UCL Preview: Chelsea hoping to repeat history against PSG

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The last time Chelsea returned home down 3-1 in Champions League, Edinson Cavani was there. So was Ezequiel Lavezzi. Likely starters for Paris Saint-Germain on Tuesday, the two South American attackers were with Napoli when the partenopei visited London two years ago. Favored to reach the quarterfinals, Walter Mazzarri’s team fell 4-1, becoming the first knockout round victim in Chelsea’s path to the club’s first European title.

Even with PSG superstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic out injured, however, Chelsea faces a more daunting challenge on Tuesday. Cavani and Lavezzi will be there, but so will Thiago Silva, one of the best defenders in the world. A midfield three of Thiago Motta, Blaise Matuidi, and Marco Verratti offer more resistance than Napoli did, while last year’s 2-2, away goals exit at the hands of Barcelona speaks to the experience the Parisians bring into this battle. Laurent Blanc’s team is more than a plucky, hipster’s darling. They’re a threat to win this competition.

“There are players who have already won the Champions League and have a lot of experience …,” Matuidi told UEFA.com. “[T]hese aspects give us reason to believe we can make it into the semifinals.”

(MORE: Paris Saint-Germain crush Chelsea in absorbing Champions League clash)

That belief doesn’t change the fact a 2-0 loss would still send the Parisians packing, but carrying a worrisome list of absences into the match, Chelsea has more than the first leg result to overcome. Ramires, one of the likely starters in José Mourinho’s defensive midfield, is suspended after picking up a yellow card in Paris. He joins Nemanja Matic in the stands, with the winter acquisition ineligible after his time with Benfica. Samuel Eto’o’s hamstring means he’s unlikely to start, while fellow striker option André Schürrle may miss Tuesday’s game with a bad ankle.

In some respects, however, those are all ancillary parts. The core that’s pushed Chelsea into Europe’s final eight will all be present on Tuesday. That means the back five — goalkeeper Petr Cech behind defenders Branislav Ivanovic, Gary Cahill, John Terry, and Cesar Azpilicueta — will start, as will the band of three midfielders that have fueled Chelsea’s attack all season: Eden Hazard, Oscar, and Willian. They’re the foundation. The rest is scaffolding.

(MORE: Zlatan Ibrahimovic out of PSG’s Champions League clash vs. Chelsea)

But that foundation wasn’t enough in Paris. Though Chelsea scored a potentially vital away goal, they were also outplayed by  Blanc’s side, with goals by Lavezzi and Javier Pastore bookending an own goal from David Luiz. Down within four minutes, Chelsea never led, giving the French champions taking a huge step toward a much-coveted semifinal appearance.

“We need to go into the game with the right spirit and the right motivation to qualify,” Blanc explained. “I don’t know what the probability of us going through is, but these percentages are not important – we have a match to play against a very good side and we know what went on in the first leg and we need to learn our lessons from that.”

The main lesson: Paris Saint-Germain are probably the better team. Though Mourinho teams have overcome these types of disadvantages in the past, it was always an upset when they did so. Up two goals at kickoff, the Parisians are favorites to go through.

(MORE, Preview: Lewandowski returns, but Borussia Dortmund still long shots against Real Madrid)

“If Paris are knocked out tomorrow, it will be a big disappointment for them,” Mourinho said, “If we are knocked out then it is something that a lot of people are expecting. We have to enjoy the risk of the situation.

“At 9:30 p.m. [UK time] we can be out, and we know that. But at 7:45 p.m., we have chances to be in the semifinal … we have to be ready, with smiles on our faces, to go out and see what happens … at 7:45 p.m. we believe we can do it.”

“Overweight” Costa comes to Mourinho’s defense

Diego Costa, Chelsea FC
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Diego Costa says he and his Chelsea teammates are to blame for Chelsea’s horrid start to the 2015-16 Premier League season.

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Speaking Thursday, during a bit of downtime over the current international break (Costa was left out of Vicente del Bosque’s squad for Spain’s final two EURO 2016 qualifiers this week), Costa placed the majority of blame at the feet of the entire team, but went on to most harshly critique himself for coming into the season unfocused and “overweight.”

Costa, on his lack of fitness and form to begin the season — quotes from the Guardian:

“We know we’re not in the form we were supposed to be at the beginning of the season. We need to blame the players because we came back from holiday very confident, thinking we could go back into how it was last season, and then realized the team was already in a bad situation.

“I’m going to be very honest: maybe a few weeks ago, five or six weeks ago, I was not on top of my game. At least physically. We talk within the players and we know that, maybe at the beginning, we were not 100 percent as we were supposed to be when we got here. I got injured at the end of last season and then I went on holiday. Maybe I got out of my diet and, when I came back, I was not the way I was supposed to be. I was a little bit overweight. That affected my game. You can be selfish and blame it on the manager but I’m not going to do that. I’m responsible 100%, and so are the other guys.

Given that Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho said on Thursday he doesn’t quite know what’s wrong with the defending Premier League champions, hearing someone — anyone — speak up and explain the club’s worst start to a season in 37 years will surely be a welcome sound to any Blues supporter’s ears.

[ MORE: Liverpool appoint Klopp as manager | Allardyce to Sunderland? ]

Costa, who is eligible to return from suspension next weekend when Aston Villa visit Stamford Bridge, has scored just one goal in league play this season (six appearances) after scoring 20 in 26 games last season.

Sam Allardyce to open talks with Sunderland

Sam Allardyce, West Ham United FC
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Now that Liverpool have selected and named their new manager, it appears Sunderland are finally ready to move forward with their own managerial search. (That’s clearly a joke, because it implies Liverpool and Sunderland ever duke it out for the same managerial candidate.)

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Anyway, the Black Cats will have to hire someone to replace the recently-departed Dick Advocaat at some point. We all knew that, despite the fact he’s probably earned a shot at that level, Bob Bradley was never really going to be considered for the job. With that in mind, if you’re not going to endear yourself to the entire United States of America with this hire, you might as well go for the best unemployed manager who’ll actually consider your approach.

That’s what Sunderland chairman Ellis Short appears to have done, as it was reported Thursday that despite an initial reluctance from Sam Allardyce — let’s be honest, he actually was holding out hope for the Liverpool job — the 60-year-old most recently in charge of West Ham United was willing and ready to enter into negotiations with the northeastern club.

One of the major sticking points during Sunderland’s courting of Allardyce is expected to be his demand for autonomy in the transfer market as well as a sizable transfer budget to sign his own players during the January window.

[ MORE: Advocaat: Sunderland squad too thin, chairman to blame ]

Allardyce seems like the no. 1 guy you’d like to bring in to steady a capsized ship — cough Sunderland cough — in any situation. Not only does he have a successful track record in the Premier League, but he’s the kind of no-nonsense leader a club like Sunderland so desperately needs as they find themselves in yet another relegation battle just eight games into the new season.

Short hopes to have Allardyce signed, sealed and delivered when the Premier League returns to action next weekend. In that event, Allardyce’s first game in charge of Sunderland would be a trip to West Bromwich Albion. His first home fixture? Home to Tyne-Wear derby rivals Newcastle United, a club whose boisterous fanbase still holds a great deal of disdain for Big Sam. Sometimes the football gods really are looking out for us.