Who: Chelsea FC vs. Atletico Madrid SAD
What: UEFA Champions League semi-final second leg
Where: Stamford Bridge, London, England
When: Wednesday April 30, 2014
Weather: The Weather Channel forecast Stamford Bridge
Time: 7:45 p.m. BST/2:45 p.m. ET/11:45 a.m. PT
Worldwide Live Streams and TV Channels: LiveSoccerTV.com
TV: Fox Sports 1, Fox Soccer 2Go, Fox Sports GO, Fox Deportes (U.S.); Sky Sports 1/HD, Sky Go, Sky Go Extra (UK)
Radio: SiriusXM FC Sirius 94 (Internet 94), BBC Radio 5 Live
3-Way Odds: Chelsea +120, Atletico Madrid +240, Draw +230
Total: Over 2½ +145, Under 2½ -185
Decimal Odds: Chelsea 1.61, Atletico Madrid 4.75, Draw 4.25
Decimal Total: Over 2½ 1.56, Under 2½ 2.40
Fractional Odds: Chelsea 20/33, Atletico Madrid 15/4, Draw 13/4
Fractional Total: Over 2½ 5/9, Under 2½ 7/5
Alternate Odds: Chelsea Pick -175, Atletico Madrid Pick +145
Chelsea -½ +120, Atletico Madrid +½ -145
Over 1½ -220, Under 1½ +165
First Half: Chelsea +200, Atletico Madrid +290, Draw Even
Chelsea Pick -165, Atletico Madrid Pick +125
Over 1½ +250, Under 1½ -350
Odds To Qualify: Atletico Madrid -120, Chelsea -110
Odds To Win Champions League: Chelsea 4/1, Atletico Madrid 4/1
(Real Madrid 7/4, Bayern Munich 2/1)
Source: Bovada (Kahnawake, Canada)
3-Way Odds: Chelsea +120, Atletico Madrid +225, Draw +210
Total: Over 2 -120, Under 2 -110
Pick Odds: Chelsea Pick -155, Atletico Madrid Pick +120
Source: The Greek Sportsbook (Freeport, Montego Bay, Jamaica, West Indies)
Does every game for Chelsea have to be the most important game of the year?
It really seems that way for the Blues right about now. First it was the Sunderland nightmare two weekends ago, which seemed to kill any hopes for an English Premier League title. Then it was the first leg of this UEFA Champions League semi-final series against Atletico Madrid in Spain last Tuesday, followed by Sunday’s mammoth win at Liverpool.
When will it ever end?
Soon, my friends. Very soon. But hopefully not before May 24.
What could be Chelsea’s last Champions League game this season will take place at Stamford Bridge this Wednesday, when La Liga-leading Los Rojiblancos invade jolly old England for the second leg with the aggregate score at 0-0 after almost nothing happened at Vicente Calderon in the first leg bar Petr Cech and John Terry sustaining injuries.
So, heading into this huge game against Atletico—any game that can get you in the Champions League final is a huge game—the Blues will definitely be without Cech as well as Frank Lampard and John Obi Mikel, who are suspended, as well as Nemanja Matic and Mohamed Salah, who are both cup-tied.
There are also Chelsea players who are injured but who may just play a part in this. Nobody would be that surprised if captain and club heartbeat Terry, PFA Young Player of the Year Eden Hazard and Samuel Eto’o featured. And the Blues could do with having all three of them available against this very talented Spanish club.
Manager Diego Simeone has done what many thought couldn’t be done in Spain’s highest level of soccer—break up the Barcelona-Real Madrid domination. The 43-year-old Argentinian has led Los Rojiblancos (28-4-3) to the top of the La Liga table this season, and with three games to go Atletico is on the verge of something pretty special.
This incredibly consistent and gritty team has also been tearing things up in the Champions League this season and is still the only unbeaten club left in the tournament. Atletico have conceded just five goals in their 11 games thanks, in great part, to Blues loanee Thibaut Courtois, who had few real quality attempts on him from the visitors in the opening leg.
Besides Courtois, other key players for Atletico are fiery, 27-goal forward Diego Costa—who Chelsea have been rumored to be courting in the coming summer transfer market—midfielder Koke, who has 13 assists and six goals to his name and defender Juanfran. The visitors will be without their suspended captain, Gabi, while Arda Turan is still nursing a groin injury, though he will probably be ready for this do-or-die midweek game in west London.
Atletico—who have won just once in nine road games in England (1-4-4) but are 5-2 in two-legged ties against English teams in UEFA play—are deep enough to deal with any injury or suspension problems. And with guys like David Villa (13 goals), Raul Garcia (eight), Diego Godin, Filipe Luis and Tiago on his roster, Simeone probably has the healthy-and-able-body edge over Jose Mourinho heading into the game.
But we all know Mourinho seems to thrive on a little adversity and somehow uses it as fuel to fire up his players. The man turns misfortune into motivation like a magician turning a dove into a bouquet of flowers.
