A real David v Goliath battle is shaping up in La Liga this weekend as bottom club Malaga prepare to host runaway league leaders Barcelona. This game pits Spain’s best team, who are still unbeaten this season and on course to achieve invincible status, against a side that have lost 20 out of 27 games so far.
Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez should be licking their lips at the prospect of facing a beleaguered Malaga, and this game should be one-way traffic. There is plenty of value to be had when analysing the handicap markets, which should tempt plenty of punters at BMR’s green-listed bookmakers.
Rewind five years, and Malaga were on the verge of becoming a genuine powerhouse of European football. Significant investment had seen them finish in the top four of La Liga and qualify for the Champions League. They reached the quarter-finals in 2013 of Europe’s premier competition and looked set to break the duopoly of Barcelona and Real Madrid in the domestic game.
Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser bin Abdullah Al-Ahmed Al-Thani had snapped up the likes of Isco, Santi Cazorla, Martin Demichelis, Julio Baptista, Joaquin and Nacho Monreal, and put Manuel Pellegrini in charge. “It will take time, but our objective is for Malaga to be one of the greatest teams in Spain,” said Al-Thani.
They were an excellent side, but then it all quickly fell apart at the seams. The plan failed, the debts racked up, Al-Thani got in all sorts of trouble and the club was forced into a fire sale of all its best players. Since then it has been a downward spiral, and now they are hurtling towards the second tier of Spanish football. Al-Thani’s name is mud in the Spanish port city, and the dream has turned sour.
Now bereft of any star quality, they are an extremely poor team and have not won since early December. A run of six straight defeats has left them rooted to the foot of the table, and they are now eight points off safety.
Barcelona, meanwhile, have won 21, drawn six and lost none of their 27 games this season and they are closing in on another title after beating second-placed Atletico Madrid last time out. Messi is the top scorer in the league and Suarez is second, well ahead of any Real Madrid or Atletico forwards. Ernesto Valverde has brought greater defensive discipline to the team since taking over in the summer, and they have only conceded 13 goals in 27 games.
They beat Malaga 2-0 at the Nou Camp earlier this season and should be confident of achieving a similar scoreline on the road now that Malaga’s confidence is shot to pieces following six straight defeats.
Barcelona are 3/10 to win this one, which looks like a solid addition to an accumulator bet. But the real value lies in handicap betting. Barcelona -1.5 Asian handicap is 11/13 with 188Bet and that looks a very attractive option. If you are feeling bolder, you can push it to Barca -2, which is 11/8 with Sun Bets.
But a word of caution is needed: Malaga may be losing with alarming regularity, but their defeats are rarely heavy. They only lost by a goal to Atletico, Valencia and Sevilla in recent weeks, and those three sides are all in La Liga’s top five. But that sort of form typically counts for little when Messi and Suarez roll into town and begin to wreak havoc.
Another factor to be aware of is Barcelona’s Champions League tie against Chelsea next week. They look to have the league title wrapped up and may not go for broke against Malaga in a bid to preserve their energy for Chelsea, as the tie against the London club is delicately poised at 1-1 after the first leg. But the last thing Barcelona will want to do is drop points and allow Atletico back into the title race after beating them last time out, so a comfortable Barcelona win looks likely.
The alternative to -1.5 Asian handicap would be Barcelona to win to nil at even money with Bet Victor, Betway and Boyle Sports. Malaga have only scored 16 goals in 27 games, and they will not enjoy much possession on Sunday, so that looks like another strong option.