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EFL Cup Semifinal: Betting Lines and Handicap of Chelsea and Tottenham’s 2nd Leg

ChelseaTottenhamEFLCup

The Football League Cup, or EFL Cup, is still undergoing an awkward, corporate (I repeat myself) rebranding effort as the “Carabao Cup.” It is less prestigious than the FA Cup, which itself has to fight a perception that the matches are not as meaningful as they once were. The FA Cup has a viral ad campaign in which a hilarious mascot clowns with skeptical fans, while all the EFL Cup has is an energy drink and a bunch of reserve-filled matches.

But a funny thing happens when rivals step onto the pitch. Fierce rivals, clubs which are warring for the top of the EPL table. There was drama at Wembley Stadium on Tuesday, appearances from World Cup heroes, and a goal from Harry Kane that put Tottenham up 1-0 over Chelsea with 1 leg left to play at Stamford Bridge. How do oddsmakers see the battle ending?

Update:

Those same odds-makers are seeing things very differently now that Kane is injured, having fouled-up his ankle against Manchester United on Matchday 22. Not only will the Three Lions striker miss the 2nd semifinal leg against Chelsea, his next action could be as far away as March.

The injury has caused lines to move sharply. Tottenham is now a 5-to-1 underdog to win in 90+ minutes. Chelsea is the solid moneyline favorite at (-165) with Draw at (+305).

Chelsea vs Tottenham: EFL Cup Gambling Summary and Key Dates

  • The Blues and Spurs played the 1st leg of a 2-legged encounter in the Football League Cup semifinals on Tuesday, January 10th, with Chelsea falling behind 0-1 on aggregate goal count
  • Following the fixture at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday 1/24 the winner will have scored more total goals in the 2 combined matches
  • Barring a miracle of epic proportions, the advancing team will go on to face Manchester City in the EPL Cup, or Carabao Cup final
  • Each manager played his World Cup stars and made a concerted effort to win the 1st leg on 1/10, and controversy marred the goal count
  • Bovada Sportsbook has correctly determined that Chelsea is likely to equalize aggregate goals at some point during the match, but the site’s Over/Under line is mistaken
  • Update:The Harry Kane injury and subsequent line-movement has changed my pick for this match. I am now looking hard at Spurs (+500) and especially the “Draw” moneyline market at more than 3-to-1 payout on the winner.

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No Energy Drinks Needed

Tottenham and Chelsea gave it their best on Tuesday, which brings to light an issue that seems to be more of a soft-pedaled open secret in the soccer community at times. The EFL Cup and the FA Cup actually have something in common – they field way too many reserve-team professionals in the early rounds. Surely the FA Cup will feature great matches again when push comes to shove in 2019, but Liverpool already allowed itself to be eliminated, and the Premier League is so top-heavy that soccer betting sites are giving pick’em or shorter odds on some of the League One clubs.

Meanwhile, the kindest thing any manager has said about the Football League Cup is “it’s a pot worth winning,” courtesy of Sir Alex Ferguson.

And then, out of nowhere, we get a Cup semifinal corker from legendary FIFA players. No doubt the Spurs and Blues are otherwise busy; Chelsea has been struggling to score against too many lesser-quality Premier League opponents, and Spurs faces United on a fast-upcoming Matchday. Winning this aggregate means going on to face Manchester City in the EFL Cup final – the Sky Blues made sure of that this week when they assassinated Burton 9-0 in a maiden leg.

Try, try, try they did, and the vibe must have felt rather like a normal Premiership match until things got Harry in the 26th minute.

Kane took off on a mad dash after a high-floating pass from Toby Alderweireld (known on the LegitGamblingSites.com blog as “Toby Underwear” for inside-joke reasons) and Chelsea thought he was offside. So did the referee.

But play strangely continued, with Kepa playing the ball before impacting Kane near the box and players protesting, shouting for a whistle. Kane made a quite-pretty tumbling routine out of it:

Incredibly, video replay nullified the offside call and awarded Kane a penalty kick on Kepa’s “foul,” a ruling which sent visiting supporters into an uproar.

Oh, and I am deluded, because Harry Kane was definitely leaping over Kepa on the play. As I’ve mentioned here before, footballers are not wrong to go to the mat in any situation in which their health and well-being could be threatened. Kane was being protective of his body, but as for Kepa’s actual impact knocking the Three Lions star into that orbit? Quit smoking that “Neptune” stuff. If embellishment equals a “dive” then let’s give Harry a 9 and ½ and extra points on the lack of splash.

The 2 angry clubs continued to play soccer, and while Chelsea threatened to dominate the match with its attack at times, Tottenham held on for the all-important goal advantage in a home leg.

Match for Match

Spurs can boast of being able to match Chelsea in many areas when the Pensioners decide to bring out the real forces. Eden Hazard started up the middle for the visitors on Tuesday, but he was staring across from Kane and Son Heung-min, whose term in the Asian Cup is imminent. It shows what a gem the 26 year-old is that he’s getting called away (just like his more-heralded line partner) to play in a National Team event. But forward isn’t the only spot in which Spurs bedeviled Sarri’s best.

Paulo Gazzaniga certainly had a better day in goal than Kepa. Chelsea ultimately had many more shot attempts and better ball possession, and Alderweireld, Davinson Sánchez, and formational centerpiece Harry Winks fought hard to maintain a clean sheet, the latter pair taking yellow cards in the match.

