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A victory, at long last

Marcelo Romero's influence on the squad has been clear to see.
Marcelo Romero's influence on the squad has been clear to see. / SUR
  • Malaga have shown a lot of improvement under Marcelo Romero and Monday's victory was their just deserts

Something about Malaga's victory on Monday felt inevitable. Despite being on a run of ten games without a win and facing up to impressive opposition, you still got the feeling that the win would come.

Marcelo Romero has done a magnificent job since coming in at the end of December. Between him and sporting director Francesc Arnau, they have rescued the sinking ship and are steering it in the right direction.

The areas that needed reenforcing in January have been addressed - the club bought well once more by picking up the exciting Adalberto Peñaranda on loan as well as suring up the leaky defence by bringing in the experienced La Liga duo in the form of Martín Demichelis and Luis Hernández.

They took a more calculated gamble in the shape of José Rodríguez, who didn't have the best of times on Monday night.

Nonetheless, the haphazard methods of Juande Ramos are now a thing of the past; the feeling that the players have a game plan they believe in has returned. All too often, Ramos would ring the changes at half time when things weren't going his side's way. Because of this, his lack of belief in both his players and his tactics translated to the pitch.

Romero, on the other hand, has the benefit of having worked with some of the players for several years - and it shows. The mutual respect is there and many who had been anonymous until December have started to step up to the mark.

The return of players from injury has also helped, of course, with Charles' role vital to the way Romero wants to play. Last season's top scorer has been sorely missed and with his contract up in the summer, he will certainly have a point to prove.

It's easy to forget, also, thatMalaga signed one of the league's top prospects in Keko this summer. Cruelly sidelined by injury and disjointed previously by Juande's chopping and changing, we may well start to see a return on Malaga's investment between now and the end of the season. Against Las Palmas he was superb down the right and was unlucky to have his goal chalked off for offside. It was his vision and superb execution of the cross, though, that set up Malaga's winner.

Defensive solidity

When Romero's men went down to ten, the sensation of imminent collapse was strangely absent. Much of this is down to the new centre back pairing of Hernández and Demichelis.

Romero had no hesitation in pairing them together immediately after signing them and it is clear to see why (even if it was extremely harsh on the young pairing of Mikel Villanueva and Luis Muñoz).

In the four games they have started together, they have conceded just four goals. For the last 20 minutes on Monday, Demichelis bossed the backline. Often derided during his time in England with Manchester City, his experience is vital to this relatively young Malaga side. Neither Diego Llorente nor Bakary Koné, the two summer signings for that position, have covered themselves in glory. Technically, their level is sufficient, but their most glaring deficiencies are in their decision making, organisation and leadership.

Now Malaga have that in abundance. Successful Malaga sides in recent times have always been built on strong defensive foundations. It took Javi Gracia a good while to repair the damage caused by Bernd Schuster in that respect, but once his backline was secure, it provided a strong platform for the counterattacking style he wanted to implement.

It is clearly Romero's intention to mirror his former boss's mentality, and the players at his disposal are certainly equipped to do that. There is a lot of pace and guile in the wide areas while Charles, and the returning Sandro Ramírez both have the engine to stretch teams on the counter.

There was a lot of optimism before the season started and with a lot of football still to be played between now and May, it could yet turn out to be a good season.