JOAQUIN RETURN BOOSTS MALAGA
Malaga have been boosted by the return of experienced winger Joaquin Sanchez from injury ahead of what promises to be a tough season run-in for the Champions League-chasing Andalusians.
Joaquin helped Malaga charge up the standings on the back of an unbeaten five-match run that included four victories last month, but since his last appearance on March 22, Manuel Pellegrini's side have picked up only seven from a possible 15 points.
Malaga are still in the top four despite that disappointing run, but with their final five matches seeing them face top-10 sides Osasuna, Valencia, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, before finishing their season against relegation-battling Sporting Gijon, the return of former Spain international Joaquin is a timely one.
Coach Pellegrini said: "Joaquin is a very important player for us. We've got some important absences and we have had throughout the whole season, and that's a handicap, but to the team's credit we've been able to overcome these absences and difficulties. Joaquin coming back is, without doubt, hugely important."
Joaquin has been included in a 19-man squad for Monday's match at Osasuna, but Julio Baptista, Willy Caballero, Jeremy Toulalan and Joris Mathijsen are still injury absentees.
Looking ahead to their trip to the Reyno de Navarra stadium, where Osasuna have only lost three times this season, Pellegrini added: "All matches are tough and the one against Osasuna will be too. They're a good team and they'll try and prevail in front of their own fans.
"It's a very important match for us, but not a decisive one. We'll go out with optimism and defend our Champions League place from the first minute until the last.
"We have a difficult end of the season, but we'll go out fighting in the five games that remain."
Osasuna also still have European aspirations and they could move level with fifth-placed Levante with a victory over Malaga.
Coach Jose Luis Mendilibar said: "We have to do our work at home and then we'll see what happens next weekend. It's clear that we are right in there and it's in our hands. We have to give it everything on our part to be able to achieve it."
Like Pellegrini, Mendilibar also has his absences to cope with, as Masoud Shojaei, Kike Sola, Ion Echaide and Sergio are all injured, leading scorer Raul Garcia is suspended and Ibrahima Balde is on Under-23 duty with Senegal.
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