When the draw for the competition was made in December, there can have been no guessing who would be happier out of PSG or Chelsea to be drawn alongside each other. The Parisians had impressed during their group and were clear at the head of Ligue 1, a position they have since only consolidated with a long unbeaten run; Chelsea were in a state of near collapse with Jose Mourinhio sure to be out of the door.
Roughly two months on, the situation has changed. Guus Hiddink has deputised for Jose Mourihio with a steady hand so far, steering Chelsea to a 10 game unbeaten run, including their best performance under his tenure as they trashed Newcastle 5-1 on Saturday. Diego Costa, unfit and uninterested earlier this season, has scored eight goals in his last ten fixtures; Pedro, twice a scorer and also provider of an assist on Saturday, is playing with the confidence he showed towards the end of last summer; Willian is finally being assisted in midfield with Eden Hazard improved and Cesc Fabregas finding his influence on games; and Nemanja Matic has also started recovering the form that saw him make a watertight defence last season.
Ante post picks PSG are 24 points clear at the top of Ligue 1, and are unbeaten in 34 domestic games – a near French record – having won 22 out of 25 this season, scoring 66 goals in the process. The quality of the French league as a whole can be used to question the form but they were second only to Madrid in their group and thoroughly outplayed the Spaniards in the Bernabeu, conceding a freak goal in a game they should have won easily and holding them to a 0-0 draw at home.
It’s best to forget their draw at the weekend given that a missed sitter from Edinson Cavani cost them victory as Zlatan Ibrahimovic, skipper Thiago Silva and Thiago Motta were rested, but it will not be a full strength PSG that takes to the field. Serge Aurier’s periscope video – you can read on that elsewhere – has forced Marquinhos to the right whilst Marco Veratti has only just returned from injury and is absent from the lineup alongside Javier Pastore (both are benched, but unlikely to be at their peak).
Given their fantastic home record – only Barcelona have won in 31 European games there – it’s understandable that a PSG side that has improved in comparison with a Chelsea side that has regressed from this point last season when they went out on goal difference. Their two games last season were draws and that seems to be a more viable option than taking the long odds on on a home win, whilst Chelsea with a handicap start also appeals.
Elsewhere, the vibes are very good for Zenit St Petersburg as they travel to Portugal. The visitors topped Group H primarily due to a perfect home record but they also performed admirably away in winning two with their sole defeat coming at Gent in the final game when top spot was assured, and they also have a good head to head record with their hosts, having beaten them 3-0 two years ago over two games. The worry for Zenit, an otherwise tempting price at 3/1, is their long absence since the group stages as Benfica have won nine of their last 10 games, losing out to only a Casillas masterclass on Sunday. It could be best left.
2 pts Chelsea +1 on Asian H’Cap (8/11 Bet Victor)