No Champions League for Chelsea if they don't win the Cup, says Gary Lim
Winning Champions League is Blues' best chance to qualify for next year's competition
ROUND OF 16, 1ST LEG
PARIS ST GERMAIN v CHELSEA
(Tomorrow, 3.30am, Singtel TV Ch 112)
The Golden Guus Express continued chugging along, following a powerful 5-1 win over Newcastle on Saturday, but it is nearing the end of its journey.
Guus Hiddink, parachuted into Stamford Bridge last December to rescue a runaway train, has hauled them back on track.
He is unbeaten in 11 matches in all competitions since rejoining Chelsea as caretaker manager, winning five and drawing the rest.
The run of encouraging results has turned a toxic atmosphere cordial.
The interim appointment of the 69-year-old Dutchman may have come too late for the Blues to make a meaningful charge back up the English Premiership table.
But he can still salvage their season.
He must do it the hardest way possible though - by winning the Champions League to qualify for the lucrative competition next season.
That craggy part of their journey starts in Paris tomorrow morning (Singapore time).
Paris Saint-Germain, one of the world's richest and most ambitious clubs, will probe Chelsea's every crevice for weaknesses in the first leg of their Round-of-16 clash.
Hiddink spoke about his players needing to take their renewed confidence after the win over Newcastle last Saturday into the encounter. They are going to need every ounce of that.
PSG, coached by former Manchester United and France defender Laurent Blanc, rested key players such as Maxwell, Thiago Silva, Thiago Motta and Zlatan Ibrahimovic when they played out a goalless home draw with Lille the same day as Chelsea thumped the Magpies.
The French giants could afford to give their stars a breather due to their astounding supremacy in Ligue 1, where they are 24 points ahead of second-placed Monaco.
The draw halted a 16-match winning streak in all competitions, but extended their Ligue 1 unbeaten run to 35 games.
They have conceded eight goals fewer than the French top tier's second-best defence (Lille), and scored 24 goals more than the second-best attack (Nice).
It was against PSG that Chelsea, despite playing against 10 men for about 90 minutes including extra time, were knocked out at the same Round-of-16 stage of the Champions League last season on the away-goals rule.
Hiddink is saddled with an assignment the club can ill-afford to fail.
Fourteen points adrift of fourth-placed Manchester City with 12 Premiership matches remaining, the Blues' hopes of getting into the Champions League next term as one of the best four English sides are all but over.
Missing out on Champions League football will hit Chelsea hard financially, but the repercussions go way beyond that.
The job of retaining their best players, as difficult as it already is following a tumultuous season, will multiply several-fold without the promise of top-level European football.
Attracting top-drawer material to rebuild the squad will be another challenge.
There is also the matter of filling the managerial position once Hiddink vacates his temporary seat at the end of this campaign.
The Chelsea manager must muster all his experience to rally his weakened defence - which will be missing the injured Kurt Zouma and captain John Terry - to tame one of the most-feared attacks in world football comprising Ibrahimovic, Edinson Cavani, Angel di Maria, Lucas Moura and Ezequiel Lavezzi.
Hiddink will face his real test in Paris tomorrow morning.
Hazard: Difficult to say no to PSG
Chelsea playmaker Eden Hazard has reignited speculation over his future by saying it would be difficult to rebuff an approach from tomorrow morning's (Singapore time) Champions League opponents Paris St Germain.
Hazard (above), signed from Lille for a reported £32 million ($65m) in June 2012, has been repeatedly courted by Real Madrid and PSG after his scintillating performances last season when Chelsea won the Premier League and League Cup.
The Belgian's displays this season have been less emphatic and Chelsea's lowly league position means a likely absence of Champions League football next term - unless the Blues beat PSG in the last-16 tie, the first leg of which takes place at Parc des Princes tomorrow morning, and go on to win this season's European Cup.
A summer of transition is likely, but a player exodus is possible if Chelsea are not in Europe's elite competition.
The 25-year-old told Le Parisien: "(It is) difficult to say no to PSG, or to any of the teams capable of winning the Champions League," said the 25-year-old, who scored his first goal of the season in the FA Cup win over MK Dons on Jan 31 after returning from a groin injury.
"PSG are now in that category. And, for me, winning the Champions League is my main aim."
Hazard attempted to backtrack, pointing to his contract that expires in 2020, but the timing of his comments will cause alarm, with the Blues facing the most important week of their season as Manchester City visit in the FA Cup on Sunday.
"For the moment, I'm not really thinking about (a move)," Hazard added.
Defender Gary Cahill said the Blues will head into tomorrow morning's clash with renewed confidence in their scoring abilities after thrashing Newcastle 5-1 last Saturday.
"We want to go as far as we can in the Champions League and the FA Cup and this is a very important week for the club," Cahill told the club's website.
"We got off to a great start this weekend and we have arguably the biggest games of the season coming up for us now, so we go into the week with the confidence from this game and knowing how important it is going to be."
Meanwhile, PSG coach Laurent Blanc admitted that he took homophobic insults made by defender Serge Aurier in a video on social media "very badly", as he promised to confront the disgraced player face to face.
Aurier, 23, was suspended by PSG on Sunday, ruling him out of tomorrow morning's match against Chelsea.
"I took it very badly. We are here to prepare for Chelsea, but he has penalised himself. He should be preparing for a last-16 Champions League tie. That would be better for him than being stuck at home not knowing what to do," said Blanc.
Aurier, formerly of Toulouse, apologised on French television on Sunday evening, saying he would "accept all consequences" after the release of the video. - Wire Services.
5 talking points
1 PSG v Chelsea, Round Three
Chelsea won the 2014 quarter-final tie on away goals, PSG prevailed at the last-16 stage by the same method 12 months ago.
The Blues play away first for the third time in a row, knowing an away goal at Parc des Princes could be crucial ahead of the March 9 return at Stamford Bridge. Eden Hazard and the masked Diego Costa will be key for Chelsea.
2 Terry trouble
John Terry is ruled out by a hamstring injury sustained against Newcastle - joining Kurt Zouma (knee) in being absent, meaning Chelsea will be without their first-choice centre back pairing.
Branislav Ivanovic will have to move into the centre of defence, having underperformed for much of this season at right back.
The absence of Nemanja Matic (suspended) means Jon Obi Mikel's role is even more important.
3 Contrasting fortunes of champions
PSG are 24 points clear at the top of Ligue 1, while Chelsea are 12th, 20 points behind leaders Leicester.
The Blues' decline may have been sharp, but it is in part down to the competitive nature of the Premier League.
But can that competition benefit English clubs in Europe? Recent seasons suggest it has been a hindrance.
Chelsea's European Cup win in 2012 was a "blip" the Blues hope can be repeated to ensure they play Champions League football next term.
4 Periscope problem?
Defender Serge Aurier has been suspended after making disparaging remarks about PSG boss Laurent Blanc and some teammates, including Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
The question is whether this is one rogue critic or if there are wider fractures in the team. The announcement that Marco Verratti has extended his stay at Parc des Princes, along with Blanc, suggests the former.
5 Best behaviour
Chelsea's ticket allocation for the match was reduced by 700 to 1,400 in response to last November's terrorist atrocities in Paris.
Violence in the French capital surrounding last season's fixture and a racist incident on the Paris Metro were also factors.
Souleymane Sylla, the French-Mauritian victim of the abhorrent racist abuse, has accepted an invite from PSG to the match, which it is hoped takes place without off-field incident. - PA Sport.
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