French champions Paris Saint-Germain host English Premier League side and 2012 winners Chelsea in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League quarter-final tie on Wednesday. On paper it is one of the most intriguing matchups, with star quality all over the pitch.
PSG coach Laurent Blanc has some big decisions to make ahead of the game; with first choice right-back Gregory van der Wiel not yet fit enough to return.
With the hosts needing to put themselves in a strong position ahead of next week’s second leg, it is imperative that the Frenchman gets his tactics right at both ends of the Parc des Princes pitch.
One of the biggest challenges now will be deciding whether or not to remain defensively responsible in the Dutchman’s absence, or to persevere with the attacking approach that has served PSG so well this season.
Van der Wiel’s marauding role on the right flank has been a key part of that, as evidenced by his four assists in six Champions League games this season.
Scoring goals on Wednesday is a must for the French champions but keeping a clean sheet will arguably be just as vital looking ahead to the return fixture.
Christophe Jallet is likely to continue to deputise for the injured van der Wiel, but Blanc could also opt for a more defensive player like the 19-year-old central defender Marquinhos.
The Brazilian international has played at right-back before and, although not posing the same threat going forward as either of the Parisians’ two natural choices in that role, he does offer greater defensive stability.
That will perhaps be of more importance in the second leg, as PSG look to go for the jugular in the first, but Marquinhos’ presence there would negate the need for Edinson Cavani to put in as much of a defensive shift. Jallet is more forward-thinking though and could exploit the space created by Cavani’s tussle with Chelsea left-back Cesar Azpilicueta.
Perhaps the most crucial aspect of the hosts’ starting XI on the night will be who is assigned the task of shackling the creative talent of the Blues’ star man Eden Hazard. Considering that the Belgian international—a familiar face for PSG from his time with Lille OSC—will line up on the left, it will be up to Jallet or Marquinhos to keep him quiet.
There is, of course, the possibility that Blanc will try something new, perhaps deploying first choice left-back Maxwell on the right, enabling Lucas Digne to offer the same threat as van der Wiel does but from the opposite side.
Apart from the issue of the right-back position, Blanc has no new concerns over his side, who have had five full days to recuperate from the their narrow 1-0 win over OGC Nice last Friday and prepare for the visit of Chelsea.
Thiago Silva’s compatriot Alex, a former Chelsea player, will almost certainly partner him in the heart of the defence. Assuming Maxwell is not played on the right, he will take his place back from Digne after being rested in Nice.
Therefore, there is a chance that PSG will play with an all-Brazilian back four, although Jallet is the more likely option at right-back.
Moving further up the pitch, Blanc’s preferred midfield three of Thiago Motta, Blaise Matuidi and Marco Verratti will likely start the match.
Le President could possibly be tempted to play former Newcastle United man Yohan Cabaye from the start, given his familiarity with Jose Mourinho’s side, but there is also little need to tamper with what has been a winning midfield combination so far.
Despite a strong Chelsea midfield unit, PSG can be confident that the Motta-Matuidi-Verratti trio will be able to get hold of the ball and successfully dictate the pace of the game, as has become their custom in this possession-based style of play introduced by Blanc.
That just leaves the front three then.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Cavani, barring late injury or illness, will keep their positions with the Swede in the middle and el Matador wider on the right. The biggest question is over who will play on the left of that attacking trident.
Recently, Ezequiel Lavezzi has been in good goalscoring form and has made the spot his own. However, Lucas Moura’s lightning pace, impressive ball control and greater creative ability could see him given a surprise start ahead of the Argentine international.
In the second leg, when the Brazilian’s pace could prove extremely valuable on the counter-attack, he might stand a better chance of getting the nod. For now though, Blanc will almost certainly go with what he considers to be his strongest formation.
On paper, PSG appear marginally stronger than Chelsea and certainly have enough quality to pose Mourinho’s side problems at the back. The big weak point at present in this Parisian outfit is the right-back position, as well as Silva’s central defensive partner.
However, this clash could boil down to how PSG handle Hazard and whether or not van der Wiel’s likely absence impairs the team’s productivity.