Before the Champions League final between Barcelona and Manchester United in 2009, much of the talk centred on the Spanish club’s star player Lionel Messi and his apparent inability to score against English teams.
Two goalless appearances against Chelsea in the semi-final of that year’s competition, which the Spanish outfit won in controversial circumstances on away goals, took Messi’s drought to ten games against Premier League sides.
However, he exploded the myth that English defences had him in their pocket with a goal against United when it mattered most.
Since then, he has scored seven goals in five appearances against English opposition, including another goal against Manchester United in a Champions League final.
That this goal came at Wembley was significant as it was his first on English soil, meaning the only statistic Chelsea can cling to ahead of their semi-final showdown with Barca at Stamford Bridge is that Messi has not scored against the Blues in six appearances.
But, as Barca boss Pep Guardiola pointed out ahead of his side’s quarter-final against Milan, it is best not to provoke the Argentine maestro with statistics.
For that game, Italian journalists seized on Messi’s run of nine hours of football against Italian clubs without a goal in open play.
With strength, height and power among his biggest assets, Drogba has the attributes to trouble Barca if they stick with their policy of playing the diminutive Javier Mascherano in defence.
Messi’s response was two goals in the second leg and, while both of these came from the penalty spot, it was enough to send Milan out of the competition and a fitting riposte to those who doubted his goalscoring potential.
Perhaps the only statistic that matters ahead of this evening’s game, then, is that Messi has scored in 13 of his last 14 matches in all competitions and has notched 26 goals in total during this run – an average of exactly two a game.
With this in mind, it is no surprise to see Messi as short as 11/20 to score a goal at any time this evening and at 5/2 to score at least twice.
A successful £25 free bet on Messi to score two or more goals at Stamford Bridge is set to return £87.50, with the free bet available to new customers who sign up for a bwin account.
But if statistics were all that betting tips were based on, then Fernando Torres (9/4 to score at any time) would be the player to back this evening.
The Spaniard has scored seven goals in ten appearances against Barcelona, suggesting he is the best man around to strike fear into the hearts of the Catalan club’s backline.
As it is, Carles Puyol and co are surely more worried about the prospect of facing Didier Drogba.
The Ivorian has returned to form spectacularly since the appointment of Roberto di Matteo as interim manager and, in light of his performance against Tottenham at the weekend, it is he rather than Torres who is likely to start up front for Chelsea tonight.
On his day, Drogba is arguably the best out-and-out striker around (as long as we bracket Messi as a false number nine and pigeonhole Ronaldo as merely a forward), capable of bullying an entire backline on his own and ruthlessly taking the chances he is afforded.
With strength, height and power among his biggest assets, he has the attributes to trouble Barca if they stick with their policy of playing the diminutive Javier Mascherano in defence.
The Argentine has proved extremely effective at the back this season but may have met his match in the physically superior Drogba.
Meanwhile, the fact that two of the seven goals conceded by Barca in the Champions League this season have been scored through headers hints at a vulnerability in the air which the Chelsea centre forward will be all too eager to exploit.
With this in mind, the price of 9/4 on Drogba scoring at any time could prove better value than the 5/2 on Messi scoring two or more.
Of the other options out there, Frank Lampard (3/1) will be confident of a goal having scored three times against Barca in his career.
He has also rediscovered his knack for scoring goals in important games, as highlighted by a strike in the FA Cup semi-final win over Spurs at the weekend.
At odds of 3/1, a £25 free bet on Lampard to score at any time will return a healthy £100, which could prove tempting to punters.
That said, those looking for the best chance of placing a successful bet will surely look no further than Messi.
Recommended bet: Drogba to score at any time @ 9/4
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