Chelsea v Paris St-Germain
Thursday March 10, 6:45am
The Blues’ best run in over five months met an untimely end right before arguably their biggest match of the campaign as they were pegged back by one of their rivals for a top-six Premier League finish, Stoke, when minutes away from a fourth straight victory.
Their form is still very impressive though, with the 2-1 first-leg reverse their sole defeat in 17 outings since sacking Jose Mourinho in December, while Guus Hiddink has never experienced the sensation of being beaten at home in either of his two stints as interim Chelsea manager.
A number of injuries increase the difficulty level of their assignment. Kurt Zouma won’t be fit and John Terry is expected to miss out again too. Radamel Falcao is another definite no, but Diego Costa, Pedro Rodriguez and Kenedy will all be hopeful of being cleared to play after training on Tuesday.
Having dropped points in just four of their opening 27 Ligue 1 fixtures, Paris St-Germain have wobbled twice in succession, suffering their first league loss of the campaign – and only their second across all competitions – to Lyon before being held in the capital by lowly Montpellier.
Neither setback carries much significance in the wider domestic picture – they remain 23 points clear of closest challengers Monaco with a mere 27 left to compete for – but there is a concern that it will halt their momentum at a time in which their hosts believe more than at any prior stage of the campaign.
However, they do possess an aggregate lead, which wasn’t the case last term when they qualified at Stamford Bridge on away goals after extra time, and they have fewer possible absentees than their adversaries. Serge Aurier is internally suspended for being recorded insulting his colleagues, while Blaise Matuidi, Marco Verratti and Javier Pastore are hoping to be available.
Hiddink’s post-first leg claim that a 2-1 first-leg defeat is practically a draw is a little sketchy, yet there is plenty to keep Chelsea optimistic, not least that their Champions League away record isn’t quite at the calibre required of a team who reached the quarter-finals three seasons in a row.
They have won just three in nine in the last two years – against APOEL, Shakhtar Donetsk and Malmo FF, being held by Ajax and outclassed by Chelsea, Barcelona (twice) and Real Madrid. Given that overarching pattern, some would even argue that their draw in west London last March was a freak result.
But a draw is all Les Parisiens need and Spain’s big two are the only of their past eight continental hosts to deny them that or more, which is why they appear worthy favourites to progress at 1.43.
First Goal Odds
The deadlock has been broken in the opening quarter of an hour of five of Paris St-Germain’s most recent nine games, an incredible strike rate when you consider that two of the other four finished goalless.
Even more bizarrely, Laurent Blanc’s men’s last three encounters to feature at least one goal had it scored in either the 12th or 13th minute – once by a forward (Edinson Cavani), once by a defender (Gregory van der Wiel) and once by an opposition player (Maxwel Cornet).
The initial effort in two of Chelsea’s three European home matches to date in 2015/16 came at a remarkably similar time – the 12th minute and the 15th minute – so a bet on the first goal arriving between minutes 11 and 20 at 5.60 screams value.