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Champions League Preview: Mourinho, Chelsea stand in the way of PSG’s semifinal goal

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Implicit in Paris Saint-Germain’s quick ascent (and French soccer’s willingness to go along with it) is the idea that what’s good for PSG is good for Ligue 1. This doesn’t goes as far as clubs wanting the Parisians to win at their own expense, but if the aspiring super club is going to be one of the world’s big spenders, best they do as much as damage as possible in Europe while doing so.

More success in Champions League leads to more exposure, which leads to more commercial power for the French league – something that will helps the whole circuit in the long run. As PSG grows and can buy up players like Blaise Matuidi, Lucas Digne, and the since departed Kevin Gameiro, the money can trickle down. If Ligue 1 is every going to close the gap between itself and Europe’s biggest leagues, it would have to be on the back of PSG.

“It’s very exciting for a manager to be involved in this kind of project – just as it is for any player,” PSG head coach Laurent Blanc said on Tuesday, the day before the first-year boss hosts Chelsea in UEFA Champions League’s quarterfinals. “Everything about our development is going very fast …”

(MORE, how PSG got here: Rout in Leverkusen | Close out in Paris)

That rapid rise helps explain France’s fixation on the Champions League semifinals. Since the season’s onset, French soccer has had that landmark in mind. After the Parisians forced away goals to be used to see them out of the quarterfinals last season, progress for the PSG project — and, by extension, French soccer — means making the final four. With PSG winning every other competition, Europe is now the only measuring stick.

“[I]n European competition we are among the least experienced clubs remaining,” Blanc cautions. “We will need time to be a regular player at the top level.”

But having drawn Chelsea (and not Bayern Munich, and to a certain extent Real Madrid), the Parisians are being expected to take the next step now, even if people like Zlatan Ibrahimovic (pictured) are also being cautious. But in light of last year’s result, the measured tones of PSG’s stars and staff can’t temper expectations. Whereas last year the French champions were within inches of knocking out Barcelona, this year a stronger team faces a Blues squad that’s perceived to be an easier challenge. With players like Edinson Cavani, Marquinhos, and Yohan Cabaye added to a squad already build around Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva, and Batuidi, why shouldn’t people expect the semifinals?

(MORE, Chelsea’s path: Draw in Istanbul | Cruise in London)

The most common answer to that question: José Mourinho. The Champions League winning coach with Porto and Inter Milan has also made the semifinals with Chelsea (during this first stint) and Real Madrid. His teams are not used to exiting the competition this early, and while that’s largely because Mourinho tends to have one the tournament’s most talented teams, the manager’s part can’t be overlooked. Each time Mourinho’s won Champions League, he did so with a team that wasn’t the tournament’s most talented.

source: AP“Paris has a team full of fantastic attacking players, not to mention the other ones,” Mourinho (right) explained. “I could speak for hours about Thiago [Motta]. The offensive players are what really make the difference at this level.”

In this matchup, there may be little question which team has more talent. Chelsea, certainly one of the most gifted teams in England, don’t have the depth of stars that PSG possesses. While they can claim Eden Hazard among the world’s elite, the Parisians have Ibrahimovic, Silva, and Edinson Cavani. A player like Matuidi would walk into Chelsea’s Wednesday XI, particularly considering winter signing Nemanja Matic is cup-tied. Throughout the rest of Laurent Blanc’s squad, Mourinho might also find the likes of Ezequiel Lavezzi and Thiago Motta of use. Whereas Mourinho’s first spell at Chelsea would have never met a French team that could outclass his talent, his return to Stamford Bridge comes within a much-changed Champions League world.

But to the extent there even is one, the talent gap isn’t so big that Mourinho couldn’t traverse it, particularly given the experience Chelsea’s core carries from their 2011-12 Champions League-winning campaign. Against a Paris Saint-Germain team likely to have a big possession advantage, those veterans can stay in their more comfortable, counter attacking posture, relying on the likes of Hazard, Óscar, and Willian to execute in transition against the PSG defense.

(MORE: Real Madrid looks to restore confidence against decimated Dortmund)

“I watch a lot of Paris matches, and Laurent Blanc has a clear philosophy,” Mourinho explained. “They keep the same philosophy, even when they change three midfielders, like against Bayer Leverkusen in the [round of 16] second leg. Same goes for us; we have a philosophy and we won’t change it. And we have faith in what we do.”

“Chelsea and Paris have very different styles of play,” Blanc agreed, “they’re more inclined to counterattack while we like to keep possession. Which is more effective? We’ll see after the two legs, but we’ll stay true to our beliefs.”

Particularly on the road, in leg one, Mourinho will have his team embrace that less expansive approach, remaining conservative while looking for a quick but crucial away goal. The question is whether Blanc, making his second trip to this level of the competition, can identify his own team’s weaknesses and protect them against that Blues’ assault.

Lampard urges Chelsea to sign Terry; If not, would buy his plane ticket to MLS

during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Manchester City at Stamford Bridge on January 31, 2015 in London, England.
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John Terry is the last of the old guard at Chelsea, and club legend Frank Lampard thinks he deserves to stay at Stamford Bridge.

Speaking with the web site ShortList.com, Lampard also said he’d welcome the defender to Major League Soccer with open arms, and checkbook.

[ MORE: Premier League’s Top Five story lines for Week 26 ]

Saying he’d “I’ll get his plane ticket and get him over here,” the New York City FC midfielder called Terry “quite comfortably” the best defender he’d ever played with during his career.