Some of the Cup matches seen so far in 2018-19 resemble friendly war games or reconnaissance between, say, the United States and the tiny (and fictional) country of Kneesockia. There is no reason for Uncle Sam to send in a Green Beret with a screw loose who could kill everyone on-site for chewing gum the wrong way. The generals can take it easy. But if Kneesockia tries any funny stuff? Look out.

Managers have been content to beat League One clubs by 2 or 3 goals and coast to the finish line. But that’s not what Manchester City chose to do in the EFL Cup’s other semifinal leg this week.

City Bites Burton 9-0

We must briefly touch on the carnage of the other match in the bracket, Manchester City’s absolute romp over poor Burton in the maiden leg of the teams’ semifinal meeting.

It wasn’t a soccer fixture, it was an exhibition, also known as the Gabriel Jesus Gala.

Why would City work so hard to keep scoring goals once a hapless opponent is beaten 5-0 or 6-0? Burton could never hope to score that many times on the Sky Blues on its best day. Yet the 2-legged format gave the squad a chance to “fairly” run-up a score, and Pep’s club can now relax in the follow-up while Chelsea and Tottenham bump each other’s brains out.

Consider the Dynamics

By playing Jorginho and N’Golo Kanté in midfield, manager Maurizio Sarri sent a clear message to Spurs coach Mauricio Pochettino that the game was on. Yet it wasn’t just rivalry passion that led to a bold lineup for each squad.

Winning the EFL Cup would give any of the 3 remaining squads, who are after all in position to fight well for a Premier League trophy, the chance to sweep the year with Carabao Cup, FA Cup and Premier League honors, a “triple” instead of a traditional double.

It may seem like a long shot. But a team can’t be caught dead backing down from such a prestigious and historic challenge. If you want your EPL rivals to think you’re building an empire, it helps to start putting pieces of a fortress together in plain sight.

“Plain sight” had an awful lot to do with why City rang up 9 tallies on Burton. It was a shot across the bow at whoever wins the now-more-contentious Chelsea vs Tottenham leg.

Handicapping the Match at Stamford Bridge

The thought that keeps repeating in my mind is that Tottenham is going to need to score to advance, maybe even score more than once. With all due respect to midfielders like Moussa Sissoko (who has 0 goals and 1 assist in dozens of recent apps for Spurs) and developing athletes like Winks, the makeup of modern soccer means that Chelsea can generate an attack despite the goal-disadvantage.

Heung-min will not play in the leg, giving the Blues even more of a potential match-up advantage in midfield. It won’t feel a whole lot different than a Premier League war of rivals. It will be a war of Premier League rivals, after all. Visiting defenders like Antonio Rüdiger and Alonzo are expert movers and strikers when pressing forward. Chelsea has a better than 1-in-2 chance to rebound.

Tottenham’s backline is a subject we don’t talk enough about on the blog. The staggered attacking formations have their pros and cons, but behind it all is often a 4-man wall of Rose, Underwear, I mean Alderweireld, Sánchez and Kieran Trippier. All play for world-renowned National Teams.

If and when Chelsea scores the series “ee-quil-eye-zah!” in the January 24th match, the Tottenham backline is likely to maintain cool confidence. While the squads are having a blast trying to beat each other there is also nothing about the EFL Cup that could scare any of the keepers or defenders into panicked mistakes. They’ve been to the top of the mountain and this is a foothill.

The most likely outcome of the Blues pouring it on for most of 90+ minutes is a 2-1 result and an aggregate deadlock. With that in mind, the Chelsea to-win-leg market becomes appealing.

Update:

Has the gambling community overreacted to Tottenham’s key injury in reshaping the odds for Thursday’s 2nd leg?

In a nutshell…absolutely.

There is no logical reason for Spurs to be a 5-to-1 underdog to win the leg outright. Chelsea has been struggling to score goals, falling to Arsenal 0-2 in the club’s most recent Premier League appearance. If the Blues’ main weakness is the lack of a dominant striker up front, then why make Thursday’s visitors into a (+500) underdog just because they’re having the same issue now?

Besides, the dominant myth-vs-reality narrative of 2018-19 continues in the form of star strikers being overvalued slightly. While a Ronaldo-type of player (there aren’t too many) can take over a match and provide an existential scoring threat for whole halves at a time, the best attacking teams in Europe are also ensemble casts. Neymar has a collection of Brazil’s best alongside him in Paris, Salah has Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mané for support in Liverpool, and so on.

Tottenham doesn’t have the planet’s most elite forward lines even when Kane is on the pitch. However, the club is getting all kinds of goal-scoring support from the midfield. Dele Alli is also hurt and won’t play again for several weeks, but Lucas Moura is out-pacing Alli with 6 successful strikes on the season.

If Spurs can’t score on Thursday, there’s still a good chance Chelsea won’t. If the guests tally once or twice, there’s a good chance the Blues won’t be able to answer enough times to prevail.

The odds have shifted too much based on headlines and not science.

I’m liking Tottenham on the goal spread (+1) or on the moneyline (+500). But the line that really has my attention is Draw at (+305). It’s very possible that without Kane, Spurs will find a way to score just enough times to stay level for the leg and therefore advance to face Manchester City. But the squad won’t pull away without him. Likewise, it’s hard to see Chelsea not answering if Spurs take an early 2-0 aggregate lead…but the club’s goal-scoring drought makes an explosion unlikely.

The incentive for Tottenham to work toward drawing the match if all else fails gives a 3-to-1 payoff market a lot of added value.

ODDS+305
MY PICK:
Take “Draw” on the 3-way moneyline at (+305).