Whatever happens in the Champions League quarter-final tie between Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea, it is reasonable to assume that it will be very different to when the two sides last came together in the competition.
When the sides met in September 2004 in their opening group match at the Parc des Princes it was, as noted French journalist Julien Laurens observed on Twitter after the draw, from “another life.”
PSG in 2004 vs Chelsea (0-3): Letizi - Mendy, Pierre-Fanfan, Helder, Armand - Coridon, Mbami, Cana, Rothen - Ogbeche, Pauleta. #anotherlife— Julien Laurens (@LaurensJulien) March 21, 2014
Over the two matches—a 3-0 win for Chelsea in Paris, followed by a drab 0-0 back in London—PSG coach Vahid Halilhodzic used journeymen such as Stephane Pichot, Charles-Edouard Coridon and Bartholomew Ogbeche in his XI.
Laurent Blanc will have slightly different tools at his disposal when the Blues return to the French capital almost 10 years on; Yohan Cabaye, for example, will begin the tie as a substitute deluxe, barring any injuries to the French champions’ habitual midfield three.
Two-and-a-half years on from the takeover of PSG by Qatar Sports Investments (QSI), Parisian resources are far greater than Halilhodzic could ever have imagined. So, of course, are the expectations. When your team is packing Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Edinson Cavani and Ezequiel Lavezzi as its front three, how could it be any other way?
When you walk around the Parc des Princes, you see billboards on which the club badge shoulders a newly adopted motto, "Revons plus grand," with an equivalent in English next to it: “Dream bigger.” That it is translated into the tongue of Shakespeare in a country not famed for making linguistic concessions to visitors is significant. The plan is plainly world domination.
Carlo Ancelotti’s team had a game stab in that direction in last season’s Champions League, only exiting to Barcelona on away goals in the last eight. At the same stage this season, there is belief around the club that they can take it a stage further.
Blanc’s version of PSG is a step up from Ancelotti’s; they dominate matches with greater possession and personality than any other incarnation of the team in the QSI era.
Ibrahimovic has 40 goals this season, and the tie could not be arriving at a better time for Blanc’s men. This weekend’s results (their Friday night win against Lorient was followed by Monaco being held by Lille on Sunday) left PSG 10 points clear at the top of Ligue 1.
There are no excuses not to give Chelsea their full attention and focus. Yet if the gap between PSG and the English Premier League leaders has closed considerably in the last few years, Blanc’s team still have everything to prove.
Built around the image of Zlatan, they have already shone in Europe, pulverising Bayer Leverkusen in the last round and having crushed Olympiakos and Benfica in the group. The Greek champions were hammered 4-1 at the same Karaiskaki Stadium that Manchester United left with their tails between their legs. Benfica, who ran Chelsea so close in last season’s Europa League final, left Paris relieved to have only lost 3-0.
Yet Chelsea are an entirely different proposition. Much has been made of the poverty of Galatasaray’s performance at Stamford Bridge in the last 16, but Jose Mourinho’s side were nevertheless excellent against the Turkish champions.
They may be underrated at home at the moment, but Mourinho’s men are a real threat. European trophy-winners in each of the last two seasons, they are durable and tough. They are versatile too, with Branislav Ivanovic and John Terry making them dangerous from set plays. This, incidentally, emerged as PSG’s weak spot over the winter months.
Didier Drogba settled matters in the 2004 match at the Parc des Princes with a brace (under a hail of whistles, due to his connection to PSG’s hated rivals, Marseille). Even if Chelsea lack somebody of his power, Eden Hazard—once targeted by QSI—has the talent to cause similar damage to PSG today.
At the centre of it all will be Ibrahimovic’s reunion with Mourinho, a rare recipient of the Swede’s respect in his infamous autobiography I Am Zlatan (as serialised in the Daily Mail). He and PSG will get the opportunity to show just how good they are against Chelsea—and they must take it.