On the face of it, Chelsea’s round-of-32 Europa League clash against Sparta Prague is as good as over.
The Blues’ first-leg 1-0 away win in Prague means the Czechs need to outscore the Premier League side at Stamford Bridge to stand any chance of progression.
Chelsea were pretty poor overall in the Generali Arena a week ago, until Oscar arrived from the bench to grace the game with some class and a goal.
Sparta were lively in patches but a lack of competitive action and a dearth in quality meant Rafa Benitez’s side were never unduly ruffled and there’s little to suggest the storyline will alter much tonight.
The win last week hardly sent shivers of fear through the rest of Europe, but as Napoli and Atletico Madrid found to their cost in their respective first-leg clashes, underestimation can be fatal.
There are no added bonuses for qualifying in style and I wouldn’t be expecting Chelsea to knock your socks off tonight either.
bwin’s 3Way football betting market prices it up as 9/25 for the home win, with Sparta way out at 27/4 and the draw 15/4, and when all is considered I reckon this will be comfortable enough for the Blues.
Benitez has shown his hand early by confirming Frank Lampard and Branislav Ivanovic have got the night off, so he must be confident enough that his men will get the job done.
Failure to progress here will certainly mean adios for the Spaniard but a 1-0 away lead is a big ask to overturn for an average Sparta side.
One Chelsea goal means Prague need two, two means three and so on. Yet that’s all academic.
Chelsea have stuck four past both Wigan Athletic and Brentford at the Bridge in recent weeks and they’ll have enough to ensure they don’t match their early elimination from the Champions League.
For some reason though, Europa League games always lack the intensity and spark of its big brother and I reckon this will be another slow burner.
In the ten games Chelsea have played under Benitez at home, they’ve gone into the break scoreless in half of those and another 0-0 at the interval is 23/10.
If you’re thinking along the same lines, then you may as well skip that and jump to the half-time draw/Chelsea win at 17/5 and for me, that’s about the best bit of business on offer.
Other markets like Chelsea with under 3.5 at 11/10 or over 2.5 at 21/20 aren’t going to give you a massive profit, but if you’re having a dabble at the correct score, then 2-0 Chelsea at 11/2 is worth a go.
With Demba Ba cup-tied, Fernando Torres is bound to get another go and although El Nino has looked about as dangerous as a Women’s Institute cake sale, 4/1 for him to get two or more could come in if Chelsea click.
Looking further ahead, Napoli and Atletico’s implosions have cleared a bit of a path for Chelsea, so strike while the iron’s hot if you think they can go all the way.
The Blues are 19/4 outright favourites to win the Europa League and that price will only get shorter after tonight.
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