PSG return to Chelsea believing they can battle with the best
On the face of it, not much has changed really in the space of a year. Paris Saint-Germain are facing Chelsea in the Champions League round-of-16 second leg on Wednesday night at Stamford Bridge, in what we can call a new European Clasico.
They are still a tour de force in French football. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is still the powerhouse behind the team, the ultimate leader, scoring goals and putting fear into Ligue 1 defences, and there is still scepticism around coach Laurent Blanc's ability too.
There are a few points of difference, of course, like Angel Di Maria, who has had a big impact, and their 23-point lead at the top of the table -- last season PSG were still fighting with Lyon and Marseille in the race for the title.
To find the biggest change, however, you need to dig a little deeper. The success against Chelsea at this stage last season -- even if it was on away goals after two draws -- was a huge psychological achievement for the Parisians.
It was the first time that this group of players had beaten a top European club, a former Champions League winner. It was the first time that Blanc had knocked out such a prestigious team as a manager.
Until then, Paris had played some good games, including a 3-2 win against Barcelona at the Parc des Princes in last season's group stage, but they needed a landmark game, a special performance and a special win to join the table with the big boys.
This happened on March 11, 2015, at Stamford Bridge. On that night, the Parisians proved themselves on the biggest stage and proved to the rest of Europe that they were not just an expensive collection of players. They showed they were a proper team, with guts, heart and spirit on top of ability. People knew they had the capacity to join Europe's elite, and they did.
It might sound strange for a group of players with so much experience and so many big names, but in football you are only as good as the teams you are beating. Winning against Toulouse and Troyes is one thing; knocking out the best team of the best league in the world in the biggest club competition is another.
They did it against the odds after only drawing 1-1 in the first leg, when everybody seemed to be predicting that Jose Mourinho and his side -- then leading the Premier League and en route to the title -- would finish things off at home.
They did it in adversity too, losing Ibrahimovic after 30 minutes following a harsh red card and falling twice behind. They fought back. The fight-back was important because, of course, it put them through, but it was the way in which they did it, the unity of the team, the spirit, the determination.
They never gave up. It was like they knew the night belonged to them. They came back twice -- not bad for a team that was often criticised for taking everything a bit too easy and taking everything for granted.
Blanc, who was outsmarted tactically by Mourinho when Chelsea progressed at the quarterfinal stage the previous season, outdid his counterpart this time round, which represented a significant milestone for the Frenchman.
Of course, after eliminating the Blues, they were then dominated by Barcelona in the quarterfinals, losing 5-1 on aggregate, and it looked like there was zero "Stamford Bridge effect." But there was and there still is. As the rest of the competition proved, any team would have been beaten by a Barca attack boasting Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez, and PSG had many players missing in the first leg.
Since the qualification at Stamford Bridge, PSG have only lost five games out of 65 in all competitions. Two have come against Barcelona and one against Real Madrid, at the Bernabeu in the group stage this season, where Paris were the better side.
Since Stamford Bridge, they have taken their game into a new dimension, both technically and tactically, achieving the best run of results in the club's history and in French football's history with a 36-game unbeaten streak.
More importantly in the context of this game, which is so crucial for both teams, the French champions are now going back to Stamford Bridge with the experience of having been there and done it.
There won't be any fear factor about the opposition and they should be far less nervy, even if they face more pressure this time around as (unlike last season) they are the favourites.
Still, a draw will be sufficient to progress and, as the last 12 months have shown, rarely has a draw done more good for a team than the one PSG got at Stamford Bridge last season.
Julien Laurens is a London-based French journalist who writes for ESPN FC and Le Parisien. Follow him on Twitter: @LaurensJulien.