Weblog: The football punter

Chelsea must go all out to finish top of the group 

Champions League Group C
BT Sport 3, 7.45pm

Chelsea have already qualified for the last 16 of the Champions League but topping the group is hugely important so the Blues should retain their focus to beat Atletico Madrid at Stamford Bridge.

Antonio Conte will expect Manchester United and Liverpool to top their sections, which puts Chelsea in serious peril should they not join fellow Premier League outfits Tottenham and Manchester City in finishing first.

If Chelsea are the only English team not to win their group it will mean they can draw only three sides in the first knockout phase - Besiktas, Paris St-Germain (assuming they avoid a four-goal defeat at Bayern Munich) or Barcelona.

Having a two-in-three chance of getting one of Europe's elite teams is obviously not ideal. whereas topping the section would see Chelsea draw, if it goes according to the betting at least, one of Real Madrid, Bayern, Porto, Shakhtar, Sevilla, Juventus or Basel.

There are three obvious dangers in Real, Bayern and Juve but it is a preferable situation to not finishing as group winners and Conte is set to demand full attention from his side.

Chelsea have won their last five home games and eight of their last ten in total, while they were much the better side in the reverse fixture in Madrid in September despite leaving it late before Michy Batshuayi's last-gasp winner.

Eden Hazard and Alvaro Morata caused problems for an Atletico side who are on the verge of Champions League elimination.

Atletico's two draws with Qarabag means they need not only to win at Stamford Bridge but also for Roma to lose at home to the minnows from Azerbaijan - the Italians are 1-40 to reach the last 16.

No Diego Simeone side will ever take their foot off the gas and Atletico have found their best form in recent weeks, winning their last four matches by an aggregate 12-1. Atletico have had 40 shots on target in those four fixtures and conceded just five.

Antoine Griezmann seems to be over his dip in form and Simeone has found a new way of playing with a more attack-minded set-up that sees his star man in the same side as Kevin Gameiro and Angel Correa, while midfielder Thomas Partey is being used at right-back.

However, home games with Roma (who always knew they had the Qarabag game in their back pocket to secure qualification), Elche and Sociedad and an away day at Levante are not quite the same as this difficult trip to the home of the Premier League champions.

Chelsea have been strong since N'Golo Kante returned from injury and can give themselves a better chance of making the quarter-finals by topping their Champions League group.


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Match in Focus


Swansea v Liverpool

Home Win Draw Away Win
Key stats
  • Swansea have conceded three or more goals just four times this season
Expert verdict
Liverpool thumped Swansea 5-0 at Anfield on Boxing Day but plenty has changed since and Jurgen Klopp’s Reds may have to work harder for their rewards in the reverse fixture in Wales. Carlos Carvalhal has since taken charge at the Liberty Stadium and they can stay competitive even if the silky-skilled Reds eventually take control.