The five biggest talking points from Tuesday’s Champions League action.
John Obi Mikel not good enough at the highest level
John Obi Mikel rose to prominence at the same U17 World Cup as one Lionel Messi as an attacking midfielder. It is a position he still occupies when he represents Nigeria. Mikel was converted to a holding midfielder by JoseMourinho and it is a role he undertakes with diligence – Guus Hiddink is a huge admirer.
However, at the highest level – and a Champions League fixture against PSG is said level – he falls short as a holding midfielder. Chelsea badly missed the presence of Nemanja Matic on Tuesday. His return for the second leg could prove crucial as Chelsea attempt to make the quarter-final stage.
Chelsea need to build a side around Willian
Eden Hazard’s name continues to be linked with a Real Madrid and PSG but, truth be told, it is Willian who has emerged as Chelsea’s outstanding talent. He has been consistently excellent in what has otherwise been a dreadful season for the west London club.
He marries technical excellence with defensive diligence and no little industry and was unlucky to be on the losing side against PSG. Chelsea have some serious rebuilding to do this summer but they should do all they can to ensure that Willian is central to their plans.
The difference serious money makes at this level
Money can’t buy happiness, but it helps. With Paris Saint-Germain looking they might have to settle for a 1-1 draw with Chelsea before the return leg of their last-16 tie in the Champions League on March 9, the home coach Laurent Blanc decided to introduce Edinson Cavani, one of the world’s leading forwards, as a substitute for Lucas Moura on 74 minutes.
For a man worth an estimated £50m, this was not a bad figure for Blanc to turn to. Four minutes later, Cavani finished off an Angel Di Maria pass to seal a 2-1 win for the home team. PSG would rather be one goal up than level. A priceless lead but also costly. PSG are funded by billions from Qatar, a fierce foe to Roman Abramovich’s funding of Chelsea. Money can’t buy happiness, but it helps.
Benfica will not worry Europe’s elite clubs
Zenit St Petersburg were there for the taking in Lisbon tonight, but despite the late Jonas winner there was nothing from Benfica to suggest that they will worry the competition’s big guns if they make it through to the quarter-finals. Zenit haven’t played a competitive game for two months and their performance was just as rusty as you’d expect in the circumstances, but only when the visiting players completely ran out of steam late in the second half did Benfica manage to carve out any chances of note. The tie itself is set up for a fascinating second leg, but neither of these teams will get anywhere near the final in Rome on the 28th of May.
Zenit a lame duck
Due to a winter break, Zenit’s last competitive game came on 9 December against Gent. They have a Russia Premier League fixture against FC Krasnodar on March 5. The winter break in Russia has left them horribly under-prepared for the rigours of Champions League knock-out football.
Zenit have spent some serious money on their squad but as long as a three-month winter break remains in place then Russian teams will remain lame ducks in the knockout rounds of European come February.