The English champions-elect got a weekend’s rest heading into Tuesday’s Champions League clash with Paris Saint-Germain, as FA Cup action brought a one-week halt to Premier League play. Meanwhile their opponents for Tuesday’s meeting were hit with the equivalent of a six-month Arsenal injury crisis in the course of 90 minutes.
PSG had no less than seven players forced off the pitch due to injury during their Ligue 1 clash with Caen Saturday. Of those seven, at least four are expected to be unavailable to face Chelsea.
Granted Chelsea had a more difficult time than expected knocking PSG out of the Champions League last season. However this year’s model is a different animal than the one that squeaked by on away goals last year. Mourinho is often known as a “second season” man and indeed, in the sophomore year of his second stint in charge at Stamford Bridge, the Portuguese gaffer seems to have concocted the perfect blend of on-pitch alchemy. First and foremost, Mourinho has solved last season’s striker deficiency with aplomb, bringing in Diego Costa from Atletico. The Brazilian-born Spaniard has been prolific this season for the Blues, netting 17 goals and two assists in 19 Premier League appearances. However it’s notable that in five Champions League appearances for Chelsea, Costa has yet to find the net.
Apart from Costa, Cesc Fabregas is the other player who has been central to Chelsea’s success this season. Just as Costa leads the Premier League on goals, the former Barcelona man leads on assists with 15 in 22 appearances. With Fabregas returning from an injury layoff and Costa from a suspension, it’s difficult to envision more favorable circumstances for Chelsea heading into Tuesday’s match at the Parc des Princes in Paris.
With PSG a depleted force, Chelsea are strong favorites to progress. Regarded as one of the strongest teams in Europe, should they reach the last eight, they arguably have as good a chance as anyone to go all the way. Then there is their situation in the Premier League. With Manchester City’s resurgence having bogged down in the New Year, Chelsea now enjoy a seven-point lead at the top of the table. With 13 rounds left to play, it’s difficult to imagine City or anyone else closing the gap on them at this point.
Although Chelsea remain favorites to win the league and progress in the Champions League, don’t get your hopes up about seeing dazzling football. If there’s been one justifiable criticism about this Chelsea team, it’s that they’ve too often employed negative, conservative tactics, despite having a squad that on paper, is among the best in Europe. But then style, flair and panache have rarely been words used to describe Jose Mourinho’s teams. His Inter Milan team carved out a treble on mostly 1-0 victories. His Real Madrid side, while effective at times, was far less adventurous than the teams Carlo Ancelotti has subsequently put out.
But if it’s trophies you want, Mourinho is generally the man to deliver them. Negative as his tactics may be at times, they’ve been tremendously effective this season, especially against the top teams in the Premier League. Although with PSG in its weakened state, perhaps on Tuesday we’ll be given the rare treat of seeing this Chelsea team coming out against a top side without one foot riding the brake. Now that would be something to see.