Last updated at 19:45, Tuesday 24th April 2012

Allianz awaits for big-time Blues


Mike Holden
Champions League - Tuesday preview
2.5pts Chelsea to qualify against Barcelona at 2/1Blues boast phenomenal experience and can see the job through from an ideal position.0.5pt Chelsea to beat Barcelona in extra-time at 40/1Barca might well level up over 90 minutes but an away goal could kill them in the additional 30 minutes.

Pep Guardiola and Roberto Di Matteo might have entertained us all with their amateurish assessment of who's most likely to reach the Champions League final following Chelsea's 1-0 first-leg win over Barcelona last Wednesday but we think there's value to be had in going against the grain in the return.

"Chelsea are favourites," conceded Guardiola all too readily after the setback at Stamford Bridge. "No, it's 50-50," reasoned Di Matteo, trying a little too hard not to sound like a manager out of his depth.

Needless to say, the two men weren't short of offers on Twitter from punters willing to put up agreeable terms given that the holders were trading no bigger than 1.50 on the exchanges, but we think the market has strayed too far wide of the mark the other way and that's why we're backing Chelsea to qualify at 2/1.

Di Matteo might not win any awards for risk assessment but he now finds himself in a great position to add the biggest scalp in world football to his brief but nonetheless impressive CV.

Back Chelsea to qualify against Barcelona at 2/1

They say it's better to be a lucky manager than a great one and it's not unfair to say that Di Matteo has been fast-tracked by fate to these dizzying heights by an unlikely sequence of events. Who knows, in the parallel world of fortune that he inhabits, maybe Chelsea are an even-money shot to go through!

Either way, we're going to put our faith in substance over style, trusting the cold hard facts rather than the heartwarming aesthetics for which you pay a premium.

In the last decade, only three times in 17 attempts has a team been able to overturn the position in which Barcelona now find themselves and though it's fair to say none of those teams have been Barcelona, seldom has the protecting team carried as much Champions League experience as Chelsea - or Camp Nou experience for that matter.

It's a point that continues to be overlooked in the context of this clash, but this is now the sixth time that John Terry and Frank Lampard have competed at this stage of the competition, the fifth time for Petr Cech and Didier Drogba, the fourth time for Ashley Cole, Michael Essien, John Obi Mikel and Salomon Kalou, while Florent Malouda, Jose Bosingwa and Branislav Ivanovic have particpated in four semi-finals between them.

Back Chelsea to win in extra time at 40/1

So the normal anxiety issues don't apply, Barca will have to be at their brilliant best to pick holes but we're not convinced they will be. The Catalans have been a pale shadow of our expectations in recent weeks and are starting to look disjointed with Guardiola forced more and more to experiment at the expense of natural balance.

The impact of David Villa's long-term absence is being felt more now than it was initially and though Barca's faith in youth is only to be admired, it seems as though too much is being asked of their emerging talents, lessening the chances that the big names will combine to produce that much-needed moment of magic.

With that in mind, we see another tense encounter and though we wouldn't rule out a Barca victory by the odd goal over the 90 minutes, it merely accentuates the strength of Chelsea's position that they would willingly accept that.

They would obviously prefer the away goals route, but the 40/1 available on Chelsea to win in extra time has appeal because minds will tire and the Londoners would no doubt thrive on knowing an away goal at that point would leave the European champions with a serious mountain to climb.


Best of the rest:

Barcelona v Chelsea
Lionel Messi not to score at 13/8

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