With Chelsea's season and the fate of Antonio Conte's rein as manager turning into a soap opera, the second leg of the Champions League round of 16 is surely a defining moment. If they win, the prospect of Champions League glory remains alive. If they lose, it could spell doom for Conte and a side who already have a battle on their hands for Champions League qualification via a top-four league finish.
It doesn't need much imagination to see that Barcelona are very strong favourites to qualify and win the second leg. At 4/6, the question for punters is whether backing Chelsea to put in the performance of the season makes appealing value. Given the pragmatic Italian-infused tactics behind Chelsea this season – it just might.
Back in pre-season there were questions being asked about Barcelona after the Neymar saga. Indeed, they lost both legs of the Supercopa de España against Real Madrid, 3-1 at home and 2-0 away. But ever since, they've become the most feared side in Europe, only losing one game since the Madrid mauling – a 1-0 loss away to Espanyol in the first-leg quarter final of the Copa del Rey.
Barcelona were solid if not spectacular away from home in the Champions League Group Stage this year. However, they put sides to the sword back at the Nou Camp – something illustrated by 3-0 and 3-1 wins against Juventus and Olympiakos at home – sides they drew 0-0 with while playing away.
It's obvious that Barcelona are expected to do the business, but their odds of 4/9 with most leading online sportsbooks aren't appealing given the potential of the upset by an unpredictable Chelsea side. However, for midweek accumulator bets, they do look a solid proposition to put on your football betting slip.
Given Barcelona's form and profile this season, Chelsea have a real task on their hands – online bookies like Ladbrokes make them a 6-1 shot to knock Messi and crew. And it's hard to know which Chelsea side will turn up, with so many questions surrounding the integrity of the dressing room and squad mentality.
What looks easy to predict is the team’s tactical approach given their consistency this year in that department. Indeed, it's a shame that punters can't bet on Conte's 'park the bus' tactics, given that Chelsea's game against Manchester City at the Etihad recently looked distinctly like a trial run for the Camp Nou.
Conte's side received huge media criticism for playing 'anti-football' against City, and a 1-0 defeat hardly helped vindicate the decision to play Eden Hazard as a lone striker and leave Giroud and Morata on the bench. Chelsea have to score a goal to progress with a 1-0 victory and deliver at odds of 18/1 for backers, or take the game into extra time with a 1-1 draw at 8/1 odds with NetBet.
Nevertheless, Conte clearly doesn't believe his side can beat Europe's best teams by playing expansive football – only a complete switch of tactics or a player revolt would see them try and beat Barca at their own game. City had 71% possession against Chelsea and we can expect to see the same story against Barca.
Realistically, if Chelsea do get something more than Champions League elimination, it's likely to come virtue of a 1-0 or 1-1 scoreline. From a statistical perspective, in addition to the 1-1 draw with Chelsea, Barca have drawn four La Liga games 1-1 and one in the Copa Del Rey. The negative is they've all come away from home.
However, a 0-0 at home against Getafe and two 0-0 away draws in the Champions League demonstrate Barca isn't invincible when it comes to low-scoring draws. Backing Chelsea to win 1-0 at 18/1 does have some value appeal, but given Barcelona's unbeaten home record this season, 1-1 looks the safer option.
Antonio Conte's 'park the bus and hit them on the break' tactics won't need any histrionic hiding in laundry bins to decipher. While Barca look a solid accumulator selection, Chelsea's tactics make it tempting to predict the score in the event that they get a result they're hoping for.
Having failed to have a shot on target against Manchester City and now officially without David Luiz, Conte's plan will surely include the urgent need to hit the accelerator at least once. That could be enough to collect on a 1-1 draw at 8/1 with Ladbrokes and take the game into extra time.
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