Paris (AFP) – Fresh from a rare weekend off, Chelsea recommence their bid for Champions League glory on Tuesday when they face injury-ravaged Paris Saint-Germain in the first leg of their last-16 tie at the Parc des Princes.
With a shock defeat to third-tier Bradford City last month meaning Jose Mourinho’s side were not involved in the fifth round of the FA Cup over the weekend, Chelsea were able to put their feet up and watch Paris endure the worst possible preparations for one of the glamour ties of the round.
“The rest is welcome for us. In the end they have only one game that we don’t have. It’s only one more game, but I welcome this little rest for the players,” said Mourinho before discovering what happened to PSG in a catastrophic afternoon against Caen.
The reigning French champions lost Yohan Cabaye, Marquinhos, Serge Aurier and Lucas to muscle injuries during the home Ligue 1 game, that saw them finish with just nine men and draw 2-2 after conceding two late goals.
Paris coach Laurent Blanc later admitted that the quartet were almost certain to miss the rematch with a Chelsea side who won when the clubs clashed in the quarter-finals of the same competition last year.
With Blaise Matuidi taking a knock in the same match and Javier Pastore battling to recover from a calf problem in time, PSG captain Thiago Silva was left to complain that his side’s European prospects had not been helped by the powers that be in the French game.
“I think the league could have protected us,” Silva told sports daily L’Equipe after a result that ensured they would remain two points behind Ligue 1 leaders Lyon. “The French authorities must think a bit more about PSG, but also Monaco (who face Arsenal in the last 16).
“It is very hard to play every three days. And for a special event like this match against Chelsea, the match against Caen could have been rearranged to allow us to prepare better.”
Silva was in the PSG side that beat Chelsea 3-1 at the Parc des Princes in the first leg of their last-eight tie almost a year ago, when his compatriot David Luiz scored an own-goal.
However, counters from Andre Schuerrle and Demba Ba helped Chelsea win 2-0 in the return to go through on away goals.
– Stronger team –
Since then David Luiz has swapped west London for Paris and will partner Silva in the heart of the home defence on Tuesday, while Schuerrle and Ba have also now left Stamford Bridge.
However, Chelsea are a stronger team these days, with Mourinho’s acquisitions in the transfer market helping take the Blues seven points clear of Manchester City at the top of the Premier League and making them favourites in this tie.
“They are much stronger. Now they have a great player up front in Diego Costa and super midfielders in (Cesc) Fabregas and (Nemanja) Matic. It will be complicated but we must think positive,” added Silva.
Costa in particular will be raring to go having just completed a three-match domestic suspension and Chelsea can also call on winger Juan Cuadrado, a January recruit from Fiorentina.
As they bid to reach the quarter-finals for the third season running, Paris need a positive result to take into the return in London on March 11.
Thiago Motta and Edinson Cavani will return after being rested at the weekend, while Gregory van der Wiel and Ezequiel Lavezzi are set to start.
“I have absolute confidence in the coach. He has already proved that he can adapt and I am sure he will find the right formula,” added Silva. “In any case it will be a fabulous match and I think it’s 50-50.”