Paris Saint-Germain will start this Champions League Round of 16 tie against Chelsea FC as out-and-out favourites for perhaps the first time in the past three seasons, and manager Laurent Blanc will be looking for his side to establish a strong advantage in the first leg in France. 

 

PSG and Chelsea have had vastly contrasting fortunes in their respective domestic leagues this season, and with the Parisians cruising to the top of Ligue 1 with a lead of 24 points over second-placed Monaco, Laurent Blanc had the luxury of resting key players in the weekend’s 0-0 draw at home against Lille. Guus Hiddink, meanwhile, is still trying to get the Blues’ Premier League season back on track, and fielded a full-strength starting XI in the 5-1 demolition of Newcastle United on Saturday.

A modern day European rivalry is rapidly taking shape between the two sides, who have already faced each other in the knock-out stages of the Champions League in the previous two seasons. The Blues were victorious on away goals in the 2013-2014 quarter-finals, while Paris Saint-Germain returned the favour last season at the Round of 16 stage.

While the Twitter banter between the two clubs’ official accounts has been light-hearted, the games have been anything but; both ties have proven to be intense battles, both physically and mentally, and more of the same is likely when they clash again on Tuesday.

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Laurent Blanc v Guus Hiddink

The two managers have never faced off against each other before, although Laurent Blanc has had several battles against Chelsea over the years. The Frenchman was on the wrong side of a 4-0 thrashing at Stamford Bridge in 2008 in the Champions League group-stages, and earned a 1-1 draw at home later that year. Coincidentally, it happened to be the very season that Hiddink first took charge of Chelsea in an interim capacity, losing in an infamous semi-final against Barcelona.

Blanc’s record against the Blues currently reads: 1 win, 2 losses and 3 draws. However, with arguably the strongest side he’s ever managed till date, the 50-year-old has the perfect opportunity to improve on those numbers.

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Blanc will look for control of midfield and will aim to test the Chelsea FC defence in wide areas

One of the more notable aspects of Paris Saint-Germain’s play against Chelsea last season was the physicality and intensity in midfield, as well as the consistent tactical fouling — particularly in an attempt to stop Eden Hazard. Former Stamford Bridge cult hero David Luiz featured in midfield alongside Marco Verratti and Blaise Matuidi, and the Blues were simply no match for the Ligue 1 champions at the centre of the park.

Toulouse FC vs Paris Saint Germain

Blanc will look for something similar on Tuesday in an attempt to thwart Chelsea in counter-attacking situations and to stop the likes of Hazard and Willian — both of whom are capable of dribbling past the opposition — from growing in confidence. With Thiago Motta set to feature at the base of PSG’s midfield, Blanc will look to dictate the tempo of the game and dominate possession, taking the attacking initiative against what will likely be a deep-lying Chelsea defence.

In Lucas Moura and Ángel Di María, the Parisians also have two extremely quick players with excellent dribbling ability, who will no doubt be a constant menace to the Blues’ full-backs. Blanc could sacrifice Edinson Cavani to play the two wingers on either side of Zlatan Ibrahimović in a concerted attempt to target the flanks — particularly if Baba Rahman starts at left-back behind the defensively suspect Eden Hazard.

Hiddink likely to set up to hurt Paris Saint-Germain on the break

Guus Hiddink is an extremely experienced coach, and is discerning enough to know that his side is not likely to have the lion’s share of possession against a technically superior side in PSG. As such, the Dutchman will set up to cause damage from turnovers in possession and consequent attacking transitions — something Chelsea were able to do brilliantly on Saturday against Newcastle.

 Chelsea v Man Utd

The Blues will have to be every bit as clinical in their finishing on Tuesday, but most importantly, will have to show great tactical and positional discipline to thwart the Ligue 1 outfit. With Nemanja Matić suspended, John Obi Mikel is a certainty to start in midfield, and the Nigerian will be tasked with shutting down the likes of Ibrahimović, Lucas and  Di María in central areas of the final third as well as Matuidi making runs from deeper in midfield.

Eden Hazard and Willian, as the two players most capable of carrying the ball forward, will be absolutely crucial on the night, and will need to be precise in their passing and decision-making in the final third to create chances for the in-form Diego Costa. With Serge Aurier’s indiscretions off the pitch putting his PSG career in jeopardy, Hazard will come up against a second-choice right-back, and winning that individual battle could go a long way towards giving Chelsea a positive result in the first leg.

Key Player Battles

Diego Costa v David Luiz/Thiago Silva

The Brazil-born Spain international is already the veteran of two ferocious battles against Paris Saint-Germain’s centre-back pairing, but has yet to register any sort of victory. With seven goals in his last eight appearances for Chelsea, Tuesday presents the perfect opportunity for Diego Costa to finally make his mark against the Ligue 1 side.

Chelsea vs Newcastle

More important than the goals themselves, has been the 27-year-old’s improvement in terms of his movement in the box. While constantly pulling away to the channels or standing stationary in the early parts of the 2015-16 season, the striker is now making dangerous runs across the face of goal and behind defences to latch on to passes from teammates.

Davis Luiz and Thiago Silva will both relish the physical battle on Tuesday, but will also have to be vigilant with respect to Diego Costa’s movements in the penalty area. Keeping Chelsea’s main goal threat quiet will dramatically increase the Parisians’ chances of registering a first-leg triumph.

Ángel Di María v Cesar Azpilicueta/Abdul Baba Rahman

The Argentine superstar will likely start on the right of the attack in Blanc’s 4-3-3, and could come up against the inexperienced Abdul Baba Rahman if Chelsea captain John Terry is ruled out of the game.

Olympique Marseille vs Paris Saint Germain

Di María could cause significant damage by taking on the Blues’ left-back directly in one-on-one situations, or indeed by cutting in on his favoured left-foot and feeding his teammates in the penalty area. The former Real Madrid star has a penchant for finding the likes of Cavani and Ibrahimović with little lobbed passes over the opposition defence, and Baba Rahman (or Azpilicueta) will have to do his best to shut him down or show him on his weaker right foot as often as possible.

Eden Hazard v Gregory van der Wiel/Marquinhos

With Serge Aurier suspended by the club for his misbehaviour off the pitch, Dutchman Van der Wiel or Brazilian youngster Marquinhos will come up against Eden Hazard on Tuesday. Although the Belgian is just returning from an injury, he has the individual ability to cause serious problems for Paris Saint-Germain on the right side of their defence.

Chelsea v AFC Bournemouth

Apart from his obvious skills with the ball and the ability to beat defenders both on the outside and by cutting in, the Belgian could inflict more subtle, insidious damage by winning fouls for his side from dangerous positions on the left flank, which could further lead to Van der Wiel or Marquinhos being cautioned. This, in turn, could give Hazard even more freedom to take on his defender.

Blast from the past

Chelsea FC visited Parc des Princes in September 2004, with a side featuring the likes of John Terry, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba. The Ligue 1 side were a very different prospect back then, and did not quite have the same star-studded line-up.

The Blues ran out comfortable winners on the night, with Terry opening the scoring from a Lampard corner, before a Drogba double — including a glorious free-kick — put the result beyond all doubt. Chelsea fans will be hoping they have similar cause for celebration on Tuesday, but it will certainly be a significantly tougher task.

Here are the highlights from the game nearly 12 years ago


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