Losing Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a blow, of course it is. The man has been in the form of his life and is one of the key reasons in the cosmic situation we find ourselves in. On the cusp of retaining the Ligue 1 title for the first time in the club’s history and just one heroic result away from a place in the last-four of the Champions League. But, as the Swede watches on from the stands, the right-hand side for Les Parisiens has just become a whole lot more dynamic. Dutchman Gregory Van der Wiel made his return to the side in the 3-0 win over Stade Reims on Saturday after his knee trouble. And Lucas Moura came back on the right of the front three where he proved to be a thorn in the side of Hubert Fournier’s defence for the 70 minutes he was on the pitch. With these two in tandem with one another for the next few weeks, it certainly gives us some spark on that side ahead of the second-leg with Chelsea. Making up for the absence of Ibra is tough but this can compensate for it.
The retention of the league is more or less a formality now. For weeks I have tried to be diplomatic and pay Monaco respect but their defeat against Evian the weekend before last ended any hope of a miracle of them catching us up. The 13-point lead stands and we are just a couple of wins away from more jubilation.
So, Laurent Blanc can fully focus on European matters. That 3-1 lead over Chelsea is a terrific one. But Stamford Bridge is a fortress to the Blues and Jose Mourinho is going to do everything to make sure his side has the best possible chance of progressing. Ibra being out means Edinson Cavani will have a good few weeks playing in the position he wants, through the middle rather than on the right-hand side.
On Saturday we saw Blanc make eight changes to the side that beat Chelsea, only Salvatore Sirigu, Thiago Silva and ‘El Matador’ kept their places. Despite the vast amount of changes, we still ran out comfortable winners, proving just how strong our depth is yet again. Cavani being through the middle meant Lucas could come in on the right. The Brazilian was joined by VDW which is a welcomed boost.
For me the Dutchman has been one of our most underrated performers. After a sticky debut campaign where he failed to impress, the former Ajax prodigy has been different class this time around. He has been fabulous in the European Cup and is joint-fourth with a host of names in the assists charts. Ibrahimovic profited from the vast majority of those and Cavani can possibly profit from similar service.
Christophe Jallet was identified as a possible weakness for us against Chelsea in the first-leg. I in particular thought Eden Hazard was going to run at him as much as possible but it did not materialise that way. The Frenchman was tenacious. He battled his way through and did well. But Van der Wiel is considerably the better player. He will have his work cut out at the Bridge. His lack of match fitness may play a part so Blanc will need to be wary of that as he along with the nine other Parisien outfield players are going to be doing a lot of running during the game.
Lucas swung the pendulum even further in our favour when he came on last week against Mourinho’s side. He is going to play a massive part tomorrow if we are to go through as he will be the key outlet along with Ezequiel Lavezzi. You will think Chelsea are going to have the majority of possession so we must rely on the counter. Lucas lost his place in the team a few weeks back, down to the return of Cavani following his injury and he was unlucky to do so. He gives us something else. Defenders are terrified of him as he is so nimble, quick, and agile. He can ghost past players for fun. But his intelligence to spot runs in behind from fellow attackers and play that killer pass is also exemplary. He will be in Chelsea’s thinking .Cesar Azpilicueta will have the task of trying to deal with him and Hazard also will have to chip in. Like we did with the Belgian last week where we doubled up on him, Mourinho may employ the same tactic on Moura.
There is no doubt the right-hand side is a whole lot more dynamic now VDW is back and Lucas playing ahead of him. With Chelsea having to come out and score at least two goals, they will be suspect at times and that’s where the counter-attack will come into play. Lucas for one will thrive on that.
We saw signs against Reims. Van der Wiel assisted Cavani’s opener and Lucas played a part in one of the two own-goals. Different test tomorrow of course but plenty to be positive about.