Today’s news that Pep Guardiola is about to take over German giants Bayern Munich is obviously dominating the football news agenda across the world (as well as giving the more ignorant section of the Premier League’s unwavering cheerleaders something to chew on), but it is worth remembering that his old club are doing just fine without him.
To be frank, ‘just fine’ is one hell of an understatement. Guardiola’s stock will probably never be as high as it is now, but it isn’t like Barcelona have collapsed in his absence – the exact opposite is true and at the moment, Pep’s former number two and successor Tito Vilanova is on course to smash all sorts of records as Camp Nou boss.
There were question marks about Vilanova’s suitability to follow a man who won 14 major titles, including two Champions Leagues, in a three-year spell in charge of the Catalans but those fears have proved unfounded. In fact, if anything, Vilanova has taken what Guardiola achieved and is arguably improving upon it.
Barcelona are currently running away with La Liga with ridiculous ease. Eleven points clear of Atletico Madrid in second place, a mammoth 18 points ahead of bitter rivals Real Madrid in third as the champions implode horrifically, the side from Catalunya had the league title wrapped up before the New Year had even arrived.
In 25 domestic matches in 2012/13, Barcelona have won 23 and lost just once, away to Real Madrid in the Bernabeu in the Spanish Super Cup second leg back in August. In the league, they have won 18 of their 19 fixtures, dropping points only when they were held to a 2-2 draw by, you guessed it, Real Madrid again, this time at the Camp Nou.
An incredible 81 goals have been scored in those 25 fixtures and there just isn’t anybody in Spain who are capable of stopping them.
Malaga, Barcelona’s opponents in the quarter-final of the Copa del Rey, are perhaps better equipped than most, but you have to fancy Barca strongly when the two sides meet for their Copa del Rey quarter-final first leg in Catalunya on Wednesday.
Barcelona are 3/20 to win, with the draw at 27/4 and Malaga a massive 13/1 to cause a first-leg upset. For a team who are fifth in La Liga to be that kind of price shows just how superior Barca are to the rest of the pack, because Malaga are having a decent season.
Manuel Pellegrini’s side are enjoying themselves in their debut Champions League campaign and are just three points behind fourth place as they bid to make sure they are in the competition next season.
But Barcelona went to Malaga in the league at the weekend and came away with a 3-1 win, so you have to be with them again. Of course, it might not be a walkover: there have only been nine goals in Malaga’s nine away league matches (even I can work out that is just one goal per match) and it could be a tight match.
As such, the 21/10 that Barcelona win 1-0, 2-0 or 3-0 is my play. Malaga have failed to score in five of their nine away trips and only one of those games came against teams in the top half of the league.
So I don’t give them much chance of scoring against Barca, but they can keep it tight enough with the aim of keeping the tie alive for the second leg.
Of course, Barcelona have scored up to three goals in nine of their home games this season – and I like the odds of them doing so again while keeping a clean sheet.
Top bet: Barca to beat Malaga 1-0, 2-0 or 3-0 @ 21/10