UEFA Champions League final: Best bets for Manchester City vs. Chelsea ⚽



Mar 6, 2018
UEFA Champions League final: Best bets for Manchester City vs. Chelsea


For the second time in three years, the UEFA Champions League final features two English teams, Manchester City and Chelsea. In the 2019 final, Liverpool scored early and late to beat Tottenham 2-0.

This final looks to be similarly low-scoring, as suggested by the two previous City-Chelsea matchups in the past six weeks: a 1-0 Chelsea win in the FA Cup semifinals and a 2-1 Chelsea win in league play.

Here are my favorite plays for the biggest club game of the year. As always, remember that bets are for 90 minutes plus stoppage time, unless otherwise noted.

Odds courtesy of Caesars Sportsbook by William Hill.
Manchester City (-225) vs. Chelsea (+175)

3 p.m. ET Saturday at the Estádio do Dragão in Porto, Portugal Take the under

Let's get the obvious pick out of the way: Take the under on -2.5. Again. This line opened around -140 and is now at -160, and I'll still play it there, though not much lower.

Chelsea has played 29 games under manager Thomas Tuchel, and 23 of them have had two or fewer goals, including all 10 games in Champions League and FA Cup. Yes, three of the six games with three or more goals came in the last three weeks, but that was largely because Chelsea faced virtual must-win games in order to finish in the top four and guarantee a spot in next season's Champions League. The urgency is reduced now, with the cushion of extra time and penalties if regulation ends scoreless or tied at one.

The cliché is that finals are cautious, low-scoring affairs, and the two previous City-Chelsea games support that theory. When they met at Wembley in the FA Cup semis, the teams combined for 16 shots and 2.25 expected goals. Before Hakim Ziyech broke the deadlock in the 55th minute, there were a total of five shots and 0.3 expected goals. It was the definition of a cagey elimination game.

When City hosted Chelsea in the Premier League on May 8, the match wasn't all that different. There were far more shots (28), but only 1.7 non-penalty expected goals, as Raheem Sterling scored just before halftime on the sole great chance of the game (excluding Sergio Aguero's saved penalty). Only Marcos Alonso's stoppage-time winner put this game over 2.5 goals.

Chelsea and City had the Premier League's two best defenses this season, allowing the fewest goals and expected goals, and Chelsea surrendered the worst shots in the league at 0.09 expected goals per shot. Don't overthink this one. Take the under.

First half

My favorite prop bet is for exactly one first-half goal (+150), which has a break-even point of 40%. Under Tuchel, 52% of Chelsea games have had exactly one first-half goal (15 of 29). Even though City has a potent attack, 45% of its games have had exactly one first-half goal this season (27 of 60).

Chelsea's first halves under Tuchel have averaged 9.4 shots and 1.0 expected goals, with only four games topping the 1.5 expected goals mark. City's first halves have averaged 10.5 shots this season, with 62% falling between 0.5 and 1.5 expected goals (37 of 60).

Beyond the numbers, the first team to score is likely to button up its defense even tighter, and the team conceding first will surely proceed with caution, not wanting to lose the game in the first half. I like getting plus money on one first-half goal.

Who wins?

Let's compare City and Chelsea in Premier League play since Tuchel's first match on Jan. 27. Each club played 19 games, and they had the two highest point totals in the league, with City a sizable seven points clear of Chelsea over the half season. City massively outscored Chelsea (47 to 28) and had a huge edge in goal differential (+28 to +12).

However, the underlying numbers were nearly identical. Each club had exactly 148 shots more than its opponents (7.8 per game), and Chelsea actually had a better expected goal differential (+21 to +19). City ran hot, outpacing its expected goals total by 11 goals, while Chelsea underachieved by over eight goals.

That's a long statistical way of saying what you knew if you watched the past two City-Chelsea games: The gap between these teams isn't large. City is better and has a higher ceiling. There's a much better chance of City dominating Chelsea than vice versa.

However, City has to lift the trophy about 70% of the time to justify the -225 price to win the title. At +175, Chelsea needs to win 37% of the time to make the bet profitable. That's what I'd play if I had to play a winner, and FiveThirtyEight thinks similarly, giving Chelsea a 42% title shot.

I prefer Chelsea to win in regulation though, at +340. These teams are close, and the game should be close. A bounce or a break could easily decide the winner, and in a match like that, Chelsea has a one-in-four shot at stealing a victory before extra time.

The picks

Under 2.5 (-160), exactly one first-half goal (+150), Chelsea win in regulation (+340)



May 13, 2021
Manchester City will win the championship title.