Chelsea, PSG face off in season-defining Champions League clash
Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain meet at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday with both sides’ seasons riding on the outcome of their Champions League last 16, second leg clash, but the club from the French capital are more likely to be feeling the pressure.
PSG head to London with a 2-1 lead from the first leg in Paris last month thanks to a late Edinson Cavani winner, but the tie is finely poised, with John Obi Mikel’s away goal giving Chelsea plenty of reason to believe they can progress.
Away goals have decided the meetings of the sides in each of the last two seasons, with a 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge taking PSG through at the same stage last season after Chelsea had come out on top in the 2014 quarter-finals.
For both clubs, the result of tonight’s clash could be season defining, even if it is for vastly different reasons.
The teams could hardly be experiencing more different seasons. While Chelsea have put up one of the worst title defenses in living memory, PSG find themselves 23 points clear in a laughably one-sided Ligue 1 title race.
PSG feel pressure
Largely untested at home, the super-rich Qatari-owned club knows that the real prize is the Champions League and it was clear that PSG had their minds elsewhere during a 0-0 home draw with Montpellier at the weekend.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic revealed the extent of the owner’s ambitions for what he referred to as the PSG “project” when he told the press on Tuesday that “they will hunt down this Champions League until they get it and they will not stop, with me or without me”.
But the intense focus on Europe’s biggest trophy coupled with their devastating domestic form means that the pressure will be firmly on Laurent Blanc’s team Wednesday night, as Brazilian defender Maxwell admitted.
“Chelsea is on the minds of everyone. It is a very important match. Everyone is waiting for it – the media, the club, the players too,” he told French media after Saturday’s match.
For Chelsea, despite a mini revival since the sacking of Jose Mourinho in December that has seen them lose just once in 16 games to see Gus Hiddink climb to mid-table, cup glory is now all they have left to salvage something from the season.
"Everyone knows where Chelsea's season is heading to, coming from a difficult situation in December when we were very close to the relegation zone," said Hiddink, who previously led Chelsea to FA Cup glory after taking over in unfavourable circumstances in 2009.
"The team responded, got the points and is now mid-table, but this was a soft target for Chelsea. We did that in a relatively short time.
"Now we want to go to a new target, which is the FA Cup and the Champions League. It can give another image to Chelsea."
Blanc warns players of Costa ‘provocation’
Chelsea will be without its captain, John Terry, who ruled himself out on the eve of the match after failing to recover from a hamstring injury.
With Kurt Zouma also sidelined by a long-term knee problem, Branislav Ivanovic and Gary Cahill will line up at centre-back for the hosts, with Cesar Azpilicueta and Baba Rahman filling the full-back roles.
Diego Costa is due to return to lead the line for Chelsea after being rested for Saturday's 1-1 draw with Stoke City and Blanc has warned his players not to fall for the Brazil-born Spain striker's provocative tactics.
"We know that he likes contact, duels, and even provocation," Blanc said.
"We saw that last year. It's his style of play and he plays like that against everyone. I'll tell the defenders not to respond, to stay cold. Even the Brazilians, they have to stay very cold.
"We paid last year (with Ibrahimovic's dismissal). It's hard not to react to provocation, but you have to master your nerves."
PSG's only injury worry concerns Italian midfielder Marco Verratti, who has missed three games with a groin problem.
Blanc said that he would be assessed in Tuesday's pre-game training session. Javier Pastore is in line to deputise if Verratti cannot prove his fitness in time.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)