Chelsea braced for PSG tussle as Champions League returns
All eyes will be on David Luiz, who last season almost scuppered Chelsea with an own-goal for PSG
The Champions League returns tonight after its winter break, fit, refreshed and ready for action in the Last 16 stage. Arsenal, Manchester City and Chelsea all made it out of the group stage in the months before Christmas and it's the Blues who are first into the fray with their trip to Paris.
Chelsea were in the French capital last season but on that occasion received a 3-1 drubbing at the hands of Paris Saint-Germain in their quarter-final encounter first leg.
The London side managed to turn things around in the return leg, winning 2-0 to go through on the away goals rule, and manager Jose Mourinho is expecting another tight tussle at the Parc des Princes.
"Paris are a great team and are basically the same team as last season," he explained. "When you have stability you can always improve. Chelsea are a different team. We have some different players, we change a little bit the profile of our game, the identity of our game."
Ironically, PSG's biggest summer signing was Brazilian defender David Luiz from Chelsea. He switched clubs in a £50m deal, with the Blues putting the transfer fee to good use by signing Diego Costa, Cesc Fabregas and Filipe Luis. Consequently, says Luiz, Chelsea "are stronger this year".
He added: "In the game, there won't be a gap. You have two amazing teams, good players and two amazing coaches. We need to prove how far we have come on the pitch."
Luiz will be hoping he doesn't do for PSG this evening what he did for Chelsea in last season's first leg, and put the ball into his own net, a blunder which he can laugh about now but at the time enraged Mourinho.
"Last year I scored my first goal for PSG!" he joked. "If I score against Chelsea I don't celebrate for respect, but I will be happy. I want to qualify, like I qualified last year, but I want to qualify for PSG."
Mourinho echoed Luiz's assessment that there is little to choose between the two sides ahead of the first leg, although PSG's domestic has been patchy this season and they currently lie third in Ligue 1.
Chelsea, on the other hand, have led the Premier League for months, but Mourinho refuses to get carried away. "I don't want to say we are better or not better," he said when asked to compare the two clubs. "We won [last season] because we scored a goal away and we didn't concede at home."
Mourinho has almost a full-strength side from which to choose his starting XI with Brazilian midfielder Oscar fit again and striker Diego Costa back from a three-game ban for stamping on Liverpool's Emre Can last month.
The Spaniard has scored 17 goals in 19 Premier League games this season and not surprisingly with that strike rate Mourinho intends to throw him straight back into action.
"Yes, I start him," he told reporters. "But it's not good for a player to be three matches without starting a game. So he's not in the best of condition."
All the same, Luiz and his PSG teammates can expect a challenging evening from the Premier League's leading scorer.