It has been 10 years since Paris Saint-Germain last went toe to toe with Chelsea Football Club in the UEFA Champions League. Didier Drogba humbled us at the Parc des Princes with a brace in a 3-0 win for The Blues in Jose Mourinho’s first European fixture as Chelsea boss. Then at Stamford Bridge we played out a tame 0-0 with nothing riding on the game. Circumstances now are so very different. Chelsea is one of Europe’s biggest clubs having won just about anything and everything. We are in an ongoing project where we have our best assembled team for nearly 20 years since those heady days in the 90’s. It is a Parisien side that has all the capabilities to go on and beyond what Luis Fernandez’s team achieved during that period and if we can overcome Chelsea in the quarter-finals of this competition, then we can really start to dream of reaching the final.
It is somewhat ironic that it is Jose Mourinho who Laurent Blanc will be coming up against on Wednesday night. Not only because it was Mourinho who we faced back in 2004 but Blanc was coached by the Portuguese back in 1996 when he was a player at Barcelona. Both have complete respect for one another. Jose said on Blanc last week: “It was a pleasure to work with Laurent Blanc as a player…He will win Ligue 1 which is normal with PSG. To win you must have the best players but also have a good coach & Laurent is one”.
Mourinho has been very respectful to us since the draw but Blanc will not get sucked into the niceties as he plots a game-plan to stop Chelsea on Wednesday. 180 minutes of football to play, against one of Europe’s tactically blessed sides. Mourinho knows how to win these games and Chelsea have that European know-how. Despite their manager claiming Les Parisiens are the favourites, we are not blessed with their European pedigree. That is an advantage in itself. For the second-leg we obviously need to give ourselves a chance in the first to take back to London. We did it by the skin of our teeth against Barcelona last season and so very nearly ended up booking a place in the last-four. PSG were heroic in both of those games and we need something similar to overhaul one of Europe’s strongest sides.
The first-leg is vastly important. We will not change our set-up and Mourinho is aware of that. We will set-up in the usual 4-3-3 system with a team consisting of; Sirigu, Jallet (If VDW is not fit), Alex, Silva, Maxwell, Matuidi, Motta, Verratti, Lavezzi, Cavani, Ibrahimovic. But, I have a sneaky feeling that Blanc may opt to start Lucas Moura ahead of Ezequiel Lavezzi. If this is the case, Lucas will start on the right with Cavani opposite. Ultimately, that may depend on the fitness of Gregory Van der Wiel who has a terrific understanding down the right with Cavani. If the Dutchman is not ready, then Blanc may fancy putting Lucas in who can hurt the Chelsea defence more than Lavezzi.
Our form at home is stunning. I have no worries on that front that we can play to our strengths but the English side are going to pack the midfield, suffocate our space and make sure we cannot supply Ibra. As they did away to Manchester City where they won 1-0 as well as their demolition of Arsenal which ended 6-0, they will harass us constantly when we have possession. This is something we have not really endured this season. We can dictate games for fun at times by keeping the ball for long spells. Teams are happy to sit back. But, I have got no doubt The Blues will do the opposite.
Nemanja Matic is cup-tied which is good news. He has been terrific for the London club since he arrived. So Frank Lampard and Ramires will most probably be in central midfield. Then it is up to Mourinho who he wants to help tuck in from wide out of Andre Schurrle, Willian and Oscar. Their star man Eden Hazard will possibly play just off Fernando Torres as Samuel Eto’o struggles with a hamstring injury.
If Chelsea have a weakness, it is their lack of goals from their strikers. Out of Eto’o, Torres and Demba Ba, all three have managed just six goals between them in the Champions League. Compare that to Ibra and Cavani who have bagged 14 goals (10 coming from the Swede).
Eden Hazard, their star man, is going to have a huge influence on their attack. He will either play just off the striker or from the left-hand side. Mourinho may spot Jallet as a weak link in the Parisien side and look to exploit him. Hazard’s quick feet, the ability to change at speed and have that injection of pace is going to cause us problems. His influence needs to be quelled which is no easy feat. Away to Galatasaray he was causing them so many problems in the first-half and the 2012 European Champions should have ended the tie there and then.
This is such a fascinating tie and it is so difficult to call. I have every faith in the team but Chelsea are so well equipped in these European games. The first-leg is pivotal for us. If we can get a result to take back to London, then why not dare to dream?