Mourinho’s men can boast of a better defence and more knowhow than their French challengers for a semi-final spot in the UEFA Champions League.
Paris Saint-Germain is on the verge of its first Champions League semifinal in 19 years. In that context, Chelsea must feel like it was in the semis yesterday.
The Blues also have the tactical edge as well as more experience going into their quarterfinal first leg at Parc des Princes. Among the quarterfinalists, Chelsea boasts the joint tightest defence while PSG has the second most prolific offense behind Real Madrid. The Blues won’t be unsettled if PSG dominates ball possession as they proved clinical on the fast break in the 6—0 rout of Arsenal on March 22.
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho led Porto and Inter Milan to Champions League glory in 2004 and 2010 respectively. PSG coach Laurent Blanc has never won it as a player or coach. When Blanc played at Barcelona in the 1996—97 season, he worked with Mourinho, who was then an assistant to coach Bobby Robson.
Mourinho portrayed his team as the underdog despite evidence to the contrary. “Of course they are favorites,” Mourinho said of PSG. “The second leg is an advantage for the team that plays away, because if you go to extra time they have 30 more minutes to score one goal that counts double.” Blanc didn’t take the bait- “I won’t get into that game. I’m not making any comment on what Jose said, otherwise you’re going to make headlines, and that’s exactly what someone wants.” PSG players were happier to comment, but also contrasting. Midfielder Javier Pastore- “Chelsea has played in the Champions League for many seasons while it’s only our second straight season. We have a good team too, but I think Chelsea is the favourite.” Defender Christophe Jallet disagreed- “There’s no favourite. We start on an equal footing. Then we’ll see after the first leg.”
PSG and Chelsea had opposing fortunes last weekend. PSG moved closer to the French league title by edging Nice 1—0 on Friday to win its ninth straight game in all competitions and extend its lead to 13 points. Chelsea lost ground in the English Premier League race with a 1—0 defeat at Crystal Palace on Saturday to trail leader Liverpool by two points. Mourinho wrote off Chelsea’s title chances, but the standings say a different story.
DR. CHELSEA AND MR. BLUES
PSG must be wondering what Chelsea side it will face on Wednesday. The Blues have looked pedestrian a few times this season, losing twice to Basel in the group stage of the Champions League and losing at Stoke, Aston Villa and Crystal Palace in the English Premier League. But Chelsea has also been formidable when it thrashed Schalke twice in the group stage and beat Manchester City, Liverpool and Arsenal at Stamford Bridge. “You have (some) players, they are fantastic in some matches, they disappear in other matches,” Mourinho explained. Domestic form is not a reliable indicator of Chelsea’s performance on the continent. In eight Champions League matches, only two ended up with a result similar to the EPL game played by the Blues a few days before.
THE OLDER, THE BETTER
Players often lose a step when they are in their 30s. That’s not the case with PSG striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic. “At 32, he’s maybe having his best season,” Blanc said. Ibrahimovic has 40 goals in 42 games for PSG in all competitions. It’s the first time he has reached 40 goals in a single season for any club. He has 10 goals in the Champions League to trail only Cristiano Ronaldo this season.
SPEED VS. ACCURACY
PSG wingers Ezequiel Lavezzi and Lucas Moura have plenty of pace to get in behind the defence but they often lack composure in front of the net. Moura has scored only three goals in 43 games this season while Lavezzi has notched nine in 38 games. Lavezzi missed the target twice from inside the area in the 1—0 win over Nice. Blanc is aware such wastefulness could prove disastrous against Chelsea. “If we create as many chances as we had, we will have to be much more clinical in front of goal,” Blanc said.