PSG v Chelsea: Blanc’s boys set for pancake day battering?

(Selected the image mainly because it amused me. Suggested caption: “By the time I retire, my hair will be this big.”)

The Empire Strikes Back, (What’s the story) Morning Glory, Street Fighter II. Occasionally a sequel comes along that tops the original.

Fans of Paris Saint-Germain will be hoping the second instalment of PSG v Chelsea exceeds the first. You may remember last season’s Champions League quarter-final clash which ended in a victory on away goals for the Blues as a Jose Mourinho ‘tactical masterclass’ – sticking an extra striker on and lumping balls into the box – paid dividends. Terrible Twitter banter ensued.

Now the teams are preparing to meet in the last-16 of this year’s Champions League, and the smart money is on a similar result. Last year Chelsea were a team in transition, but have since metamorphosed into a typical Mourinho side – tough, fast and ruthlessly efficient. In contrast, this PSG team was probably at its peak last year, and his since suffered the effects of ageing, loss of form and injury: Cabaye, Motta and Lucas will all sit out tonight’s game, while doubts remain over the fitness of Matuidi, Pastore and Marquinhos, though all three are in the squad. Terrible Twitter banter is still rife.

Boss Larry White, who saw his side reduced to nine men due to injury as they threw away a 2-0 lead to draw with Caen, admits preparations haven’t been ideal.

“I would have loved to prepare for this match in different circumstances,” said Blanc, who every week manages to take stating the bleeding obvious to new levels.

“People say that all this can galvanise the players, the coaching staff and the fans, who need to understand we’re in difficulty at the moment. We’re taking on an opponent of great quality and we’ll have to be at our very best to get the win.”

All in all, it looks possible PSG could end up taking a pancake day battering. And speaking of tossers, Mourinho, dubbed the ‘professional shit-stirrer’ by this week’s France Football, has appeared worryingly sanguine in the run-up to tonight’s clash.

“We eliminated them last season but we lost in Paris. Everything was decided in the final minutes. We weren’t better than them, but we did score at the Parc,” said Mourinho. “They have a super team, almost the same as last season but with the addition of David Luiz. Those are great conditions for a team to make progress; they’ve had stability. We haven’t!”

Poor Jose, still gamely battling injustice. It must have been unbelievably tough for him to cope with the instability caused by bringing Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas into his already-talented squad over the summer.

In terms of PSG’s injuries, I’m not too worried about Lucas missing out, as even though he has been brilliant this season, I’m still unconvinced about his ability to perform on the big occasion. Pocho, on the other hand, seems to thrive in these kind of matches, and has a decent record in the Champions League since his transfer from Napoli.

Conversely, Thiago Motta has been pretty poor this term, but his experience would have been very handy tonight. It’s a lot to ask of Marco Verratti to be the most defensive player in a midfield facing Fabregas, Matic and Co. It’s going to be a big night for Adrien Rabiot, who hasn’t really performed since rejoining the squad but is set to start against the Blues.

Ultimately though, I agree with Blanc that defence is going to be key.

He said: “Last year, what made the difference was the goal Chelsea scored in Paris. It’s a priority to keep a clean sheet. There will be a lot of talented attacking players on the field but the paradox is that the side who defends better will have the better chances.”

We can take solace in the fact that PSG’s best performance of the season came when beating Barcelona in an earlier Champions League match. This team thrives on the big occasion, though whether that mentality will be enough to see us through against the Premier League leaders remains to be seen. I’m predicting a 1-1 draw tonight, with a 2-0 win for Chelsea in the second leg. Here’s hoping the team can prove me wrong. ALLEZ PARIS.

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