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Champions League PREVIEW: Round of 16: PSG vs Chelsea (1st leg)

Josh Mart previews the return of the Champions League, as Paris Saint Germain prepare to face Chelsea, an old foe, at the Parc des Princes on Tuesday evening. PSG failed to make their points advantage over Barcelona tell when the two met in the final group game in Catalonia in December, as the ‘Blaugrauna’ were victorious. This meant that PSG finished as runners up in group F and had to face a group winner. The opponent which was drawn was Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea, who heartbreakingly defeated Paris Saint Germain in last season’s competition. PSG’s social media team recently took a playful jibe at Mourinho’s ‘park the bus’ tactics from last year’s tie, an incident which Jose Mourinho reacted to in his typical manner. It promises to be a mouth-watering tie.

PSG currently sit 3rd in the Ligue 1 standings, which are as close as they have been in recent years with leaders Lyon, second placed Marseille and PSG separated by just 2 points. PSG being third suggests poor form, yet ‘Les Parisiens’ have only been beaten once in since the return of Ligue 1 from the annual winter break in France. This defeat was 6 games ago and since PSG has progressed to the latter stages in both domestic cup competitions. However, despite these positives Saturday’s 2-2 draw at home to Caen was a blow to PSG’s title hopes. Ibrahimovic scored a spectacular goal and Lavezzi doubled the lead, before injuries forced PSG to finish the game with 9 men- and Caen capitalised striking twice in the dying minutes. PSG will be fully focused on the game with Chelsea now though and Blanc and his men will surely be hungry for revenge.

Chelsea have been simply fantastic in the Premier League this season, and over the hectic winter period, they have managed to establish a huge 7 point lead over nearest title challengers Manchester City. The only real poor result in recent weeks was the embarrassing cup defeat to League 1 side Bradford at Stamford Bridge in January. Last Wednesday’s narrow 1-0 victory over Everton could prove crucial in the title race as Manchester City recovered from recent poor form to impressively beat Stoke at the Britannia Stadium. Chelsea had no game at the weekend due to it being an FA Cup weekend, so the players have had longer to prepare both physically and mentally for this encounter. Chelsea won their group comfortably back in December, bit will be wary of PSG, a side they would have wanted to avoid when the draw was made.

Team News and Tactics

PSG’s injury list is becoming longer by the week. Lucas Moura, Serge Aurier and Yohan Cabaye all obtained injuries at the weekend, and all are out of this encounter. Blanc also has doubts over the fitness of Marquinhos, Motta, Matuidi and Pastore. Luckily, Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva are back to full fitness now.

With this in mind, I expect Blanc to deploy a 4-3-3 formation, with Thiago Silva and former Chelsea man David Luiz together at the heart of the defence. Maxwell and Van der Wiel look certain to start at full back. Verratti is the only certain starter in the midfield three and Blanc has urged the hugely talented Italian to show his worth here. If fit, he is likely to be alongside the ever reliable Thiago Motta and the dynamic Blaise Matuidi. Ibrahimovic will spearhead the attack and will be supported by Edinson Cavani and Lavezzi from the flanks. Losing Lucas is a big blow for PSG, as his pace on the right could have caused Chelsea so many problems.

Chelsea’s injury list is almost completely contrasting to their French opponents, as only holding midfielder John Obi Mikel is out for this one.

Thinking back to last season, I expect Mourinho to play a 4-5-1 formation, which will become a 4-2-3-1 when Chelsea attacks. Courtois is set to start in goals, behind the formidable defense of Azpilicueta, Terry, Cahill and Ivanovic. The Serb Ivanovic, in particular, has had a fantastic season and provides a fabulous presence at the back, as well as a strong desire to go forward. Matic and Fabregas will be the holding midfielders, with Fabregas having the freedom to dictate play. Hazard, Oscar and probably Willian will play behind the ‘love him or hate him’ figure of Diego Costa.

Danger Men

Ibrahimovic (PSG) – The enigmatic Swede is/was often heavily criticised by the British media for not ‘doing it’ in the big games, or more specifically against English teams. However, Zlatan is without doubt one of the world’s finest strikers with a fantastic physical presence and a capability of producing moments of genius that one would pay the entrance fee alone to see. PSG will need him to produce in this one.

Diego Costa (Chelsea) – Despite Hazard being arguably Chelsea’s most talented player, it seems hard to ignore the outspoken Spaniard when selecting a danger man for PSG to worry about. Diego Costa, like Ibrahimovic, has a reputation for being a little bit eccentric to say the least. However, he has brought a whole new dimension to Chelsea, something which they haven’t had for a number of years. His power, finishing and that knack of winding up the opposition makes him a real threat to PSG. Watch out for the battle between him and David Luiz…

Prediction

With all the injuries that they have, it is difficult to suggest backing the Paris giants in this one. Yet they still have a good team with a few standout individuals such as Ibrahimovic, Verratti and Thiago Silva who need to perform impeccably here. Chelsea on the other hand, are all systems go, in terms of form and a lack of injuries, but Mourinho’s negative side could show here with him knowing they have the ‘luxury’ of the second leg being at home. It promises to be a fascinating encounter.

Prediction: PSG 1-2 Chelsea 

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