Paris Saint-Germain v Chelsea | Tuesday 16 February | Parc des Princes | 21:45
Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea will lock horns in the knockout stages for a third year running. In the past two seasons away goals have been the vital factor when the clubs have met. In 2014 Chelsea knocked the French side out of the quarter-finals after losing 3-1 in Paris and winning the return game 2-0 in West London. Last season Laurent Blanc’s team advanced from the last 16 after a 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge to progress on away goals, with the tie level on aggregate at 3-3. Meeting again, both as champions of their respective leagues, we should be in for another cracking contest.
To Win Match (90 Mins)
Since Paris Saint-Germain’s 1-0 defeat to Real Madrid last year November, the French champions have gone 21 games unbeaten in all competitions with 20 wins at the time of writing. Blanc’s side have won their last 12 games at the Parc des Princes with their last defeat against Barcelona back in April last year.
Last season, Blanc’s all-conquering side became the most dominant team in French football history, winning the domestic treble of Ligue 1, Coupe de France and Couple de la Ligue for the very first time. And in 2015-16 they have done the almost unthinkable: they have improved further. PSG are actually too good for Ligue 1. With 22 wins and three draws from their 25 league games so far this season, Blanc’s men have opened up a remarkable 24-point lead over their nearest challengers, Monaco.
For all of PSG's domestic dominance, they have failed to get past the quarterfinal stage in Europe over the past three seasons, and Blanc is under pressure to improve that record. Despite where Chelsea are on the league table this season, the side are rejuvenated under Guus Hiddink and are yet to lose a match. PSG will need to be at their very best if they are to be the first team to beat Chelsea this year. However, with their star-studded squad they can beat any team on their day. Thiago Silva and David Luiz have marshalled the back line superbly thus far, keeping five clean sheets in the group stages.
The midfield trio of Marco Verratti, Thiago Motta and Blaise Matuidi make up one of the most formidable midfield trios in world football. Angel Di Maria will burst forward from the right flank carrying the ball out and leading counter-attacks, spreading the play, and looking to find the runs of Edinson Cavani and Zlatan Ibrahimovic with defence-splitting balls. Cavani has scored 17 goals in 30 appearances on the wing, while Ibrahimovic has scored 22 goals in 24 appearances.
In PSG, Chelsea drew the toughest opponent possible to any of the group winners. The Blues will face a daunting test at Parc des Princes on Tuesday night. Hiddink has got the Blues back on track after a miserable start to the campaign that forced the club to part company with iconic manager Jose Mourinho.
Chelsea are unbeaten in 11 matches under the Dutchman and although they have drawn five of those, there is unquestionably a more positive feeling around the team. In the Champions League, Hiddink’s side won four of their games in the group stages with just one defeat away to Porto. Like PSG, Chelsea have an embarrassment of riches at their disposal. Thibaut Courtois has developed into a world-class goalkeeper at just 23 years of age. The defensive paring of John Terry and Kurt Zouma are Hiddink’s first choice centre backs. However, Zouma suffered a gruesome-looking injury in Chelsea’s 1-1 draw at home to Manchester United last weekend. The Frenchman has been ruled out for six months so Gary Cahill will replace him. Cahill offers strength, physicality, aerial threat and experience. He might not have Zouma’s speed, but he has a telepathic understanding with Terry.
In midfield, Cesc Fabregas is one of the best playmakers in the world. He will be Hiddink’s main ingredient for creativity and will be expected to dictate the tempo and style of Chelsea’s attacks. When given time and space on the ball, he can produce at any given moment and PSG will need to mark him tightly. Up front, Diego Costa gives the team an unshakeable focal point in attack. The Brazilian-born Spanish striker has scored six goals in his last seven games and will be hunting for that crucial away goal.
There are many other dangerous players and huge scoring threats in this Chelsea side with the likes of Eden Hazard, Pedro, Oscar, Willian and Alexandre Pato, who has replaced Radamel Falcao in the squad. Speed has always been Pato’s primary asset, matched with a technical ability that makes him a direct, devastating attacking presence.
Verdict: PSG Win + Both Teams To Score (3/1)
PSG are in a rich vein of form, winning 20 of their last 21 games at the time of writing. The French Ligue 1 champions are yet to lose a match at home, winning 10 of their 11 games. Chelsea are unbeaten under Hiddink and have been better away from home, having won three of their last five away matches. However, PSG should prove too strong at the Parc des Princes, but the Blues have enough quality to return to Stamford Bridge with an away goal. Take PSG to Win + Both Teams To Score at 3/1.
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