From Shortlist.com:

“What John offers is a link with the fans and an appreciation of the young players who he would want to help come through. He’s Mr Chelsea. Those are the sorts of players you need at the club. Without telling the club what to do, I think Chelsea are looking to change the old nucleus we had, what with myself, Ashley [Cole], Didier [Drogba] and Petr [Cech] gone, John’s almost the last one standing. But I don’t think he’s going to be an issue with that – he’ll even help the transition with helping the younger players.”

Even given Terry’s dicey at times off-field reputation, there’s merit to that story (After all, you can’t be okay with Ryan Giggs guiding the youth of Manchester and opposed to Terry leading at the Bridge).

As for MLS, plenty of England’s old guard is here already. From the 2010 World Cup roster alone, Ashley Cole and Steven Gerrard are in L.A., Lampard’s in New York City, and Shaun Wright-Phillips is with RBNY. That’s already half the number of U.S. players in MLS who played in the 2010 tournament.

Former FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke hit with 12-year ban

SAINT PETERSBURG, RUSSIA - JULY 24:  FIFA Secretary-General Jerome Valcke listens to questions during the Post-meeting of Organising Committee for the FIFA World Cup press conference ahead of the preliminary draw of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia at Konstantin Palace on July 24, 2015 in Saint Petersburg, Russia.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
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Another member of FIFA’s embattled corps has learned his punishment for egregious ethics violations.

Jerome Valcke, the longtime secretary general of football’s governing body, is going to be away from the game for 12 years, banned from the sport by FIFA’s independent ethics committee.

[ MORE: Hiddink comments on USMNT’s Miazga, center back crisis ]

The 12 years are less than a lifetime but more than the recommended nine years. Valcke was dismissed from his post in January.

From the BBC:

The decision has been made by Fifa’s independent ethics committee following allegations of potential misconduct related to sales of World Cup tickets.

During the investigations, several other acts of potential misconduct arose, including travel expenses policies and regulations.

Valcke’s ban is four years longer than the ones issued to Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini.

Allardyce on using USMNT’s inexperienced Yedlin at RB: “It’s a massive ask”

during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Sunderland at Anfield on February 6, 2016 in Liverpool, England.
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Sam Allardyce knows a relegation battle when he sees one, and even an injury crisis has him nervous about using inexperienced USMNT right back DeAndre Yedlin.

The speedy American wingback is on loan from Tottenham Hotspur, and Sunderland’s table position has its manager wondering if he can afford to use the 22-year-old.

[ MORE: Hiddink comments on USMNT’s Miazga, center back crisis ]

Billy Jones is injured, and the Black Cats did not firm up their right back depth in the transfer window. Ex-Celtic back Adam Matthews is among the other options, and played 150 times for the Bhoys.

And Yedlin had just 56 professional appearances and was less than three years removed from two years at Akron when he moved to London.

From the Sunderland Echo:

“We’ve got Billy who has a lot of experience, and obviously we’ve got DeAndre, who has very little experience at this level.

“DeAndre has a lot of qualities, but without that experience, it’s a massive ask to perform at the consistent level that you need to at this stage of the season, particularly with the pressure we’re all under.”

You have to love that following his train of thought would continue with, “but we don’t have any better options, so let’s see what happens!” It’s not quite Guus Hiddink saying of Chelsea youth like Matt Miazga, “We have no fear of bringing youngsters in“, but Allardyce is right in saying the relegation plight is a different pressure than Chelsea’s much safer spot.

This is a big chance — and a big ask — for Yedlin, who replaced Jones in last week’s comeback draw with Liverpool and has only seen Spurs improve since he went on loan. How has Yedlin fared this season? In terms of overall stats, he hasn’t been very good at all, though advanced stats site Squawka says he is slightly better than Jones.

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But in terms of straight-up defending, the USMNT man has done the job a lot better.

Sunderland Yedlin

It would be classic Big Sam to improve his lot in the Premier League safety race because injury forced him to remove Jones.

Go get ’em, kid.

Hiddink on Zouma absence: “We have no fear of bringing youngsters in”

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Chelsea hosts Newcastle United this weekend, its first game since the season-ending injury to young defender Kurt Zouma.

The 21-year-old Frenchman has arguably been Chelsea’s best center back when it comes to marking and defending this season, and manager Guus Hiddink has to find an alternative for the big man.

[ MORE: Klopp updates Sturridge, Coutinho fitness; Backs owners ]

While Gary Cahill and John Terry have the familiar names of the bunch, Hiddink won’t limit himself to veteran replacements. Certainly he could slide Cesar Azpilicueta inside, though that would sacrifice about a half-foot, and Newcastle likes to use big striker Aleksandar Mitrovic.

He also has 20-year-old USMNT back Matt Miazga — who’s been given squad No. 20 — and said the following in Friday’s pre-match press conference:

“We have no fear of bringing youngsters in.”

Could we see Miazga in the fold on Saturday? Hiddink’s comments sure sound like he’d rather not, but all it takes is an injury or an inkling.

Miazga gave an interview to Chelsea’s web site last weekend where he described his play.

From ChelseaFC.com:

“I really like it, it is a higher level, the ball moves much faster but yeah, it is good. All the guys are very welcoming and I am really enjoying it.

“My game is definitely built on winning aerial challenges and tackles. As a centre-back you have to have an aerial presence and win a lot of headers, and my job is to win duels and not let opponents score, so every time I try to get a good tackle in and make my opponent know that I am there and it is not going to be an easy time trying to go by me.”

The ball moves much faster, and we’re hoping to see Miazga move with it sooner rather than later. Will it be this weekend.