Roberto di Matteo’s reinvigorated Chelsea travel to Birmingham on Saturday for a crucial Premier League tie against troubled Aston Villa.
A series of just one win in eight games has left the Villans drifting towards the wrong end of the table and despite being eight points clear of the relegation battle, their fans are certainly not amused, as they see this season as a massive disappointment for a side that used to compete for European places under Martin O’Neill.
With Gabby Agbonlahor recently claiming that the fans’ negativity was affecting the team, Saturday’s encounter could turn very sour if Villa’s supporters don’t get behind their side.
Though things have yet to escalate, there is certainly something bubbling beneath the surface – the formation of a “McLeish Out” group being just one example of how unsettled some fans are.
Oddly enough, one of the club’s only truly positive results this season came at Stamford Bridge, when McLeish’s levies pulled off a stunning 3-1 win.
Though some ambitious punters would feel justified in taking bwin’s generous 31/10 odds on another Villa triumph, there are a number of factors which will likely turn the game in Chelsea’s favour.
For starters, two of Villa’s scorers from that previous meeting (Stiliyan Petrov and Darren Bent) are likely to sit this one out (Petrov has the flu), as will the likes of Charles N’Zogbia and Alan Hutton.
[Update: Stiliyan Petrov has been diagnosed with acute leukaemia – everyone at news.bwin.com/en/ extends their thoughts and best wishes to the player and his family at what must be an incredibly difficult time for all involved. Ed.]
With much of Villa’s attacking threat absent, their only hope of winning their second home league game since November seems to lie in opening the scoring and defending doggedly until the fat lady sings.
As 13 out of their last 16 goals have come in the second half, Chelsea are a good price to turn a half-time draw into a full-time win at 4/1. They will likely take their time to get into gear – especially after their midweek exploits – but should be brutal once they do so.
Though Di Matteo’s side have been solid on the road since he took over from Andre Villas-Boas over a month ago, the Londoners’ football has been far more efficient than it has been pleasing on the eye.
Therefore, it is possible that, if Villa get an early goal, they may intimidate Chelsea and take control of the match – McLeish’s men are rated as 33/20 shots to break the deadlock.
That said, Chelsea are still the strong 17/20 favourites in bwin’s 3Way football betting market (the draw is at 5/2) and will doubtless be buoyed by an impressive 1-0 win over Benfica at the Estadio da Luz, where Fernando Torres (of all people) came up with the assist for Salomon Kalou’s winning goal.
Expect Chelsea to score here (they’re quoted at 91/100 to net twice or more) and they should prove particularly dangerous from set-pieces or on the break.
Though Kalou is the name on everyone’s lips, Daniel Sturridge was surprisingly left on the bench in Lisbon, but were he to start tomorrow, he should be taken into consideration: at 7/5, he is good value to net at any time in the game.
Otherwise, John Terry (6/1) could make a difference from a corner, as he did last year to give Chelsea a 3-2 lead over Villa at Stamford Bridge.
As 13 out of their last 16 goals have come in the second half, Chelsea are a good price to turn a half-time draw into a full-time win at 4/1.
They will likely take their time to get into gear – especially after their midweek exploits – but should be brutal once they do so.
It seems a clever way of investing the free £25 bet bwin offer to new subscribers, as it would offer a return of £125.
For those who fancy a slightly long longer shot, how about betting on Torres to score the final goal, assuming he will drop back to the bench in favour of Didier Drogba?
Bwin’s odds of 9/2 (he’s the same price to score first) underline the progress the Spaniard has made since Di Matteo’s arrival.
He is still a shadow of his former self, but then again, so is Villa’s defence: their clean sheet against Fulham was their first at home since October (though Damien Duff did hit the post) and they are fragile enough to allow Torres to find the back of the net and continue working on his confidence.
Recommended bet: Chelsea to win after drawing the first half @ 4/1
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