#UCL preview: Round of 16 first leg

A star studded Paris Saint Germain outfit will face Chelsea while Benfica host Zenit St Petersburg.

Chelsea captain, John Terry. Picture: Chelsea FC Facebook page.

CAPE TOWN - This will be the third consecutive year that Chelsea and Paris Saint Germain (PSG) meet in Europe's premier continental club competition.

PSG will head into this high profile Uefa Champions League (UCL) tie as favourites purely based on their form domestically.

However, the two clubs dissimilar league positions divert one's attention away from the minor gap in player and team quality.

The Parisians star studded line up have had their way in the French League having already opened up a 24-point gap from the distant second placed Monaco.

Added to this they are unbeaten in 22 competitive matches winning 20 of those.

Yet, PSG have landed in a bit of a predicament recently after a video circulated of regular right back Serge Aurier insulting both coach Laurent Blanc as well as a number of players including Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

The Ivorian has since apologised and been suspended by the club with Blanc who was at the receiving end of the 23-year-old's vitriol describing Aurier's jibes has 'pitiful'.

The French club have more than enough quality to overcome such a distraction especially if Ibrahimovic can maintain his habitual weekly scoring having bagged 23 goals in 25 starts this season.

Although questions remain about the big Swede's impact on big Champions League matches such as these.

He will be aided on offence by the menacing Angel Di Maria who himself has grabbed 17 goals this season; he is back to his best form after a disappointing season at Manchester United.

Conversely, Chelsea languish in 12th place in the English Premier League (EPL) but has resolutely embarked on a 12 match (6 wins) unbeaten run under interim manager Guus Hiddink.

The London club will be keen for redemption after PSG knocked them out in last years epic two-legged UCL tie.

The current EPL champion's motivation will be amplified in this UCL clash, as their domestic league prospects look very grim trailing fourth place by 14 points.

Although Chelsea have struggled in the league this season, they will see the UCL as an opportune time to showcase their obvious talents away from their troubles domestically.

They travel to Paris for the first leg without captain John Terry, youngster Kurt Zouma and new signing Pato.

Nonetheless, Chelsea head into the tie with a dash of optimism after a 5-1 demolition job on Newcastle over the weekend.


Benfica finished second behind Athletico Madrid in a tough UCL group, which also included the industrious Galatasaray and Kazakhstani upstarts Astana.

The Portuguese league champions are currently in second place domestically three points behind the leaders.

They are also dealing with a rough home defeat against arch rivals FC Porto on Friday who abruptly shattered their impressive 11-match winning streak in all competitions.

Their creative spark will come from Argentinian wizard Nicolas Gaitan who has attracted many admirers around Europe.

Their goal scoring will be left to the Brazilian Jonas who is the top scorer in the Portuguese league with 23.

In a huge blow for the Portuguese side, they will be without their inspirational captain Luisao because of a broken arm.

Benfica should be favourites seeing that they are at home and bearing in mind their Russian opponents should be just a touch off the pace to begin with.

Zenit St. Petersburg cruised into the last 16 of the UCL qualifying in top spot in their group.

They only lost one match in the group stages and that was their final match when their UCL knockout berth had already been obtained.

The Russian outfit will be struggling with match fitness no doubt as their domestic league has been off since December and will only resume in early March.

Their domestic form has been worrisome as they are stuck in fifth spot in a competitive Russian league and struggling to defend their league crown.

Counting in their favour is that within their ranks they have a handful of players with experience at Benfica having plied their trade there.

Rock solid Ezequiel Garay, former Manchester City man Javi Garcia and the eccentric Belgian Axel Witsel all spent at least three years at Benfica.

Zenit manager Andre Villas Boas will be hoping their famous Portuguese opponents will be nursing a hangover after their league defeat to Porto in order to negate the fact his team have not had a competitive match since 9 December.

The Russian sides main attacking threat will come from the robust Brazilian Hulk whilst the side maintains their balance courtesy of Witsel in the midfield and Garay at the back.