There's something of a void at Real Madrid - a void that is usually filled by a shiny new signing, but things are being held up at the Bernabeu, writes Tim Stannard...
The last time Deportivo la Coruna were relegated they managed to bounce back, but this time it might be different. Tim Stannard reports on Spain's dramatic final day...
For a few months, Manuel Pellegrini must have thought that he had finally landed on his Chilean feet. After a horrible spell at Real Madrid where the manager had players sold from under him just before the start of the season and a vile local press calling for his firing from the off (with a notable lack of backing from his looking-the-other-way Bernabéu bosses), the Málaga manager had found a club which seemed to appreciate his steady approach to football.
This approach is a quiet, dignified, calm manner of going about his business in the latrine of la Liga, and one that had served Pellegrini so well in five seasons at Villarreal. After a spell in Argentina, the 59-year-old had turned a middling club that few acknowledged outside Spain into big European players with a Champions League semi-final appearance in 2006. Pellegrini had built a side that admittedly hardly set the world alight in terms of fancy football, but were organised, hard-working and difficult to break down.
It's exactly what Pellegrini has managed to achieve at Málaga since joining the club a third of the way through the 2010-11 campaign. This is despite everything working against the coach over the past 18 months - players going unpaid, a lack of communication from the club's owners, superstars arriving then being sold off just as quickly and to top it all off, being thrown out of European competition for between one and potentially four years for an alleged failure to pay bills on time.
These recent experiences probably weren't what Pellegrini signed up for. The Málaga project was supposed to see a well-funded, supremely organised, long-term southern rival to Real Madrid and Barcelona, with heavy investment in the right kind of footballers and also the club's youth academy. Aside from qualifying for the Champions League for the first time in the side's history, not everything has quite gone to plan for Málaga.
But somehow, Málaga are facing the biggest match in the club's history on Tuesday - a Champions League clash with Porto - in pretty good nick and in possession of a fair chance of going through. Over the summer, the club lost top scorer Salomón Rondón to Rubin Kazan, Santi Cazorla to Arsenal and, most recently of all, Nacho Monreal also to Arsenal. Coming in the other direction in the two transfer windows of the current season have been free transfers and loan deals including a couple of spring chickens in the form of Roque Santa Cruz and Javier Saviola. Not exactly what was needed for the club to make the next step up.
Pellegrini has dealt with all these slings and arrows with his usual stoicism, but it was the very sudden transfer of his left-back which appears to have made Málaga's manager think seriously about his future at the club. "I understand you have to balance the books, but it's having an effect on the sporting side," complained the Chilean in a rare stroppy response to the team's Sporting Director Mario Husillos, explaining that "no club can have a player they can't pay. We have to drop the salary base".
Late last week, Pellegrini's agent Jesús Martínez revealed to the press in Chile that his client had turned down an offer from Roma. "It was less than 15 days ago. Chelsea and other have also asked about him but only through intermediaries," claimed Martínez. "I've always had offers, but for the moment I'm focussed on Málaga," was the admission from Pellegrini ahead of Saturday's match, a 1-0 win over Athletic Bilbao that keeps the southern side in fourth. On the same day, a story appeared in Marca that linked Manchester City to Pellegrini for a move for next season.
Málaga's victory over their Basque opponents was a typical one for the club and built on a sold defensive performance that sees Málaga with the best record in la Primera with just 21 goals conceded in 24 games. A large part of that is owed to the side's Argentinean goalkeeper Willy Caballero, who at the age of 31 is in the best form of a career which has spanned spells at Boca Juniors and, more improbably, Elche. Saviola is still popping up with enough goals to keep the team ticking over, whilst young playmaker Isco keeps on getting better and better, but this only means that the Spaniard will be the next of the club's crown jewels to be sold.
The medium term may see Pellegrini moving on to pastures new and a team that can give him the institutional and financial stability that the manager so deserves. However, the immediate concern is the Champions League clash that sees 3,000 Málaga fans heading to Portugal amid genuine hopes that the side can pass through. "We had big teams in the group stages and we came out on top, and Porto is not better than Milan," noted midfielder Ignacio Camacho, recalling Málaga's six undefeated group matches.
It's easy to see why Pellegrini is reportedly attracting so much attention from the Premier League. This is an English-speaking coach who has experienced both rich and poor times at his previous teams, managed superstars like Cristiano Ronaldo, tricky personalities like Juan Román Riquelme, cajoled veterans like Joaquín and developed talent such as Santi Cazorla. Nothing could ever be as hard as the pressure endured in that one year at Real Madrid or the recent economic difficulties and uncertainties at Málaga (although Chelsea might want to challenge that assumption). After watching a lot of his squad jump ship at the club, Pellegrini might be the next one to follow. Any club would be lucky to have him.
Round 24 Results
Sevilla 3-1 Deportivo
Getafe 3-1 Celta Vigo
Málaga 1-0 Athletic Bilbao
Granada 1-2 Barcelona
Osasuna 1-0 Zaragoza
Real Sociedad 1-1 Levante
Valencia 2-0 Mallorca
Real Madrid 2-0 Rayo Vallecano
Valladolid 0-3 Atlético Madrid
Espanyol 1-0 Betis
Tim Stannard - follow him on Twitter