Paris St. Germain looks to announce Champions League ascendancy vs. Chelsea
PARIS – Jose Mourinho hopes history will repeat as his Chelsea side faces Paris Saint-Germain in a critical UEFA Champions league quarterfinal (live, FOX Sports 1, Wednesday, 2 p.m. ET) that has the capital frothing with excitement.
Tickets for this match sold out in just two hours and are trading on the secondary market for upward of $3,500 at press time, fueled by the sense that this might be the year when PSG delivers on its expensive ambitions. Already the runaway leaders in Ligue 1, PSG have yet to truly become a European giant, having won just one major European title — the 1996 Cup Winner’s Cup — in its short history. To do so, they must get past a tricky Chelsea side smarting from a damaging loss this weekend.
PSG manager Laurent Blanc conceded as much Tuesday in his press conference saying, “It will take a little time to become a great European club, we’re getting there one step at a time.”
This is a fixture with some history: in 2004, Mourinho, just then dubbed the “Special One,” led Chelsea for the first time in Europe to a 3-0 group stage win in Paris. Petr Cech, John Terry and Frank Lampard are the only starters that remain from that match a decade ago, but these old heads will face a very different PSG side.
In the interim, the French have obtained their own petro-sugar daddy, as well as a player Mourinho certainly has little desire to see again: the deadly Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The star striker led the line out under Mourinho at Inter Milan, and there is no mistaking the threat he offers. Even though both grated on one another, they were magnanimous Tuesday, with Mourinho saying “Ibrahimovic has a big self-esteem and to be his coach was fantastic — but now he wants to win [Wednesday] and I want to win.”
Ibrahimovic has already broken the club record for goals in a season — he has 40 in 41 games across all play — and has a shot at smashing the Ligue 1 record, which has stood since 1977, as well. Add in the 13 assists he has delivered, there is no mistaking that the expensive, arrogant journeyman has already delivered on the $24 million PSG are paying him each season.
There is, however, the nagging sense that PSG are a one-man show, lacking the experience and grit to deal with a team that knows how to win ugly games. PSG certainly don’t lack for talent: Yohan Cabaye, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Edinson Cavani would be welcomed anywhere with open arms. And, they have an impressive unbeaten streak at home in European games.
What they don’t have is the sense of inevitability that surrounds their would-be rivals. Qatar wants PSG to be spoken of in the same breath as Real Madrid or Bayern Munich. Right now, they are respected — but hardly feared. Last year’s outing against Barcelona at this same stage saw them go out only on away goals, but the impression left was not of a PSG side on the rise, but a Barcelona side in decline (This was confirmed for many when Barcelona were annihilated by Bayern 7-0 over the two semifinal legs, but the point is that it was a fundamentally unfair judgment). A win here against Chelsea would go a long way toward changing that.
“We will play against a great team, we have nothing to lose,” Ibrahimovic said Tuesday. “The game against Chelsea will be a great test for us but, for me, Chelsea are the favorites in our quarterfinal. We find ourselves in the position that Chelsea were in nine years ago, at the time they were bought. PSG have experienced players — some have already won the Champions League. We are much improved. [Wednesday’s] match will be a big test for us and will show where we are.”
Their timing is either wretched or fortuitous, depending on how you look at it. Chelsea likely chucked their domestic title ambitions away at the weekend with a bad 1-0 loss to lowly Crystal Palace, and Mourinho was not shy with his tongue afterward. He said players have been “up and down,” added that he would be clearing out his forwards in the close-season and said that their title challenge was “over.”
That might sound like the usual Mourinho hyperbole — except for the fact that his best players seemed to agree. Gary Cahill slumped to the pitch at the final whistle and later told television cameras that, “it feels like the end, that it is over.” Mourinho now hopes the bright lights of Paris can get his team back up to speed.
One thing that Chelsea will have is the ability and knowledge at hand to win a tight, messy game. If Mourinho does as expected and closes up shop in the hopes of taking an advantage back to London, it could be a long night for PSG’s midfielders. The likes of Cahill, Terry and Branislav Ivanovic are hardly pretty, but they are effective. And, as Chelsea have shown against teams like Arsenal, they can be devastating on the counter.
And PSG? They have the ability to stun us all.
“Maybe PSG doesn’t have the experience of Chelsea, but compare player by player and that’s not the case,” Mourinho said Tuesday. “They have fantastic attacking players and goal scorers, and that really makes a difference at this level.”