Mind games: Chelsea are underdogs, claims Hiddink

PSG knocked out Blues in last year’s Champions League and a repeat may be on the cards

Reuters March 08, 2016
PSG bring a slender one-goal lead to Stamford Bridge thanks to Edinson Cavani’s late winner in the first leg. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON: It is hard to imagine former boss Jose Mourinho ever calling Chelsea underdogs, but that’s how successor Guus Hiddink described them before their Champions League last-16 second leg clash against Paris Saint-Germain on Wednesday.

The French champions head to Stamford Bridge for the third successive season, having knocked Chelsea out at the same stage a year ago. They are again favourites according to Hiddink, following their 2-1 victory in the first leg in Paris on February 16.

The wily 69-year-old Dutchman may well be playing mind games though. “We are not the favourites. We have regained confidence and have quality, but let’s be very tough underdogs,” he said. “We need to be angry in a controlled way, the players must be fully concentrated.”

Chelsea’s results have improved drastically since Mourinho left in December, losing only once — at PSG — in 18 matches in all competitions.

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A 1-0 win now will be enough to see them through on away goals. That is how they beat PSG in the quarter-finals two seasons ago and how PSG eliminated them last season. With the tie finely balanced that could well be the outcome again.

Chelsea will almost certainly be without injured skipper John Terry but striker Diego Costa should return to the side.

Former Chelsea defender David Luiz, who won the Champions League with Chelsea in 2012 and scored for PSG at Stamford Bridge last season, told uefa.com he will always have an affection for Chelsea after spending three seasons there.

“My respect, my love for Chelsea, will always be the same but I hope we can come out as winners,” said the Brazil international. “I had some great moments there, but I am focused on my work, which is to play for PSG.”

PSG arrive on the back of some poor results after suffering their first Ligue 1 defeat in almost a year when they lost 2-1 at Olympique Lyonnais last weekend and drew 0-0 at home with Montpellier on Saturday.

Super-sub Cavani gives PSG edge against Chelsea

Benfica travel to Zenit with makeshift defence

Benfica will field a makeshift rearguard when they travel to one of their least favourite hunting grounds to defend a 1-0 Champions League lead at Zenit St Petersburg.

The Primeira Liga winners are missing three central defenders plus goalkeeper Julio Cesar for the clash at the Petrovskiy Stadium. Luisao and Lisandro Lopez are injured and Jardel is suspended.

That leaves Victor Lindelof, who started the season as a reserve, as the only recognised central defender in the squad. Right-back Andre Almeida is also banned while Julio Cesar will be replaced by fellow Brazilian Ederson because of a thigh injury.

Benfica’s record of one win, two draws and four defeats in seven visits to Russia hardly augurs well either. Their only victory came 20 years ago when they beat Lokomotiv Moscow 3-2 in the now-defunct European Cup Winners’ Cup.

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Coach Rui Vitoria, however, is buoyed by Saturday’s 1-0 triumph at Sporting that sent his side to the top of the Portuguese league. “It’s always better to work from the base of a win,” he said.

Benfica have notched 13 victories in 14 matches this year with only a league defeat against arch-rivals Porto interrupting the sequence.

Zenit boss Andre Villas-Boas, who faced Benfica seven times as coach of Portuguese rivals Academica Coimbra and Porto, said the supporters could lift his side to a first-ever quarter-final place. “We have the advantage going into the return leg, by this I mean our supporters,” said the former Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur manager.

“I am sure the stadium will be packed and they will create an atmosphere which will help the team to a new level. We are sure we can overcome the deficit.” 

Published in The Express Tribune, March 9th, 2016.

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