Samuel Eto’o could return to aid Chelsea in their mammoth task to overturn a 3-1 deficit against Paris Saint-Germain at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday.
The veteran front man missed out on the first leg of the Champions League quarterfinal last week, after which Jose Mourinho delivered a scathing attack on his strikers. Against teams prepared to sit back, goals have been anything but easy to come by for Chelsea this season, but at least two will be required against the French champions.
The return of Eto’o, who took some part in training on Monday, would be a major boost toward achieving that objective. Such was Mourinho’s lack of faith in Fernando Torres and Demba Ba that he selected Andre Schurrle in a false nine role in Paris, to little positive effect offensively. Mourinho was unusually candid in his criticism of his own players afterward, declaring “I’m not happy with my striker’s performances.”
Fernando Torres was handed an opportunity to regain some credit when starting against Stoke City at the weekend. Yet, the Spaniard, despite showing a keenness to impress, continued to look both a physical and mental shadow of his former self. Quite simply, he doesn’t look like a Premier League striker currently, never mind one capable of leading the line in a Champions League quarterfinal. The situation is much clearer with Demba Ba, who has always looked no more than an able striker for a mid-table club. Eto’o has been by far the pick of the bunch this season, at least able to intelligently link up the play, but is clearly not the threat of old.
The lack of a striker who is capable of making things happen in the box is a real problem for a side that struggles to such a degree to break down defensive-minded opposition. Of course Mourinho’s teams have always been based on sitting deep and striking on the counter attack. But his current remains far too one-dimensional.
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In Mourinho’s first spell, there was always the option of hitting balls up to the battering ram of Didier Drogba. The Ivorian was capable of occupying and disturbing defenders single-handedly. Meanwhile, that version of Chelsea could also count upon 20-plus goals a season from Frank Lampard’s knack of timing his run into the box or firing a long-range effort from outside. This campaign the 35-year-old has just four goals from open play. While lacking goals, the center of Chelsea’s midfield is also largely devoid of creativity.
In the first leg against PSG, the only Chelsea player capable of picking out a pass was David Luiz. Still, the Brazilian, whose penchant is for long passes, consistently looked forward to find no long option on with PSG defending deep and Schurrle dropping off into midfield.
The result might have been even better for PSG had they not been so ponderous in possession after going ahead and gifting Chelsea the chance to hit them in transition. Much of that was a result of Marco Verratti and Thiago Motta, and at times the third of the midfield trio Blaise Matuidi, coming deep to pick up the ball. Verratti’s considerable talents would appear better suited to a more advanced role.
Preventing Chelsea from having the opportunity the run at them with pace will be vital to PSG’s hopes of maintaining their advantage in west London. PSG’s full-backs are arguably the weakest part of their team, yet the threat of Willian and, in particular Eden Hazard was largely stifles in the first leg.
The lack of balance in Chelsea’s team means that their attacking midfield trio is relied upon both to create and score goals. At their best they can be devastating. That they have not been so of late has primarily been down to the performances by Oscar.
The Brazilian is very much a modern No. 10: very good without the ball to go along with his passing acumen, pace and eye for goal. Yet, perhaps due to fatigue brought on by three consecutive summers without a rest, he has not been nearly as influential in recent weeks. The statistics back this up. In his first 28 appearances this season, Oscar had nine goals and five assists to his name, yet in thee 14 since he has two goals, both in the 6-0 win over Arsenal, and just a solitary assist. If Chelsea are to repeat their overturning of a 3-1 scoreline against Napoli in 2012 they will surely need both Oscar and Hazard on the top of their games.
Still, even if Chelsea can get the two goals they need, there is much to suggest that Paris Saint-Germain are capable of getting a vital away goal. The absence of Zlatan Ibrahimovic will clearly be a blow to Laurent Blanc’s side, but it is likely to mean the run-away Ligue 1 leaders having a front three containing incredible pace with which to strike Chelsea on the counter.
The man set to come in for Ibrahimovic, Lucas Moura, had a major impact when coming on in Paris, notably with one incredible run through the heart of the opposition. Ezequiel Lavezzi, in addition to his goal, also caused Chelsea problems, notably with his speed running in between Branislav Ivanovic and John Terry on the left. Meanwhile, it is hard to imagine Edinson Cavani being as off color as he was a week ago, especially with the opportunity to play in his favored position through the middle.
With such limitations in their side, Chelsea needed their defense to be perfect to go all the way in the Champions League this season. But a rare off day for Mourinho’s back line and goalkeeper in Paris has likely cost them a place in last four.
Prediction: Chelsea 2-1 Paris Saint-Germain
Chelsea: There remains hope that Eto’o will return in time from a hamstring injury suffered two weeks ago. Chelsea still have problems elsewhere, with Ramires suspended and Nemanja Matic and Mohamed Salah ineligible.
Paris Saint-Germain: While Ibrahimovic is definitely ruled out, PSG have no other fresh fitness worries. Right-back Gregory van der Wiel made his return from injury in the 3-0 defeat of Reims on Saturday.