Let's not mince words—Barcelona is a huge favorite against Malaga. They sit atop La Liga's table, they're at home in this matchup where they've taken all 27 points this season and Malaga have just one away win on the season.
Still, Malaga will put up a fight. When last these teams met in late August, Barcelona escaped with a narrow 1-0 win. That was on the road, of course, but the Catalans may be distracted by some trouble within the club.
Let's break down this La Liga showdown.
When: Sunday, January 26 at 3 p.m. ET
Sunday, January 26 at 8 p.m. GMT
Where: Camp Nou, Barcelona, Spain
Watch: beIN Sports; beIn Sports Play; Sky Sports 1 (U.K.); Sky Go (U.K.)
Odds: Barcelona (77.6 percent), Malaga (8.3 percent) and draw (14 percent), according to Bloomberg Sports
You can't talk about Barcelona at the moment without mentioning the drama surrounding Neymar's contract, which led to the resignation of club president Sandro Rosell after a lawsuit claimed that he covered up the real terms of Neymar's contract.
Raphael Minder of The New York Times has more on the lawsuit filed against Rosell:
In a short televised address, Rosell said that his resignation was “irrevocable” and followed what he called a period of unspecified “threats” against him and his family. But he called the accusation related to Neymar’s transfer “unjust and brash,” and he suggested a soccer club was entitled to keep some dealings confidential.
“The signing of Neymar is correct, and his signing has sparked envy and desperation among some of our opponents,” Rosell said. “Some confidentiality is essential in soccer, and were it not so it could cause prejudices to the club.”
A day later, Barcelona held a press conference to try to clear up the issues surrounding the contract. Here's a brief summary of what they revealed, via the club's official website:
As well as explaining again the figures paid to Santos—17 million Euros—and the 40 million Euro compensation paid to N&N (Neymar da Silva and Nadine, the players parents), the Club also revealed the player’s salary. The total salary cost to the Club is 56.7 million Euros (gross), which is divided into three concepts: 2.7 million Euros as agent commission (5%, rather than the 10 or 15% paid by other clubs), a 10 million Euro signing on fee and a guaranteed salary of 44 million Euros.
That's a whole lot of turnover for Barcelona right before a game, and it remains to be seen if the Catalans will be at all affected by the scandal. It's unlikely they'll allow this to be a distraction, but the unwanted attention on the club likely isn't appreciated by the players.
As per the match itself, Carles Puyol could possibly be available per selection despite picking up a knock against Levante, according to Dermot Corrigan of ESPN. Barca fans will be pleased his injury isn't as serious as initially feared, though Neymar remains out with an ankle injury.
Despite remaining atop the table, the Catalans have drawn their last two La Liga matches, which for Barcelona is an epic slump. Will their "rough patch" continue, or will they take out those frustrations on an overmatched Malaga side?
Which team wins?
More than likely the former—Barcelona has won 24 straight league matches at home. Yes, 24. The Catalans don't mess around at Camp Nou.
The question really isn't whether Barcelona will win this match, it's by how much. They are basically unbeatable at home at this point, and Malaga doesn't have the chops this season to make that statement false.
Put another way, Malaga have scored just seven away goals on the season as a team. Four Barcelona players (Alexis Sanchez, Pedro, Lionel Messi and Cesc Fabregas) have scored seven or more goals individually in league play this year.
Barcelona win, 3-0.