Charles Dias Looks to Cause Problems for Real Madrid
By Ameen Rabbani.
Zinedine Zidane’s Real Madrid travel to Malaga this weekend in what should be the toughest domestic fixture to date for the Frenchman since he took over from Rafa Benitez. Not just because his men endured an energy-sapping Champions League encounter with Roma in midweek or because of the hostile reception that awaits them at La Rosaleda but also because the opponents are in a sensational run of form that has seen them surge up the table in remarkable fashion.
When Malaga last played Los Blancos they escaped from the Bernabeu with a 0-0 draw on matchday six despite playing the last 20 minutes with 10 men. Holding on for that long against Cristiano Ronaldo and co, who by the end registered more than 30 shots, was an indication of the spirit and discipline of Javi Gracia’s young outfit.
Yet they still came off the pitch harbouring some concern as they hadn’t scored in that game or the previous five breaking Xerez’s record from 2009/10 for the longest run without scoring in a new season. Even though this was a display of great character and a lesson in the ability to hold shape to frustrate a rival, it was difficult to look ahead with optimism. After six games, Malaga were 19th with three points and a big zero in the ‘goals for’ column. They were early contenders for the drop without anyone looking capable of delivering a knock-out punch in the final third.
What’s happened since has been nothing short of astonishing, a full ‘vuelta’ later Los Boquerones sit in 11th place with 30 points, winning six of their last 12 matches, overcoming Atletico, Celta Vigo and Eibar in that run. They’ve lost on just three occasions in that time- even those were against Barcelona, Sevilla and Villarreal- as well as earning respectable draw with Athletic Bilbao at San Mames.
This impressive turnaround has been largely down to their fox in the box, Charles Dias. His nine La Liga goals not only make him the club’s top scorer by a considerable distance but they make up for 21 of the Albicelestes league goals this term. Of those nine, six have resulted in Malaga earning 10 points including a hat-trick in the defeat of Real Sociedad and the winner against Atletico. Throw in a couple of assists and it means Charles has contributed towards 52 per cent of the league goals Malaga have scored.
To say he’s been decisive is an understatement, his attacking output has by far surpassed anyone else in the squad and without him the Andalusians’ predicament would look far more bleak. Instead, the Brazilian has taken the bull by the horns and showed his ruthlessness which has almost certainly secured Malaga’s status for another campaign.
And the former Celta and Almeria forward hasn’t just been worth his weight in goals but he’s given Malaga so much more, leading the charge with an intense work ethic, closing down defenders which sets the example for the younger attackers to follow. Charles may not be the most technically gifted player within Malaga’s ranks but his clever movement and energy more than compensate for that and he’s reaping the rewards by pouncing when it matters most. It’s given Malaga the edge they were desperately missing in the first six weeks of the season and with the supporting cast behind Charles also raising their game, we’re now seeing a Malaga that is playing with more verve which was evident when they blew Getafe away recently, taking a three-goal lead within the opening 40 minutes.
The likes of skipper Weligton and Raul Albentosa deserve praise too for their leadership and efforts in keeping the defence as watertight as possible- with 21 goals conceded only Atletico, Villarreal and Barca boast better defensive records- while Recio and Ignacio Camacho have been solid and dynamic in front of the back four.
Juanpi and Duje Cop have grown into their roles as the weeks have progressed, linking the midfield with the forward line and after an impressive January transfer window that saw Christian Atsu and Chory Castro arrive plus the return of Roque Santa Cruz, there’s extra firepower to bolster the attack. It’s taken some time but Gracia’s patience with his relatively young group of players has paid off and they too clearly buy into his ideas which are now being executed to greater effect.
It’s been Charles, however, whose efficient exploits have made the crucial difference and set Malaga on their way to a top-half finish or, if they dream big in the Costa del Sol, perhaps even a place in Europe.
Malaga will be no pushovers for the ten-time European Cup winners this weekend, the team from the capital will have to be at their sharpest to break down this resilient outfit. Charles himself has previous against them too- scoring twice for Celta on the penultimate round of fixtures two years ago which ensured the Galacticos couldn’t win the title- and he’ll be hoping to slay them in similar style once more.