Malaga moved into the top four in La Liga after comprehensively dominating Valencia to win 4-0 at La Rosaleda.
Valencia's draw against Bayern Munich in midweek meant that both sides had qualified for the last 16 of the Champions League but it was Malaga who secured an important victory on Saturday night in the battle to reach the continent's premier competition next season.
Francisco Portillo opened the scoring after eight minutes with a lovely finish and both Javier Saviola and Joaquin, facing his former side, wasted a number of chances before the former put the result beyond doubt with a deflected finish in the second half.
Roque Santa Cruz scored three minutes after his arrival as a substitute and Isco added a fourth in injury time for a wide margin of victory that Malaga's dominant performance deserved, while Valencia suffered further when defender Adil Rami was shown a second yellow card.
The three points takes Malaga fourth, two points above Levante, while Valencia are a further four points back. With Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid looking good for the top three positions, fourth is the only likely route to the Champions League next season.
Malaga were without a win in four Liga games, losing twice at home to Rayo Vallecano and Real Sociedad in that spell, but were irresistible in a first half in which they took the game to Valencia from the very first minute.
After a spell of sustained pressure they found themselves in front after eight minutes. Midfielder Eliseu played the ball in from the left and Portillo killed the ball dead before sending a brilliant curling effort out of the reach of Diego Alves and inside the far post.
Some of Malaga's approach play was truly breathtaking, with 20-year-old playmaker Isco in particularly electric form. After 25 minutes he juggled the ball to lose two players, only to finally be halted by a third. Joaquin was also prominent on the other flank as he just failed to connect with a Jesus Gamez cross before later drawing a spectacular save from Diego Alves towards the end of the half.
However, it was striker Saviola who was most culpable for Malaga's failure to extend their lead. He was penalised for a foul after nutmegging Tino Costa in the box and trying to get a shot away, and within 60 seconds wasted a glorious chance when racing onto a pass through the centre and thumping his shot over the bar when through on goal.
It was a similar story after the break. After Eliseu released Joaquin to the right with an outrageous 40-yard pass, the winger touched the ball back to Saviola, who saw his firm effort superbly saved by Alves. Eight minutes later the Argentine steered a shot inches wide of the post after Joaquin had been nudged off the ball.
Valencia were always vulnerable down their left flank and Joaquin exploited the space afforded him on 71 minutes when breaking clear and hammering a shot against the outside of the near post from 25 yards as Malaga threatened yet again.
Just four minutes later they did have their second as Saviola finally found the net. Portillo played a neat square pass to the striker and he pulled the trigger from 20 yards, his low effort taking a big deflection off Costa to wrong-foot Alves in the Valencia goal and roll home.
Santa Cruz arrived off the bench after 78 minutes and quickly added a third. Isco played in Gamez and his deflected effort rolled to Santa Cruz, who tucked his shot home.
There was still time for Adil Rami to be shown a second yellow card after 84 minutes as Valencia's plight worsened, before the influential Isco completed the scoring with a low effort from 20 yards in injury time.
- Sports & Recreation
- Javier Saviola
- Diego Alves