Swans to stun slow-starters
Swansea's superb season could get even better on Wednesday night if they can avoid defeat in the first leg of their Capital One Cup semi-final with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
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Michael Laudrup's side continue to impress, led by talisman Michu, and few would begrudge them a cup final given the level and manner of their performances since they became the first side from Wales to reach the Premier League.
The trouble is, they meet a Chelsea outfit for whom this competition is definitely a priority. Interim manager Rafael Benitez needs to win over the fans as soon as possible and although that may take a title challenge, winning the season's first major trophy would be an excellent starting point.
That's why he named a very strong side at Leeds last time and it's why we should expect the same here.
Petr Cech and John Terry remain out and both Jon Obi Mikel and Victor Moses have left for the Africa Cup of Nations, but otherwise Benitez has a full complement to choose from.
Laudrup will name a similarly strong team and it's significant that Michu started as a substitute in the FA Cup, presumably preserved for this excellent chance to make Wembley.
So, two first-choice teams look certain and for that reason I couldn't back the hosts at 4/9. Not only have they only won half of their home games in the league this season, but Swansea have won four and drawn two of their away games - they're better on the road than many would have you believe.
And while Swansea lost 4-1 here in September 2011, that was at the very start of their new era as a top-flight club and they've learned plenty since. Take a look at their trips to Man City and Tottenham this year and you'll see that they lost both by a goal to nil, so if Chelsea are to win I'd be edging towards them doing so by exactly a goal at a shade under 3/1.
But for all Chelsea's recent improvement, they've won just two of their last nine home games in all competitions and their failure to even score against QPR last time out highlights the risk backers are taking. At the same time, they can turn on the style without warning so it's hard to find a way to back them at a good price.
Instead I'll head to the side markets and it's worth noting that Chelsea been slow-starters in both this competition and the FA Cup. They were behind at Southampton on Saturday and at Elland Road in the quarter-finals of this, as was the case when they edged past Man United in the previous round.
With all of that in mind and his strike rate of a goal every other game since joining Swansea, 11/4 about Michu finding the net is both obvious and very reasonable. Forty per cent of his haul have come away from home and he's bagged against top-class opposition, so this occasion is unlikely to concern him.
However, I'm going to take a marginally shorter price (5/2) about Swansea scoring first.
They've done so in each round of this competition and in each of their last three games, and their style of play means that this market should be a good deal tighter in my opinion.
Over half of the goals Chelsea have conceded at Stamford Bridge this season have come before half-time and in a game which looks particularly hard to solve, a small bet on the visitors scoring first is my advice.