Chelsea vs PSG | Wednesday 11 March | Stamford Bridge | 21:45
Chelsea host PSG in one of the finest poised Round of 16 matches remaining in European football’s showpiece event. It makes for a fascinating tactical stand-off, especially considering the counterattacking proficiency of both sides. Laurent Blanc’s side have the pressure of knowing that they have to score, a fact which should fit perfectly within the absorption template of one Jose Mourinho. Chelsea seemingly represent England’s only hope of advancement in the competition; Arsenal and City stand on the precipice of elimination with daunting away fixtures to contemplate. Chelsea were hardly fluid at the Parc Des Princes, surrendering large swathes of possession to the French champions, but since when has fluidity been a major component of Mourinho’s vernacular? This should be a fascinating encounter that could well hinge on the first goal scored.
To Win (90mins)
Chelsea have had a few solid days off since that bruising victory at Upton Park last week. In many ways that victory resembled their attritional draw in Paris, built mainly on last ditch defending and desperate counterattacking. Chelsea will be a different prospect at home however, especially with the partnership of Fabregas and Matic likely to start. Ramires will likely make way as Mourinho will look to his star midfield combination to rekindle their early season form. Fabregas was hugely disappointing in Paris and will command far more time on the ball at home. The fact that PSG have to score should work perfectly into the hands of Chelsea, with Hazard and Willian always looking to hit fast on the break.
Oscar will probably play just behind Costa at the tip of the diamond and the Brazilian playmaker’s ineffable engine will also see him drop off into midfield to try disrupt the likes of Veratti and Matuidi. Costa will likely see more of the ball than in the first game considering the delicate position of the tie. Costa was often left a slightly frustrated figure in the first leg, forced to resign himself to the knowledge that he is a number nine in a Jose Mourinho European side. Hazard will likely be offered more space to break in a tie perfectly poised for his mesmeric skills to shine.
Branislav Ivanovic’s first-half goal in Paris was a sickening hammer-blow to Laurent Blanc’s best laid intentions for the tie. It was just the kind of malevolent sucker-punch that has become the trademark of Mourinho’s European tradition. One huge blow that PSG will have to bear is the continued absence of midfield fulcrum Lucas Moura, whose powerful running and energy were sorely lacking in the first leg. Blanc faces a slight selection dilemma with Lavezzi and Pastore, but I would think that Blanc will opt to use Pastore in a potentially dynamic substitution role. David Luiz returns to Stamford Bridge in the wake of a somewhat juvenile verbal feud with enfant terrible Jose Mourinho.
Blanc has to decide whether to utilise him in a defensive capacity or in the deeper lying midfield role he adopted in Paris. I would think that the latter approach is more likely, especially considering the blatant necessity of goals in the side. Thiago Motta was disappointing in their 4-1 victory over Lens at the weekend, ensuring that Blaise Matuidi will likely partner Verratti in the midfield position. Ibrahimovic, Cavani and likely Lavezzi will lead the line in a game that holds various tactical issues for PSG. The greatest will be containing Eden Hazard’s virtuosic counterattacks in a game that they simply have to press. Matuidi will have his hands full trying to contain the diminutive Belgian, likely freeing up the oft underrated Willian to damage PSG hopes.
VERDICT: Chelsea 19/20
PSG have the team to take down Chelsea on paper, but it really is Mourinho’s tactical acumen that gives Chelsea the edge. His Stalingrad tactics at PSG only represented one half of the master plan, one which now allows him to fully explore the counter-attacking prowess of Hazard and Willian. Fabregas will not be as undercooked as the first leg while his side have enjoyed a healthy break from competitive football. Expect Costa to benefit from Chelsea’s increased potency.