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Rupert Wyman 5th May 2009 - 11:39

Essien a key to Chelsea's success

Since Michael Essien has returned from injury Chelsea have been in great form. If the Ghanaian is on top form on Wednesday then the Blues have a good chance of beating Barcelona in their Champions League semi-final second leg at Stamford Bridge.

Essien has been playing in a more advancing role under Guus Hiddink with Michael Ballack sitting deeper. Essien's atrributes make him one of the best all-round midfielders in the world and he can be backed at 6/1 to get himself on the scoresheet against Barcelona.

Last week the two sides played out a 0-0 draw in front of a packed Nou Camp, after Chelsea's very defensive tactics stifled Barcelona's great attackers. But this week the onus will be on Guus Hiddink's side to attack in front of their own fans.

Hiddink displayed his versatility at the weekend by pairing Nicolas Anelka with Didier Drogba for the first time in a conventional 4-4-2.  This resulted in a goal each for the strikers but it restricted Frank Lampard, plus it is unlikely the tactician will be as adventurous against the might of Barcelona.

At the weekend Barça sent out a warning to Chelsea and put in one of their most impressive performances of the season by thrashing title rivals Real Madrid 6-2 in the Bernabeu.

This display by the Catalans looks ominous for Chelsea. The sides cannot be split in the betting as they are both priced at 17/10 to win the second leg. While the draw is a 21/10 shot.

Barcelona though are the 4/6 favourites to qualify for the final in Rome with Chelsea the 11/10 outsiders. However, of the 10 previous Champions League semi-finals to have finished all square in the first leg, the side at home in the second leg has reached the final on seven occasions. Therefore the stats are on side Chelsea's side.

Indeed last season, at the same stage, Man Utd came away from the Nou Camp with a goalless draw and then won the second leg at Old Trafford 1-0. Can history repeat itself?

There is no doubting that, with everyone fit, Barcelona have the better team than Chelsea, but this does not take into account the genius of Guus Hiddink which gives Chelsea a huge advantage over Barcelona's inexperienced manager Pep Guardiola.

Barça will be without both Carles Puyol and Rafael Márquez on Wednesday through suspension and injury respectively. This will weaken the back four and if Didier Drogba is on form then he should be able to take advantage.

The Ivorian is 6/1 to open the scoring and 7/4 to score at anytime. This season's Champions League top-scorer, with eight so far, Lionel Messi is available at the same prices. The Argentine who is arguably the greatest player on the planet was kept very quiet last week by stand-in left-back Jose Bosingwa.

But the Portuguese full-back will make way for the returning Ashley Cole as the England man was suspended for last week's Nou Camp clash. If Cole keeps Messi quiet then Chelsea will have half the job done as the Argentine is without doubt Barça's main inspiration, although they do have plenty of other threats in their squad including Samuel Eto'o, Thierry Henry, Andrés Iniesta, Xavi, Bojan, Alexander Hleb and Dani Alves.

With all the attackers on display it is hard to imagine this tie producing another leg with as few chances as last week. Chelsea have averaged 2.5 goals per game at home in the Champions League since the start of 2008, winning six of these seven matches. Therefore it could be wise to back the over two goals at even money in our total goals market.

After last week's first leg the tie is tantalisingly poised and it will be interesting to see how Hiddink approaches it. But we could well be in for an-all English final for the second year in a row. Although those fancying Barcelona to progress will take heart from the fact that Barcelona have drawn both of the away legs of their Champions League knockout matches 1-1 this season against Lyon and Bayern Munich. And with Chelsea failing to score an away goal last week, any score draw would see the Spanish giants march on to the final.

William Hill will of course be keeping you involved in all the action from Stamford Bridge, right up to 90th minute, with an abundance of in-play betting opportunities available via our betlive service.

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