- Champions League Betting Preview: Chelsea vs. Barcelona – The Ultimate Test for Conte’s Chelsea
Champions League Betting Preview: Chelsea vs. Barcelona – The Ultimate Test for Conte’s Chelsea
This is when the Champions League really kicks off. Most of the big hitters negotiate their way through the group stages without too much trouble. But this is when the big games come, and the competition gets that feel of truly elite football. Last weeks’ encounter between Real Madrid and PSG was a feast for football fans. And this first leg at Stamford Bridge could be just as good.
Chelsea and Barcelona have history in this competition. No one can forget Didier Drogba’s wild eyes from 2009, Ronaldinho’s sumptuous goal in 2005, or Fernando Torres running clear to score in 2012. We’re hoping this time round we’ll get all the drama of those famous encounters.
As it first appears though this looks a little like a mismatch that Barcelona could run away with. Chelsea go into the tie on the back of a difficult period that’s seen them go out of the League Cup to Arsenal, lose at home to Bournemouth and take a hammering away at Watford. Antonio Conte has shrugged, sulked and maintained his criticism of the club’s hierarchy.
They may have won last time out with a quick first half smash and grab at home to Hull in the FA Cup, with four goals before half-time, but if they are to get anything from this they’ll need to pull together and find the spirit of last season – something that seems to have deserted them during this campaign.
Barca as you might expect are flying. They currently sit seven points clear at the top of the table in Spain, and 17 ahead of their biggest rivals Real in fifth. Lionel Messi has 20 goals in 24 La Liga appearances and three in six in the group stages of the Champions League. His partner in crime, Luis Suarez has 17 in La Liga, but hasn’t yet opened his account in Europe this season. The Uruguayan does however always relish a return to England. It’s for this reason that both players are evens to score at any time, 9/2 to grab two or more and 25/1 for a hattrick with William Hill.
If Chelsea are to stop the dynamic duo spearheading the Barcelona attack, they’ll do so with a defence that conceded eight times in six Champions League group matches. Barcelona only conceded one. Although Chelsea did outscore their illustrious opponents with 16 goals in the group stage compared to Barca’s nine.
The problem for Chelsea at the back and why they’ve seemed less solid than last season has been down to personnel and the number of games played. In their league title winning side last season you could name the back three and wingbacks for every game. You knew who was playing and they knew their teammates’ games inside out.
Now with injuries, more games, uncertain form as well as too much chopping and changing, it looks much less convincing. Conte will however be buoyed by the possible return of Marcos Alonso on the left. The Spaniard will be up for taking on his countrymen, should shore things up at the back and offer a threat going forward.
The chief Chelsea attacking threat must and will come from the mercurial Eden Hazard. The Belgian has three goals and three assists in six in the Champions League already this season and 11 goals so far in the Premier League. He’ll be the man for Barca to watch and will once again be out to prove that he belongs at the same level as Messi.
Another Chelsea man going into this game with something to prove is Alvaro Morata. Having come off the bench in the last two matches after shrugging off a niggling injury, the former Real man will be looking to get one over on the old enemy. Reports this week have emerged of Morata apparently turning down Barca last summer to make the move to Chelsea. The Stamford Bridge supporters, coaching staff, board and players will want to see Morata repay the faith Chelsea showed in him and really do it on the big stage. He’s 13/8 to score at any time and 9/1 to score two or more with William Hill.
But will he get the start he so craves? Many Chelsea fans are looking for new boy Olivier Giroud to get the nod in attack. Giroud put in a standout performance on Friday night in the FA Cup at home to Hull, scoring one and being directly involved in three of the four goals. But there’s a big difference between Friday night’s encounter and this one.
And that’s where we think Chelsea will come unstuck. With Morata struggling for form and Giroud only just making his first couple of appearances in a blue shirt, the pressure is on Hazard. But to do it on his own against a team of this calibre may just be too much.
We’re going for a 2-0 first leg away win for Barcelona. Two goals from a Messi masterclass will see them take control of the tie, with no way back for Chelsea when they visit the Camp Nou.
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