Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Marco Verratti has warned his team-mates to be on their guard for Diego Costa’s “warfare” when they visit Chelsea in the second leg of their Champions League last-16 tie.
For the third season in succession, the reigning Ligue 1 and Premier League champions have been paired together in the knockout rounds, with each side claiming a slender away goals aggregate triumph apiece so far.
Similarly, the latest tie is finely poised – PSG holding a 2-1 advantage thanks to goals from Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Edinson Cavani either side of John Obi Mikel’s equaliser at the Parc des Princes.
Chelsea boss Guus Hiddink is set to recall Costa to lead the attack after the striker sat out Saturday’s 1-1 Premier League draw against Stoke City due to a tendon problem.
Italy international Verratti professes admiration for Cesc Fabregas although he also admits a grudging respect for Costa’s uncompromising playing style, through which on-field confrontations with opponents are seemingly inevitable.
“I prefer entertaining football, but having a personality like Costa in your team is always good,” Verratti told the Guardian.
“He uses warfare to win the games, but I know him, he’s a good guy who transforms when he comes on the pitch.
“If I was to pick a player that I identify with in this Chelsea team it would be Cesc Fabregas. He makes you see what the game is about, he breathes football and you can tell by his way of playing how much he loves it.”
Verratti was not overly satisfied with PSG’s performance in the opening leg and is keen to avoid the “disaster” of elimination at Stamford Bridge.
“We confirmed we are a good team, but there are things we could have done better,” he said. “We could have put Chelsea in more trouble. We have to go to London and play our football, if we do anything else we’ll be in trouble.
“We need to keep the possession of the ball, attack and go for an early goal. These are the games that we wait for all season. Being eliminated in the Champions League would be a bit of a disaster.”
Verratti hopes to shake off lingering issues with a groin complaint to face Chelsea, with fellow midfielder Blaise Matuidi battling to overcome a thigh injury after Angel Di Maria returned to action for Saturday’s goalless draw against Montpellier.
Willian has starred for Chelsea in this season’s competition with five goals in seven appearances.
The Brazil winger was one of few players to emerge with any credit from Chelsea’s woeful start to their Premier League defence and, following a collective upturn since Hiddink replaced Jose Mourinho, he wants to reward the veteran tactician with silverware.
“We always have pressure to win titles at Chelsea and we know that,” he told the club’s official website. “We have to stay concentrated on this game.
“I hope we can give Guus a title. It would be great for us and for him so we will try our best to do that.”
Chelsea are set to be without captain John Terry once more, with the centre-back still troubled by a hamstring injury that has ruled him out of the past five matches. Former Barcelona winger Pedro could return from a similar complaint to boost Hiddink’s attacking options.
Key Opta stats
– Chelsea are in the knockout stages of the Champions League for the 12th time in the last 13 seasons. They have gone on to the quarter-finals on eight of these occasions.
– PSG and Chelsea have two wins apiece and three draws from their eight Champions League encounters to date.
– Chelsea have scored in each of their last 22 Champions League home matches, with their previous failure to find the net coming during a 1-0 loss to Manchester United in April 2011.
– PSG have failed to score in five of their six away games against English clubs in European competitions, with last season’s second leg at Stamford Bridge standing as the only exception.
– Diego Costa has only scored once in his past 15 Champions League games, against Maccabi Tel Aviv last September.
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