Chelsea 1.50 The Draw 3.80 Monterrey 6.75
Employers across the country beware: your staff may clock in a little late on Thursday with the temptation of a 10:30am kick-off tying them to their sofas over an extended brunch as Chelsea take on Monterrey in the FIFA Club World Cup semi-final.
Chelsea are in Japan for the tournament that pits 2012’s continental champions against each other, with interim manager Rafael Benitez all too aware success in the competition two years ago couldn’t save him his job at Inter Milan. He will do right to keep one eye over his shoulder here too, for life as Chelsea boss has not gone smoothly for Benitez so far - he recorded his first win in four games at the weekend against Sunderland.
Widely regarded in Europe as a random collaboration of unknown teams, the Club World Cup still fails to ignite the interest on this continent. Yet despite its tarnished image, this trophy could revive Chelsea’s season and help improve Benitez’s favour with the Blues faithful. They are 1.50 to beat Monterrey in 90 minutes on Thursday and 1.24 to progress to the final.
John Terry’s absence through knee injury means Gary Cahill and David Luiz are likely to start in the centre of defence; the pair brimmed with experience having both played 21 games already this season. Chelsea are 2.30 not to concede on Thursday. Club legend Frank Lampard is fit to play and, having netted three for Chelsea this season, the penalty taker is a good choice at 2.85 to score at any time. He should earn a start in midfield in place of the injured Oriol Romeu, while John Obi Mikel is expected to play a full 90 minutes because of his domestic suspension this December.
Up front, Fernando Torres is a hot striker once again after two goals and an assist in each of his past two outings; he is the game's favourite to net first at 4.90. Monterrey, meanwhile, could throw up some surprises with Neri Cozardo their main threat from the right flank. They are without influential striker Humberto Suazo (thigh) and so will rely on Cesar Dalgado, who scored twice in the quarters against Ulsan Hyundai.
Chelsea have won just three of their last 13 games and have been woeful in elite club competition since winning the UEFA Champions League back in May. They fell in the group stage of the tournament this autumn, a 3-0 defeat to Juventus costing former boss Roberto Di Matteo his job. Their decline started back in August when comprehensively outplayed by Europa League winners Atletico Madrid 4-1 in the UEFA Super Cup. They will take confidence from last weekend’s 3-1 win over Sunderland, however, in which Juan Mata got on the scoresheet for his tenth of the season. Mata is 3.00 to net, with a repeat scoreline at 11.00.
While Chelsea continue to suffer from inconsistencies, Monterrey have fared little better recently after finishing seventh in the Mexican Apertura before being eliminated in the quarter-finals of the year-ending Liguilla tournament. Striker Humberto Suazo scored six goals over their 18-game campaign, and you can back any Monterrey player to score on Thursday at 1.35.
Monterrey do have previous elite club experience after they claimed a second successive CONCACAF Champions League title in April. They faced Mexican sides in each knock-out stage, winning the two-legged final 3-2 over Santos Laguna. Another 3-2 win on Thursday is available at 40.00. While Chelsea earned a bye to the semis, Monterrey overcame Ulsan Hyundai 3-1 in the quarters on Sunday and are 40.00 to repeat that scoreline.
Quite unsurprisingly these sides have never met yet Monterrey have experience in the Club World Cup from last year: the Mexican side falling in the quarters on penalties 4-3 to Kashiwa Reysol.
A number of Monterrey’s squad have played on English soil before, most notably for the U23 Mexico side during the Olympic Games this summer. Centre-back Hiram Mier represented his national team and went on to win gold at the tournament, defeating Brazil 2-1 at Wembley Stadium. Along with fellow international Darvin Chavez at left-back, Monterrey could pose tough opposition for the lone Torres up front.
With a brace at the weekend, Fernando Torres increased his Chelsea tally to 10 for this season, and is 7.00 to net two again on Thursday. He is expected to play in front of Eden Hazard, who has scored just four goals in a Blue shirt despite 25 appearances already this term. Hazard is 16.00 to score twice.
The last time a Chelsea player scored a hat trick was 32 games ago: Torres scoring three during their 6-1 demolition of QPR in April. Torres is 20.00 to net at least three on Thursday, with a 6-1 result on offer at 100.00.
This tournament may not be on the top of chairman Roman Abramovich's priorities list, but Chelsea need to get that winning feeling back. Their victory at Sunderland over the weekend should instil some confidence in this side and, despite playing relatively weak opposition in Monterrey, the Blues should be looking at a comfortable win in Japan.
Indeed, with the news Monterrey’s main striker Suazo is out, and the experience of defensive pairing Cahill and Luiz, Blues fans should back a win and clean sheet at 2.55.
Chelsea have taken half-time leads into each of their last three games. They have led at the break in nine of their 12 victories this season and are a favourable 2.00 to be winning come half time on Thursday.
3-0 to Chelsea, available at 11.00.