Chelsea suffered a surprise defeat at Newcastle at the weekend, but Kevin Hatchard expects them to bounce back against an injury-hit Schalke side that struggles against the best teams...
Chelsea vs Schalke, Wed 19:45 BST, Live on Sky Sports 2
Match Odds: Chelsea 1.422/5, Schalke 9.28/1, the draw 5.24/1
Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho could barely contain his anger immediately after his side's limp 2-0 defeat at Newcastle United on Saturday, suggesting his team selection had featured "11 mistakes." The West Londoners produced a strangely sterile performance totally out of keeping with their recent form. Although it was a damaging defeat, master motivator Mourinho (not to be confused with Mister Motivator) has surely been able to use that Magpies mauling to keep his entire squad on their toes, and show them once again that no-one's place is safe. His accusation that his players put in less effort on Tyneside than they would in training will have stung.
A home win against Schalke would provide the perfect response, and after winning 3-0 in Germany two weeks ago, it would strengthen Chelsea's position at the top of the group. Mourinho's vowed to make team changes, and one alteration is enforced, as Fernando Torres is out with a thigh injury. Samuel Eto'o is likely to deputise for the Spaniard.
Schalke's results away from home have been impressive of late. The Royal Blues have won six of their last seven games on the road in all competitions, including the weekend's eye-catching 2-0 victory at Hertha Berlin. On that basis you may be tempted to back the visitors at a hefty price, but there are several reasons why you shouldn't.
Firstly, some of Schalke's away wins haven't been as impressive as they might seem. Keeper Timo Hildebrand had to put in an excellent display at the Olympiastadion to keep Hertha at bay (he kept his 100th career clean sheet), and Schalke's goals came from a corner and a 90th-minute breakaway. It's also worth considering Schalke's hideous injury list - they are without the attacking thrust of Jefferson Farfan, the ice-cool finishing of Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and the midfield industry of Marco Hoger. Schalke do still have some good players - Kevin-Prince Boateng has scored four goals in ten games since arriving from AC Milan, while promising forward Julian Draxler says positive changes in his personal life will allow him to find his form after a poor run.
Schalke skipper Benedikt Howedes has suggested his side will try to dig in for a draw and rely on counter-attacks, but I would question whether the German side's defence is fit for that purpose. Only three teams in the Bundesliga have a worse defensive record than Schalke (22 goals conceded in ten games), and they are particularly bad at defending corners and free-kicks. In the first game between these sides in Gelsenkirchen, Chelsea scored the opener from a corner, and if you want a value bet it's worth backing someone like Branislav Ivanovic 7.613/2 or John Terry 8.27/1 in the To Score market. Mourinho has suggested he might make changes to his defence, so you may wish to wait for the team announcement before placing a wager.
Another reason to oppose Schalke is that every time they face an elite side, they lose. They were thrashed 4-0 at home by Bayern Munich, they were outplayed at home in a 3-1 derby defeat to Borussia Dortmund, and of course they lost 3-0 to Chelsea.
Before their horror show at St James's Park, Chelsea had put together a six-match winning streak. Whichever side Mourinho opts to field (he has a frightening array of attacking options), I would expect them to break down a defence which craves a clean sheet but doesn't have the necessary strength and organisation to get it. A fortnight ago Chelsea grabbed the lead and then destroyed Schalke on the break, and the Germans could be hit by a nasty case of déjà vu. The odds for the home win are skinny, so use the Asian Handicap and back Chelsea at either -1.0 & -1.5 at 1.9420/21, or -1.5 at 2.226/5.