James Eastham believes the Champions League semi-final second leg will be closer than the market expects at Camp Nou on Tuesday night. And there may not be the goal-glut that we expect from Barcelona matches...
Back Under 2.5 Goals in Barcelona v Chelsea @ 2.58
Is Josep Guardiola right when he says Chelsea are favourites to reach the Champions League final thanks to their 1-0 lead from the first leg at Stamford Bridge last week?
The historic facts say he is, as 59% of teams that have carried a 1-0 first leg home lead into the second leg have gone through, based on a sample of 804 cases in European competition since the 1970-71 season. On that basis, Chelsea's price of 2.942/1 to qualify looks too big.
What that sample doesn't take into account, of course, is the quality of Barcelona. Rightly lauded as one of the finest teams of all time, Barca are eminently capable of overturning that first-leg deficit, and anybody that watched that game knows the Catalans are desperately unlucky to be behind in the first place. They managed 19 shots on goal to Chelsea's four, hit the woodwork twice, had another attempt cleared off the line and forced Petr Cech into some excellent saves.
Yet something else that has to be taken into account is the fact this game is arguably the biggest test of character for Barcelona in the past three seasons. Saturday night's 2-1 home defeat to Real Madrid effectively ended Barca's slim hopes of retaining the Spanish league title, and makes this game even more important. Losing at home for the first time in 29 outings this season just three days before hosting Chelsea is hardly the ideal way to prepare for tonight's game.
Another question is: are Barcelona good enough to score three times if Chelsea nick that all-important away goal? In theory, yes, although, Chelsea's rearguard action was so impressive last week it's hard to imagine Barca being at their free-scoring best if the visitors maintain the same concentration and focus they exhibited at Stamford Bridge. That's why the home side will pay as much attention to maintaining a clean sheet as scoring, in the early stages at least.
Given that Barca will have one eye on defending, under 2.5 goals is my first bet at 2.588/5. The price looks a touch big, and as long as the game is 0-0 during the first 20-25 minutes or so, you should find an opportunity to lay off for a profit in-running.
I would also consider backing Chelsea to qualify at that 2.942/1 price. Those odds give the Blues a 34% chance of getting through. I'd say their chances are bigger than that, even taking into account the quality of the opposition. You ought to get an opportunity to lay off for a profit at some point, as long as Barca don't race two or three goals clear.
If you fancy Barcelona to win, there are several ways to make them pay. The price of 1.292/7 on a home win in 90 minutes will be too short for most bettors, so the Asian handicap is a worthwhile alternative. Barcelona -1.5&-2.0 is 2.001/1; with this wager, you'll make a profit as long as the hosts win by two goals or more in 90 minutes.
Barcelona-Barcelona on the Half time/Full time market is 1.834/5, and Barcelona to win to nil is 2.26/5. That second bet is definitely worth a look considering how few scoring opportunities Chelsea created last week. Seventeen of Barcelona's 25 (68%) home wins this season have been to nil.
Best Bet: Barcelona v Chelsea under 2.5 goals @ 2.588/5.
Other Recommended Bet: Chelsea to qualify @ 2.942/1.