Battle lines drawn as PSG, Chelsea reconvene
Eleven months on, but with the same coach and broadly the same team, Paris Saint-Germain return to Chelsea on Wednesday seeking to prove their worth as a Champions League force.
In last season’s quarter-finals, PSG came to Stamford Bridge leading 3-1 from the first leg and with a huge 13-point advantage in Ligue 1, only to crash out after Demba Ba’s 87th-minute strike took Chelsea through on away goals.
This season, a round earlier, the tie is more delicately balanced at 1-1, and it is Chelsea who are dominating domestically, five points clear in the Premier League with a game in hand, while in France, PSG trail Lyon by a point.
But in contrast to last season, PSG have Zlatan Ibrahimovic fit and in form, with the giant Swede having scored his third goal in four games and provided a delightful assist for Javier Pastore in Saturday’s 4-1 defeat of Lens.
Laurent Blanc’s side have now gone 14 matches without defeat in all competitions and despite their failure to recapture last season’s heights, they remain in contention for an unprecedented four-trophy haul.
“We’re halfway through a two-legged tie,” said Blanc, who has spoken of an opportunity to “change the perception” of PSG.
“Chelsea have a slight advantage because they scored a very important away goal. We have to do what they did in Paris. That’s our objective.
“We know what we have to do, and Chelsea too, although they also have to ask themselves whether to attack or defend. But we know we have to score at least one goal to qualify.”
With PSG’s owners, Qatar Sports Investments, having taken over at the Parc de Princes eight years after Roman Abramovich first brought his rubles to Stamford Bridge, the French champions have had to face the barrier of Financial Fair Play (FFP), which Chelsea did not have to worry about when Jose Mourinho was building the first great team of the Abramovich era.
The FFP sanctions that PSG were hit with last year restricted their close-season transfer activity, but they were nonetheless able to splash out an astonishing 50 million euros ($54.5 million) to sign David Luiz from Chelsea.
The Brazil centre-back deputised for Thiago Motta in central midfield in the first leg, but with the Italy international fit again after a calf injury, Luiz is expected to take his place in an all-Brazilian back line alongside Thiago Silva, Marquinhos and Maxwell.
In Lucas Moura’s absence, Pastore is due to link up with Ibrahimovic and Edinson Cavani — who cancelled out Branislav Ivanovic’s opener in the first leg — in Blanc’s three-pronged attack.
Meanwhile, Mourinho has confirmed that midfield lynchpin Nemanja Matic is fit to play despite hurting his ankle during the celebrations that followed Chelsea’s 2-0 League Cup final victory over Tottenham Hotspur.
There were barbs exchanged in the pre-match press conferences, with Blanc urging his players to be mindful of Chelsea striker Diego Costa’s “games” and Mourinho accusing PSG of systematically fouling Eden Hazard in the first leg.
Mindful that a single PSG goal could alter the complexion of the tie completely, Mourinho has urged Chelsea’s fans to create as intimidating an atmosphere as possible.
“I think if somebody tomorrow (Wednesday) has to be a little bit magic, it’s the crowd,” he said.
“We played a (League Cup) semi-final against Liverpool a few weeks ago, and it was fantastic. The crowd was extra.
“So the same way in Paris we had a fantastic stadium supporting the home team, hopefully tomorrow we can have that in our favour.”
The first leg was overshadowed after mobile phone footage emerged showing a group of Chelsea supporters preventing a black Frenchman from boarding a Paris Metro train prior to the game and chanting racist songs.
Chelsea reacted by banning five fans from Stamford Bridge and inviting the victim, known as Souleymane S., to attend the second leg, but he is believed to have declined the invitation.