Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea F.C. renew their European rivalry on Tuesday as they face-off for the third year in a row in the UEFA Champions League knockout stage. In preparation for the big game, we reached out to Scott at Chelsea HQ to get his thoughts and predictions.
What was your initial reaction when it was announced Chelsea and PSG would face each other for the third year in a row in the Champions League?
Chelsea HQ: In my opinion, it was the toughest draw we could have got. On one hand, I was gutted to be facing a quality side like PSG so early in the competition, but I also live for big matches. There is nothing I enjoy more than a clash between two heavyweights, whether that’s in the Champions League, Premier League or a domestic cup competition.
PSG Talk: Once we qualified for the knockout stage I wrote about how I wanted to face Chelsea. At the time, they were in 14th place and losing to teams like Bournemouth and Stoke City. I thought it would be one of the easier opponents for PSG to face so I was satisfied with the draw. A lot has changed since early December and I’m not nearly as confident but Paris still go into the tie as favorites.
What player on the opposing team worries you the most?
Chelsea HQ: It’s almost impossible to pick just one player, but the PSG midfield in particular is full of pace, energy and power. Marco Verratti and Blaise Matuidi don’t always get the credit they deserve—I wouldn’t be too disappointed if at least one of them missed the first leg in Paris.
Up front, you obviously have to look at Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Edinson Cavani. The Uruguayan’s performance for Napoli against Chelsea in 2012 still haunts many of us—even though we progressed and went on to win the competition—and he is always a dangerous player.
PSG Talk: Diego Costa worries me for a number of reasons. He’s an expert windup artist as well as one hell of a finisher. It would not surprise me at all if he bags a couple goals and causes a PSG player to get a red card.
Willian is another player that can cause Paris problems. The Brazilian has been instrumental in Chelsea’s resurgence and his pace and ability to create will be a major concern for the PSG defense.
What is your prediction for your team’s starting XI heading into the first leg?
Chelsea HQ: I think Guus Hiddink, his players, and most fans would probably be happy with a draw in the away leg so I expect a similar game to last year. Chelsea will concentrate on their defensive play and pounce on any chance they get on the counter attack. John Terry is an injury concern after coming off injured against Newcastle on Saturday, but I fully expect the captain to start on Tuesday. He thrives on big European nights and has played with injuries before. The Champions League is Chelsea’s only hope of qualifying for Europe next season, so it might be a risk worth taking.
(4-2-3-1) Courtois; Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Azpilicueta; Fabregas, Mikel; Pedro, Willian, Hazard; Diego Costa
PSG Talk: Laurent Blanc has a tough decisions to make. With the recent news of Serge Aurier’s incredibly stupid Periscope rant, the Ivorian will not be in the lineup, which is a real shame because he is one of the best right backs in all of Europe. Since the game is at home, I feel Blanc will want to score goals to make the return leg at Stamford Bridge slightly easier. You mentioned earlier that Cavani is a player you worry about but I’m here to tell you that he won’t even make our starting XI. The Uruguayan’s form has been shocking of late, while the attacking threesome of Lucas Moura, Ibrahimovic, and Angel Di Maria has been electric.
(4-3-3) Trapp; Marquinhos, Luiz, Silva, Maxwell; Matuidi, Motta, Verratti; Lucas, Ibrahimovic, Di Maria
Official | PSG confirm that Serge Aurier has been indefinitely suspended following his comments last night on Periscope.
— Get French Football (@GFFN) February 14, 2016
If you were to group the players from both teams together, what is your ideal starting XI?
