Chelsea's chance to atone

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 26 February, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 26 February, 2005, 12:00am

Premier League leaders can put FA Cup and Champions League defeats behind them in League Cup final against Reds

Chelsea have had a bad week by their high standards, but they should claim their first piece of silverware under Jose Mourinho in tomorrow night's League Cup final.

Victory over Liverpool would get Chelsea back on track after their FA Cup exit at Newcastle and their acrimonious Champions League defeat in Barcelona.

Mourinho has always stressed that he takes every competition seriously, so there can be no doubt that he will be keen to re-establish the winning feeling.

Rafa Benitez will be equally determined to land his first trophy as Liverpool manager and his team travel to Cardiff on the back of one of their best displays of the season - the 3-1 home win over Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League. With Fernando Morientes set to bolster the attack, Liverpool fans will have plenty of hope.

Chelsea have had the better of two close matches in the Premiership this season, winning 1-0 home and away, and on paper this looks just as tight, but Chelsea again hold a slight edge. It has to be said that Chelsea were lucky at Anfield, where Liverpool should have had a penalty before Chelsea scored, but they always looked in control of the Stamford Bridge game. The big difference between those two matches was in the level of Liverpool's performance - and it is typical of their season that the Anfield display was several notches higher. It is hard to know how they will play on neutral territory, but certainly their away form suggests they have plenty to find.

Chelsea's form hardly fluctuates, home or away, so they seem guaranteed to play to their usual level and are much the safest bet. The other plays to consider are a 1-0 Chelsea win and low goals.

That leaves eight Premiership games this weekend, with Manchester United and Arsenal having the chance to put some pressure on Chelsea during the leaders' absence from the fray. Both are in live action tonight, with Arsenal first up at Southampton and United at home in the late game against Portsmouth.

Not for the first time this season, Arsenal will have to bounce back from a demoralising defeat (the 3-1 loss at Bayern Munich) and this match boils down to whether form can be trusted - in which case Arsenal are fair value - or whether the champions are really on the ropes after this latest body blow.

Arsenal looked more vulnerable three weeks ago when they travelled to Aston Villa following the home defeat by Manchester United, but they scored an impressive 3-1 win then and punters should not lose sight of the fact that it still takes a top-class team to stop the Gunners.

United also lost in Europe in midweek, but their domestic form remains first-class and they appear to have a straightforward task against Portsmouth, who are no match for the big teams away from their own patch.

United should cover the handicap.

The best bets in England are Spurs, who host Fulham in another of tonight's live games, and Middlesbrough, featured live tomorrow night at home to Charlton.

The only doubt about Spurs is their poor record in London derbies, but otherwise they have all the right credentials to beat Fulham for the first time in almost three years.

Boro's 2-1 Uefa Cup success over Graz AK was their 12th home win out of 18 matches in all competitions this season, and they look good value to add another tomorrow night. Charlton have taken most of their points against bottom-half sides and, while they should keep it close and low-scoring, they don't appear to have the attack to trouble the better teams.

The big game in Spain is Real Madrid's trip to Deportivo La Coruna tonight, with the hosts looking good value, but there are better bets elsewhere in the Primera Liga.

Atletico Madrid hold a clear edge at home to Real Sociedad in tomorrow night's live clash. Atletico are a first-rate home side, even if they are prone to the odd slip-up, and their ability was evident in their recent surprise win at Barcelona. Sociedad can turn in the odd good display, but in general they are a poor team on the road.

Sevilla left it late against Panathinaikos in their midweek Uefa Cup tie, but they are unlikely to meet such strong resistance tomorrow night when Racing Santander visit their southern stronghold. Sevilla are very solid at home, while Racing have managed just one draw from their last eight away games.

Cagliari, with eight wins out of nine at home to teams outside Italy's top three, are banker material against Serie A bottom club Atalanta, who have taken only two points from 12 away games.

Werder Bremen are the short-priced bankers in Germany, where they host struggling Bochum tonight.

Werder had been in great form before their shock 3-0 home defeat by Lyon in the Champions League and they should bounce back against Bochum, who have won only once away and have been a poor match for the best sides.

A more speculative option is bottom club Hansa Rostock, who host Borussia Monchengladbach. Rostock have not won at home this season, while the visitors are winless away, but there have been some positive signs for Rostock - certainly at home, where they have drawn their last three games, including a 2-2 against Schalke when they were denied victory by a last-minute equaliser.

There is plenty of midweek action, featuring four FA Cup fifth-round replays in England and a full Primera Liga programme in Spain, which includes the Barcelona derby, Sevilla v Valencia, and Real Madrid v Real Betis, all live.

Best homes: Tottenham, Cagliari, Middlesbrough, Sevilla, Atletico Madrid.

Best aways: Chelsea. High goals: Deportivo v Real Madrid, Palermo v Roma.

Low goals: Middlesbrough v Charlton, Inter Milan v AC Milan.


Each week our expert tipster Nick Pulford suggests his pick of the fixtures to offer the best return-to-risk ratio for a $1,000 bet.

This week:

$200 win Cagliari, Sevilla.

$150 win Rostock, Tottenham, Middlesbrough, Atletico Madrid.