CHELSEA boss Jose Mourinho is ready to plunge star striker Diego Costa straight back into frontline action against Paris Saint-Germain tonight and has blasted counterpart Laurent Blanc for claiming the Blues hold a physical advantage.
Costa has missed Chelsea’s last three Premier League matches after being handed a retrospective suspension for stamping on Liverpool’s Emre Can during the Capital One Cup semi-final second leg clash at Stamford Bridge last month.
Blanc initiated the mind games ahead of the Champions League last-16 first-leg tie by insisting last week that it was a stroke of genius for Mourinho to orchestrate Chelsea’s FA Cup loss to League One giant-killers Bradford City so the Blues had a free weekend prior to the fixture.
But Mourinho was not prepared to entertain any suggestion of his Premier League leaders having benefitted from their FA Cup demise, pointing to a punishing schedule over the festive period while a winter break was in force across most of Europe.
“When the French players were on holidays in Christmas, we were playing five matches in 10 days, so don’t speak with us about accumulation of matches and fatigue,” said Mourinho.
“The last person you should speak to about the accumulation of matches and about fatigue is with a manager from an English club. England is a special place.
“It’s never a blessing to be knocked out of any competition. It’s always a problem and never a solution. We were not happy to be knocked out the competition.”
Midfielder Jon Obi Mikel is ruled out with a knee injury although Brazil playmaker Oscar is back in contention after recovering from an ankle knock which sidelined him from last week’s Premier League tussle with Everton.
But Mourinho has confirmed his intention to start leading scorer Costa, who has netted 17 times this season, although the Portuguese has suggested the 26-year-old hitman is unlikely to be at his sharpest following the enforced absence.
“Yes, I start him [Costa],” he added. “But I don’t think it’s good for a player to be three weeks, or three matches, without starting a game. So I don’t think he’s in the best of his condition.
“But, at the same time, [Loic] Remy and [Didier] Drogba have played in the last three matches. Obviously, it is important for them to have minutes and confidence. I know that I have them both ready for this game, too.”
Blanc, meanwhile, has urged his players to ignore the antics of Mourinho, who sprinted down the touchline to impart instructions following Demba Ba’s decisive strike in the second leg of last year’s quarter-final meeting between the two sides.
“I know Jose Mourinho a bit and I know he’ll raise the temperature on the pitch in this game,” said Blanc. “My players need to be cold, they need to be calm and they must not react even when it is hot out there.”
THE OPPONENTS: PARIS SAINT-GERMAIN
PSG’s 3-1 victory over Ajax in November made it 32 home games unbeaten in Europe, which includes 22 wins and 10 draws. Hapoel Tel Aviv were the last European opponents to record victory in the French capital during the 2006/07 group stage.
Chelsea beat PSG on away goals to reach last year’s last four. Goals from Ezequiel Lavezzi, Javier Pastore and a David Luiz own goal gave PSG a 3-1 first-leg lead, before Andre Schurrle and Demba Ba saw Chelsea through.
Former Newcastle midfielder Yohan Cabaye and defender Serge Aurier are injury doubts for Laurent Blanc’s side after suffering injuries in the 2-2 draw with Caen at the weekend, while Lucas Moura has a groin problem.
PSG are unbeaten in nine domestic fixtures and have only lost once in 13. The Parisians sit third in Ligue 1, level on points with Marseille and two behind table-toppers Lyon.
Blues boss Jose Mourinho is set to be reunited with Zlatan Ibrahimovic after the pair spent a year together at Inter Milan. Despite playing for Europe’s elite, Ibrahimovic is yet to win the Champions League. Former Chelsea defender David Luiz is expected to feature following his £40m move.
PSG won the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1996 thanks to Bruno N’Gotty’s strike against Rapid Vienna in Brussels. But despite being four years into the club’s Qatar-funded era, PSG have not reached the Champions League semi-finals since 1995.