Chelsea take on Paris Saint-Germain in the second leg of their Champions League round of 16 tie at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday, looking to overturn a 2-1 deficit (7.45pm on BT Sport Europe).
PSG secured their narrow first-leg lead three weeks ago. Strikes from Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Edinson Cavani either side of half-time – John Obi Mikel (pictured) netted for Chelsea in stoppage time in the first period – gave the French champions a deserved lead heading into this week’s second match-up. Their form in the top flight has been a little disappointing by their own incredibly lofty standards since then, a 0-0 draw at home to Montpellier on Saturday following a 2-1 defeat – their first loss of the league campaign – to Lyon at the tail end of February.
That will not be too much of a concern for manager Laurent Blanc given that his side are 23 points clear at the top, however, with PSG’s focus now solely on the Champions League. Having failed to make it beyond the last eight in each of the last three seasons, there is an expectation that now is the time for the Ligue 1 leaders to take the next step in their development by reaching the latter stages of Europe’s primary continental club competition.
The reverse at Parc des Princes last month remains Chelsea’s only defeat since Guus Hiddink replaced Jose Mourinho in the Stamford Bridge dugout in December. The Blues will also be concentrating on Europe and the FA Cup in the coming weeks as they attempt to rescue what has been a disastrous season with a piece of silverware.
While Chelsea are underdogs heading into Wednesday’s clash, that may well be a position they relish. They were, after all, widely unfancied in three of their four knockout ties – against Napoli in the last 16, Barcelona in the semi-finals and Bayern Munich in the final – in their ultimately successful Champions League campaign in 2012. Despite being the home side, Chelsea will be happy to cede possession and attempt to hit their opponents on the counter-attack, much like they did in the first leg in Paris.
Chelsea will be without Kurt Zouma, John Terry and Radamel Falcao, but Diego Costa, Pedro and Kenedy are all hoping to recover from various injury problems in time to be involved. Bertrand Traore has scored four goals in last five appearances in all competitions and will be pushing to start, while Baba Rahman will be hoping to retain his place at left-back. Cesc Fabregas is likely to return to the XI after being rested against Stoke City on Saturday, with Nemanja Matic likely to make way for the Spain international.
Blanc, meanwhile, will be sweating on the fitness of midfielders Blaise Matuidi and Marco Verratti ahead of their trip to London, but Angel Di Maria is available again after recovering from a slight injury issue he picked up a couple of weeks ago. Ibrahimovic is likely to come in for Cavani after being rested at the weekend, while David Luiz and Thiago Silva should be restored to the heart of the Parisiens’ backline. Javier Pastore has also recently returned to the fold and will be hoping for a place in the matchday squad on Wednesday.
PSG’s first-leg advantage should be enough for them to squeeze through, although Chelsea still have an excellent chance of progressing to the quarter-finals. It therefore looks like being a tight and potentially topsy-turvy encounter at Stamford Bridge between two sides whose seasons rest on the Champions League.
Chelsea have little to play for domestically as the top four is now beyond them, PSG have little to play for domestically as the title is already theirs. A 2-2 draw looks the likely result.