Champions League Preview: In-form Chelsea aim to ruffle PSG, Benfica-Zenit look for upper hand - Firstpost
Firstpost

Champions League Preview: In-form Chelsea aim to ruffle PSG, Benfica-Zenit look for upper hand


Paris: Two months have passed since the draw for the Champions League last 16 was made and much has changed in that time as Paris Saint-Germain prepare to meet Chelsea in one of the headline ties on Tuesday.

When the sides were paired together for the third successive season in December's draw at UEFA's Swiss headquarters, PSG appeared the undisputed favourites.

That was as much down to Chelsea's travails as PSG's almost flawless form, but just three days later Jose Mourinho was sacked and the Premier League side have since begun a steady recovery under Guus Hiddink.

They remain in the bottom half of the Premier League but they have gone 12 games unbeaten, including a 5-1 thumping of Newcastle United on Saturday as Diego Costa scored his eighth goal in that time.

Chelsea'smanager Guus Hiddink and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois on the eve of the match. AFP

Chelsea'smanager Guus Hiddink and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois on the eve of the match. AFP

"Now we have more confidence to go there and to play. Paris have a great team, great players, but we go there to try to win the game," Willian told Chelsea TV.

PSG are not exactly in bad shape, with a 1-0 loss at Real Madrid in the group stage their only defeat in 39 games this season.

They have not lost a domestic match since March last year and had won 16 games in a row before a 0-0 draw with Lille on Saturday, when coach Laurent Blanc decided to rest top scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic, captain Thiago Silva, Thiago Motta and Maxwell.

However, PSG's build-up to the match has been overshadowed after defender Serge Aurier was suspended for insulting Blanc and many of his team-mates in a video posted on social media.

Aurier would have started, as would highly influential midfielder Marco Verratti, who Blanc says is not fit enough having featured sparingly in a wearying run of 12 games in the last six weeks.

"They (Chelsea) didn't have a match last midweek, unlike us. The Champions League merits more preparation than we have been able to put in as we have been playing every three days," complained Blanc, whose side beat Chelsea in the last 16 a year ago after losing in the quarter-finals in 2014.

Hiddink says he will not take any risks on captain John Terry, who came off injured against Newcastle, while Kurt Zouma is out for the season with a knee injury.

'Super memories'

Roma and Real Madrid, meanwhile, have both changed coaches since they were paired together with the first leg of their tie at the Stadio Olimpico on Wednesday.

Madrid came through their group unbeaten and ahead of PSG, but Rafa Benitez was sacked at the start of January with his team lagging behind in the Spanish title race and the legendary Zinedine Zidane has since come in, overseeing five wins and a draw in La Liga.

At Roma, French coach Rudi Garcia was fired last month after a run of one win in 10.

He has been replaced by Luciano Spalletti, who twice took Roma to the Champions League quarter-finals during a previous stint as coach, including in 2008 when the Giallorossi beat Real in the last 16.

Zidane, who has Gareth Bale, Marcelo and Pepe carrying injuries, of course has happy memories of the competition with Real, having starred in their 2002 final win over Bayer Leverkusen.

"I have super memories as a player and as a coach because I won it with this club as assistant manager with (Carlo) Ancelotti too, so obviously there is a particular allure," he added.

Wolfsburg reached the last 16 at the expense of Manchester United but the Bundesliga club had gone five games without a win before beating Ingolstadt 2-0 on Saturday to set themselves up for Wednesday's trip to Belgium to play Gent.

"The important thing for us is to have ended the negative run - we have won now and that’s all that counts. There is a lot we can take from that for the future," said Wolves coach Dieter Hecking as his side prepare to face the team who were the surprise package of the group stage, qualifying at the expense of Valencia and Lyon.

Tuesday's other match sees Zenit St Petersburg and their Portuguese coach Andre Villas-Boas face Benfica in Lisbon.

Zenit's head coach Andre Villas Boas looks-on during a press conference. AFO

Zenit's head coach Andre Villas Boas looks-on during a press conference. AFO

The long Russian mid-season break means Zenit have not played competitively since December and they have already been in Portugal for some winter training.

"The main difficulty lies in the fact that we will meet with a team which is faster and more mobile, because it continues to play in a championship without interruption," said Villas-Boas last week.

Both matches will start at 01.15 IST. 

 

Paris Saint-Germain v Chelsea factfile

Form: Paris are enjoying a record-breaking season, with a 1-0 defeat away to Real Madrid in the group stage their only loss in 39 matches in all competitions since the campaign began. Saturday's 0-0 draw at home to Lille ended a sequence of 16 consecutive wins in all competitions but extended their record-breaking unbeaten run in Ligue 1 to 35 games and left them an enormous 24 points clear of nearest 'challengers' Monaco. They have not been beaten domestically since March last year. Chelsea, in contrast, have endured a traumatic season but their form has improved since Guus Hiddink replaced the sacked Jose Mourinho. They are unbeaten in 12 games since the 2-1 defeat at Leicester City in December that did for Mourinho and were convincing 5-1 winners against Newcastle United at the weekend.

