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08/02/2008 No.14
rendspotting Football/Rugby
Dan Roebuck
Friday February 8, 2008
  Back Chelsea to win by a whisker and cling on to favourites' tails

Odds compilers have been keeping Chelsea's price to win the title relatively short because Avram Grant's team still have to play Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool at Stamford Bridge. While the destination of the title is to some extent in their hands because of the lop-sided fixture list, Chelsea will be under extreme pressure to win those games, the first of which comes against Liverpool on Sunday.

The fixture could be of great significance to the outright-title market. Paddy Power have indicated that Chelsea would earn a double-figure quote for the title for the first time this season if they failed to win and the current top two in the Premier League - Arsenal and United - each gained three points this weekend. As it is, Chelsea are 11-2 (general) to win the league behind United at 4-5 (general), with Arsenal 15-8 (Boyle Sports).

So for the bookmakers a win is a must for Chelsea this Sunday if they are to remain in the race. Liverpool's chance has already gone. Rafael Benítez's side were quoted at a triple-figure price some weeks ago and even a win this weekend would not alter their odds enough to worry backers of the two market principals. A defeat would certainly alter the prices in the to-finish-in-the-top-four market. Liverpool are an incredibly short-looking 8-15 (Bet365) with Everton 7-2 (Bet365) and Aston Villa 8-1 (Sky Bet).

Chelsea are 21-20 (VC Bet) to win on Sunday with Liverpool 7-2 (Paddy Power) and the draw 9-4 (general).

Firms offering evens or better about Chelsea will see plenty of business. The Blues have suffered defeat only once (away at Arsenal) in 30 matches since losing at Old Trafford in Grant's first game in charge. It is hard to believe that the layers were offering 4-7 about the Israeli failing to last the season as Chelsea manager after that 2-0 defeat. Whether the expansive football Roman Abramovich was looking for has come with that run is open to debate. It has not gone unnoticed in punting circles that 11 of Chelsea's last 14 victories have come by a single-goal margin. Bet365's handicap market, which gives Liverpool a goal start, offers the draw at 11-4, seemingly a fair price (effectively you are backing Chelsea to win by one goal).

Layers are accustomed to low-scoring games between these two teams with most offering alternatives to the usual under-or-over-2½-goals market. Only three of the past 18 meetings have produced more than two goals in 90 minutes. Most firms offer 4-7 about fewer than three goals in the game with 5-4 available that there will be more than two. It may be a short price but the statistics suggest 4-7 is a value play. Sporting Index's total goals quote is 2.2-2.4.

The 13-10 (Paddy Power) about Chelsea keeping a clean sheet is also attractive. Under Grant, the Blues have achieved 20 in 31 matches, including a 2-0 home win over Liverpool in the Carling Cup, with the central defensive pairing of Ricardo Carvalho and Alex looking solid in recent months. And with Fernando Torres struggling with injury - the Spaniard limped out of his national team's 1-0 win over France on Wednesday with a hamstring strain - Liverpool's goal threat could be much diminished. Although having said that, punters have latched on to the fact that 10 of his 12 league goals this term have come at Anfield. Torres is 15-2 (Sky Bet and Sporting Odds) to score the first goal at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea's Nicolas Anelka is the 5-1 (Totesport) favourite in the first-player-to-score market. The former Liverpool striker has hit the opener in two of Chelsea's last three games and can boast four goals in nine starts against his former employers.

Correct-score punters should look no further than 1-0 to the home team, freely available at 6-1, as seven of the last 16 meetings between the pair have ended with the hosts securing success via a solitary goal.


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