Mike Holden previews the live Friday night La Liga clash between Malaga and Sporting Gijon.
Five wins from the last ten matches. That’s the survival target being set from within the Sporting Gijon dressing room, according to veteran keeper Ivan Cuellar. Whether it’s realistic or not, only time will tell. But the subtext is simple: the Asturians have reached win-or-bust mode, draws are worthless now. And that’s an open invitation for punters to make bold calls.
On the back of three straight defeats, you won’t get too many fancying the Rojiblancos’ chances of success at La Rosaleda, Malaga being one of the more under-rated sides in La Liga, but at 13/2 we should be willing to take a chance on the visitors responding to their increasingly precarious situation with a timely triumph. It’s black or white: a win lifts them out of the drop zone, a draw doesn’t.
In Spanish football, especially at this time of year, the role of immediate incentives shouldn’t be underestimated. Everybody knows their schedule and maps ahead according to rough probabilities, the upshot being that teams can sometimes approach different games with different levels of intensity, without necessarily being conscious of it. For better or worse, that’s simply what becomes of a league where television money is distributed so unequally.
With Atlteico Madrid travelling to El Molinón next weekend, it puts added pressure on Sporting to make a real go of this fixture. Win here, and they grant themselves the opportunity to approach that next game as a free hit. Lose, and the impending sense of doom and gloom becomes all-consuming. The mindset isn’t entirely rational but that only reflects a wider cultural difference between the thinking and feeling judging traits.
Likewise, while virtually all of the performance data points towards the Boquerones being justified 4/7 shots against the team with the worst shot ratio in the division, their relative position of comfort could work against them here. Six points adrift of the European places and seven points clear of safety, there isn’t really a great deal to motivate the Andalusians.
Indeed, unlike most other teams, Javi Gracia’s men seem to pride themselves on their performances against the big three, yet after beating Barcelona 1-0 at the Camp Nou last season, they won only three of their remaining 14 matches. The worry is that a similar slump could ensue on the back of a similarly proud display in the 1-1 draw against Real Madrid three weeks ago.
The Boquerones were beaten by Valencia in their last home game and the concession of three goals at Deportivo last weekend is hardly a ringing endorsement of their current focus. The game at the Riazor was the fifth match in succession that Malaga had lost the shot count. It was also notable for an injury to Carlos Kameni and a red card for midfielder Ignacio Camacho, both of whom will miss this clash.
Camacho’s absence is likely to leave the hosts lacking some of their usual bite in midfield, whereas the return of Sergio Alvarez can have the opposite effect for Sporting. Both players are viewed as talismen by their respective local media, their availability believed to have a significant effect on the team’s results as a whole.
In the case of Alvarez, the stats are particularly profound. Sporting have picked up 24 of their 27 points in the 17 matches that he has patrolled the middle of the park (including the 1-0 win over Malaga in the reverse fixture last November), yet they’ve lost ten out of 11 when he’s been absent.
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