Coaches:

Paris Saint-Germain - Laurent Blanc (FRA) -- 50 yrs

Chelsea - Guus Hiddink (NED) -- 69 yrs

Leading scorers in all competitions:

Paris Saint-Germain - Zlatan Ibrahimovic (27 goals)

Chelsea - Diego Costa (12 goals)

Domestic league performance:

Paris Saint-Germain - Top of Ligue 1, a huge 24 points clear of second-placed Monaco with 12 games left. Still unbeaten this season, they are on course to win a fourth straight title before the March international break.

Chelsea - Despite going 10 Premier League games unbeaten, Chelsea have won just four of those and they are 12th in the table, nine points clear of the relegation zone but 14 adrift of the Champions League qualifying berths.

Group stage performances:

Paris Saint-Germain - Second in Group A behind Real Madrid

Chelsea - Winners of Group G ahead of Dynamo Kiev

European Cup/Champions League best performances:

Paris Saint-Germain - semi-finals 1995

Chelsea - winners 2012

Other honours:

Paris Saint-Germain - 5 x French champions, 9 x French Cup winners, 5 x French League Cup winners, 5 x Champions' Trophy winners, 1 x Cup Winners' Cup winners

Chelsea - 5 x English champions, 7 x FA Cup winners, 5 x English League Cup winners, 4 x FA Community Shield winners, 1 x UEFA Europa League winners, 2 x Cup Winners' Cup winners, 1 x UEFA Super Cup winners

Previous meetings:

PSG 0-3 Chelsea - 2004/05 Champions League group stage

Chelsea 0-0 PSG - 2004/05 Champions League group stage

PSG 3-1 Chelsea - 2013/14 Champions League quarter-final, first leg

Chelsea 2-0 PSG - 2013/14 Champions League quarter-final, second leg

PSG 1-1 Chelsea - 2014/15 Champions League last 16, first leg

Chelsea 2-2 PSG after extra time - 2014/15 Champions League last 16, second leg

Benfica v Zenit factfile

Form: Benfica will be hurting after losing 2-1 at home to bitter rivals FC Porto in a huge match in the Portuguese title race on Friday. In a game watched by 61,536 at the Estadio da Luz, they had led through Kostas Mitroglou before Porto came back to stun the Lisbon crowd. That result ended a run of 11 successive wins and 13 matches without defeat since a 2-1 loss at home to Atletico Madrid in their final Champions League group game. The long Russian winter break for Zenit means there are no games from the start of December until early March, so their last competitive match was their 2-1 defeat at Gent in their final Champions League group game. In the meantime, they have become well acclimatised to Portugal, winning the Atlantic Cup friendly competition on the Algarve last week.

Coaches:

Benfica - Rui Vitoria (POR) -- 45 yrs

Zenit - Andre Villas-Boas (RUS) -- 38 yrs

Leading scorers in all competitions:

Benfica - Jonas (24 goals)

Zenit - Artem Dzyuba (16 goals)

Domestic league performance:

Benfica - Second in the Portuguese top flight, three points behind leaders Sporting, coached by Jorge Jesus, the man who led Benfica to the title last season. They are also three points above FC Porto in third after losing to their bitter rivals on Friday.

Zenit - Sixth in the Russian Premier League over the winter break, seven points behind leaders CSKA Moscow. They play their first league game of 2016 at Krasnodar on March 5.

Group stage performances:

Benfica - Second in Group C behind Atletico Madrid

Zenit - Winners of Group H ahead of Gent

European Cup/Champions League best performances:

Benfica - winners 1961, 1962

Zenit - last 16 2012, 2014

Other honours:

Benfica - 34 x Portuguese champions, 25 x Portuguese Cup winners, 6 x League Cup winners, 5 x Supercup winners

Zenit - 5 x Soviet/Russian champions, 3 x Soviet/Russian Cup winners, 4 x Soviet/Russian Supercup winners, 1 x UEFA Cup winners, 1 x UEFA Super Cup winners

Previous meetings:

Zenit 3-2 Benfica - 2011/12 Champions League last 16, first leg

Benfica 2-0 Zenit - 2011/12 Champions League last 16, second leg

Benfica 0-2 Zenit - 2014/15 Champions League group stage

Zenit 1-0 Benfica - 2014/15 Champions League group stage

With inputs from AFP

First Published On : Feb 16, 2016 13:26 IST

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