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Mar 12, 2013

Pellegrini bullish ahead of Porto clash

Malaga coach Manuel Pellegrini has called on his players to rediscover their spectacular Champions League group stage form as they look to turn around a 1-0 first leg defeat against Porto in Wednesday's last-16 second leg at La Rosaleda.

While topping their group last autumn, Pellegrini's team impressively saw off highly-fancied rivals Zenit St Petersburg (3-0) and AC Milan (1-0) at home, qualifying for the knockout stages with two games remaining in the club's first ever appearance in the competition - however, their form has slipped since the turn of the year.

Since losing last month's first leg at Porto, Malaga have lost heavily to Real Betis and drawn with Atletico Madrid and Real Valladolid, scoring just once over those four most recent games. The former Villarreal and Real Madrid boss said that his side was capable of reaching those pre-Christmas heights again on Wednesday night.

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"It is difficult to compare the levels of the team in different moments," Pellegrini said. "What we did against Milan Barcelona were not able to do recently. We have every chance to show during the 90 minutes that we deserve to stay in the competition.

"If we were just thinking about making history, we would have not have knocked anybody out. Today it is the turn of Porto, and we are focused on going through. Only 90 minutes of the 180 have been played. We need to turn the scoreboard around in the second part of the tie."

Pellegrini, reportedly in the running to take over at Chelsea next summer, said he was aware of the excitement and expectation among Malaga fans at the idea of making the quarter-finals, but his players must keep cool heads in the game.

"I have seen the squad look very intense, very focused on going through," he said. "The expectation in Malaga is enormous. [But] we must be relaxed and manage any anxiety, because too much of that will lead us to make errors. We will try to play an intelligent game, in every area. We will look for a goal from the first minute, but we know too we can score right at the end."

Key attackers Isco and Joaquin should be fresh for the game after being rested for Saturday's 1-1 Primera Division draw at Valladolid, while centre-back Weligton and midfielder Jeremy Toulalan will also come back in. Fit-again Eliseu is an option on the left wing to help keep the team more solid, with Julio Baptista more likely to start from the bench.

Pellegrini said his players must be aware that the conceding a goal would leave them with an uphill battle to qualify. "It would be a very important objective as then we will have to score three goals," he said. "We need to have the mentality that in every ball we could win or lose the match."

Vitor Pereira's visitors travel to Andalucia 16 games unbeaten in all competitions, with their last defeat coming in their final Champions League group game at Paris Saint-Germain in early December. Pellegrini said he did not expect his opposite number to send his side out just to defend their one goal advantage.

"I do not believe that Porto will change their way of playing, they will come out to play football here, because that is what they did in their away games during the group stages," he said. "They will not come just to protect their lead. The most important thing for us is to play a balanced game, very intense, and to be convinced we can go through."

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