“Familiarity breeds contempt” or so they say. If that is the case, Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain really must dislike each other by now.
Another year, another Champions League meeting between the pair. For the third year in a row, the sides from the capitals of England and France find themselves pitted against each other in the competition’s knock-out stages. Someone should build a train-line between London and Par…oh wait.
Given the possible opponents open to them, neither side will be overly pleased at having to face such a heavyweight opponent this early in the KO rounds, but one way or another they seemed destined to find each other once again.
The clubs have traded blows in the previous two encounters though, so we know the game(s) will be tight. They’ve often been niggly, highly-charged affairs too, so expect there to be plenty to keep the referee busy.
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One positive to come out of facing such an illustrious opponent at this early stage though is that it prepares a side well for future challenges. And to this end, I firmly believe that if Chelsea can triumph against Les Parisiens, they can go on and win the whole competition.
What about Real Madrid, Barcelona or Bayern Munich though? Surely they will present an even greater challenge should Hiddink’s side make it to the quarter-final’s and beyond?
Of course, the three giant’s of the European game pose a challenge, as do many other sides, but not one Chelsea will shirk in any way, shape or form. Continuously improving under Hiddink and on a 12-match unbeaten run since his appointment, it’s easy to forget that the Dutch boss was within a few seconds and a Norwegian referee away from taking Chelsea to the final during his last spell as interim boss in 2009.
Back then he replaced Luiz Felipe Scolari, this time Mourinho, but both times the league had “gone” by the time he took charge so he was able to fully focus both his own and the players minds on the cup competitions. He stabilised form and created a harmonious squad back then, much as he has done this time around. He took them to an FA Cup Final and came so close in the Champions League, and will want to go one better this time
The club may have lost the spine of it’s side from that campaign, the likes of Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard, Petr Cech and more, all having departed. But as a whole, the players available to Hiddink are equally as talented as the squad he inherited last time and have more recent experience of winning the league to boot.
The experience may be gone, but the technical skill of Hazard, Willian, Oscar and co. has the ability to slice through any defence in Europe on their day. With the savvy European nous and counter-attacking tactics of Hiddink, Chelsea’s path to European glory would need a hint of luck, but is eminently doable. Fabregas will have even more time to pick a pass than he gets in the Premier League, a key factor in finding the in-form Diego Costa up-front.
With the players knowing their only route back in to Europe’s premier club competition is to win the thing, they will also have extra motivation. The Premier League was written off months ago and even the Europa League seems unlikely (unless they win the FA Cup) so for the club’s sake and their own, no giant win bonuses will be needed to incentivise the players – those with some fight anyway.
The Blues actually have a far better record in the competition with interim bosses too. Avram Grant guided them to the Moscow 2008 Final, following the sacking of Mourinho first time around, whilst Roberto Di Matteo led them to glory in 2012. Clearly a change of manager mid-way through the season does the trick when it comes to success in the Champions League, at least where Abramovich and Chelsea are concerned.
Some ultra-defensive, counter-attacking policies will sometimes need to be employed for the Blues to find European glory once again, of that there is no doubt. But they have the personnel, the manager and an element of historical fortune going in their favour, meaning that with a touch of luck, they can win the competition for a second time in four years. And if Spurs finish fourth, it really would be deja vu at the Bridge.