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Favourites PSG could find Chelsea tough to crack

By Reuters - Feb 15,2016 - Last updated at Feb 15,2016

PARIS/LISBON — Paris St Germain would be odds-on certainties to easily beat Chelsea and take a big step towards the Champions League quarter-finals on Tuesday, if statistics and domestic form decided matches.

But there is far more to it than that which is why Chelsea, enduring one of their worst seasons in years but showing signs of improvement, will visit the runaway Ligue 1 leaders optimistic they can avenge last season’s round of 16 defeat.

PSG were on a 16-match winning streak in all competitions before a partly reserve side were held to a goalless draw by vistors Lille in Ligue 1 on Saturday.

Talismanic striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, key midfielder Thiago Motta and captain and centre back Thiago Silva were all rested and although PSG did not win they still stretched their unbeaten league run to 35 games.

Midfielder Marco Verratti returned after a two-week injury lay-off, replacing Javier Pastore at halftime, but manager Laurent Blanc said the Italian would not start against Chelsea.

“It’s too risky. Everything goes faster in a Champions League game. If you play, you risk getting injured again,” said Blanc, who is likely to field Adrien Rabiot in midfield alongside Blaise Matuidi and Thiago Motta.

PSG have been knocked out in the quarter-finals of the last three Champions Leagues but hope the addition of Angel Di Maria, who has been an inspiration since he joined from Manchester United last summer, will help them go further this time.

PSG favourites

Although Chelsea eliminated PSG in the last eight on away goals two seasons ago, the Parisians got their revenge last term when they knocked the London side out.

Chelsea’s interim boss Guus Hiddink said last week he thought PSG were favourites, but the outcome is not a foregone conclusion.

Unlike PSG, Chelsea’s domestic form has been patchy but it has improved since Hiddink replaced the sacked Jose Mourinho in mid-December.

Saturday’s 5-1 win over Newcastle United was their best in the Premier League this term and stretched their unbeaten league run to 10 matches.

However, they are still only 12th in the table, 20 points behind leaders Leicester City.

Saturday’s win could prove costly, though, with a hamstring injury making it doubtful John Terry can play.

Hiddink said: “We have just two days to recover and it is something to think about in the future as two days of recovery is not enough.”

Terry’s fellow central defender Kurt Zouma was ruled out for six months after injuring his anterior cruciate ligament against Manchester United last week.

No hindrance

Zenit St Petersburg will be playing their first competitive game for two months when they visit Benfica on Tuesday but are confident Russian football’s winter hibernation could be a help rather than a hindrance.

The Champions League last 16 first leg at the Stadium of Light will also be something of a reunion for Benfica, who face three of their former players, plus an old rival in visiting coach Andre Villas-Boas.

Russian champions Zenit, lying a modest sixth this season, have not played since they lost 2-1 to Ghent in their final group stage outing on December 9 and have spent the winter break in Qatar, Portugal and Spain.

“The long winter break is not a problem,” said their Portuguese coach Villas-Boas, who has faced Benfica three times in charge of Academica Coimbra and four-times with their arch-rivals Porto.

“We had enough games during our training camps. We made sure that we would approach the Benfica match in the best possible physical shape.

“We have prepared extensively for the Benfica match, and that is something of an advantage because we haven’t had any other opponents to worry about.”

The two sides also met at the same stage of the competition four years ago when Benfica won the second leg 2-0 for a 4-3 aggregate win, the last time the 1961 and 1962 European Cup winners reached the quarter-finals.

Axel Witsel was inspirational for Benfica in that match and clearly impressed Zenit as they splurged 40 million euros ($45 million) to buy him from their opponents at the end of that season.

Zenit midfielder Javi Garcia and defender Ezequiel Garay each spent three seasons at Benfica earlier in their careers.

Argentina defender Garay moved directly between the clubs in 2014 while Spaniard Garcia arrived at Zenit via Manchester City.

The trio have already faced their old club before, helping Zenit, who have never gone beyond the round of 16, complete a double over Benfica in the group stage of the 2014/15 competition.

Benfica, three points behind leaders Sporting in the Portuguese league, won 11 games in a row in all competitions before losing to arch-rivals Porto on Friday.

“We want to bounce back but it’s a different competition,” said Ruiz Vitoria, who has had a topsy-turvy time in his first season as Benfica coach.


“These players are proud and believe in what they are doing. We will be here again on Tuesday with the intention of winning.”

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