Malaga coach Manuel Pellegrini is confident that his side can continue their unlikely Champions League journey as they travel to Porto for the first leg of their round-of-16 tie.
Isco has been key to Malaga's progress in the Champions League this season.
Little was expected of Malaga in their first appearance in the competition, particularly after funding from the club’s owners dried up and influential players like Santi Cazorla and Salomon Rondon were sold before the start of the season.
Spain international left-back Nacho Monreal was also allowed to leave in January, but Pellegrini believes his squad can compete against one of the most consistent sides in European competition in recent years.
“In 180 minutes a lot can happen,” he said, according to UEFA’s website. “Porto are a good team, but we have proved in this season's competition that we are at the same level. It's likely the outcome of the tie will be decided in Malaga. Few people expected us to get here, so these are the sort of games our fans should relish. We believed we could make it this far when we set out and now we are facing Porto, one of the best teams in Portugal.”
Despite the departures, Malaga’s squad has been boosted in recent weeks by the arrivals of young Lucas Piazon on loan from Chelsea as well as Julio Baptista’s welcome return from a 16-month injury absence. The powerful Brazilian attacking midfielder completed his first 90 minutes since his return in a 1-0 victory over Athletic Bilbao on Saturday and is in contention to start against Porto.
Malaga are in good form having gone undefeated in their last four matches, but that doesn’t come close to Porto’s record of 13 matches without a loss. The Portuguese league leaders have only been defeated twice in all competitions this season.
Porto boss Victor Pereira has said that the club’s greater past record in Europe are immaterial and is prepared for a tough examination against the Spanish outfit.
If past achievements were a factor we'd win this tie, but we live in the present so that doesn't count,” he said. “Malaga are fourth in the Liga and proved their strength by finishing ahead of Milan and Zenit in the Champions League group stage. It's going to be a hard game.”
Midfielder Steven Defour is the only absentee from Porto’s squad, with Silvestre Varela having recovered from an injury that kept him out of a 2-0 victory over Beira-Mar last Friday. James Rodriguez looks set to return to the starting lineup after coming off the bench last time out.
D: Danilo, Otamendi, Mangala, Alex Sandro
M: Gonzalez, Fernando, Moutinho
F: Varela, Martinez, Rodriguez
D: Sanchez, Demichelis, Weligton, Antunes
M: Camacho, Toulalan
M: Joaquin, Baptista, Isco
Prediction: Porto have been incredibly strong at home this season, winning all three of their matches at the Estadio Do Dragao in the Champions League group stage and having won nine and drawn one of their 10 matches in the league.
But Malaga were also good away from home in the Champions League and, like the tie, the first-leg promises to be extremely closely fought.
With creators like Isco and Joao Moutinho and exciting wingers in Rodriguez and the seemingly reborn Joaquin, it also promises to be an aesthetically engaging matchup.
The first-leg could well end in a scoring draw, leaving the tie very much in the balance heading back to Spain.
Porto 1-1 Malaga
Where to watch: The first-leg of the Champions League round-of-16 tie will kick-off at 2.45 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by Fox Soccer Plus, with a live stream available on Fox Soccer 2Go.
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