There is a range of Champions League experience throughout the Chelsea squad aiming to overcome Paris Saint-Germain tonight.
There are those who have made it to the pinnacle and lifted the famous ‘cup with the big ears’, and there are those, as Jose Mourinho has emphasised, who are new this season to the knockout stages of this tournament.
There is also Cesar Azpilicueta who is not fresh to the Champions League quarter-finals but is determined to make it on to the next step for the first time.
In the Spaniard’s two seasons in France at PSG’s big rivals Marseille, the club progressed to the second stage although having played in the group games in the first campaign, a knee injury meant Azpilicueta was absent when they were knocked out by Manchester United in the Round of 16.
In 2011/12 however he was there for an impressive run through a tough group and then beyond Inter Milan in the last 16 before meeting Bayern Munich in the quarter-finals.
‘We did well in the two years I was there as there is only one team from France that won the Champions League and that was back in 1993, and it was Olympique Marseille,’ Azpilicueta says.
Subsequently, four French clubs reached the semi-final stage in the rest of the 1990s but since then only Monaco have done so, in 2004 when they were eventually defeated by Jose Mourinho’s Porto in the final, and Lyon in 2010 who were knocked out of the semis by Bayern. Last year PSG lost in the quarter-finals to Barcelona.
‘So French clubs haven’t got too far in the Champions League but PSG did well last year and as a country they are improving,’ notes Azpilicueta.
‘Now we know that PSG are a very strong team so it is going to be difficult. They have improved a lot since I left Marseille and they have quality players.’
Looking back to his 2011/12 European campaign with his former club, the 24-year-old recalls:
‘In the group we beat Dortmund and Olympiacos and in the last game we were playing in Dortmund and were losing 2-0 and we came back and won 3-2.
‘Then we played the Round of 16 against Inter Milan and the first game we won 1-0 at home and the second game we were losing 1-0 and in stoppage-time we scored the 1-1. Inter scored again but we went through.
‘It was an amazing experience to play the quarter-finals against Bayern Munich, to feel we were playing against a big team.
‘Always you have the feeling that you could do more but for us it was a gift because we were in the quarter-finals for the first time for Marseille since they won the Champions League.
‘We had already lost 2-0 at home so it was really difficult to come back in Munich in the second game which we also lost 2-0.
‘Honestly I thought then Bayern would win it that year because the final was in Munich and when I played against them I felt they were a really strong team and you could feel spirit and intensity.’
Happily, their opponents from London in the final had plenty of spirit too, the spirit Azpilicueta and the Chelsea of 2014 will be aiming to summon up tonight at Stamford Bridge.
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