The English Football League Cup, or Carabao Cup, is probably the least prestigious event out of a host of English and UEFA tournaments. FA Cup honors, the Premier League crown, a Champions League title, and even a Europa League triumph are each considered historic next to the puny EFL.
But not in 2019, at least not if U.K. footballers and their coaches have anything to do with it. The semifinals of the Carabao were filled with heavy-hitting lineups, and at least one 2-legged outcome produced drama and intrigue like few other matches of the season.
City is the (-159) favorite to prevail over Chelsea in the 90+ minute final at Wembley Stadium on Sunday 2/24. The odds have a lot to do with the Sky Blues’ tremendous 2018-19 to date. But the lines have also been affected by a little incident that occurred in Manchester last Sunday.
Manchester City vs Chelsea: EFL Cup Final Preview and Prediction
- The vaunted Sky Blues of Man City will take on fellow English Premier League giant Chelsea to award the first tournament cup of the season on Sunday 2/24
- Carabao Cup matches were filled with reserves in the early rounds but took a dramatic turn with a Harry Kane vs Kepa collision in a semifinal between Chelsea and Tottenham
- The Blues eventually advanced past Spurs on penalties after a heart-stopping 2nd leg at Stamford Bridge, while Manchester City easily drowned Burton with a 10-0 aggregate score
- Sunday 2/24’s final at Wembley Stadium is a winner-take-all scenario, settled with extra time or penalty kicks if the match is tied after 90+ minutes
- Sportsbetting.ag marks Chelsea as a (+350) underdog to win in regulation and (+240) to lift the trophy, while favored Man City is (-159) and (-300) in the 2 respective markets
- The bookmaker is offering (+280) payoff on a Draw result, and the goal total is (2 ½)
- City crushed Chelsea 6-0 in the Premier League match last Sunday that embarrassed Maurizio Sarri’s side
- I’m liking the underdog Blues to rebound from the drubbing and play well enough in London to potentially force added time, bringing the (+280) Draw odds into sharp focus.
- However, the best bet on the board is clearly the Over (2 ½) total goals.
Massacre in Manchester
I spend a lot of time on the blog accusing pundits and household handicappers of overreacting to things in the short term, especially in sports like golf in which success is fostered and earned in slow steps over a long period. Premier League matches are especially dangerous to try to predict based on very recent outcomes and trends.
There is a deeper stock of talent in English football than anywhere else in the world, which is why AFC Wimbledon was able to not only beat a strong West Ham lineup in the FA Cup last month but look like the better squad while doing so. Will the Wombles’ best young talent out-grow the club and move on? Sure, but that’s economics, not football. From a pure handicapping POV the enduring motto must be never to take anyone lightly…especially not legendary teams going through a rough patch.
But this time around, we’ve got to give the soccer betting public credit. It’s to the praise of Las Vegas and London that lines for the Carabao Cup final haven’t tilted massively toward the favorites.
City annihilated Chelsea in historic fashion a few days ago, running-up a 4-0 lead in the 25th minute and humiliating Maurizio Sarri with essentially the worst loss of his career. It was a nod to the rivalry between the storied clubs that Raheem Sterling was still on the pitch for the Citizens late in the 2nd half, and the Three Lions superstar finished the match the way he began it.
Striker Sergio Agüero tallied 3 times to earn a “hat trick,” one of the few slang terms shared by soccer and ice hockey in the birthplace of both sports.
Manager “Pep” Guardiola used a sophisticated tactic of manipulating “half-spaces” left open near the wings when Chelsea’s forwards pressed against the backfield of City. The Citizens are so versatile at every position that any subtle advantage can spring deadly attacks, and Sarri stubbornly urged his midfield forward while Kevin de Bruyne and Bernardo Silva turned a free hand into a wide-open attack. Sterling was allowed to prance into the box once Chelsea’s contingency plans wore thin.
