Paris Saint-Germain coach Laurent Blanc and his side travel to London for the second leg of their UEFA Champions League quarter-final clash with Chelsea holding a 3-1 lead. Although the tie is far from over, the French champions boast a sizeable advantage and now have a few decisions to make over how they can set up to avoid having that lead wiped out.
Crucially, PSG hold the strong lead that they needed from the first leg thanks to Javier Pastore’s brilliant solo effort at the Parc des Princes last week. However, it cannot be overlooked that Jose Mourinho’s men did get themselves a potentially vital away goal.
With this in mind, the Parisians arrive at Stamford Bridge knowing that they need to score a goal above all else, wiping out the Blues’ possible second-leg advantage.
PSG cannot park the bus.
Blanc does not have the necessary players at his disposal to set his team up in a defensive formation that will just look to kill the game off and ensure that Chelsea do not score.
Instead, the side from the French capital will be perfectly set up to hurt Mourinho’s men on the break, thanks largely to the absence of Zlatan Ibrahimovic from the squad (in French) after last week’s game.
Edinson Cavani will now lead the line for PSG, almost certainly flanked by dual-speed demons Ezequiel Lavezzi—who was so impressive in the first leg—and Lucas Moura.
The Uruguayan got back to scoring form over the weekend, ending a 499-minute goal drought across all competitions. Lucas also featured and impressed, while Lavezzi was given time to recuperate after a draining first-leg performance.
Without Ibrahimovic, PSG are of course lacking that individual brilliance that the Swedish superstar brings, that quality that can decide football matches in the blink of an eye.
However, this front three of Cavani, Moura and Lavezzi is more functional.
Arguably the system is better suited to a match like this and benefits Blanc, although Zlatan’s absence can in no way be considered a good thing. Cavani is more dangerous in the middle of an extremely mobile front three and PSG will likely be more clinical than they are in their usual setup.
Besides, given Ibrahimovic’s first-leg performance and how the pressure evidently killed the Swede’s chances of putting on a show, his absence will take away some of the hysteria surrounding the clash.
Elsewhere, Gregory van der Wiel returned to first-team action over the weekend, having missed the first leg in Paris.
Although Blanc may be tempted to bring the Dutchman back into the fold immediately after proving his fitness, there is also the danger that the 26-year-old’s rustiness hinders him from performing at his normal high level of quality.
His creativity is a major plus, having laid on four goals so far in this season's edition (mostly for Ibrahimovic in the central striking role), but his inactivity since early March will be of concern to Blanc.
With that in mind, it could be a shootout between first-leg starter Christophe Jallet and teenage Brazilian defender Marquinhos. The 19-year-old featured against Stade de Reims last Saturday and also played the final 26 minutes at right-back in place of van der Wiel, providing an assist.
This could suggest that Blanc intends to try to keep it tighter at the back in Tuesday’s second leg by deploying Marquinhos to almost form at back three at times, allowing only Maxwell to roam forward from the back.
However, Jallet was far from the weak link predicted before the first leg and can be happy with his performance. The Frenchman may well get the nod over van der Wiel because of his superior fitness at the moment, but Marquinhos remains an option.
While the defence could remain the same as it was in the first leg, the midfield will likely change.
Marco Verratti looked naive and unsure of himself in the first leg, although immensely talented and generally an excellent performer this season. Blanc may well see Yohan Cabaye as a better starting option in this game for a number of reasons.
Not only is the French international more experienced, older, a little wiser and less rash at times, but the former Newcastle United man is thoroughly familiar with Stamford Bridge. Cabaye knows what to expect from a Chelsea away game and would offer a steadier and more reassuring presence in the PSG midfield three than Verratti.
Plenty of decisions to make for Blanc then, with the Ligue 1 leaders 90 minutes or more from a place in the last four of the Champions League.
Having come this far and already shown major improvement upon last year’s impressive two-legged performance against Barcelona, PSG are not far away from making serious progress and finishing the job against European specialist Mourinho and his Chelsea side.
This game will likely come down to PSG’s front three and whether or not they can get themselves a crucial goal away from home, one will probably be enough to do it. Blanc’s defensive choices will also go some way towards deciding the tie though.
Eden Hazard was a threat throughout the first leg, as was Oscar, but the French champions will be more wary of the increased attacking threat that Chelsea will pose at home.
Handle that, and PSG could be celebrating a famous win over Mourinho and his side.
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