Injury-hit PSG out for revenge against Chelsea

French champions PSG take on Chelsea in Paris on Tuesday in the first leg of their Champions League last 16 tie. The injury-hit French team will be bidding for revenge after being knocked out of last year’s competition by Chelsea. They face a tough task.

Injury-hit PSG out for revenge against Chelsea
Edinson Cavani grimaces after seeing PSG lose to Chelsea in last season's Champions League. Photo: AFP

PSG have not had the best preparation for their last-16 clash with Chelsea.

The big-spending French club go into the biggest game of their season on Tuesday on the back of a disastrous 2-2 home draw against Caen on Saturday, during which they conceded two last -minute goals and lost four players to injury. 

The reigning French champions lost Yohan Cabaye, Marquinhos, Serge Aurier and Lucas to muscle injuries during the home Ligue 1 game, that saw them finish with just nine men and draw 2-2 after conceding two late goals.

Paris coach Laurent Blanc later admitted that the quartet were almost certain to miss the rematch with a Chelsea side who won when the clubs clashed in the quarter-finals of the same competition last year.

With Blaise Matuidi taking a knock in the same match and Javier Pastore battling to recover from a calf problem in time, PSG captain Thiago Silva was left to complain that his side's European prospects had not been helped by the powers that be in the French game.

"I think the league could have protected us," Silva told sports daily L'Equipe after a result that ensured they would remain two points behind Ligue 1 leaders Lyon. "The French authorities must think a bit more about PSG, but also Monaco (who face Arsenal in the last 16).

"It is very hard to play every three days. And for a special event like this match against Chelsea, the match against Caen could have been rearranged to allow us to prepare better."

Silva was in the PSG side that beat Chelsea 3-1 at the Parc des Princes in the first leg of their last-eight tie almost a year ago, when his compatriot David Luiz scored an own-goal.

However, counters from Andre Schuerrle and Demba Ba helped Chelsea win 2-0 in the return to go through on away goals.

Stronger team

Since then David Luiz has swapped west London for Paris and will partner Silva in the heart of the home defence on Tuesday, while Schuerrle and Ba have also now left Stamford Bridge.

However, Chelsea are a stronger team these days, with Mourinho's acquisitions in the transfer market helping take the Blues seven points clear of Manchester City at the top of the Premier League and making them favourites in this tie.

"They are much stronger. Now they have a great player up front in Diego Costa and super midfielders in (Cesc) Fabregas and (Nemanja) Matic. It will be complicated but we must think positive," added Silva.

Costa in particular will be raring to go having just completed a three-match domestic suspension and Chelsea can also call on winger Juan Cuadrado, a January recruit from Fiorentina.

As they bid to reach the quarter-finals for the third season running, Paris need a positive result to take into the return in London on March 11.

Thiago Motta and Edinson Cavani will return after being rested at the weekend, while Gregory van der Wiel and Ezequiel Lavezzi are set to start.

"I have absolute confidence in the coach. He has already proved that he can adapt and I am sure he will find the right formula," added Silva. "In any case it will be a fabulous match and I think it's 50-50."

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OPINION: Mbappé’s title, but PSG need to breathe new life into Qatari project

After being the star of France's 2018 World Cup triumph, Kylian Mbappé has been the standout player for Paris Saint-Germain in a Ligue 1 title-winning campaign that has been slightly marred by the manner in which they limped over the line.

OPINION: Mbappé's title, but PSG need to breathe new life into Qatari project
Photos AFP

PSG finally wrapped up the title on Sunday after second-placed Lille failed to beat Toulouse, having not won any of their previous three games when the opportunity to confirm a sixth French crown in seven seasons was there.

The Qatari-owned club can still make it a domestic double, with the French Cup final to come against Rennes next weekend, yet this will not be remembered as a vintage year.

While Neymar once again went missing due to injury at the crucial point, Edinson Cavani has struggled with fitness too, and coach Thomas Tuchel has regularly lashed out at the lack of depth in his squad.

The 5-1 capitulation at Lille a week ago was the worst league result for PSG since Qatar Sports Investments bought the club in 2011, and the first time they had let in five in a league game since 2000.

A record-breaking 14-match winning run with which they started the season now seems like a long time ago, the latest Champions League failure clouding Tuchel's first campaign in charge.

Mbappé, at least, has been a constant, revelling in his status as a World Cup winner and hardly ever being rested. He only turned 20 in December, but has now won three Ligue 1 titles in a row.

Mbappé has 36 goals in 40 games this season, with 30 in the league. And, frighteningly, his team-mate Daniel Alves told RMC recently that “he doesn't realise how good he is, he can go much further”.

He is also not used to losing, and may have upset some of his teammates with his assessment of last week's defeat at Lille. “We played like beginners,” he said.

Hollow ring

To be fair, they have usually been exceptional domestically. However, the problem is that as long as they keep failing in the Champions League, domestic success for a club backed by a Gulf state will continue to ring hollow.

The title has effectively been in the bag for some time, but their season has been winding down ever since their exit against Manchester United in the last 16.

That, combined with being knocked out in the League Cup quarter-finals, means Tuchel in his first season has actually done worse than Unai Emery, his unloved predecessor.

Paris Saint-Germain coach Thomas Tuchel has actually done worse than his predecessor, Unai Emery
However, according to sports daily L'Equipe, Tuchel has agreed to extend his contract to 2021. Thoughts have already turned to the future, with new signings needed at the Parc des Princes.

The costly Neymar experiment cannot be said to have succeeded until he stays fit for the games that matter, and there will always be speculation about his future.

“We have a contract, we're not even halfway through that contract,” Neymar's father pointed out to RMC Sport.

Time for a clear-out? 

Mbappé is the one man they really cannot afford to lose, but is it time for a clear-out elsewhere?

Some of the excitement of the early part of the decade has gone, replaced with a staleness. The days of Thiago Silva, Edinson Cavani and Marco Verratti are maybe ending.

Youri Djorkaeff, a World Cup winner for France and a PSG star in the 1990s, offers a frank assessment, suggesting real change is needed higher up.

“If you're not great in every compartment, from the bus driver to the girls who clean the shirts, you will go nowhere,” he told Ligue 1 Podcast, 'Le Beau Jeu'.

“Paris Saint-Germain, after many years without success, have to rebuild everything, restart from scratch, because the foundations are not good. You cannot expect to one day win the Champions League without these foundations.”

The Qatar project needs a breath of fresh air, and all eyes will be on president Nasser al-Khelaifi and sporting director Antero Henrique.

UEFA's Financial Fair Play rules remain a problem, though, with PSG said to have a hole of around 100 million euros and the need to present a balanced budget by the end of June. The next few months will be interesting.

By Andy Scott/AFP