Hiddink’s Chelsea facing a daunting assignment in Paris

PSG have been operating at a different level to the struggling champions

Chelsea  striker Diego Costa wears a protective face mask as he  take part in a training session at the club’s complex in Cobham, Surrey. Photo: Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images

Chelsea striker Diego Costa wears a protective face mask as he take part in a training session at the club’s complex in Cobham, Surrey. Photo: Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images

 

The last time Chelsea were in Paris, almost a year to the day, the front cover of France Football was filled with a picture of Jose Mourinho and though the headline was not exactly complimentary – L‘Emmerdeur translating as “The Shit-Stirrer“ – the accompanying words probably summed up how opponents viewed them at the time. Mourinho, as one correspondent wrote, could make “your fingers tremble just writing his name”.

A lot has happened since Chelsea returned from Parc des Princes with a 1-1 draw that might have lulled them into thinking they were in a position of strength to go through to the last 16. They would have been mistaken, PSG overcoming them in the second leg, and two clubs that desperately want to be regarded as European superpowers have been moving in opposite directions ever since.

For Chelsea, there has been the most implausible title defence of the Premier League, sending Mourinho to the guillotine and with so much spectacular unravelling the 5-1 defeat of Newcastle United on Saturday was one of the few times this season it has felt like watching the old team at work.

Soccer sophistication

Serge AurierL‘Equipe

Chelsea are no longer a team who inspire fear; PSG have never been more scary.

Guus Hiddink‘s team may have to reproduce some of those brilliantly stoic performances against Barcelona and Bayern Munich that helped them win the tournament four years ago.

Chelsea have lost only one of their 33 games during Hiddink‘s two spells in charge but, despite their recent improvement, there has been only fleeting evidence this season of the spirit of togetherness that took them to glory in 2012.

Chelsea can be encouraged by a 12-match unbeaten run since the club severed ties with Mourinho.

“We‘ll have to defend well, but we will have to show our quality when we have the ball and try to make inroads as an attacking side ourselves,“ said goalkeeper, Thibaut Courtois.

“Last year we had a difficult game here as well. With Angel Di Maria they have added even greater quality to their team. In the league they are doing very well and will win it. It will be a difficult game for us, but hopefully also for them. We still have the quality to cause them problems.”

Nonetheless, it did feel like Hiddink was being generous when he talked about it being a “50-50“ tie, especially when Zlatan Ibrahimovic is in such swashbuckling form and John Terry’s hamstring injury, to go with Kurt Zouma’s damaged knee ligaments, means Chelsea are missing both their first-choice centre-backs, as well as the suspended Nemanja Matic.

PSG have won 22 out of their 26 games in Ligue 1, drawing the other four. Blanc’s team are operating with a goal difference of plus 51.

In the Champions League they have had a habit of being drawn against Barcelona, but their home defeat against the Catalans last season was the only time in 37 games they have lost a European tie on their own ground.

“We can’t say we are going to win the Champions League,” said Marco Verratti, their fit-again midfielder.

“It’s never easy. But we’ve been playing with each other for three or four years now, we know each other better and the coach knows us better. So, this year, we are a better, stronger team. We’ve been preparing for this game for a long time.“

Le Parisien contained an interview with Eden Hazard sounding decidedly flaky about his future and mentioning “it’s hard to say ‘no’ to PSG, as with all teams capable of winning the Champions League.”

Hiddink is entitled to think his misfiring player, who hasn’t managed a goal from play all season, could have chosen a better time to speak than on the eve of a crunch last 16 clash with the dominant French champions.

Guardian Service

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