For Chelsea (24-6-8,) who are still in second place in the Premier League standings after the 2-0 win over the Reds at Anfield—which, by the way, qualified them for the Champions League next season—trying to score a goal against Atletico this time around will have to be a priority after failing to nab a precious away goal in Madrid. And it won’t be easy against the stingy Courtois, whose club has allowed a league-low 22 goals.
That means Hazard and Eto’o, if they play, and Andre Schurrle, Willian, Fernando Torres and the all-of-a-sudden very important and very clutch Demba Ba, will have to somehow produce. And if one of those guys seems poised to be the Blues latest hero, it’s Schurrle. But finding gaps in the Los Rojiblancos defense is like trying to get a picture of Prince leaving a nightclub—it can be done, but only with a strange combination of skill, luck and timing.
One concern for the Blues is the availability of defensive midfielders, with Lampard and Obi Mikel suspended and Matic cup-tied, so Chelsea will probably have have to rely on Ramires and David Luiz in those important roles.
Cesar Azpilicueta and Gary Cahill—both deservedly named to the PFA team of the Year—and Branislav Ivanovic and Ashley Cole should make up the back four—if Terry doesn’t pull off his Superman routine, that is—while Mark Schwarzer will be in goal.
And if I’d have told you a month ago that the 41-year-old Australian would have shut out two of the best teams in Europe in a five-day span in massive games, you’d surely have thought that a brother was partaking in some Gonzo Journalism of the highest degree and may have possibly fallen into a vat of ether or something equally entertaining, yet perilous.
It’s not easy being a writer, reader.
So, can Schwarzer shine again and lead Chelsea to the Promised Land, the 2014 UEFA Champions League final at Estadio da Luz in Lisbon, Portugal on May 24? He’ll pretty much have to, unless there is some kind of divine intervention not named Eva Carneiro that will heal Cech in the next two days, it’s going to all be up to the old man from down under.
Commence prayer session, Bluebloods.
Hazard, Eto’o and Terry will no doubt do everything in their powers to be physically available to go against Atletico, and even if only two of the three can go, they will no doubt be vital pieces in what will surely be a massive game of grassy chess between Mourinho and Simeone.
And when Mourinho stealthily pulls Didier Drogba out of his pocket at the 63-minute mark of the second half and somehow disguises the former Chelsea striker as Oscar in his former, and the young Brazilian’s current No. 11 uniform, you too will believe in magic. Abracadbramovich stuff.
Like the first leg, the number of quality attempts on goal should be extremely scarce here, and, for the Blues, an opening score by Atletico would mean they need two goals to avoid being eliminated by that dangerous road goal Mourinho seemed to avoid going after at Vicente Calderon.
Chelsea have only beaten Spanish opposition once in four previous UEFA semi-finals—the last time, in 2011-12, when a beat-up Blues bunch bounced Barcelona and Lionel Messi to earn their shot at "Old Big Ears" in Munich, so the confidence and experience earned there could prove invaluable.
Handicapping a winner in this particular game seems much like flipping a coin, so my advice is to try to find a total of 2½ somewhere and back the Under. Chelsea will have to focus on defense because of their lack of road goal, and Atletico have been the best defensive team in the Champions League and have the rubbery, impenetrable beanpole Courtois in goal.
In the end, luck or a bad call or a red card or something weird could possibly be the difference between progression or elimination. Or extra time and penalty kicks, should it actually end up being 0-0 at the end of 90 minutes.
With so much at stake and both teams being so good at getting bodies back in the right spots defensively, this will be almost identical to the first leg and probably, again, a little bit boring for the home viewer or casual fan. But neither one of these teams care about entertaining you in the least, so have another donut.
One thing’s for sure: the home crowd at SW6 will be almost as valuable and important as Mourinho’s mind or Hazard or Eto’o’s participation. And if it was part of Mourinho’s grand plan to play to a scoreless draw in the opener, who knows what the 51-year-old Portuguese mastermind has in store for this leg.
If defense and settling for a scoreless draw was all part of his scheme then offense and trying to score at least one goal at Stamford Bridge also had to have been part of that plan. Heading in without a road goal here is a pretty risky strategy, as the aforementioned 1-1 draw would be an absolutely brutal way to head out of the tournament after all this hard work.
Who knows? At this point in the Champions League, it’s usually all pretty tight—as Chelsea know from two years ago—and it often comes down to the waning minutes, that last header, a penalty kick for all the marbles and glory. For some reason, I see Schurrle having his big moment on Wednesday.
And no matter how low-scoring or potentially no-scoring and boring this one may be, there is no doubt that in the end this will somehow be entertaining by the very nature of its importance to the victor. A win here means a chance to play in the final in Lisbon in a month against the winner of the Bayern Munich-Real Madrid tie.
Prediction: Chelsea 1 Atletico Madrid 0
Bet: Under 2½ -165
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