AS Madness’s One Step Beyond boomed out at Stamford Bridge after the 1-0 defeat of Barcelona on Wednesday night, the Chelsea players looked like they believed this could be the year they finally go all the way in the Champions League.
Roberto di Matteo’s back-to-basics approach is paying handsome dividends and he’s taken expectations from almost nil to frenzied levels in less than two months. Chelsea could yet end up empty-handed and consigned to Europa League football in 2012/13, but I suspect they may land at least one of the prizes on offer.
The FA Cup is most realistic; there’s still a long way to go in the Champions League and the Blues have a tough run-in to negotiate to land a Premier League top four spot. They face Arsenal tomorrow in the middle of their Barcelona sandwich and it might be a game too far after their excellent performances at Wembley and Stamford Bridge.
Surprising defeats to QPR and Wigan have given the teams in pursuit of the Gunners hope again of catching them. If they lose to Chelsea then Di Matteo’s men will be four points behind with a game in hand, but I think Arsenal, the 21/20 favourites with Coral, will sneak this one.
The Gunners are probably England’s most comparable side to Barcelona and Di Matteo could use this as a warm-up for their mission in Catalonia on Tuesday. With that game looming large, it will be hard for Chelsea not to be distracted and the Italian may shuffle his pack. I can definitely see Didier Drogba making way for Fernando Torres and although the Spain striker has shown flashes of past brilliance, he’s not in Drogba’s league at the moment.
I would be more confident of a home win if it hadn’t been for the slip up against Wigan when the Gunners were a little off colour. Mikel Arteta is out for the rest of the campaign with the ankle injury sustained in that match and possible replacement Yossi Benayoun is ineligible against his parent club, so Wenger has an important decision to make in the middle of the park.
Even still, the Gunners should be backed to secure a third straight win against Chelsea after beating them 5-3 at the Bridge in October and 3-1 at the Emirates last season. Those high scoring encounters have influenced Sporting Index’s total goals quote of 2.7 – 2.9 but the value could be to sell at that mark, with the visitors unlikely to be keen on an open contest.
There’s another west versus north London clash tomorrow as QPR entertain Tottenham.
It will be Spurs’s first trip to Loftus Road since September 1995 when a Teddy Sheringham brace and Jason Dozzell strike cancelled out goals from Danny Dichio and Andy Impey to seal the three points for the visitors. There is every chance that will remain Spurs’ most recent victory in W12.
Spurs are in bad shape and their form away from White Hart Lane is terrible. Aside from the 5-1 FA Cup semi-final hammering, they haven’t won a Premier League road game in 2012 – the last was at Norwich in December.
Wigan’s Emirates victory has ramped up the pressure at the bottom, but QPR have won three on the bounce at home – against Liverpool, Arsenal and Swansea – and look terrific value at 14/5 with Coral.
Arsenal at 21/20 with Coral
Sell total goals at 2.7 with Sporting Index
QPR at 14/5 with Coral