Chelsea versus Paris Saint-Germain at Stamford Bridge – another European night, another big opponent, and a match that presents the only realistic opportunity for Chelsea to find their way back into the Champions League next season.
PSG and Chelsea have travelled this road together a time or two before. Two years ago, PSG made this journey holding an advantage over a Chelsea side that was described by manager Jose Mourinho as “a little horse” and were looking to make their first semifinal since winning the competition in 2012. That night, the little horse held the Parisian giants at bay and won the tie late on through Demba Ba.
Last year, the roles were reversed. After a 1-1 draw in the first leg, it was PSG who had the desire to prove something. Their domination of Ligue 1 was never going to be enough to elevate them amongst the European elite and their Champions League results had not been consistent enough.
That night, down to 10 men, PSG fought and clawed their way to a 2-2 draw and proved that they could win the big European tie against a side with more recent success in that competition.
Now here we are nearly 12 months later, and it’s Chelsea once again with everything to prove against a side that have proven to be stronger this season.
The Blues’ season has been one big rollercoaster ride. After the dreadful results in the first half of the season, Chelsea’s form has improved as of late in domestic competition. However, the fact remains that Chelsea currently sit in 10th, 10 points behind fourth-placed Manchester City and knowing that they must win the Champions League to be in it next season.
For Chelsea, it’s not like they haven’t been here before. After all, twice in their history they’ve overcome to the odds at Stamford Bridge to win a second leg after being down 3-1 after the first leg away from home. More specifically, in 2012 when the Blues won it, a disastrous 3-1 away Napoli was reversed by a 4-1 triumph at Stamford Bridge, and in 2013, the aforementioned 2-0 against PSG reversed a 3-1 defeat at the Parc des Princes.
This time, this PSG side are a bit different. In those two previous first-leg defeats, Chelsea played dreadfully and were lucky to not have been beaten by more against both Napoli and PSG. In this year’s first leg, Chelsea played quite well, but a second half goal from Edinson Cavani underscored the difference in the two sides, and the Blues did well to come home with a chance in the second leg.
Things will not be made any easier with the news that John Terry will once again be absent with his hamstring and muscle problem. After having been absent with injury for nearly a month, the Chelsea captain was hoping to regain fitness in time for this match and possibly his last big European night at Stamford Bridge, but those hopes have not come to fruition and he will be forced to watch from the stands as Gary Cahill and Branislav Ivanovic continue at centre back in his stead.
The good news for Chelsea is that Diego Costa appears to be fit and ready to go. After missing the 1-1 draw with Stoke on Saturday with a small tendon injury, the Spain international trained this week and has shown no ill effects that would prevent him from playing.
Likewise, his compatriot Pedro has returned from a hamstring injury suffered three weeks ago and is likely to play some part, while Kenedy has also trained and should be fit to play if needed.
PSG also have a couple injury questions going in to this tie. With a massive 23-point lead over second place Monaco in Ligue 1, injuries are always unlikely to affect the Parisians as far as domestic matters are concerned. However, that lead has allowed them to mask their two big injury worries entering this second leg.
Marco Verratti, who showed his importance in dictating the tempo of the midfield in the first leg, has been nursing a nagging groin injury since the start of the year. In fact, since the start of 2016, Verratti has only made 3 starts, 6 appearances, and completed more than an hour just once, and that was against Chelsea in the first leg.
Once again, the fitness of Verratti is in question, though the likelihood is that he will start against Chelsea and play through the pain barrier for as long as he can and deal with the consequences down the road.
Likewise, Blaise Matuidi has been suffering with a thigh problem and has only made two substitute appearance for PSG since the first leg against Chelsea. He will also face a late fitness test, but like Verratti, is quite likely to start given the magnitude of the tie.
Make no mistake. This is another big night at Stamford Bridge and one that has even more importance given what a victory could mean for Champions League participation next season. Laurent Blanc’s PSG side have gone from a side of individuals into a real collective and are desperate to conquer that last hurdle – the European Cup.
The Blues must make sure that it’s not at their expense this season and will hope that the spirit of 2012 will be with them this season.