After a two-month hiatus, the UEFA Champions League returns this Tuesday with the last-16 matchup between Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain highlighting the marquee. This battle is a rematch of the tightly contested quarterfinal from last season’s competition and promises to yet again be a highflying affair full of polarizing personalities and world-class players.
Two such men who possess both of the aforementioned traits lead the attacks for their respective sides. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the ‘large-headed’ monster at the head of PSG’s offense looking to make up for his injury-induced absence in last season’s second-leg defeat.
Whether it is with his play, his words, or most recently his body, Ibrahimovic always finds away to get in the news. This past weekend against Caen he scored a brilliant Kung-Fu kick goal, removed his shirt to show off fifteen removable tattoos and was subsequently booked. The booking earned him a one-match suspension even though his tattoos were to spread awareness about world hunger.
On the opposite side of the pitch Diego Costa returns for Chelsea after serving a three-match ban for a stomp on Liverpool’s Emre Can. That stomp was certainly not the first controversial moment for Costa this season. However, the striker insists he will not change the way he plays, for it is that same hunger and willingness to do whatever it takes to win that has propelled him to the top of the Premier League’s scoring chart.
Costa was not yet a Chelsea player when these two clubs faced each other last season. After a 3-1 defeat in Paris, The Blues were seemingly down and out. Their chances of a comeback looked less likely when Eden Hazard limped off injured early in the second leg. His replacement, Andre Schurrle, pulled Chelsea to within one before half time.
Time was against Chelsea when in the 87th minute Demba Ba bundled home from a few yards out, sparking wild celebrations throughout Stamford Bridge. Manager Jose Mourinho took off down the touchline to meet the mob of players who had piled on Ba near the corner flag and the stadium shook as Chelsea held on to win on away goals.
Neither Schurrle nor Ba remains with the London based club but that does not mean Chelsea are without players capable of a late winner. Last week against Everton it took 89 minutes before Willian broke the deadlock and secured the three points. It was the clubs latest winning goal since the PSG affair. The resiliency Chelsea showed in getting past Everton speaks highly of their ambitions and belief this season.
The match against Everton was their most recent, giving Chelsea a full week to prepare while their Parisian adversaries played on Saturday.
“The rest is welcome for us. In the end they have only one game that we don’t have,” Mourinho said. “It’s only one more game but I welcome this rest for the players.”
That one more game may help Chelsea more than Mourinho was suggesting. PSG finished their match with just nine men after a number of injuries left them shorthanded since all three substitutions had already been made. Those injured, including Lucas Moura and Serge Aurier, only have 72 hours to recover in time.
One player who is fit for PSG is former Chelsea player David Luiz. The Brazilian was a hero in Chelsea’s Champions League Final victory in 2012. In an interview with the telegraph this week, Luiz revealed he had to beg doctors to let him play through an injured hamstring. Luiz also converted a penalty enroute to the clubs first title.
Chelsea may miss Luiz’s vibrant personality but the funds from his sale helped improve the team. Their defense is also stronger in his absence and Mourinho will hope they can once again power past PSG onto the quarterfinals.