THE Champions League continues this Tuesday as Chelsea welcome Barcelona to Stamford Bridge. Ben Levene (@BenLevene96) shares his best bets.
Chelsea v Barcelona | Tuesday 20th February 2018, 19:45 | BT Sport
The 2017/18 campaign has been quite indifferent for Chelsea and Antonio Conte. Things haven't been right since the sale of Nemanja Matic in August.
Results have been inconsistent, and in January Conte made it quite clear he was unhappy, often stating his discontent with transfer activity.
Chelsea can dig deep
However, these inconsistent results might just give us an edge if we delve a bit deeper.
Despite underlying issues, Chelsea have still performed well in the big games. At the start of the season they followed up an opening day loss to Burnley with a 2-1 win over Spurs at Wembley. In September they won 2-1 away at Atletico Madrid, before just losing out 1-0 to Man City three days later.
The Blues were able to beat Man Utd 1-0 at Stamford Bridge, despite losing 3-0 in Rome just five-days prior. They also drew 1-1 away at Anfield in late November.
From this we can see that irrespective of their form, Chelsea are capable of a big performance. In a one-off game, they have the tools to trouble anyone.
Just maybe things are in place for another big Chelsea performance. After all, they came through a tricky Group C, are 4th in the Premier League, reached the semi-final of the Carabao Cup and remain in the quarter-final of the FA Cup, despite not playing particularly well.
The week gap between games against Watford and West Brom earlier this month was the first-time Conte’s side have had a full week off since the November international break. The Italian rang the changes in Friday’s FA Cup win over Hull, giving the likes of Cesar Azpilicueta, N’golo Kante, Eden Hazard and Alvaro Morata a complete rest.
The impressive Marcos Alonso is also likely to return from injury.
With a seven-point lead in La Liga, Barcelona will be determined to reassert their presence on the biggest stage of the lot.
Remarkably, just five of Barcelona’s 32 La Liga goals away from home have come in the first-half. If we look at their record away at other sides in the top-six of La Liga (Atletico, Valencia, Villarreal and Real Madrid), none of their seven goals have come in the opening 45.
This becomes even more interesting when you consider that Barcelona scored just one goal across three away matches in the Champions League group stage earlier this season, and that was via a 49th minute Sebastian Coates own-goal v Olympiacos.
Even at home, just two of their eight goals in the group phase came in the first-half. One of those was an own goal and the other came in the 45th minute.
Barcelona travelled to Valencia in the Copa Del Ray earlier this month, winning 3-0 on aggregate, yet all three goals came after the break. None of their last eight goals in all competitions have come in the first-half, with just three of their last 19 goals coming in the opening 45.
Barca are no doubt playing better than last season, but watch out for their right-back issue which may be evident again. Nelson Semedo has slotted in nicely this season, however misses out this Tuesday through suspension. With Eden Hazard's tendency to roam out left, the makeshift Sergi Roberto could have his hands full.
Chelsea have kept eight clean sheets in their last 11 at home. They have not conceded during the first-half since early December at Stamford Bridge.
Ernesto Valverde has injected steel into this Barca side, and the 4-4-1-1 system has seen Lionel Messi thrive.
They’re unbeaten in La Liga this season, keeping eight clean sheets in 12 away games. They’ve conceded more than the single goal in just 1/38 games in all competitions this season.
Thirteen of Barcelona’s 20 away games this season have seen Under 2.5 Goals, as have each of their last five matches more generally. All three of their away group games saw Under 1.5 Goals.
Chelsea will sit deep and pack the midfield, with Eden Hazard roaming just behind Alvaro Morata as they look to counter-attack.
They’ve shown this season that they are more than adept at soaking up pressure. Cumulatively against Spurs, City, Utd and Liverpool they’ve conceded just three. At Stamford Bridge they were able to limit Utd to just two shots on target, while an attacking Man City side produced just five shots on target.
Chelsea v Barcelona – Under 2.5 Goals (21/20 Betfair)
Chelsea v Barcelona – Chelsea to qualify (11/4 Stan James)