Chelsea HQ: Despite our poor season, I still think a handful of Chelsea players deserve to be in this combined XI, so this is what I would go with:
(4-4-2) Courtois; Ivanovic, Silva, Terry, Azpilicueta; Willian, Matuidi, Verratti, Hazard; Diego Costa, Ibrahimovic
PSG Talk: There’s no doubt the Chelsea squad has a lot of quality in it and I think you have a pretty solid lineup there but I would make a few changes. Ibrahimovic with Costa, while on paper it works, would be a nightmare as we’ve learned with Cavani. You’ve also left out Di Maria, who since coming to Paris from Manchester United, has been playing at a ridiculously high level. Here’s my Chelsea/PSG starting XI:
(4-2-3-1) Courtois; Aurier, Silva, Terry, Kurzawa; Matuidi, Verratti; Hazard, Fabregas, Di Maria; Ibrahimovic
Will Jose Mourinho manage PSG in the next three years?
Chelsea HQ: I just cannot see him ever managing in France. He keeps saying he needs to be challenged on a weekly basis, which simply wouldn’t be the case in Ligue 1.
My gut feeling says he will stay in England for many years and then go back to Portugal before the end of his career. I could also see him taking over a national team in the future.
PSG Talk: When the wheels were coming off the bus (pun intended) I wrote about the potential of Mourinho coming to PSG. Your point about competition in Ligue 1 is well taken and that’s certainly something Mourinho will look at when choosing his next club. The recent news of Blanc’s contract extension would make a Mourinho arrival in Paris even more unlikely. Three years is a long time though and if PSG don’t win the Champions League this year or next, I think management will consider bringing Mourinho to Paris if he’s available. The two have spoken before about managing the club and the unlimited resources at the Parc des Princes has to be enticing.
I would put Mourinho to Paris in the next three years at 25 percent.
Complete this sentence: In order for your team to win, BLANK has to happen.
Chelsea HQ: We cannot afford to lose by more than a goal away from home, a draw would be perfect. At Stamford Bridge, we need a perfect performance and have to avoid last year’s mistakes, especially from set pieces.
We have been playing surprisingly well in Europe this season and I’m more than confident we can shock a few people.
PSG Talk: Put the Aurier controversy behind them. Blanc and the players will be asked about it repeatedly leading up to the game and it will be a distraction no doubt. It’s easy for the team to use his suspension as a built-in excuse for not performing well but Blanc should remind his players that despite the Ivorian’s absence, they’re still the favorites. It will be the toughest test of his managerial career at Paris.
It should also be noted that PSG gave up only one goal in the group stage of the Champions League. Marquinhos, who will likely fill in for Aurier, is more than capable of putting in a shift and I’m confident Paris can keep Chelsea off the scoresheet.
Which player from the opposing team do you hate the most and why?
Chelsea HQ: I don’t really hate anyone in the PSG squad. Ibrahimovic can obviously be his arrogant self sometimes but I find it quite amusing and that’s just the way he is.
PSG Talk: I’m not going to be as nice here. I hate Costa. I was in Charlotte, NC, this summer for the friendly between these two teams and even in an exhibition, Costa was throwing elbows and playing dirty. I won’t deny his quality but his antics on the pitch make it difficult for anyone not wearing Chelsea blue to appreciate his world class talent.
What is your prediction for the tie? Aggregate score, leading scorer, any surprises?
Leg 1: PSG 1-0 Chelsea (Cavani)
Leg 2: Chelsea 2-0 PSG after Extra-Time (Hazard, Diego Costa)
I also think there could be another red card in those 180 (+) minutes of football, especially in the return leg, when emotions run high and players feel the pressure.
Leg 1: PSG 2-1 Chelsea (Ibrahimovic, Lucas, Willian)
Leg 2: Chelsea 1-1 PSG (Costa, Verratti)
I agree that we are almost certain to see a red card over the two games. I’m predicting a narrow victory for Paris because not only am I a fan, but I just think Ibrahimovic is on a mission this year. The guy is 34-years-old and is in unbelievable form. The Champions League trophy is the last big piece of silverware he hasn’t won and I hope he gets to check that off his bucket list before leaving for Major League Soccer.
Photograph by Flickr user @cfcunofficial (Chelsea Debs) London