Eleven months on from their last visit to Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge, Paris Saint-Germain return on Wednesday looking for confirmation of their place among the Champions League elite.
In last season’s quarter-finals, PSG came to London with a 3-1 lead from the first leg and with a huge 13-point advantage at the Ligue 1 summit, only to crash out after Demba Ba’s 87th-minute strike took Chelsea through on away goals.
This season, a round earlier, the tie is even more evenly-balanced at 1-1, and it is Chelsea who are dominating domestically, five points clear in the Premier League with a game in hand, while in France, PSG trail Lyon by a point.
But in contrast to last season’s London trip, PSG have Zlatan Ibrahimovic fit and in form, with the giant Swede having scored his third goal in four games and provided a delightful assist for Javier Pastore in Saturday’s 4-1 defeat of Lens.
Laurent Blanc’s side have now gone 14 games without defeat in all competitions and despite their failure to recapture last season’s heights, they remain in contention for an unprecedented four-trophy haul.
“Of course we have belief against Chelsea,” said Blanc.
“We’re in an unfavourable situation because they scored that famous goal (Ba’s goal) that meant Paris didn’t reach the semi-finals for the second year in a row.
“But we have to do the same thing as them. If we’re as clinical as Chelsea were, I’ll take it.”
With PSG’s owners, Qatar Sports Investments, having taken over at the Parc de Princes eight years after Roman Abramovich first brought his rubles to Stamford Bridge, the French champions have had to face the barrier of Financial Fair Play (FFP), which Chelsea did not have to worry about when Jose Mourinho was building the first great team of the Abramovich era.
The FFP sanctions that PSG were hit with last year restricted their close-season transfer activity, but they were nonetheless able to splash out an astonishing 50 million euros ($54.5 million) to sign David Luiz from Chelsea.
– ‘Specific things’ –
The Brazil centre-back aimed a tongue-in-cheek barb at Mourinho earlier this week, responding to a question about what made the ‘Special One’ so special by saying: “But he’s special for you, not for me!”
Luiz deputised in defensive midfield for the first leg, but with Thiago Motta fit again after a calf injury, he is expected to return to central defence alongside Thiago Silva, who was rested against Lens.
In Lucas Moura’s absence, Pastore has been tipped to get the nod to line up alongside Ibrahimovic and Edinson Cavani — who cancelled out Branislav Ivanovic’s opener in the first leg — in Blanc’s three-pronged attack.
Only John Mikel Obi is definitely out for Chelsea, with Nemanja Matic expected to return after a two-match domestic suspension despite hurting his ankle during the celebrations that followed the 2-0 League Cupfinal victory over Tottenham Hotspur.
Chelsea have had over a week to prepare for the game, having not played at the weekend, and centre-back Gary Cahill says they have left no stone unturned.
“We’ve been able to really work on specific things in preparation for it,” the England defender, whose side hope to reach the last eight for the fourth time in five years, told the Chelsea website.
“We know the quality of PSG and the job that lies ahead of us. It’s going to be like a final, a big one-off game, and we’ll be ready to go out there and give it everything we have to get us into the next round.”
The first leg was overshadowed after mobile phone footage emerged showing a group of Chelsea supporters preventing a black Frenchman from boarding a Paris Metro train prior to the game and chanting racist songs.
Chelsea reacted by banning five fans from Stamford Bridge and inviting the victim, known as Souleymane S., to attend the second leg, but he is believed to have declined the invitation. – Agence France-Presse