Malaga eased to a dominant 2-0 win at home over Villarreal on Monday to take a big step toward ensuring their place in Spain’s topflight next season and coach Bernd Schuster’s job.
Malaga’s stout defense limited Villarreal to just one shot on goal, even after the hosts went down to 10 men for the final 15 minutes when Nordin Amrabat was shown a direct red for vehemently protesting to the referee.
Roque Santa Cruz chipped the ball over goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo from a tight angle to open the scoring in the sixth at La Rosaleda Stadium after the striker was played through by Samuel Sanchez.
Amrabat then used his pace to race down the left side and waited for Sergi Darder to arrive unmarked in a second wave before he crossed for the midfielder to fire in their second goal in the 53rd.
“Perhaps this was our most well-rounded game of the season,” Schuster said.
“We played well from the first to the last minute. We weren’t much better than Villarreal, but we controlled them throughout,” he added.
After struggling early in Schuster’s first season in charge, Malaga have come on late and have won five of their past eight games to escape the fight at the bottom and climb into 10th place with four rounds to go.
The team is not only playing to avoid a last-minute relegation battle. Schuster’s job at the Costa del Sol side may depend on a top-10 finish. The German manager’s contract includes a clause that he can be fired if they finish in 11th place or lower.
“It has been a difficult year for everyone, and with these three points we can breathe easier,” Schuster said. “This was a key day. We have lifted a weight off us. Now, with less pressure, we can improve.”
Villarreal forward Giovani Dos Santos returned from a four-week injury layoff when he went on as a second-half substitute.
Villarreal’s loss left them in seventh place and holding onto the last Europa League berth, seven points ahead of Valencia.
Atletico Madrid lead the league by four points over Barcelona. Real Madrid are another two points behind, but have an extra game to play.