The public certainly enjoys drama in cup competitions, don’t they? Despite it being 2016, it feels like the 2000s all over again. After all, Chelsea supporters never needed to actually watch a Champions League draw. You could put money that either FC Barcelona or Liverpool FC would come out of that lovely plastic football, and it seems that Paris Saint-Germain is the latest to add to that list.
For the last three seasons, Chelsea and PSG have met each other in the latter stages of the Champions League with the previous two ties each being closely matched. In both seasons, the team that advanced to the next round did so on goal difference.
Two years ago, Chelsea knocked PSG out of the Champions League at the Quarterfinal stage with a 2-0 victory in the second leg at Stamford Bridge having been outplayed in the first leg at the Parc des Princes by a 3-1 scoreline.
Just last season, neither team won in either leg of their Round of 16 tie. However, a late goal from Thiago Silva earned PSG a 2-2 draw in the second leg in London, sending PSG through to the Quarterfinal round after overturning a 1-1 draw in Paris.
In the previous two meetings, the differences between the two sides seemed a bit marginal, the matches predicted to be close and cagey. This season, however, feels just a tad bit different.
Chelsea enter the Parc des Princes this season looking less assured than they did in the past two seasons. Just last year, Chelsea were comfortably cruising toward their fourth Premier League title in the Roman Abramovich era and their third under manager Jose Mourinho, and just two years ago, the “little horse” were still mounting a respectable challenge for the Premier League crown.
This season Chelsea have mounted the worst defense of a title in recent memory and, as such, sit 12th in the Premier League. With Jose Mourinho gone, Guus Hiddink has stepped in and righted the ship to an extent, with the Blues having not lost since the Dutchman took his seat in the dugout.
Stats can be a bit misleading in that there have been an awful lot of draws in that time frame, yet Chelsea did show a few signs of life in their 5-1 win over Newcastle United at the weekend, though you do wonder how much of that was down to Newcastle’s woeful and inept defending.
PSG, on the other hand, are absolutely flying. So far, they’ve made an absolute mockery of Ligue 1, romping to 70 points from 26 matches with a goal differential of plus-51. In fact, until their draw against Lille last Saturday, PSG had not dropped a single point in Ligue 1 since a 0-0 draw with Angers SCO on 1 December and had been defeated just once this season, and that was to Real Madrid in the Santiago Bernabeu by a score of 1-0.
However, the Parisian side are not without a few issues. Marco Verratti has been struggling with a lingering groin issue and had been sidelined for two weeks prior to coming on as a substitute against Lille last Saturday. Manager Laurent Blanc says that he’ll use him in some capacity, but whether that means he’ll start or not is left to be seen.
Javier Pastore, a man who has tormented Chelsea with goals in the last two ties, is unlikely to play as he is nursing a hamstring problem.
More interesting is the suspension of fullback Serge Aurier. The young fullback was suspended indefinitely by the club after making some rather disparaging remarks about his manager and various teammates via a Periscope video that was posted on the web. In his place, Blanc will have to choose between playing the more defensive-minded Marquinhos or the more attack-minded Gregory van der Wiel.
Chelsea have a couple of their own concerns, as well. Hiddink will need to reshuffle his defence after John Terry injured his hamstring at the weekend against Newcastle. Already without Kurt Zouma due to a torn ACL, it likely means that Branislav Ivanovic will partner Gary Cahill in the center of defence with Baba Rahman coming in at left back and Cesar Azpilicueta switching over to his natural position on the right.
Oscar missed last Saturday’s match with a calf problem, though Hiddink has included him in the squad that travelled to Paris.
The Blues also have to deal with suspension, as Nemanja Matic picked up his third booking in the competition against FC Porto in the last group stage match. That will likely mean that Cesc Fabregas will play in a deeper position alongside John Obi Mikel.
Regardless of injuries and suspensions, Chelsea’s objective should be to get out of Paris without losing the tie in the first leg. Two years ago, that 3-1 defeat led to Herculean effort in the second leg to keep a clean sheet and persistence for Demba Ba to score the second goal late to send Chelsea through.
Then again, last season, Chelsea drew 1-1 with the vital away goal in the first leg, only to fail to press their advantage against a 10-man PSG side after Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s sending off and lost on away goals after drawing 2-2.
This season, something somewhere in between would be quite good, and hopefully one or two lessons have been learned by the players. If not, given the form of these two sides, this could get ugly rather quickly.