Chelsea must summon spirit of 2012 Champions League when PSG visit
Chelsea need a to be fully motivated and put in a performance of the very highest order if they are to prevail against Paris Saint-Germain when the two sides clash at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday to determine the outcome of an intriguing and finely poised Champions League round-of-16 tie.
John Obi Mikel's unlikely -- but precious -- away goal in the 2-1 first-leg defeat at the Parc des Princes last month has given the London club a chance to progress to the quarterfinals of the competition, keeping alive the dream of being able to compete against Europe's elite next season.
The ramifications of PSG knocking out Chelsea could be felt for some time to come. Not only would it be another nail in the coffin of a shocking campaign, but with qualification for the Champions League via the traditional -- and previously taken for granted -- top-four finish in the Premier League now looking a forlorn hope, the lure of playing for or managing the Blues will diminish.
Chelsea supporters with rose-tinted spectacles will point to the remarkable turn of events in 2012 when then interim manager Roberto Di Matteo masterminded an improbable Double when winning the FA Cup and Champions League. Although the same opportunity presents itself to current interim boss Guus Hiddink, the faces in the Stamford Bridge dressing room have changed.
Yesterday's heroes have gone. The likes of Petr Cech, Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba -- giants of the game, men with deep knowledge of how to turn adversity into triumph -- have departed. David Luiz, who loved to pull on a Chelsea shirt and play like it meant something to him, has taken that spirit to PSG.
Rejected by Jose Mourinho at Chelsea, Luiz scored a late goal for PSG at the Bridge in last season's Champions League second-leg meeting at the same stage of the competition, sending the tie into extra time. Laurent Blanc's side eventually won through on away goals and Luiz looked the happiest man on the pitch when the referee blew the full-time whistle.
The Brazil international will carry the same motivation into what will be the sixth match between Chelsea and PSG in three successive seasons in the Champions League. They say familiarity breeds contempt, and Blanc will ensure that the mood in the French camp is dogged and determined in what is likely to be a feisty confrontation.
Ahead of the decisive tie, Hiddink, whose side have only lost once in 18 games since he replaced Mourinho just before Christmas, acknowledged Chelsea are underdogs. That the solitary defeat came against PSG underlines his observation. "We are not the favourites," the 69-year old Dutchman said. "We have regained confidence and have quality. We need to be angry in a controlled way. The players must be fully concentrated."
With captain John Terry unavailable through injury, the spirit of 2012 must be invoked by those Chelsea players with direct experience. Mikel and Gary Cahill are the only likely starters who survive, although stand-in skipper Branislav Ivanovic -- who, like Terry, was suspended for that famous final -- also has the constitution to deal with the matters at hand.
Midfielder Cesc Fabregas and striker Diego Costa have found form since Hiddink's arrival at the Bridge and look to be potential match-winners for the Blues, although the Brazil-born Spain international's combustible temperament will likely be tested in a potentially fractious encounter.
When it comes to motivating his players and ensuring they are mentally prepared for the challenge PSG represent, perhaps Hiddink should take a leaf out of the book of former Chelsea manager Claudio Ranieri, who has transformed Leicester City from relegation fodder to prospective Premier League champions.
"The fans dream and we work, which is a good combination," Ranieri said after Leicester's recent victory over Watford. "I said to my players, 'Every game is a final.'"
At Stamford Bridge, the fans are always full of hope and dreaming. Against PSG, they will play their part supporting the team. Hiddink, for his part, must instil the same belief in Chelsea's star-studded squad that Ranieri has managed with a group of lower-profile players.
As Ranieri's indomitable team continues to demonstrate week-in-week-out, upsetting the odds and cutting lofty reputations down to size is not an impossible task. Should Chelsea's players fail in their endeavours against PSG then next season, as they watch Leicester duelling against Europe's elite in the Champions League, the realisation will sink in that they have only themselves to blame for not trying hard enough when it mattered.
Hiddink must ensure the players realise what is at stake when PSG make their latest visit.
Mark Worrall has penned several books on the history and success of Chelsea Football Club. You can follow him on Twitter @gate17marco.