Andy Brassell On European Football: Big Champions League chance for Chelsea
Frank Lampard's men can take advantage of Valencia's patchy form in Spain this week says Andy Brassell, as he assesses various teams' Champions League concerns...
Chelsea have golden chance in ailing Valencia
In one of the most open Champions League groups, it's almost winner-takes-all at the Mestalla on Wednesday night, with Valencia, Chelsea and Ajax (the latter travel to France to face Lille) all on seven points ahead of their penultimate matches. Given that Chelsea lost to Los Che on opening night back in September, they may well be grateful for the opportunity that the return offers them.
It really is an opportunity as well. Valencia are fragile, treading water in midtable no-man's-land in La Liga after months of ructions upstairs, precipitating the exits of storied coach Marcelino and sporting director Mateu Alemany. They slipped behind the European places at the weekend after a game in which they took the lead at Real Betis, before falling to a last-gasp Sergio Canales winner.
This is the current Valencia in a nutshell. They are not without talent. What they are is drifting. Their famously demanding home crowd will need some encouragement early on in this game, as their team- so full of attacking talent like Maxi Gomez, Rodrigo and Kevin Gameiro- so often flatter to deceive. If Frank Lampard's side can safely negotiate the early stages then the Mestalla could get on the home players' backs, which would serve The Blues well.
Back Chelsea to win at2.18
Battle of Rome for Serie A Champions League places
It was a great weekend to be a Roman. Felipe Caicedo's late winner at Sassuolo snared three points for Lazio, while the Chris Smalling show - with a goal and two assists for the Manchester United loanee - saw Roma to victory over Brescia. By Monday morning, the capital's two clubs occupied third and fourth place in Serie A.
They both had their challenges last season, with Simone Inzaghi's side suffering a bad hangover from missing out on a Champions League place to Inter on the final day of 2017-18 and Monchi's plan for Roma going badly awry, with the losses of Radja Nainggolan and Kevin Strootman badly weakening the squad's togetherness.
Lazio are the division's second top scorers behind Atalanta, sparking memories of that glorious 17-18, with Sergej Milinković-Savić and Luis Alberto in fine form, Joaquin Correa chipping in and Ciro Immobile having reached a barely believable 15 league goals already. Roma haven't been quite as spectacular but Paulo Fonseca is building a stable, recognisable unit, which is no mean feat after last year's misery. With Napoli stumbling again at the weekend at Milan and now on a run of five winless games in Serie A, Rome's finest have the chance of a top four place in their own hands.
Back Roma to win at Verona at1.87
Monaco compromised for PSG visit
Every time it looks like Monaco are back on the straight and narrow, they manage to wander into trouble again. Sunday's match at Bordeaux was a case in point. They got their noses in front, conceded a cheap equaliser from a set piece against the run of play and went onto lose.
The frustration of their supporters, and their coach Leonardo Jardim, must be immense. Jardim's compatriot and Bordeaux counterpart Paulo Sousa would give his eye teeth for the talent Monaco have on their books, but the latter has coached Les Girondins into fourth place. Sousa is still waiting for a frontline striker to beef up his attack, with 20-year-old Josh Maja leading the line at the weekend.
Monaco, by comparison, have an embarrassment of riches. They started out at the Mahmut Atlantique with Wissam Ben Yedder and Islam Slimani (who have clicked brilliantly in one of the season's rare successes so far) up top, and were able to throw on another €50 million-plus of talent in Keita Baldé and Jean-Kévin Augustin as they chased the game. Slimani scored early on but was dismissed for a couple of quick bookings in the second half - and his ban means he'll miss the visit of Paris Saint-Germain on Sunday, which would have been daunting even with him available.
The averageness of the competition below PSG means Monaco remain only six points away from the Champions League, but they can't afford many more stumbles - and Jardim and company will be up against it at the weekend minus the talismanic Slimani. PSG to win at Monaco is currently at1.49