We’ve spent hours lauding the Chelsea backline. But it’s time to give City’s defenders some credit. It’s not always easy protecting the backline for clubs with mega-millionaire forwards and strikers, but what you’ve got to like about the Sky Blues is the experience of Kyle Walker and John Stones next to younger backs like Aymeric Laporte and Oleksandr Zinchenko, who played the entire fixture vs Chelsea.
It’s hard for a young squad to handle success. That’s probably why Wimbledon hasn’t won more matches outside of the FA Cup despite the Wombles’ obvious gifts on the attack. City’s experience at every position – and the resourcefulness of its head coach – gives the team a murderer’s cold stare when things are going well. Tallied 3 goals against Chelsea? Great! Let’s score 3 more.
Agüero is being touted as the greatest striker ever, Ederson has kept clean sheets in 3 of his last 5 appearances, and City could be about to manifest a stupendous streak of success in all competitions. Manchester City could conceivably win the Premier League, the FA Cup, the Carabao Cup and the UEFA Champions League.
That’s the kind of year that builds monuments.
Square Peg, Round Jorginho
Central midfielder Jorginho is under pressure from supporters, but perhaps Chelsea’s woes in midfield aren’t the Brazilian’s fault or the head coach’s fault. It’s simply that the player and the system aren’t mixing well.
Jorginho had dazzled in Serie A with his passing ability, but he played in a much different system there, one which suited his style of threading balls from deeper areas of the field to forwards who wanted to run beyond defensive lines. The methodical Chelsea attack isn’t taking full advantage of his skills despite the obvious gifts of Eden Hazard and Gonzalo Higuaín.
But don’t expect Sarri’s tactics to change all that much in the next battle with City. Regardless of any adjustments made to counter the brilliant plans of Pep, the manager will stick to his 4-3-3 shape which he has been so loyal to and built a reputation with over many years.
The Fixtures in Between
Each squad has a busy week and a half ahead. The Blues will play 2 legs of a Europa League match and an FA Cup fixture with Manchester United before February 24th rolls around, and City begins play in the Champions League Round of 16 on the Wednesday before the Carabao Cup showdown.
Bettors will probably appear more comfortable sticking with City after any potential slip-ups on the way to Wembley, while if Chelsea has another terrible outing, the Blues’ odds will lengthen like a yo-yo.
But there’s no reason to write off the 6th-place squad in the Premier League at long betting odds, especially after this corker with Tottenham sent them into the final:
My advice is to stand put on a simple handicap no matter what happens. City is the better team right now and has the better chance to win on a neutral pitch; while Sportsbetting.ag’s “Draw” moneyline is attractive at (+280) there’s a reverse-logic of sorts working against the pick. If Chelsea is good enough to stay deadlocked in a winner-take-all final with City, given what will surely be the Blues’ determination to make good after an infamous defeat, then why not just wager on Sarri’s underdogs to lift the trophy?
Maybe that makes sense. But I’m seeing an even better bet in the basic odds for the match right now.
Best Gamble on City-Chelsea at Wembley Stadium
I’m loving the Over (2 ½) goals for this match, since there’s an element of random unpredictability when a pair of explosive Premier League clubs meet. What’s more, a very general analysis reveals that City’s attack isn’t likely to be tamed for 90 minutes or more given its current form.
Bookies know the Over is a more likely outcome, and the book mentioned above is taking 28% on all wagers in the market. But there’s at least a 65% to 70% chance it’ll be a winning bet slip.
City has shown that it will hold nothing back even if having scored the first 1 or 2 goals against Chelsea. Meanwhile, suppose Sarri finds an antidote in midfield and the Blues successfully counter-attack in the early going. Does anyone think it wouldn’t become a high-tempo match under those circumstances?
Meanwhile, if Chelsea does lose to United in the FA Cup’s 5th Round, then by all means look for the underdog’s moneyline to lengthen. I’d take the Blues at (+300) or higher to claim the first Cup crown of the year against a (rightfully) cocky City side.