Chelsea vs. Paris Saint-Germain, Champions League draw: England and France, meeting once more
Will PSG manage to overcome Chelsea this year, or will they fall like last?
It feels like we’ve been here before. Oh wait, we have, and just last year. Paris Saint-Germain met Chelsea in the quarterfinals of last season’s Champions League, and this time around, they’ll collide in the Round of 16. PSG managed to win the first leg 3-1, but Demba Ba scored in the 87th minute in the second leg, giving Chelsea a 2-0 victory…and putting them through on away goals.
What wonders await us this year?
Led by Jose Mourinho, Chelsea are one of the favorites to win this season’s Champions League. The Blues are loaded with talent from top to bottom, having one of the world’s best strikers in Diego Costa and one of the best goalkeepers in Thibaut Courtois. When you add in the likes of Cesc Fàbregas and Eden Hazard, they only become more formidable.
What we saw from Chelsea in the group stages was a talented team that had the propensity to lose focus at times. Their two draws against Schalke 04 and Maribor were more about what Chelsea failed to do than what their opponents did. That’s not meant to be a slight against either club, but those are teams the Blues are expected to beat. When Chelsea is dialed in and playing their best, they’re virtually unstoppable, but thanks to the leadership of Mourinho, they’re also capable to winning games when things aren’t clicking on the attack. People can criticize the Special One’s tactics and willingness to win ugly all they want, but the fact remains that it’s effective.
The biggest obstacle for the Blues could end up being a busy schedule. Manchester United are surging up the Premier League table and look poised to challenge Chelsea, along with Manchester City, all season. Plus there will be FA Cup and Capital One Cup matches to deal with as well. If Mourinho can keep his side rested and healthy, they should be in great shape to make a run at the club’s second Champions League title.
Key player: Nemanja Matić
With all the attacking talent on Chelsea it might seem odd to pick a defensive midfield as the team’s key player, but rest assured, it makes sense. Matić is the stable anchor in the midfield that does a lot of things well, thus allowing the more attacking minded players around him to roam and create chances on the attack. Matić is so consistent and dependable that his teammates know they can be more aggressive and take more risk because he’s backing them up. He’s also insanely versatile, able to his position in multiple ways effectively, allowing Mourinho to adapt his tactics more often to fit different situations.
Paris Saint-Germain waged an impressive Champions League group stage campaign, including impressive wins over Barcelona and Ajax. Laurent Blanc has instilled a better team ethos and setup than PSG has had in the past, and they’ve been reaping the rewards of that setup. Admittedly, they have struggled some in Ligue 1 as the French top division has gotten stronger on a whole, leaving them a point behind Marseilles, who have shocked Europe in their race to the top of the table.
The Parisians haven’t let that get them down, though. They’ve played impressive football, and on their day their attack is overwhelmingly powerful. Let PSG get rolling in any given match, and you simply won’t last long as their midfield will pound you in to pudding and their strike force will run circles around your defense.
In previous Champions League campaigns, though, PSG have benefitted by being runaway favorites in their league. With them standing a point out of first and one point ahead of third-place Lyon, with Saint Etienne and Bordeaux not much further behind, can Blanc and his squad afford to place their focus in Europe as they have before? If the Ligue 1 table stays this close come February, that question could dictate how well PSG performs in the rest of this tournament.
Key Player – Edinson Cavani
With Zlatan Ibrahimovic hurting and not looking likely to be completely healthy any time soon, the onus of driving this team forward falls on to Cavani’s very strong shoulders. The Uruguyan’s form has been exceptional this season, leading PSG in scoring across all competitions and finally looking comfortable in his club’s setup after spending most of last year struggling to adapt. With IbrahimovicCh unlikely to be at his sensational best any time soon, PSG needs Cavani to be at the top of his game in order to advance. If he’s up to the challenge, the French giants could make a whole lot of noise in Europe.