It has been a season to forget for Chelsea. Last May, Jose Mourinho led them to the Premier League title unchallenged.
The Special One is now looking for a job and Chelsea looking for some kind of redemption.
They are 12th in the league, that too after a stretch of 12 undefeated games. This perhaps is the best time for them to plunge back into the Champions League.
The league of extraordinary European football clubs is back after a gap of over two months. Sixteen top teams will now try to knock one another out over two legs. Chelsea, for the 12th time in 13 years, have made it here and just like the last two times, it’s PSG standing between the Blues and the next stage of the competition.
Given the season Chelsea have had so far, they were definitely not hoping for this fixture from the draw. They are 20 points behind league leaders Leicester City.
PSG are 24 points ahead of second-placed Monaco in Ligue 1. But both clubs know these things hardly matter in the Champions League.
While PSG have been rampaging — unbeaten in 23 games in all competitions, Chelsea too have found a bit of form. The best news for them is that target man Diego Costa is firing again.
With seven goals in eight league games, Costa has found his last season’s form.
Chelsea need him at his brutish best, especially for a high-octane fixture like this one.
Willian, easily Chelsea’s best player this season, has been has good as ever, and Eden Hazard is making a return from injury.
Cesc Fabregas too finds himself in a purple patch and his recent performances have been more like the kind is expected of him.
Chelsea’s 5-1 demolition of Newcastle at Stamford Bridge in the weekend will jet them to Paris on a high.
But not everything is looking up for the reigning English Champions. The biggest blow for Chelsea ahead of the big clash in Paris is that they’ll be without their captain John Terry.
Terry, a natural leader of men and still a defensive stronghold for the club, suffered a knee injury and was subbed off before half-time whistle against Newcastle.
He has not travelled to Paris.
This, after Kurt Zouma’s horror injury against Manchester United that has ruled the young Frenchman out for the rest of the season and the European Championships.
Chelsea will be without their regular centre-back pairing and that is a tricky spot to be in if you’re going away in Champions League knockout stages.
Branislav Ivanovic, himself having a bit of a topsy-turvy season, will most likely join Gary Cahill, who hasn’t featured much this season, in the heart of Chelsea’s defence.
Cesar Azpilicueta will be shifted to his natural right-back position and Baba Rehman should fill in on the right.
Matt Miazga, the January acquisition from MLS, would be waiting on the bench.
With an unsure and untested back four, Chelsea wouldn’t want to go out and defend deep and wait to strike on the counter (Champions League knockout away game tactics 101).
Instead, they should look to take the game to PSG.
Despite a wonky season, Chelsea boast of a strong midfield, definitely stronger than PSG’s on paper.
With Nemanja Matic suspended, John Obi Mikel will play the disruptor in the midfield and Fabregas will enjoy a more free role.
Oscar, Willian and Hazard would be favourites to start behind Costa. And Chelsea will have Pedro too, whose excellent display earned him a brace against Newcastle.
PSG, on the other hand, won’t be starting Marco Verratti. The little Italian, who just signed a contract that will keep him in Paris till 2020, basically runs their midfield and is back from a two-week injury absence.
But even without him, PSG’s midfield fortress is in strong hands of Thiago Motta and Blaise Matuidi.
PSG had rested key men Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva and Motta in their last league game ahead of the big European clash. Chelsea can’t afford that luxury.
PSG will be at home, they will be fresher after granting rest to major players, they have had a cakewalk of a league up till now and can intensify focus on Champions League.
Chelsea are rebuilding brick by brick from the debris of Premier League hopes, have injuries to key players and are tired from an exhaustive league.
There cannot be a bigger contrast.
But when the Champions League music booms in the stadium and occasion hits the players, those contrasts become mere banalities. It then becomes just about who wants it more over 180 minutes.
Chelsea had a disaster of a Premier League season in 2011-12 when they finished sixth. But it also went down as their most successful and historic one as the Blues, against everyone’s (but Gary Neville’s) bets went on to win the Champions League after the lifting the FA Cup back home.
While to do that this season would take one to stop Messi, Neymar and Suarez from scoring, but for every single step you take in the Champions League, you take two steps ahead in your minds.
A Premier League top-four finish is out of the question for Chelsea. But they can go as far as they want in the Champions League.
First Published On : Feb 16, 2016 21:05 IST