The FourFourTwo Preview: PSG vs Chelsea
It's almost impossible to preview of a game of such magnitude without registering the experience and tactical smarts of Jose Mourinho.
- Nice 0-1 PSG (Lge)
- Lorient 0-1 PSG (Lge)
- PSG 2-0 Saint-Etienne (Lge)
- PSG 2-1 Leverkusen (Cup)
- Bastia 0-3 PSG (Lge)
- Palace 1-0 Chelsea (Lge)
- Chelsea 6-0 Arsenal (Lge)
- Chelsea 2-0 Galatasaray (Cup)
- Aston Villa 1-0 Chelsea (Lge)
- Chelsea 4-0 Spurs (Lge)
So far, Chelsea's commander-in-chief has twice won the Champions League. On both occasions he has achieved this feat with teams of an inferior technical quality. Well, when compared to their rivals in the knockout stages, anyway.
All of which is good news for Chelsea: some of the attributes of Mourinho's previous European successes can be located in his squad's modern setup.
As Porto pin-balled through the 2004 competition with an underdog spirit that summoned extra bite in defence (plus some reliance on the sneakier side of the game), so it created the blueprint for Chelsea's miserly back-line of 2014. They are the "little horses", let's not forget. And pretty good at shutting up shop, too.
Later, when the likes of Barcelona and Bayern Munich were outsmarted by Mourinho's Inter in 2010, the feat was made all the more impressive by Mourinho's personnel of advancing years. For Lucio, Walter Samuel and Javier Zanetti - players in in the twilight of their careers, all desperate for one last charge at glory - read John Terry, Frank Lampard and Samuel Eto'o.
This isn't a one man show, however. Like Chelsea, PSG are making a fair fist of sweeping aside their rivals in the race for a league title. And like Chelsea, they carry expertise and self belief in spades: one only has to look towards the enigmatic flair of Zlatan Ibrahimovic - a footballer so imposing he refers to himself in the third person - to spot the potential dangers.
Add to that the power of Edinson Cavani and the lock-picking guile of Yohan Cabaye, and Mourinho will need all his tactical reserves if he's to reach a successful endgame by the time PSG visit Stamford Bridge.
So far, Mourinho's plans for this tie have been relatively unaffected by domestic bruisings. Only Eto'o remains a doubt having tweaked a hamstring during the 6-0 drubbing of Arsenal. However, Nemanja Matic is cup-tied having played for Benfica earlier in the season.
PSG have not been as lucky and might play without the influence of Thiago Silva. The Brazilian centre-back fractured a cheekbone during the recent Ligue 1 game against Lorient, though conflicting reports suggest his availability, a stint on the sidelines or the use of a fetching face mask.
Player to watch: Zlatan Ibrahimovic (PSG)
Zlatan, who else? The striker has enjoyed good days against English defenders. When Sweden swotted aside Roy Hodgson's men during a crushing 4-2 victory in November 2012, Ibrahimovic scored all four goals, including an acrobatic overhead kick that dominated the end-of-season showreels. Among the much-maligned England defenders that evening was Chelsea's Gary Cahill.
It's unlikely Ibrahimovic will enjoy the space afforded to him by the internationally-naive Steven Caulker and Ryan Shawcross (both partnered Cahill in that England game). But Chelsea will be unable to protect their back four with the power and drive of the cup-tied Matic. But if he's in the mood, Zlatan can prove a headache for just about anyone in the world. He'd love to prove it against Chelsea, too.
Well, let's see what Mourinho's got up his sleeve. Having spent much of the Premier League campaign claiming - rather unsuccessfully, it has to be said - that Chelsea are merely underdogs in a one-mutt race involving only Manchester City, the Special One now turns his focus to one of Europe's biggest spenders. (The irony isn't lost on us here.) The political rhetoric could be fascinating.
So far Chelsea, without much trumpeting, have made it to the Champions League quarter-final phase, though it's unlikely this tie will pass without a fanfare of some description. Why? Well, it's before the biggest games that Mourinho usually delivers his most controversial and incendiary soundbites. And with Ibrahimovic in full view - a footballer who leans as much on his over-inflated ego as he does a reserve of exceptional talents - it's likely this fixture will deliver either a) a war of words, or b) a display of public showboating, on or off the pitch.
Given the potential for mind games, Ibrahimovic's manager - former France manager, Laurent Blanc - would be wise to protect his weak spots. Strangely, Blanc has chosen to admit a flicker of vulnerability on the eve of such a razor blade fixture. Having scraped a 1-0 win over Lorient (extending their healthy lead at the top of Ligue 1), he later confessed that talk of the forthcoming tie with Chelsea had affected his team's focus.
"I would say the players weren't thinking about Chelsea but all the journalists we came across talked only about that," he said. "And it made it difficult to think about Lorient." Talk about flashing a red rag to a bull...
Facts and figures
- Chelsea have played PSG twice in Europe before and kept a clean sheet both times (excluding qualifiers).
- Chelsea lost their only previous knockout tie against a French side in the Champions League (semi-finals against Monaco in 2003/04).
- Chelsea have not conceded a first half goal in any of their last 9 CL matches.
- Zlatan Ibrahimovic has already scored 10 goals in 7 CL appearances for PSG this season; his best return in a single CL season.
- PSG have lost just 1 of their last 16 Champions League matches (W11 D4 L1).
- PSG have scored in 16 successive CL matches, netting at least twice in 12 of these games.
More FFT Stats Zone facts
A tactically orchestrated score draw. 1-1.