Malaga made it two wins from two in Champions League Group C with a scintillating 3-0 victory over an outclassed Anderlecht side at the Constant Vanden Stock Stadium on Wednesday night.
Having swept Zenit aside in its tournament opener, the Spanish side looked a cut above its host from start to finish and had already wasted a couple of gilt-edged chances before Eliseu scored with a stunning volley just before the break.
Joaquin doubled the advantage with a penalty before Eliseu struck again just after the hour mark to extend Anderlecht's winless run of home games in the group stages of the Champions League to 10.
One of the form sides in Europe, Malaga arrived in Brussels brimming with confidence and unsurprisingly played with a real swagger throughout. With Javier Saviola supported in attack by Isco and Joaquin, who were again given licence to roam and interchange as they saw fit, the visitors’ movement during the opening 45 minutes was often a joy to behold.
The trio combined wonderfully to prise open the Malage defense 26 minutes in only for Joaquin to see his shot blocked by the advancing Proto. Saviola, who had played the former Betis man in on goal, tried to nod home the rebound but he failed to get enough purchase on his header and Anderlecht managed to clear.
If the squandering of that particular opening was a shame, Saviola’s failure to convert Malaga’s next magnificent move was the equivalent of a footballing tragedy. Eliseu, who was a tremendous driving force down the right-hand side, shaped to try his luck from distance with a free kick but he instead played the ball forward to Joaquin, who put Saviola in on goal with the most sublime first-time flick.
The Argentine did everything right, controlling the pass instantaneously before attempting to prod the ball past Proto, but the Belgian miraculously managed to parry it over the bar.
However, Malaga’s intricate link-up play was finally rewarded just before the interval, in a far more direct – yet no less stunning – fashion, with Eliseu thundering a 25-yard volley into the top left corner of the net, after Anderlecht had failed to fully clear a corner.
The hope, from the home crowd's perspective at least, was that their side might be able to regroup during the interval but, if anything, it looked even more out of its depth after the restart, and a second Malaga goal was an inevitability. It arrived on 56 minutes, Joaquin converting a spot-kick with some conviction, after the marauding Monreal had been recklessly upended by Cheikhou Kouyate.
Anderlecht's spirit now well and truly broken, Malaga really began to enjoy itself, and its almost ridiculously fluid forward line carved its opponent open at will.
The Spanish side finally put the finishing touches on the masterpiece on 74 minutes when Isco surged forward from midfield before slipping the ball through for Eliseu, who lobbed the ball over the hapless Proto with the most delicious first-time flick of his left boot.
The Andalusians could have scored many more in the final quarter, with Manuel Iturra the biggest culprit in that regard after shooting tamely on goal after a brilliant one-two with Isco, but they ultimately settled for three goals, and more importantly, three points that keeps them on top of Group C ahead of their mouth-watering match-up with AC Milan later this month.
- Javier Saviola