Having been dumped out of the Champions League at the first available opportunity, Chelsea are just one slip, trip or fall away from an embarrassingly early Europa League elimination.
Play as they did against Steaua Bucharest in the first leg of their last-16 tie last week – which they lost 1-0 – or the first half of their FA Cup quarter-final clash with Manchester United on Sunday, and this is a very real possibility. But surely Chelsea can’t be as bad as that again. Can they?
During last season’s victorious Champions League campaign, Chelsea overturned a worse scenario than this against Napoli, who they beat 4-1 after extra time at Stamford Bridge having lost the first leg 3-1. But two noteable absentees twelve months on are Didier Drogba and unity.
Under Rafael Benitez Chelsea often resemble a bunch of talented individuals ambling around with no direction or desire, typified in that turgid first leg 1-0 defeat in Bucharest a week ago.
The European champions looked anything but as they deservedly went down to a Raul Rusescu penalty, and although the initial decision was soft, the Londoners deserved what they got with a pitiful performance lacking so many of the characteristics which drove them on to Munich.
Anything similar at Stamford Bridge tonight will surely see Chelsea drop out of the competition they dropped in to and end the chances of yet another piece of silverware.
But there is cause for optimism.
This Steaua Bucharest side lost 5-1 at home to Stuttgart earlier in the competition and if Chelsea play to their capacity then they should force a passage through to the quarter-finals.
bwin still have Chelsea as 1/2 favourites to make it through with Steaua at 7/5 despite a one goal advantage and after predicting what would happen during the first leg, I’m going to stick my neck out again and say Chelsea will pass the test – just.
An away goal for Steaua means Chelsea will need three and I reckon both of those will happen.
Benitez’s side have only kept two clean sheets in their last eight home matches and the Romanian league leaders showed enough threat last time to worsen that stretch.
Yet Steaua conceded three away from home at the weekend and this suggests that the Blues have got at least three goals in them – even with Fernando Torres starting up front. This makes the multiple correct score of 2-1, 3-1 or 4-1 Chelsea look very well priced at 16/5.
However, it’s the more bankable 19/20 for there to be over 1.5 goals in the second half that I’ll be going for. Chelsea’s proclivity for anonymous first periods is key here, because if this trend continues they’ll need to be firing on all cylinders after half time.
The key stat is that 18 of Chelsea’s last 21 goals have been scored after half time, which suggests if Torres and the Blues do find their shooting boots it will only be after a frantic search while Rafa gives his team talk at the interval. With this in mind, that 19/20 looks there for the taking.
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