Málaga CF's fine form this season is in stark contrast to that of stuttering AC Milan but, as Manuel Pellegrini stresses, the Rossoneri save their best for the UEFA Champions League.
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Málaga CF returned to winning ways on Saturday to retain their hold on third place in the Liga, but while talking down their championship aspirations coach Manuel Pellegrini was keen to big up AC Milan – even though Massimiliano Allegri's men have won just three of ten games this season and need a rallying performance in Spain.
Coach Manuel Pellegrini
Barcelona and Real Madrid are still much better than the likes of Valencia, Atlético, Athletic and ourselves. It is a long season and we will fight to be among the top teams, even if sides with a lot more strength-in-depth than ours will have more chances.
I don't really have to say anything about Milan. They are not doing well in Serie A but they are always very good in the Champions League; they have four points from six and they will be a difficult team. Milan have nine new players from last season and it always takes time to bed them in. They played well in St Petersburg.
We need to play like we did against Zenit [winning 3-0 on matchday one] or Valladolid on Saturday. We have to play our own game while also being wary of Milan and their strengths. Underestimating Milan would be a big mistake. Pato and Stephan El Shaarawy are dangerous forwards and we will have to defend well, but Milan will also be worried about Joaquín and Isco.
Saturday: Málaga 2-1 Real Valladolid CF (Isco 37, Joaquín 87; Manucho 9)
Willy; Gámez, Weligton, Demichelis, Eliseu; Recio (Duda 68), Camacho, Portillo (Santa Cruz 60), Isco, Joaquín; Saviola (Seba 87).
• Málaga maintained their unbeaten home start to the season after a composed late winner from Joaquín – who had earlier missed a second-half penalty – helped see off the challenge of ten-man Valladolid.
Jérémy Toulalan (hamstring), Diego Buonanotte (knee), Sergio Sánchez (virus), Nacho Monreal (back) and Júlio Baptista (Achilles tendon) are all sidelined.
Coach Massimiliano Allegri
We have had good results in the Champions League – a win and a draw – while we haven't been doing well in Serie A, but we hope things will improve soon. Málaga's success is not a surprise – they have great players with great quality. It is an open group, and I think Málaga, Zenit and us will be the sides battling to reach the next phase. Málaga are doing well in Spain. They are a fantastic team. They have won two [Group C] matches, scoring six goals and conceding none. Maybe Málaga are the favourites as they are at home – they usually play nice football at La Rosaleda. Joaquín and Isco are not the most important factors with Málaga, it is about the team.
It makes no sense to talk about the Milan of the past – we've changed 14 players so this is a different team. Success in football is also a question of luck. The most important thing is to keep looking forward. A while back, people said I was the best coach in the world and now they say I am the worst – same with the players. We have to keep working and resolve the current situation. I am calm, I think we can win this game, but we have to play good football.
Saturday: S.S. Lazio 3-2 Milan (Hernanes 25, Candreva 41, Klose 49; De Jong 61, El Shaarawy 79)
Amelia; Abate, Bonera, Yepes, Antonini (Bojan 85); De Jong, Nocerino (Pato 51), Montolivo, Boateng (Emanuelson 46); Pazzini, El Shaarawy.
• Nigel de Jong scored his first goal for the Rossoneri as Milan suffered their fifth defeat in eight Serie A outings this term.
Pato returned from a thigh injury to make his first club appearance of the season at the weekend. Against that, however, Christian Abbiati (respiratory infection), Ignazio Abate (unspecified) and De Jong (hip) join Robinho (thigh) on the absentee list.
This is a first encounter with Italian opposition for Málaga, who are yet to concede in four European matches this term, qualifiers included. Milan's last win on Spanish soil came in the 2009/10 group stage, beating a Real Madrid CF side coached by Pellegrini. Their overall away record against teams from Spain is W4 D6 L12.