It’s rare that David Luiz says or does anything that can be considered both serious and unequivocally correct in the eyes of the footballing masses.
His claim that he’s now worth more than £50 million, following his world-record transfer move for a defender to Paris Saint-Germain last summer, will have been received with a mixture of surprise and disbelief. It’s those kind of statements, of course not helped by his gung-ho on-pitch style, that have Luiz pegged as something of a joker.
Yet there was an undeniable element of fact in one of the other statements he made to the press ahead of tonight’s Champions League showdown with his former club. The Brazilian said that Chelsea are a better side than they were when he left them. In this case, oddly enough, he’s 100 percent correct.
When the Blues encountered Paris Saint-Germain in the quarter-finals of last season’s Champions League they were forced to rely on a classy showing in the second-leg at Stamford Bridge to dig them out of a mire of trouble they had fallen into as a result of their performance at the Parc des Princes.
Last year's tie
During the first leg of that matchup Chelsea’s side were assembled in a manner that inferred Jose Mourinho was looking to avoid defeat, not make a statement to the rest of Europe. In the absence of a world-class forward The Special One opted to play the ever-vibrant Andre Schurrle as his furthest forward player, with the German being supported by the trio of Oscar, Willian and Eden Hazard.
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Behind that triumvirate was the energetic Ramires and of course Luiz himself, who had by that stage developed something of a hapless reputation with the Chelsea faithful when deployed anywhere near the back-line.
The XI that started, though by no means weak, weren’t a patch on the force Mourinho can call upon this time around, and though many of the same faces will line up in the tunnel for the Blues, their confidence could not be more contrasted to what it was a year ago.
The difference a year makes
Heading into the game with PSG last time Chelsea had lost two of their last three Premier League matches, albeit that the defeats to Crystal Palace and Aston Villa were sandwiched by a 6-0 thumping of Arsenal.
In the current climate Mourinho’s men have lost just three times in 38 games across all competitions, and thanks to a series of changes they look as close to impregnable as they were ever going to be this season.
The absence of a top quality striker has been filled by the irresistble Diego Costa, who coincidentally makes his return to the team tonight following a ban for a percieved stamp on Liverpool’s Emre Can. His 17 goals in 19 Premier League games are the only ones he’s got all season, but if he can carry over that form into Europe Mourinho will have very little to worry about.
Behind him remain Oscar, Hazard and Willian, all of whom have grown in the past year, the former two in particular. Behind them now patrol Nemanja Matic and Francesc Fabregas.
The ability to run non-stop for 90 minutes that Ramires offered has been replaced by the mesmerising ability of Fabregas, who can provide assists from all areas of the pitch, and Matic is twice the defensive shield that Luiz will ever be.
Another telling difference this year can be found in PSG themselves, with the French champions having seemingly blunted a knife that has been lethally sharp domestically for the past two seasons.
Laurent Blanc’s side aren’t quite the gift of a tie that Schalke 04 or Shakhtar Donetsk might have been, but with their Ligue 1 form seeing them sitting third in the table, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic not the roving destrier he was last season, there hasn’t been a better time to play them.
I’d stop short of suggesting that Mourinho look beyond PSG in order to plan for the upcoming League Cup final against Tottenham Hotspur, but all things considered Chelsea, over the two legs, are in a far better position heading into this tie than they were in 2014.
As a result you’d expect that The Special One won’t be burnt twice. As dangerous as it is to predict, and at the risk of sounding like a fool if they do, it looks like Chelsea are simply too good to be bested.
Chelsea fans, do you think PSG have a chance of knocking you out of the Champions League? Or is this the year Mourinho will go all the way with the Blues?