Alberto Escassi is shown the red card for his challenge on an Eibar player. / MARIANO POzo

Malaga CF unable to surprise league leaders Eibar at La Rosaleda

In a game overshadowed by refereeing decisions, the Blue and Whites’ shape-shifting formation did little to help their attempt at causing an upset

SHAY CONAGHAN

Malaga CF were defeated 3-1 by league leaders Eibar on Saturday, in a frenetic game that was largely overshadowed by controversial refereeing decisions. The Andalusians came into this game with high expectations, as the team and fans alike hoped that the ‘Guede effect’ would give an extra boost in morale to overcome the Basque side, who were without a win in their last three away games.

Though Pablo Guede only made one change in the starting eleven - Brandon came in for the injured Genaro - the initial line-up proved to be completely different to last week’s win over Leganés, with the coach staying true to his philosophy of shaking things on a regular basis.

Eibar proved to a very physically powerful team right from the start, with each of their players pressing the hosts well, but Malaga soaked it up and adapted.

It only took Malaga three minutes to open the scoring. Brandon picked up a pass on the edge of the box, beat his marker as he raced into the opposition’s area before drilling the ball into the opposite corner.

Eibar almost equalised a minute later, with 2010 World Cup winner Fernando Llorente’s shot from the edge of the box being saved by keeper Dani Martín.

The Blue and Whites’ captain, Alberto Escassi, was sent off with fifteen minutes left in the first half, as he took out an Eibar player who was through on goal.

A few minutes later, the visitors would be awarded a penalty, which José Corpas converted to bring things level.

But Malaga held their own against the league leaders. While neither side had established an overarching dominance over the game, the hosts were still looking lively, and they enjoyed several chances throughout the rest of the half.

Basque quality

Though Guede made a double change at the break by replacing Ramón and Febas with Paulino and Kevin, the Argentine had already swapped Antoñín for Genaro when Escassi was shown the red card to cover the defensive shortage, as it was clear Malaga were now playing to hold onto a valuable point.

The visitors came out stronger in the second half, as Malaga struggled to find a balance between attacking too much and defending too little. But the La Rosaleda crowd spurred the home side on, and Malaga were soon locking horns with Eibar, despite being down to ten men.

The visitors seemingly took the lead for the first time with a brilliant move in the Malaga box, but after a few minutes of checking, Llorente’s goal was overturned by VAR.

It wasn’t long before the Basque side showed their quality once more, with a perfectly-placed cross meeting Fran Sol’s head to put Eibar properly ahead for the first time.

The Blue and Whites never gave up and came close to equalising on a few occasions. But Eibar were a class above the Andalusians, seeing out the rest of the game with relative ease, scoring a third in the dying seconds and maintaining their lead at the top of the table.

Full of praise

In his post-match press conference, Malaga head coach Pablo Guede praised his players for their performance. "I think the game has to be divided in two halves. We started well, but in five minutes the game flipped on its head," he said in reference to Escassi’s sending off. "It’s not easy to play with ten men during almost seventy minutes. [Eibar] are at the top of the table for a reason. They take advantage of every chance they get."

"The result was a negative, of course, but we can take a positive away, too. Getting close to Eibar was good, but at the end of the day this is football," the Argentine said.

Malaga still remain outside the relegation zone, a comfortable seven points ahead of both Amorebieta and Real Sociedad B. They will next play Las Palmas away from home on Friday 29 April at 10pm.