On Monday morning, UEFA made the Round of 16 draw in the Champions League and for the third season running Chelsea were drawn against Paris Saint-Germain. In the week in which Star Wars Episode VII is released, this intriguing trilogy is set for an interesting twist of its own.
Jose Mourinho’s side have easily started the previous meetings as favourites to progress, but now, with the Blues languishing in the lower half of the Premier League table and PSG cruising to their fourth consecutive league crown, the French side have every right to believe that they are a force to be reckoned with.
In Mourinho’s first season back at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea survived from a 3-1 first leg defeat to advance on away goals, and the Portuguese coach was praised for his attacking decisions that turned the tie in his favour.
Twelve months later, the game again finished as a draw, but it was Thiago Silva’s late header that levelled the scores and saw PSG progress to the quarter-finals. The away side were reduced to 10-men when Zlatan Ibrahimovic was sent off in the first-half, but Blanc’s reshuffle helped stifle the home side and they took advantage of some poor defending at set-pieces to claim the aggregate victory.
Not much has changed in the French capital. PSG are light-years ahead in Ligue 1 – their 5-1 win over Lyon on Sunday gives them a 17-point lead at the top of the table, with the title all but guaranteed.
PSG are unbeaten after 18 games, they have only failed to win three times in the league, conceded just nine goals and have found the net 45 times this season. Their performance against Real Madrid at the Parc des Princes wasn’t great, but they showed signs of improvement at the Santiago Bernabeu – giving hope that they can take on Europe’s best.
For the Parisian club to be taken seriously as an elite European side, they need to take advantage of the change in fortunes of both sides. Last year, Chelsea were on the way to lifting the Premier League title, now they will be lucky to win a place back in the Champions League.
At the start of the season, Blanc was told that he needed to guide his side to a place in the semi-finals to keep himself in a job. When you look at the league record of both teams this season and the difference in form, it’s hard not to give PSG a slight edge over the two legs.
Blanc’s ultimatum was always going to rely on a favourable draw. Playing against either Barcelona or Bayern Munich in the last 16 would have been a tough ask, but the draw against Chelsea makes it almost imperative that the French side comes out victorious if they are to show progress in this competition.
The first leg won’t be played until the middle of February, with the second game at Stamford Bridge at the start of March. There is a chance, with time, that Chelsea could be in good form when the fixtures come around, but it doesn’t change the fact that PSG will be able to go into Champions League games fully rested.
Over the three years, PSG have built a squad that is strong across every area and has depth in the positions that matter. Worryingly, they could get even better and more competitive if they make any transfer moves this winter. However, the first XI and substitutes like Lucas Moura, Adrien Rabiot and Marquinhos already shows that they are ready for the next step.
Although it is easy to become bored with the prospect of watching the same tie for the third time in three years, this season’s fixture brings a new level of interest and intrigue. PSG are no longer the up and comers, they are not the new kids on the block.
Also, Chelsea are not the powerhouse they were last season. Doubts remain over the tactics, the players and now the manager.
To top that all off, PSG also have a certain Ibrahimovic that looks to have shaken off injury problems and is in his best vein of form for over 18 months. This is perhaps the last chance the Swede forward will have to be influential in the latter stages of the Champions League.
Chelsea versus PSG is definitely the fixture we have been watching for the last few years, but this meeting is different.
Now is the time for PSG to step up and take the leap to light-speed and join the next tier of elite European clubs.
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