The preparations for Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea ahead of the first leg of their Champions League Round of 16 matchup on Tuesday could not have been more different. While the English side, having established a seven-point advantage atop the Premier League, enjoyed the weekend off, PSG missed the chance to reach first place in Ligue 1 and potentially far more seriously saw five of their players suffer injuries.
“If someone had told me this story, I would not have believed it,” PSG coach Laurent Blanc said after his side let a 2-0 lead slip to draw 2-2 with Caen on Saturday, reports ESPN. “We will play bravely against Chelsea, but there are not many solutions, with four or five injured. It's an extraordinary challenge. We have to pull ourselves together and get ready for Tuesday.”
Blanc confirmed on Monday that Serge Aurier, Yohan Cabaye and Lucas Moura would definitely miss the visit of Chelsea to the Parc des Princes, while Thiago Motta, Marquinhos and Blaise Matuidi are major doubts. Yet, after time to reflect, he was slightly more positive about his side’s chances for the first leg on home soil.
“Those circumstances are far from ideal, but we’ll just have to be patient and see,” he said, according to UEFA’s official website. “Let’s hope that those conditions will have a positive impact and strengthens the links between the players, the technical staff and the fans. I hope we can count on this chemistry tomorrow, as we’ll need it against a team of great quality."
The two teams’ contrasting buildups to the match have been in many ways reflective of their respective seasons to date. Despite having a massive financial advantage over any other side in France, PSG have failed to dominate in Ligue 1 as they have in winning the championship for the past two seasons. More dropped points at the weekend leave them in third place, trailing both Lyon and Marseille. There has unsurprisingly been plenty of criticism of Blanc, although he will know that getting past the quarterfinal stage that has proved their undoing in the Champions League for the past two seasons would do wonders for his job security.
Yet his hopes of doing so have been damaged by a defeat at Barcelona in the final round of the group phase that relegated PSG to second place and led to another meeting with Chelsea. It was in the last eight a year ago that Jose Mourinho’s side overcame a 3-1 loss in Paris, with a last-gasp goal at Stamford Bridge securing a 2-0 home win to take Chelsea through on away goals.
Since then both clubs have headed in different directions. Hampered by Financial Fair Play restrictions, PSG made the surprising choice to spend their entire £50 million transfer allowance on signing Brazilian defender David Luiz from Chelsea. Meanwhile, Chelsea efficiently went about correcting the deficiencies that resulted in them falling in the Champions League semifinals last season and falling short in the Premier League title race. In came Fabregas to add extra creativity through midfield and, to provide the clinical, physical edge up front, Diego Costa was procured from Atletico Madrid. Both have already shown their worth, while fellow summer arrivals Thibaut Courtois and Filipe Luis have added depth and quality to the squad.
Having had their lead hauled back once by Manchester City, it would be a major surprise were Chelsea now not to go onto win the Premier League title, and with a degree of comfort. It is likely the Champions League, though, that Mourinho truly craves. While he has won the competition with underdogs Porto and Inter Milan, he has so far failed to do so with the club he has repeatedly insisted is closest to his heart. A win with Chelsea would also make the Portuguese the first coach ever to win Europe’s premier prize with three different clubs. The London club begun that quest impressively, winning four and drawing two of their six group matches to cruise through to the last 16.
Prediction: It is difficult to see any other result from this tie than Chelsea progressing. Last season PSG blew a major chance to get to the semifinals, with Blanc’s tactical shortcomings up against Mourinho being exposed. Now with Mourinho having much better tools at his disposal, including the no longer cup-tied Nemanja Matic, the gap should be even greater.
Still, it may well be a tightly fought affair for the first leg, with Mourinho likely to be cautious away from home. PSG’s pace on the counter attack could still cause problems for a Chelsea defense that has not been as water tight as in previous seasons. But, especially with the possibility of Eden Hazard going up against the defensively suspect Gregory van der Wiel -- if Marquinhos is ruled out -- Chelsea should get at least one away goal to make them strong favorites back at Stamford Bridge.
Paris Saint-Germain 1-1 Chelsea
Kickoff time: 2:45 p.m. EST
TV channel: Fox Sports 1, ESPN Deportes