Chelsea v Real Madrid: Cagey contest forecast at the Bridge
Chelsea and Real Madrid meet in the Champions League semi-final second leg on Wednesday after a 1-1 draw in the reverse. Mark O'Haire previews the encounter...
Chelsea enjoy derby victory
Kai Havertz scored twice to boost Chelsea's grip on a Champions League place as the Blues cruised to a 2-0 success over near neighbours Fulham on Saturday evening. Havertz, one of five changes from Thomas Tuchel's team that earned a 1-1 draw at Real Madrid last midweek, latched on to Mason Mount's through ball to give the hosts an early lead.
The young German doubled the Blues' advantage when he finished after a one-two with Timo Werner soon after the half-time interval. In between those efforts, Hazard also had a goal correctly ruled out for offside. Fulham did create first-half chances, testing Edouard Mendy, but created nothing of note after the break as Chlesea earned another clean sheet.
Billy Gilmour made his first Premier League appearance under Tuchel and Kurt Zouma, Reece James, Hakim Ziyech and Kai Havertz all returned after beginning the first leg against Real Madrid on the bench. Chelsea are expected to revert to the same system and side that earned a share of the spoils in the Spanish capital ahead of the return tie on Wednesday.
Madrid overcome Osasuna
Real Madrid head coach Zinedine Zidane was full of praise for his players as they squeezed to a 2-0 win over Osasuna. Late goals from Eder Militao and Casemiro mean the defending champions stay in the La Liga title race with a two point gap in behind rivals Atletico Madrid in top spot with four rounds of league action left to play.
However, Zidane's side struggled for large periods with Osasuna carrying a constant threat on the counter attack. But with another win on the board for Los Blancos, Zidane was pleased at full time, saying: "Today is a good victory. My celebration at the end was for my players. I am happy for them, as they are the ones out on the field suffering."
Zidane confirmed midfield pair Toni Kroos and Luka Modric were rested on the bench, whilst Eden Hazard made a rare start after another injury lay-off. Elsewhere, Sergio Ramos, Ferland Mendy and Fede Valverde are all hoping to be fit enough to travel to London after recovering from injury. Raphael Varane is also expected to be fit despite a minor niggle.
Blues favourites to progress
Chelsea and Real Madrid are facing off for the fifth time in European competition this midweek with the Blues unbeaten against the Spanish giants in four previous fixtures (W2-D2-L0). Los Blancos are winless in their last four trips to England in the Champions League (W0-D2-L2) since travelling to Anfield in the group-stages of the competition in 2014.
Chelsea 2.30 have enjoyed a remarkable and immediate turnaround since Thomas Tuchel arrived. The Blues have been the Premier League's most dominant in terms of performance data and process, built upon a rock-solid defence that's shutout 17 of 23 opponents across all competitions during the German's reign. The hosts have W7-D2-L2 here in that sample.
Real Madrid 3.55 arrive unbeaten in 19 matches (W13-D6-L0), including encounters against Liverpool, Barcelona, Atalanta and Atletico Madrid. Los Blancos have tended to impress in the matches that matter this term, although Zinedine Zidane's side have looked fatigued of late, particularly lacking in the final-third in terms of creativity and conversion.
Oppose early goals
Bar the opening half-hour in last week's reverse, the first leg went largely to expectations with both sides reasonably happy to protect and preserve. There's a chance Wednesday's tie could follow the same pattern with Chelsea's improvements from a defensive standpoint and game management leading towards total goals figures dropping significantly.
Real Madrid too have appeared more assured defensively in 2021, at times toiling in terms of invention. Stylistically, Los Blancos aren't suited to open, basketball-style shootouts, so whilst the Spaniards will need to open up and attack at some point, Zinedine Zidane's troops could opt for a pragmatic approach from the off at Stamford Bridge.
With that in mind, I'm willing to have an interest in Under 0.5 First-Half Goals at 2.70. The goal expectancy for the game sits below the standard 2.50 line, with spread betting firms expecting the opening strike around the 39th minute. However, the 2.70 available suggests just a 37% chance of a goal before half-time, giving us a decent value margin.
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