Malaga kept its Champions League aspirations alive after a 1-0 victory over Valencia at La Rosaleda in this La Liga third place shootout. Ignacio Camacho headed the Andalusian side in front, and Los Che could not find an equalizer.
The home side knew that a victory would give it a real chance at finishing in the top four, and a Champions League position, for the first time in the team's history. Malaga started with real purpose, and nearly went ahead early on when Vicente Guaita tipped Eliseu’s rasping drive from the edge of the area onto the post.
The visiting side was looking to consolidate its position behind Real Madrid and Barcelona, and looked dangerous on the break. Sofiane Feghouli was especially active in midfield, having a shot sail wide of the target.
The home support was cheering the side’s every positive move, and erupted on 28 minutes when Camacho leaped to loop a header into the right corner of the goal, away from Guaita’s reach. It was the midfielder’s first league goal of the season, in one of the most important games of the year.
A win of 3-0 or better for the home side would have put it above Valencia on the head-to-head record, so the team was searching for more goals. Isco had a half chance on the edge of the area, but his shot was always climbing over the bar.
Los Che were looking despondent, and vulnerable on the break. From a Valencia corner, Malaga broke with speed and Santiago Cazorla should have found the net, but he hit his effort straight at Guaita.
Valencia needed to start the second half strongly, but it was Malaga which was looking most likely to score. Cazorla had a chance early on in the second half. Isco bombed down the left wing, sliding the ball through for Cazorla, but Guaita blocked the shot well.
Joaquin Sanchez then drove forward with the ball, and his effort was again saved by the solid Guaita. Soon after, Salomon Rondon and Adil Rami were embroiled in a battle deep in the Valencia half, Rondon won, but his shot went agonizingly wide of the right post.
Rami had a chance to make up for this mistake with just over half an hour remaining from a Tino Costa free kick. He had a free header in the area, but he could only steer it over the bar.
The final nail in Valencia’s coffin was a moment of madness from Feghouli on the hour. He picked up his second yellow card after he led with his elbow on a challenge on Eliseu. Los Che were down to 10 men, and looking down and out.
With minutes remaining, Cazorla was inches from putting Malaga two goals ahead. His left foot strike from the edge of the area rebounded off the bar. Then in stoppage time Ruud van Nistelrooy had a header saved by Guaita from a Duda cross.
The victory for Manuel Pellegrini’s side moves it above Levante into fourth place, only behind Valencia on goal difference.
The loss for the visiting side heaps pressure onto manager Unai Emery, as the club are holding onto third place by the skin of its teeth.