Real Betis v Chelsea

A win tonight and we qualify for the last 16 of this season’s Champions League.

Real Betis were torn apart in the corresponding fixture at the Bridge a fortnight ago, eventually losing 4-0. They’ve since lost three matches on the bounce in La Liga, shipping ten goals in the process. On current form we should win — which would probably leave December’s home match against Liverpool to decide which team finishes top of Group G (for what it’s worth; our path to last season’s semi-final wasn’t made any easier by finishing top).

A 22-man squad has travelled to Seville, including Damien Duff who has made a quick recovery from a knee injury; he will definitely play some part. The only two players missing are Hernan Crespo who has a muscle strain and Glen Johnson who is still unavailable for selection with a broken bone in his hand, sustained after he punched a wall. Petr Cech will keep his place between the sticks.

With just one clean sheet kept — against Betis — in our last six games, Jose Mourinho has called for an improvement in defence.

“There’s always space for improvement,” he said. “When I look back over the last weeks, of course I was surprised with some defensive mistakes we made. We were beating records and suddenly in the last month we made a mistake at Everton, the goal against Charlton and two mistakes against Blackburn. There was a mistake against Bolton. We are conceding too many goals compared with the past.”

Prediction: It’s almost a year to the day since our last away win in Europe, a 1-0 victory over CSKA Moscow. We’ve since lost at Porto with nothing to play for, been defeated at Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Liverpool (no comment) and drawn a second tie at Anfield.

But with Betis in such poor form of late tonight is the perfect opportunity to buck that trend. Our only victory in Spain — we’ve lost six of seven on our Iberian travels — was a 2-1 victory over Betis in the quarter-final of the 1997/98 Cup Winners’ Cup . I can see that being tonight’s scoreline too.

If you’re not amongst the 2,500 travelling fans, the match is being televised on ITV4 — a new channel which is apparantly aimed at the “stronger” sex. The Real Betis v Chelsea match will be the first programme aired on launch night, from 7pm.

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Real Betis 1 – 0 Chelsea · Update

We played poorly, of that there is no doubt… but it’s very difficult to play a team whose players spend more time off their feet than on them. Dreadful refereeing performance too.

Still… it was only a group game and all is not lost. Liverpool’s visit to the Bridge in December is looking a mite tasty now.

So is tomorrow a national holiday?

Match reports: BBC Sport; Sky Sports; ESPNSoccernet; Sporting Life; Official Chelsea FC Website; The Times; The Independent; The Guardian; Daily Telegraph.

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