Chelsea meet Paris Saint-Germain in the UEFA Champions League for the second time in successive seasons.
Last year Demba Ba scored a late goal to see the Premier League side qualify for the semi-finals on away goals, winning 2-0 at Stamford Bridge after losing the first leg 3-1.
The two sides have gone in opposite directions since then – Chelsea finished last season third in the Premier League, whilst they head into this evening’s game seven points clear at the top. Paris Saint-Germain ran away with the Ligue 1 title last season – they’re third in the league before they face Chelsea.
Here are my five reasons why Chelsea will progress from this tie:
1. José Mourinho
Paris Saint-Germain had Chelsea on the back foot after taking a 3-1 lead into the second leg thanks to a late individual effort from Javier Pastore in the first leg. A two-goal lead in the quarter-final of a Champions League tie is rarely overturned and for a lot of the game at Stamford Bridge it didn’t look like the English side were going to succeed.
André Schürrle had scored after 32 minutes in the second leg but Chelsea didn’t look greatly like scoring a second. That was until Mourinho’s opposite number, Laurent Blanc brought on defensive sub after defensive sub and sat further and further back as the game drew to a close. This allowed a late flourish from the Blues before Demba Ba was able to find an 87th minute winner.
2. Diego Costa
Less than 12 months ago André Schürrle started the first leg up front and Samuel Eto’o the second. Chelsea upgraded significantly over the summer and whilst Diego Costa has been suspended for the past three games domestically, he should be in sharp match fitness to get amongst the goalscorers in the first leg.
José Mourinho confirmed yesterday that his Spanish striker will start this evening’s game. Costa showed his goalscoring ability in this competition last season when he helped guide Atlético Madrid to the final. He’s shown he’s a great fit in this Chelsea side this season with his instant impact in the side.
Over the years the Premier League have often given their own sides a disadvantage in the Champions League with their poor fixture arrangements. Whilst the big leagues around Europe schedule a lot of their top teams to play on Friday night before a tough tie, the Premier League are happy to let their teams play on a Sunday before representing the country in Europe. You can imagine the needless fatigue…
Ahead of the first leg in this one though, Chelsea have not played since Wednesday, a home win over Everton in the Premier League. They have had three days’ extra rest in comparison to their French opponents who finished their game on Saturday with nine men and drawing 2-2 at home to Caen. PSG picked up four injuries in that game, whilst Chelsea only have John Obi Mikel out injured.
4. David Luiz
Marquinhos is a doubt after picking up an injury at the weekend so David Luiz looks set to play alongside Thiago Silva in Paris Saint-Germain’s defence for the first leg at least. Most of us were laughing when Chelsea received £50 million for their liable defender in the summer, before he was part of the Brazil side that shipped seven goals to Germany at the World Cup.
José Mourinhowill have his gameplans for PSG’s weak points and no doubt Luiz will be one of them to target. Diego Costa should be able to get his number in open play, as could Oscar or Cesc Fàbregas, whoever plays behind the striker. Set pieces will be another area you can expect the Portuguese manger to look to exploit Luiz’s weak points.
5. English Premier League ->> French Ligue 1
This tie sees the Premier League leaders versus the team third in French Ligue 1. OK, we all expect Paris Saint-Germain to go on to win the league but it doesn’t look like they’re going to have the same margin as they did last season, and that Chelsea currently have.
Chelsea have some breathing room in the league and whilst the league may have seen a number of average-performing sides competing for the top four this season, Mourinho’s side are certainly superior. They’re amongst the four favourites to win this season’s Champions League in my mind, Paris Saint-Germain are not.