La Rosaleda seemingly set to come tumbling down, Malaga have proved to be just as good, if not better, than last season. Players such as Santi Cazorla may have moved on, but Pellegrini has Malaga ticking. They romped to a group win in the Champions League, with European giants such as AC Milan in their group, and they are sitting well-positioned for another European adventure next season in fourth. A betting man would not bet against them climbing above Madrid come the end of the season, either, going on current performances.

Malaga also have the best defensive record in La Liga, with just ten goals finding their way through their stubborn defence. Better than Barcelona, better than Atletico and, of course, better than Los Blancos. It is going to be an interesting match-up, then, against a Madrid attack that creates a whole lot more chances than any other Liga team. Despite Los Blancos' problems, they have actually created more chances than this time last season, too, but have failed to tuck away as many in the back of the net. Gonzalo Higuain remains sidelined this weekend and Karim Benzema is a doubt with a foot injury, too. Step forward Ronaldo, then, to pull Madrid through as he has done pretty much single handedly in recent weeks. Shy away from the problems he has not.

Madrid may have given up on retaining their La Liga title this season but, make no mistake, Saturday's match is a big one. As well as lifting broken spirits going into the winter break, and with a Champions League clash against Manchester United on the horizon as Mourinho looks for La Decima, personal pride is at stake for the 'Special One'. Malaga v Madrid. Pellegrini v Mourinho. Ding ding!

Football rivalries aside, best wishes must also be passed on to Barca coach Tito Vilanova, who is battling cancer for a second time. Hopefully we will see Tito back in the dugout and at full health soon.

Follow Nicholas on Twitter @nicholasrigg

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