Malaga inflicted more misery on a Real Madrid side fast approaching crisis as they ran out 3-2 winners at the Estadio La Rosaleda on Saturday.
While a defeat to a Malaga side who continue to impress is in itself no disgrace, the manner of it and the circumstances surrounding it casts further doubt about Jose Mourinho’s future in Madrid. As much as the result, the headlines will be dominated by Mourinho’s decision to leave the club’s captain and most experienced player, Iker Casillas, on the bench.
After an own goal from Sergio Sanchez tied up Isco’s opener, Madrid’s defense fell apart to allow Roque Santa Cruz to score a quick-fire brace. Despite Karim Benzema pulling a goal back late on, there was to be no reprieve for the visitors as they fell a surely irretrievable 16 points behind La Liga leaders Barcelona.
Whether a decision based purely on form, an act of reasserting his authority, or simply a way to hasten his exit from Madrid, Mourinho’s choice of Antonio Adan ahead of Casillas in goal could well have far-reaching consequences.
Given the buildup, there was a certain inevitability to Malaga taking the lead four minutes after the break. The home side’s starlet Isco got the breakthrough as he picked up Joaquin’s pass and fired a low shot inside the post from the edge of the area.
But Madrid would get back on level terms in the 66th minute. After Sami Khedira’s knock down, Benzema’s shot on the turn was blocked and from the ensuing scramble, the unfortunate Malaga defender Sanchez ended up striking the ball into his own net.
The goal was to prove a false dawn as the game would quickly be taken away from Madrid. Just six minutes later, Joaquin’s clever near post flick was blocked by the legs of Adan but the ball fell straight to Santa Cruz to tap home from barely two yards out.
Within five minutes it was 3-1, as Joaquin and Santa Cruz again combines. The winger cut inside from the left and played an excellent reverse pass through to Santa Cruz and the striker, on-loan from Manchester City, drilled a low first time shot that beat Adan at his near post.
With eight minutes remaining, Madrid did pull a fine goal back as Mesut Ozil picked out Benzema with a superb cross with the outside of his left foot and the French striker dispatched a sweet first-time volley past Willy Caballero.
The goal was not enough to spare Madrid or Mourinho, though, and the inquiries commenced immediately upon the final whistle.