Champions League tips, 18th April 2012

Chelsea v Barcelona, 19:45

We all know that Chelsea felt cheated last time they lost to Barca at this stage of the Champions League, and most of us also remember the disgraceful behaviour of their players as they threw childish paddies about the defeat. Didier Drogba in particular should never live that down, but with any luck the fact they are all a little bit older will mean that whatever happens, we at least won’t have to endure that level of idiocy from any of the London side this time around.

Barcelona are hardly a paragon of virtue themselves, with the likes of Busquets and Pedro never far from a dive, but the way they play the game makes it hard not to love them, and I for one can see this being a bad evening for the home side. The Chelsea midfield is slower, and older than it was the last time these met, and the likes of Lampard and Essien are so diminished as to be unrecognisable at times, particularly the Englishman wearing the treacle boots.

Chelsea will be without defender David Luiz for the game after the Brazilian centre-half injured his hamstring during the FA Cup win over Tottenham at the weekend. Gary Cahill could start in his place while Branislav Ivanovic is available, and this is shame for Roberto di Matteo. Since his arrival at the club Cahill has really struggled with the step up, while Luiz has been sticking it to his critics with some fantastic performances.

Barcelona defender Gerard Pique has been out with a thigh strain but is back in contention, while David Villa and Eric Abidal remain sidelined, Abidal with a potentially career-ending surgery. Barcelona aren’t the best at the back, but former Liverpool midfielder Javier Mascherano has become a key part of their team, and is a fairly accomplished replacement should Pique not make the eleven.

Because he’s playing I’ll give you the odds on Messi as first goalscorer, StanJames leading the way at 3/1. Ladbrokes have 9/2 on Barcelona winning by two goals, and most of the bookies seem to think the Spaniards will emerge victorious. I’d be genuinely amazed if the home side managed a 2-0, or something like that, but anything can happen, I suppose.

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