Two months have passed since the draws for the Champions League last-16 were announced 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, 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 defending Premier League champions have since begun a steady recovery under interim manager Guus Hiddink.
They remain in the bottom half of the table but have gone 12 games unbeaten, including a 5-1 thumping of Newcastle United on Saturday as main striker Diego Costa continued his impressive scoring form under Hiddink.
“Now we have more confidence to go there and to play. Paris have a great team, great players, but we go there to try and 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 teammates in a video posted on social media.
Aurier would have started, as would have 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.
“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, meanwhile, 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.
Tuesday’s other match sees Zenit St Petersburg and their Portuguese coach Andre Villas-Boas face Benfica in Lisbon.
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.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 16th, 2016.
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