A 3-0 victory over Elche at La Rosaleda on Saturday evening sealed a third-place finish for Malaga, giving them a theoretical advantage going into the play-offs. The Costa del Sol side will now play the second leg of both the semi-final and hypothetical final at home.
Coach Víctor Sánchez, unsurprisingly, decided to rest a few players with attentions being turned to the knock-out fixtures with fringe players Dani Pacheco, Pawel Kieszek, Hicham, Jack Harper and Badr Boulahroud all getting a start.
The latter seized the opportunity with both hands and made an immediate impact, within five minutes of kick-off. Dani Pacheco’s near-post corner was headed away but the Moroccan brought the ball down on his chest before unleashing a left-footed volley in off the inside of the post and running to the touchline to embrace the coach who had put such faith in him.
Kieszek likewise at the other end showed just what a good deputy to Munir he is, pushing Nino’s goal-bound free-kick around the post.
The hosts then had a golden chance to double their lead in the 16th minute when a neat one-two between Harper and Hicham came to nothing after they left the ball to each other with the goal at their mercy. The ball, however, fell for captain Federico Ricca to volley over via a deflection.
The game started to become a lot more stretched after the break with Elche capitalising on some sloppiness from their hosts. The ball spent a lot more time in the Malaga half as a result and they had the referee to thank as a number of Elche penalty shouts were waved away.
However, Malaga’s greater quality through and the Blue and Whites grabbed the decisive second goal of the game when Ricca headed in Renato Santos’ corner from the left.
The introduction of Miguel Torres, unpopular among the home faithful, sparked further life into La Rosaleda, albeit nothing compared to when Hicham finally got himself onto the scoresheet, tapping home at the back post to cap off a beautifully-crafted move, orchestrated by Pacheco.
Malaga will face Deportivo La Coruña in the play-off semi-final first leg at Riazor on Wednesday.