Tactical Battles That Will Shape Paris Saint-Germain's Clash with Chelsea
Wednesday night's clash between Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea is set to be one of the most interesting and entertaining of the four Champions League quarter-finals. Both clubs have squads built through foreign investment, superstar players in most positions and aspirations of going on to lift the European Cup.
There are interesting stories involving each side, both on and off the pitch. There will be no shortage of pre-match hyperbole, but once the first leg gets underway, it will be down to the individual matchups. There are some fantastic battles about to take shape.
Here are the key battles that will decide the result on Wednesday night.
Christophe Jallet vs. Eden Hazard
Dutch right-back Gregory van der Wiel is set to miss the first leg of this quarter-final battle, putting Paris Saint-Germain at a massive disadvantage from the opening moments. Chelsea will likely line up with Eden Hazard on the left flank, putting him one-on-one with French defender Christophe Jallet.
It won't be the first time that Jallet has faced the Belgian winger, but it will be the first time they have come face-to-face since Hazard's move to Chelsea and the 23-year-old's development into one of Europe's most dangerous forwards.
Jallet is one of the only weak links in the PSG side: He put in a great performance against Nice on Friday, and while I mean no disrespect to Eric Bautheac, he is not in the same league as the former Lille winger.
Hazard will be highly motivated for Wednesday night's clash. He never quite performed at his highest level against PSG while at Lille, but now he is performing on a whole other level. With the constant speculation linking him with a move to Paris, he will be keen to show exactly what the Parisians missed out on; it could be a torrid time for Jallet if Hazard is in the mood. This is undoubtedly the biggest stage in which the Belgian has performed, and he could make Jallet and PSG pay for the mismatch.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic vs. John Terry
Sometimes you can plan for weeks and months developing a blueprint of how to stop a certain team or player. With Zlatan Ibrahimovic, you just have to try and do your best to contain him. If he is in the mood—and during this season of the Champions League, he has been on fire—he can end your whole campaign with a single swipe of his wonderous right foot.
If anyone can work out a game plan to try and restrict Ibrahimovic, then Jose Mourinho is the best placed manager to try and execute that plan. The problem for Chelsea is who to have mark the enigmatic Swede. This season, Ibrahimovic has taken to dropping very deep—almost playing deep in the midfield. How John Terry deals with the constant movement could be key on Wednesday night.
If Terry is dragged out of position, then it will leave Gary Cahill exposed centrally, allowing Ezequiel Lavezzi and Edinson Cavani to cut inside and find acres of space in the Chelsea area. Terry has to be smart. Let the midfield pick Ibrahimovic up when he drops deep and then get physical when the Swede darts into the box.
Terry will have to turn back the clock if he is going to take Ibrahimovic on for the majority of the game. If he is not at 100 percent, he could spend a lot of time chasing the talismanic PSG striker.
Marco Verratti vs. David Luiz
Serbian midfielder Nemanja Matic is unable to play on Wednesday; he is cup-tied from his time at Benfica this season. This should lead to Brazilian defender/midfielder David Luiz continuing his recent role in the Chelsea midfield.
This will mean that Luiz will come up against Paris Saint-Germain's Italian pit-bull terrier, Marco Verratti. The former Pescara midfielder has been superb for the French side this season, and he will be very much up for Wednesday's matchup. With Thiago Motta taking the deepest midfield role, Verratti will be asked to play his usual role of passer and ankle-biter. Verratti will get heavily involved in the physical side of the midfield battle, and if Luiz is not careful, he could fall into the Italian's clutches.
Verratti is very good at nipping in, stealing the ball and starting a PSG attack. It usually happens in a blink of an eye, and if Luiz is caught being cautious or ponderous on the ball, he could be in trouble.
For David Luiz, he will also have the chance to put Verratti under similar pressure. Quite often, the Italian holds onto the ball for too long inside his own box. If Luiz can push forward and put Verratti under pressure, then he could get the better of this intriguing matchup.
The Italian has a reputation for picking up needless yellow cards, and his fiery temperament can get him into trouble. Luiz should be able to rile up Verratti if he can use his height and weight advantage to outmuscle the diminutive midfielder.
If David Luiz can stop Verratti from pulling the strings on Wednesday, it will stop a lot of what PSG have done very well this season.
Edinson Cavani vs. Cesar Azpilicueta
Spanish defender Cesar Azpilicueta has been a revelation since making the left-back position his own this season. He joined Chelsea from Marseille with nothing more than a whimper, but he has proved himself as one of Chelsea's better defensive players. Now, he faces one of his one of his toughest tests on Wednesday.
He may be playing out of position, but Uruguayan striker Edinson Cavani has still been absolutely superb for Paris Saint-Germain this season. It is actually quite lazy to say that he has been playing on the wing, as he spends most of every game being very mobile and active in the PSG front line. When Ibrahimovic drops deep, Cavani is on the move. He spends a lot of the game in the center, and it could be a huge task for Azpilicueta to track the impressive forward.
Azpilicueta will be happy that Gregory van der Wiel isn't playing on Wednesday, as Cavani's movement usually creates the space that the right-back pushes into. Jallet will also provide an attacking option—if he can push Hazard backwards—but it won't be to the same level as the Dutch defender.
On Wednesday night, Azpilicueta will be asked to track the movement of Cavani; this could see the Spaniard being pulled into a central area. It will be interesting to see if any of the PSG players move into the space that will be created. If the former Marseille defender can deal with this threat and prevent the Chelsea defence being overrun on the left flank, then they will have a chance to stop one of Europe's most prolific attacking line-ups.