Few would have predicted at this stage of the Champions League that Málaga would be the sole Spanish side to have secured its berth in the last 16. But bad results in the last round of matches for Real Madrid, held at home by Borussia Dortmund, and Barcelona, which lost at Celtic, leave both those sides requiring at least a point to progress against Manchester City and Spartak Moscow respectively, and then provided other results go their way.
That leaves Mauricio Pellegrino's Valencia, which will progress to the knockout stages if it beats mighty Bayern Munich tonight at the Mestalla (TVE1, 8.45pm) -- or if Lille does Los Che a favor away at Belarusian surprise package BATE Borisov. Pellegrino has a scratch to itch on that score, having been the unfortunate man to step up and take the penalty, saved by Oliver Kahn, that handed Bayern the title in the 2001 final. The Argentinean has not yet convinced the famously fickle Mestalla of his virtues as a coach, but a decent result against Bayern would certainly give him some more breathing space.
"It's not a good time to be a coach right now," Pellegrino observed ahead of the game. "You are always skating on thin ice. The players have more influence than the coach -- that's the way soccer is. The players have a value in the market for the clubs that the coach just does not."
This is Pellegrino's first coaching job, which he has held for a total of six months.
His predecessor at Mestalla, Unai Emery, is currently in charge of Spartak Moscow, which must stop Barcelona (Canal+ Liga de Campeones, 6pm) to have any chance of qualifying. Unfortunately for the Russian side, Emery has not got the better of Barcelona in 14 previous attempts, and faces a stiff task to overturn that record on the artificial turf of the Lushniki Stadium, particularly now that Barça captain Carles Puyol has returned to shore up its leaking back four.