Málaga paid tribute to Sebastián Umberto Viberti just as the 'blanquiazul' legend deserved this evening: with great football. Pellegrini gave Pellegrino a lesson, and one set of players outshone another to such an extent that nobody in Valencia can take anything away from the scoreline. Quite the opposite, in fact. It would have been unfair to see Málaga's superiority go without these numbers on the board. Portillo, Saviola, Roque Santa Cruz and Iso provided the goals with which the Andalucian team staked a substantial claim to end the season in the Champions League places. Valencia, meanwhile showed us how they can go from everything (Bayern Munich) to nothing (tonight) with worrying ease.
The visitors were very lucky to go into the break still in contention. Málaga gave a 45-minute exhibition in everything - intenstity, tactics, quality and ideas. If it wasn't for a lack of end product, they could have gone into the dressing room with a score more representative of the spectacle on the grass at La Rosaleda, rather than just the single goal advantage.
Portillo put Pellegrini's men ahead in the 7th minute in a move that summed up the first half. The ball arrived at the feet of Eliseu inside the area; he left Barragán with wonderful ease before passing backwards to Portillo. The midfielder controlled the ball, with all the time in the world, raised his head to decide where to put it and squeezed it through with a subtle, precise touch.
Pellegrino went with Gago and Tino in the centre of midfield and Banega as a link-up. But Valencia suffered from a perpetual short circuit. Málaga allowed Rami and Ricardo Costa to come out with the ball, but when it came to Gago or Tino, they consistently wrestled it back. There was little inventiveness on Valencia's part and less consistency, and Nelson Valdez's role was confined to appearing on the big screens committing fouls.
Málaga were the complete opposite, with a solid defence and creative attack. With Camacho and Toulalan making the centre of the pitch theirs, Isco, Eliseu, Joaquín and Portillo could move and alternate leaving Valencia's back-line dizzy. Isco provided one of the highlights with a skilful run which saw him beat Tino Costa, Guardado and Ricardo Costa as if he was alone.
As has been said, they only lacked the composure in front of goal; they made enough chances to go into half time 4-0 up. On two occasions their quick interchanges didn't end in a goal because of the playing surface, and on another thanks to Diego Alves' good work. The Brazilian keeper, once again the best for his team, saved well in the 41st minute from Joaquin's shot from wide.
On their return from the dressing rooms, the teams picked up from where they left off: with the ball in Valencia's half. Diego Alves came to the rescue again with a strong stop in the 47th minute from Saviola. In fact it was during the first few minutes after the restart when Málaga had possibly their clearest chances to seal the three points - the one just mentioned and aother shot from Saviola from the edge of the box which just missed the target.
It took Pellegrino 55 minutes to realize that Banega wasn't creating anything; indeed, that he was hardly there at all. The entrance of Jonas added something to Valencia's play between the lines. At least this figure of the link-up man was present. His arrival coincided with some moments when the 'malaguistas' unnecessarily let their focus go and set about protesting to the referee for a penalty that wasn't given to Joquín, for what was in reality an obvious dive. Their football suffered.
Having said that, their chances of winning were never in jeopardy. What did occur was Valencia's first shot on goal. It came in the 65th minute in the form of a Nelson Valdez strike after a corner, which was news in itself.
It was only a matter of time before the scoreboard reflected the action. Joaquín almost had the second, but his effort came back off the post. Málaga's clincher eventually arrived with their least obvious chance, a shot from Saviola on the edge of the box that ended up in the back of the net after Ricardo Costa's light intervention. The goal was justice done; Málaga didn't deserve to finish the game waiting for the final whistle, just as Valencia didn't deserve to be still in with a shout. In fact nobody was surprised when the third came courtesy of Roque Santa Cruz. Or the fourth, from Isco.