Tonight the excitement returns. Over the past few months we’ve sat in Champions League withdrawal. Ever since the last 16 draw pitted Chelsea with Paris Saint-Germain, Arsenal with Barcelona and Bayern Munich with Juventus, football fans around the country have been salivating over these ties.
‘Narrative’ has been spun, Chelsea’s annual match-up with PSG has been turned into ‘Le Nouveau Classique’ or ‘The New Classic’ by eager Parisian social-media executives.
But tonight all we’ll really see is two teams who have met over the past three seasons who seem to be going in different directions.
In 2014, Chelsea were firm favourites for the clash. Even though PSG were on the up, and the moneyed French champions were replete with Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Edinson Cavani, they were fairly new to the elite European stage. Chelsea managed to sneak a win with a last minute Demba Ba goal took the Londoners through on the away goals rule.
Fast forward a season, and the tie was even tighter, if that were even possible. Chelsea were no longer firm favourites. It was a more even contest going into the tie. PSG were considered just as good as Chelsea, it was neck and neck.This time it was the Parisians who came out on top: after an initial 1-1 draw at the Parc des Princes, PSG dealt superbly with the expulsion of their talisman Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the second leg.They came back twice at the Bridge to draw 2-2 on the night and go through on away goals once again.
This time, PSG will go into the game as favourites. Given Chelsea’s form and the fact that PSG are an unstoppable Ligue 1 juggernaut.
Will that make a difference? It’s unlikely. PSG have turned themselves into a formidable machine who beat Ligue 1 teams with ease. But that’s different to playing a team with the quality of Chelsea.
The PSG of this season are the same machine-like entity as Chelsea were last season. Last season Chelsea’s aura was enough to beat Premier League sides. Yet they couldn’t best PSG. This time, it’s PSG’s aura that sees them brush aside their domestic opponents on a weekly basis.
Yet if Chelsea could fall to PSG last season, then surely PSG can fall to Chelsea this time around. Aura will not be enough for PSG to progress in Europe, they’ll need to call upon their considerable class and quality. Chelsea aren’t favourites, but they’re not all-out underdogs either. This tie looks a lot like last season’s, just reversed.
Last weekend, PSG warmed up for the Chelsea clash with a dismal 0-0 draw against Lille. They had a miserable seven touches in the opposition’s penalty area. Against a side who are currently struggling in a league they lead by 24 points, that’s a poor showing. Chelsea, on the other hand, won their game comfortably, scoring five goals.
It’s a tie of comparison and contrast. London v Paris; west London class v Rice Gauche Paris chic; Chelsea v Paris Saint-Germain. It’s a battle of the richest in Europe, by socio-economic location, by on-pitch quality and by financial means.
Chelsea v PSG truly is the new classic, whether the hype is true or not, it’s certainly one of the most evenly matched ties in Europe in every way possible. So sit back and watch the clash of two titans.