It was always going to be tough for the English clubs as they headed into the quarter-finals of this year’s Champions League but Chelsea can edge past Paris Saint-Germain, if they can just find a way to shackle their Swedish superstar striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
PSG are rated as more likely to win the Champions League than Chelsea, with the French champions priced at 13.5 at Betfair, compared to the Blues at 14.0. As the second top scorer in this season’s competition with 10 goals, Zlatan is the man that can give the Parisians the edge.
The 32-year old recently told his club’s official television channel that he gets himself into a bubble when he steps out onto the pitch.
“When I play, I have a mission that is to win. No one can stop me from doing it,” he told PSG TV. So how should Jose Mourinho’s side approach this game?
If Chelsea focus too closely on Ibrahimovic then they risk taking their eye off the remainder of a world class squad that includes Thiago Motta and Edinson Cavani. However, you can be certain that Jose Mourinho has singled out the Swede for special treatment, while alerting centre backs John Terry and Gary Cahill to his qualities.
One of Ibrahimovic’s strengths is his physical prowess and at six foot five inches, he is something of a giant with a solid frame to match. The striker recently revealed how that strength allows him to hold up the ball and wait for supporting players to join the attack.
“The key is not to lose the ball when you get it. If I’m alone, I try to protect the ball and keep defenders away using my back, arms, strength and balance,” he said.
PSG tend to play Ibrahimovic as a lone striker with Cavani and Ezequiel Lavezzi coming in off the flanks. When the long balls hit the target man, both Terry and Cahill could be deployed to combat his physical presence but the full backs will need to be alert to the threat from both wings.
Mourinho should perhaps consider playing David Luiz in a holding role in central midfield to aid the two centre-backs when those long balls come through.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic admits that the centre-backs he most respects are the ones that use their skill rather than their strengths to dispossess him. Terry and Cahill won’t care if they are in the Swede’s fan club that includes Paolo Maldini and Alessandro Nesta. As long as they get the ball and keep within the laws, the striker won’t relish tough tackling.
John Terry will be the one deployed to use his own physicality while Gary Cahill is more the skilful ball player but the latter may have to be harder in the tackle when the two sides meet.
His one weakness?
PSG’s star man admitted that he isn’t the best when it comes to getting on the end of crosses and when you consider that modesty isn’t one of his greatest qualities, that statement could be construed as clear admission of a weakness.
Ibrahimovic suggests that he isn’t an instinctive player when the ball is played in the air from out wide so Terry and Cahill, along with the full-backs, could look to force play out to the flanks when their opponents are in possession.
It’s only words
John Terry has a little bit of ‘previous’ when it comes to sledging opponents but Ibrahimovic will be unmoved by any verbal taunts. He claims to have been called a gypsy throughout his long career but he maintains that his focus, together with a realisation that he has a responsibility to his team to stay on the pitch, allows him to remain calm.
Ibrahimovic’s record at PSG is phenomenal and at the age of 32, he seems to be getting even better. In his first 86 games for the Ligue 1 side, the Swede had scored 75 times and there’s no doubt that Chelsea will have a specific plan for him.
The player himself claims that no-one can stop him from winning but he does hint at a weakness on crosses. John Terry and Gary Cahill will have to use their own physical strength to combat that of their opponent while attempting to get the wingers to cross in high and play to that one potential weak area.
If they fail to stop Zlatan Ibrahimovic, it’s hard to see how Chelsea can possible hope to progress to the semi-final.