There’s an ominous aura that accompanies Chelsea and their illustrious manager at this stage of the season.
The Blues’ 2-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur in the League Cup final was quintessential Jose Mourinho, as the Stamford Bridge outfit bolted the back door shut before nicking two scruffy goals.
It was a display we’ve seen repeated myriad times from the Portuguese’s various teams down the years and you can bet we’ll see a few more to come in the final knockings of this campaign. But it’s a style Paris Saint-Germain must and can potentially conquer when the two meet in the second leg of their Champions League last-16 encounter.
The Parisians should take some confidence into this one after the 1-1 draw in the first leg at the Parc des Princes. After falling behind to a finely worked Branislav Ivanovic goal, the French champions came roaring back into the match with distinction and scored a well deserved equalizer courtesy of Edinson Cavani.
Had it not been for a string of fine saves from Thibaut Courtois and some profligacy from their Uruguayan forward, the French outfit would have been taking a first leg lead to London. But with an away goal secured and their formidable record at home considered, this was a fine result for Chelsea.
PSG will be big underdogs to progress to the last-eight of this competition, but provided they can showcase the same endeavour, comparable ferocity and a little more ruthlessness in front of goal, there’s still a chance for Laurent Blanc’s men to preserve their status in this tournament.
In fact, setting off to London knowing they need to score could suit the Ligue 1 side. Last season they had a two-goal lead intact at this stage of the tie and without the injured Zlatan Ibrahimovic they shut up shop and looked to play on the break in the second leg. But some astute game management from Mourinho and a few strokes of luck eventually saw Chelsea over the line.
They can’t do so this time however, and that should prompt PSG to play with the intensity that made them such a threat in the first-leg and the endeavour that allowed them get the better of Barcelona earlier in the competition. That’s when this team is at their very best, but sadly for the Ligue 1 club, it’s an effervescense that has been scarce this season; 11 draws in the league are a testament to that.
Don’t expect an all-out attacking assault from Blanc’s side when the whistle blows for the second leg, but it’s imperative they begin with an aggressive tempo. David Luiz and Thiago Silva must defend on the front foot, Blaise Matuidi needs to be snapping around the heels of Cesc Fabregas in midfield and Cavani’s industry has to set the tone at the sharp end of the pitch.
It’s these kinds of principles that allow the talismanic Ibrahimovic to be at his best and as aforementioned, when implemented appropriately, see PSG perform to their maximum. But in this game especially, it’s vital there is a diligent, direct streak to their play, because it’s this kind of approach that Chelsea have struggled most against this season.
While Nemanja Matic has been an indomitable presence for the majority of the campaign at the heart of this Blues midfield, finding a partner to compliment him has been a struggle and a minor chink in this team’s otherwise impenetrable armour. As such, occasionally this facet of the team has been exposed by teams willing to go at Chelsea with purpose in central areas.
When Fabregas is played in that position the Blues do tend to have a better grip on the game, but his defensive acumen can leave Matic exposed, as was on show in earnest when Tottenham trounced Chelsea 5-3 on New Years Day. Whereas when Ramires, John Obi Mikel or even Kurt Zouma start alongside the Serbian, while Mourinho’s men gain some steel, it means they do have to relinquish a stranglehold on matches in terms of territory.
Regardless of the personnel Mourinho selects, it’s an area of the team in which the Blues have yet to strike a refined balance. From PSG’s point of view, the energy of Matuidi and Marco Verratti—who both bossed the midfield battle throughout the first leg—and the intelligent darting movements outside to inside from Cavani and Ezequiel Lavezzi can put pressure on the base of this Blues midfield.
It’d be no surprise to see Chelsea voluntarily cease the initiative in this match and look to soak up the Parisians pressure before springing with the likes of Eden Hazard, Willian and Diego Costa.
But that should encourage the visitors, who have the players and have previously shown the principles to spring a shock here. Whether they have the mentality to produce their best against a reputable side away from home remains an enormous challenge for them, though.
Follow Matt on Twitter @MattJFootball
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