Chelsea should edge Barca

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 18 February, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 18 February, 2006, 12:00am

Seconds out, round three - Chelsea and Barcelona go toe to toe again in the Champions League this week, and there will be no love lost between the two heavyweights after last season's bruising encounters.

The two champions met at the same stage of last season's competition, when Chelsea emerged 5-4 winners on aggregate. The second leg at Stamford Bridge was arguably the match of the season and overall the two games were a breathtaking roller-coaster ride packed with great goals and marvellous attacking play.

There was a poisonous atmosphere off the field, however, with the two clubs at each other's throats over allegations of referee bias and racism. The bickering has started again over the state of the Stamford Bridge pitch, with a growing belief in Barcelona that the playing surface has been neglected in a deliberate attempt to disrupt the smooth passing game of Frank Rijkaard's team. Chelsea are the pick to grab a first-leg lead, even though Barca should go through eventually.

Bayern Munich are one of the dangerous floaters in the competition and they could put last season's finalists Milan under pressure with a home win. Bayern's home record in their new AllianzArena is superb (15 wins out of 15, with nine clean sheets) and they've already beaten Italian champions Juventus there in this season's Champions League. Milan's away form is suspect - five defeats out of seven.

Werder Bremen could surprise Juventus in the Weser Stadium. Werder's open game could leave them vulnerable, but equally they should create more opportunities than most teams do against Juve.

Resurgent Real Madrid have the form to beat fading Arsenal at home. Real have won 10 out of 12 in 2006 and are back to their best at home.

With cagey matches in prospect, the advice in the other four ties is to back the home side on the handicap.

Recommended bets: Home wins for Bayern, Real, Chelsea, Werder. Ajax, Benfica, PSV, Rangers on handicap.