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PUBLISHED : Saturday, 15 May, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 15 May, 2010, 12:00am

Chelsea will start as overwhelming favourites tonight as they try to become the first club to retain the FA Cup since 2003 and the first to do the double since 2002.

Tonight's final is top versus bottom from the Premier League and the market suggests there is little chance of an upset, with Chelsea 1.13 favourites. Portsmouth are 15.00 to pull off the biggest shock since Wimbledon defeated Liverpool in the 1988 final and the fact that there has been no comparable result in more than two decades shows how difficult it has become for the lesser clubs to win one of English soccer's big prizes.

One of England's big-four clubs have lifted the FA Cup in all but three of the years since Wimbledon's triumph and the stats show that when a big-four club have faced an opponent from outside the elite in the final, victory has gone to the big-four representative 12 times out of 13 since the Wimbledon-Liverpool final, though only seven have been won in 90 minutes.

One of those occasions was last year when Chelsea recovered from the shock of conceding a first-minute goal to beat Everton 2-1. On paper that was a much more difficult game for Chelsea than tonight's match, as Everton had just finished fifth in the Premier League and knocked out Manchester United in the semi-final.

Portsmouth are not in the same league as Everton - literally, as of next season - and Chelsea's 5-0 league win at Portsmouth seven weeks ago suggests tonight's final is a mismatch. Chelsea also won the reverse fixture at Stamford Bridge, though that was a much closer 2-1 win, settled by Frank Lampard's 79th-minute penalty.

A tight, low-scoring game would fit the pattern of FA Cup finals in the Premier League era, with 12 of the 17 finals in that period having under 2.5 goals, but Chelsea's free-scoring game means the potential is there for another runaway win. That has been more the norm in similarly matched finals, with big-four teams beating opponents from outside the top 10 of the Premier League 3-0, 2-0, 2-0, 2-0 and 4-0 in the Premier League era.

Chelsea off -2 on the handicap at 2/15 is an odds-against option and punters might also consider clear-cut correct scores to nil, such as 3-0 (available at odds of 6.00), 4-0 (8.00) and 5-0 (14.00). Of the 17 finals decided in regulation time since 1980, 14 have been won to nil.

Also on the scoring front, Chelsea's big-hitters will be popular in the first goalscorer market. Didier Drogba, who topped the Premier League scoring chart, opened the scoring for Chelsea on eight occasions in league games this season, while Frank Lampard, despite having scored the first goal only twice in the league this season, is the penalty taker.

In last year's final, Drogba scored Chelsea's first goal (the equaliser) and the winner was scored by Lampard.

An alternative to consider is Florent Malouda, who has been much improved this season and has scored several vital goals.

One of the remarkable aspects of this year's final is that it features the two clubs that have lifted the trophy in the past three seasons - Chelsea in 2007 and 2009, and Portsmouth in 2008. Plenty of water has passed under the bridge since Portsmouth's triumph under Harry Redknapp - and more importantly a lot of money has gone down the drain - but for the fans, players and manager Avram Grant, tonight's visit to Wembley is well deserved.

Grant came in under the most difficult circumstances and for the most part has found a willing response from the players, who have never given up despite delays in payments and uncertainty over their futures. They are not the only team to have suffered a heavy defeat against Chelsea and otherwise have been competitive in many of their matches, losing only 11 out of 38 league fixtures by more than a goal. That is the counter-argument to a clear-cut Chelsea win.

The cup run has shown Portsmouth's players at their best, with the semi-final victory over Tottenham proving they are capable of performing at Wembley against top-quality opposition, as they executed Grant's game plan with precision and verve.

The extent to which Portsmouth need to raise their game again is shown by this season's league results against top-half teams - 18 defeats out of 20, with just one win. That excludes the Tottenham semi-final and perhaps a cup factor will level the playing field tonight.

Chelsea won 17 out of 20 against bottom-half teams in the Premier League this season, but there is a glimmer of hope for Portsmouth from Chelsea's occasional stumbles against lesser opposition away from the stronghold of Stamford Bridge. The most notable was their 3-1 defeat at Wigan, which was followed through the deep midwinter by a run of below-par results on the road - 1-1 draws at West Ham, Hull and Blackburn interspersed with defeats against a couple of higher-quality sides.

Carlo Ancelotti's team finished the regular season strongly, however, with eight wins out of 10 in domestic football following their shattering Champions League exit against Inter. They had a goal difference of 37-5 in those 10 games and their resilience means they are unlikely to slip up with double glory in their sights.

If they perform as they have in recent weeks, Chelsea should win comfortably and provide a stylish end to the English top-flight season.

Shortlist: Bilbao, Aletico Madrid, AC Milan, Bolohna, Gijon, Valencia

Top five bets

1 Chelsea on handicap

Recent high-scoring form points to another clear-cut win

2 Bilbao home win

Should take advantage of Deportivo's poor away form

3 Atletico Madrid home win

Europa League winners can celebrate in front of their fans

4 AC Milan home win

Good odds to finish season on a high against Juventus

5 Valencia home win

On a run of six straight league wins at the Mestalla

 

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