Back Solbakken in Bridge battle
Just a week after siding with Chelsea ahead of their Champions League clash with a European giant we’re willing to oppose the Blues as they begin their Capital One Cup campaign against a club in England’s second tier. Take Wolves (+1.25) to beat Chelsea on the Asian handicap.
We may have overestimated the Londoners’ capacity to perform on the biggest stage, despite their Munich triumph and while they remain atop the Premier League, there is something unconvincing about Roberto Di Matteo’s side. Just as there is something unconvincing about the manager himself. It would be churlish to try to deny him credit for the Champions League triumph but though he will be able to dine out on that forever, it won’t win him much long-term leeway at Stamford Bridge, with the owner as demanding as ever.
His side haven’t quite matched style and substance, scoring just once in 180 minutes against QPR and Stoke. And with changes set to be made for the visit of Wolves in the third round of the cup, Stale Solbakken’s men can give the hosts plenty to think about.
Without Didier Drogba waiting in the wings, the Blues do not possess the same talent in reserve as in previous campaigns, with the likes of Cesar Azpilicueta, Victor Moses and Oriol Romeu in line to come into the side.
For their part, Wolves are improving under Solbakken, a boss with European experience. The players who remained from the side which slumped out of the top flight last term have been joined by a band of international imports, who are beginning to warm to the task. The spine which underperformed in 2011/12 has rediscovered its form in the Championship, leading fifth-placed Wanderers to three straight victories.
Solbakken is unlikely to regard a trip to the home of the European champions as a time to chop and change. And the home side’s recent fortunes in this competition ought to hand him reason for encouragement. Last term they needed penalties to see off Fulham after a goalless draw, before beating Everton after extra time and losing at Liverpool. A year earlier they were knocked out at home against Newcastle in this round, having been defeated by Blackburn and Burnley in the two campaigns prior.
Di Matteo will not be judged on success in the minor competitions – his employers are demanding a challenge for honours with the Manchester clubs and prolonged dominance in Europe. So for small stakes, back the visitors to give Chelsea a rough evening.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday night we’re getting behind Reading as the Premier League’s bottom club take on the side directly above them in the standings, QPR. The Royals deservedly found themselves in the spotlight after their miserable home surrender against Tottenham a fortnight ago but we don’t envisage Brian McDermott’s charges reaching that sort of nadir again any time soon.
Recovery from disappointment has been a theme at the Madejski over the past 18 months. First they bounced back from play-off final failure then from a poor start to 2011/12, to secure promotion in fine style. And while the jump up a division will continue to put an inexperienced squad to the test, McDermott has proven his capacity to have the club more than punching their weight.
So we reckon the different focus of cup action can help the Royals rediscover the sort of pizzazz which helped them to the title last term. The R’s are in the same position, in that they are yet to taste league victory this season, but for Mark Hughes there is no excuse of a team adjusting to the demands of top-flight football.
The Welshman has assembled a side with plenty of know-how and despite useful showings in the home draw with Chelsea two weeks ago and Sunday’s loss at Tottenham, Sparky’s men appear to be short of spark. The visitors’ mobile wide players – the likes of Hal Robson-Kanu and Jobi McAnuff – can play with a touch less pressure and test a greying Rangers back line.
Some of McDermott’s notable early successes came in the cups, with 2010’s triumph over Liverpool a particular highlight. The club cannot afford to dismiss the knockout competitions as Steve Coppell’s side did in 2008, and with the underdog tag rattling around their necks again as they head to West London, take a chance on the visitors prolonging Rangers’ unhappy opening.
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