"In the second half of the season, we have to do what the recently promoted teams did in the first,” said new coach José González a few hours before his appointment. His first task as boss has been to convince his players that safety is not such an unattainable goal, that a miracle isn't entirely necessary. If squads with lesser players like Levante, Getafe and Girona can do it, why can't Malaga?
Getafe and Girona both got 26 points from the first half of the season, a number captain José Recio believes would be enough to save Malaga: “We need to get another 25 or 26 points,” he said last week. “We have to start again as if from scratch.”
With one point already in the bag, where are the resting going to come from?
The two upcoming fixtures, at home to Girona (this Saturday at 6.30pm) and away at Las Palmas (5 February, 9pm), could be key. Not only are they matches against 'weaker' opposition, they are the prelude to a difficult run. Malaga welcome Atlético Madrid, Valencia, Sevilla, Barcelon, Villarreal and Real Madrid in consecutive home games. In between are trips to Bilbao, Leganés, Vigo and La Coruña - three of which are games against direct rivals (Athletic Bilbao, Leganés and Deportivo La Coruña).
If Malaga get good results from these three, as well as the odd 'surprise' point against the big six, they should be well prepared going into the final run-in.
In the final six games, on paper at least, there are no especially tough tests and in the case of Real Betis, Real Sociedad and Espanyol, they may have little to play for at that stage. Crucially, though, the final three games come against Deportivo Alavés (at La Rosaleda), Espanyol (in Barcelona) and Getafe (home). In these there could still be plenty to play for for all involved. That is if they haven't already been cut adrift and relegated by then.
Ultimately, where are these points going to come from? The best chances of victory will come from the games against Las Palmas, Levante, Betis, Alavés, Espanyol and Getafe. Wins against those, plus six draws should be enough to reach the expected needed total of 36 or 37 points to stay in the division.
Given the form up until now, there is little to suggest that this is attainable, but with the arrival of up to four more new players in the squad, paired with José González's tactical nous and defensive rigour, survival is not out of the question - yet.