Paris Saint-Germain coach Laurent Blanc believes that his side’s success in eliminating Chelsea from last season’s Champions League may give them an edge when the teams reconvene on Wednesday.
PSG weathered the first-half dismissal of Zlatan Ibrahimovic to secure a 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge a year ago that took them through on away goals and they return to west London leading 2-1 from the first leg of this season’s last 16 tie.
While much has changed in the year that has elapsed, most notably with Guus Hiddink succeeding Jose Mourino as Chelsea manager on an interim basis, Blanc is hopeful that last year’s breakthrough success will strengthen his players’ conviction that they can emerge victorious again.
“I think it might be an even more difficult match than last year, for different reasons,” said Blanc, whose team were eliminated on away goals by Chelsea in 2014.
“But my players must be conscious that we did it last season. So if we’ve done it once, we can do it a second time.
“We’re qualified as things stand, but we’ll need to play our own game and impose ourselves. If we can do what we hope to, I think it’ll be a good match for PSG.”
While the ambitious French champions are a mammoth 23 points clear in Ligue 1 and on course for another clean sweep of domestic trophies, Chelsea are likely to need to win the Champions League just to qualify for next season’s competition.
But they are unbeaten in 13 Premier League games since Mourinho was sacked in December and proved in 2012 that a dismal league campaign need not be a bar to Champions League glory.
“Everyone knows where Chelsea’s season is heading to, coming from a difficult situation in December when we were very close to the relegation zone,” said Hiddink, who previously led Chelsea to FA Cup glory after taking over in unfavourable circumstances in 2009.
“The team responded, got the points and is now mid-table, but this was a soft target for Chelsea. We did that in a relatively short time.
“Now we want to go to a new target, which is the FA Cup and the Champions League. It can give another image to Chelsea.”
‘Master your nerves’
Chelsea captain John Terry ruled himself out on the eve of the match after failing to recover from a hamstring injury.
With Kurt Zouma also sidelined by a long-term knee problem, Branislav Ivanovic and Gary Cahill will line up at centre-back for the hosts, with Cesar Azpilicueta and Baba Rahman filling the full-back roles.
Terry is due to leave Chelsea at the end of the season, but Cahill said that his team-mates could not allow their focus to be clouded by thoughts of keeping the 35-year-old on course for a golden send-off.
“It would be nice to go through this next round and John hopefully will be fit again sometime soon,” said the England international. “But our focus is on tomorrow.”
Diego Costa is due to lead the line for Chelsea after being rested for Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Stoke City and Blanc has warned his players not to fall for the Brazil-born Spain striker’s provocative tactics.
“We know that he likes contact, duels, and even provocation,” Blanc said.
“We saw that last year. It’s his style of play and he plays like that against everyone. I’ll tell the defenders not to respond, to stay cold. Even the Brazilians, they have to stay very cold.
“We paid last year (with Ibrahimovic’s dismissal). It’s hard not to react to provocation, but you have to master your nerves.”
PSG’s only injury worry concerns Italian midfielder Marco Verratti, who has missed three games with a groin problem.
Blanc said that he would be assessed in Tuesday’s pre-game training session. Javier Pastore is in line to deputise if Verratti cannot prove his fitness in time.