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.”
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.
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.
“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.”