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Examining Malaga’s Awful La Liga Season

There’s dreadful league campaigns and then there’s whatever Malaga are partaking in this season. Though their 17th place La Liga position might hint towards a not-so-terrible standing, don’t be fooled; the spot only serves to mask the Boquerones’ pathetic offensive state at the moment.

So far this season, Javi Gracia’s side have scored a total of seven goals, easily the worst output in Spain’s Primera (both Levante and Las Palmas have 11). To put that in perspective, Neymar currently leads all of La Liga with 14 goals of his own. Yes, Malaga, as a team, have managed merely half of that total.

To make matters worse, four of those goals have come from a single player, centre-forward Charles. That makes it only four individual players who have scored for Malaga over their 14 Liga matches this season. Outside of Malaga, in Europe’s five major top-flight leagues (La Liga, English Premier League, Bundesliga, Serie A, and Ligue 1), only French club Troyes have tallied less than 10 total team goals in 2015/16. To be fair, Troyes have at least managed nine.

It cannot be understated that Malaga’s expanding debt in recent seasons has repeatedly ravaged the club’s squad at every turn. The club takeover by Qatari businessman Sheikh Abdullah in 2010 promised new heights for the club, which were momentarily fulfilled through bringing in renowned talents like Ruud van Nistlerooy, Martin Demichelis, Salomon Rondon, Jeremy Toulalan, Julio Baptista and Santi Cazorla.

There was also the emergence of academy starlet Isco, who signified the long-term hopes of the Albiceleste. But as fate would have it, debts began to accrue, and each of those players were eventually sold. A UEFA ban in 13/14 — again due to debts — caused the club to miss out on a hard-earned Champions League spot. And the piling-on hasn’t ceased.

In recent transfer windows, the squad has continued to be gutted by clubs with deeper and cleaner pockets. Over this past offseason, Samu Castillejo and Samuel were pried away by Villarreal, Juanmi by Southampton, and Sergio Sanchez by Panathinaikos. A further blow was dealt on summer deadline day when burgeoning young midfielder Sergi Darder was lured to Lyon for a €12 million fee. The cash-influx, plus the arrival of centre-half Raul Albentosa from Derby County and the permanent loan-signing of Norin Armabrat from Galatasaray, were promising steps to regain a foothold on Mount Olympus, but obviously not enough.

Still, despite these repeated hits, Malaga has somehow stayed relevant in Spain’s top-flight. Therefore there has to be more to this downtrodden season than just a lack of firepower up-front.

Perhaps Malaga’s most significant hurdle has been the extended absence of standout midfielder Ignacio Camacho. The ex-Atleti player underwent hip surgery over the summer that delayed the start of his season. Once he did return to action, a fresh muscle injury suffered against Sporting Gijon sidelined him once again.

Camacho has only managed two appearances for the Albicelestes this season and hasn’t featured since the beginning of November. In a time when they need all the help they can get, Malaga’s best player can’t even find his way out of the physio room.

But more than the effects of any single player, Malaga have relied on their old dogs for far too long. When looking at the club’s most consistent contributors, it’s difficult not to double-take at some of the their respective ages.

Duda (35), Charles (31), Marcos Angeleri (32), Weligton (36), Arthur Boka (32), and Carlos Kameni (31) are each mainstays in Malaga’s squad, most of them within the starting 11. It’s simply unacceptable for a premier top-flight side to feature so many players on the wrong-side of 30. Yes, each of these players are fine footballers in their own way, but experience will only get so far before it’ll get you killed.

The acquisitions and inclusions of younger talents like Recio, Juan Carlos, and Pablo Fornals are promising developments, but until the teamsheet reads more like a Primera squad and less like a testimonial program, the team will continue to reside behind the curve.

Now for the positive. What’s truly most shocking about Malaga’s current state is the fact that they’re not dead last in the league, and it’s all because of a rather staunch backline. While their attack is the league’s worst by a wide margin, the Boquerones still possess one of La Liga’s best defenses.

So far this campaign they’ve only allowed 13 goals, which is fifth best in the Primera behind only Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid and Valencia. It’s not the company you’d expect for a team hovering just above the relegation zone on goal-difference, but alas, it’s the nature of the bizarre season Malaga are piecing together.

Though Malaga’s defensive record hints toward a negative stylistic approach, that’s not exactly the case. In fact, Malaga tend to deliver their football in a very Spanish manner, focusing on possession and passing. Yes, they rely quite heavily on set-pieces, and their most effective players are at the back, but they also average 24 crosses-per-game, which is fifth-most in La Liga.

It’s not that Malaga doesn’t attack, it’s rather that their attack is kind of broken. Charles, the club’s main centre-forward and goal threat, stands at a mere 5-foot-9, not exactly the towering presence required for such a cross-heavy attack. They brought back longtime club favorite Roque Santa Cruz on-loan in August to hopefully assist with this issue, however, the Paraguayan has yet to see the pitch in his return.

If there’s a saving grace to be felt for Malaga, it lies in the lowly competition around them. Las Palmas, who currently sit bottom, possess a fragile defense with a hit-or-miss attack, and have already gone through one manager during their poor campaign. Meanwhile, 19th place Levante have displayed an equally toothless offense whilst also sporting the worst defensive record in the league.

So Malaga certainly has company down in La Liga’s basement, but unless they can start bulging the net more, things could get dark and lonely down there very quickly. This Sunday, the Boquerones will visit Rayo Vallecano, who sit just one place above them in 16th.

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