As PSG contract expires, Ibrahimovic in spotlight at Chelsea
ABS-CBN Sports on Mar 09, 2016 09:12 AM
PSG's Zlatan Ibrahimovic speaking during a press conference at Stamford Bridge stadium in London, Tuesday, March 8, 2016, ahead of the Champions League round of 16 second leg soccer match between Chelsea and Paris Saint Germain that will take place at Chelsea's Stamford Bridge ground in London, Wednesday. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
AP Sports Writer
LONDON (AP) — With his Paris Saint-Germain contract winding down, Zlatan Ibrahimovic arrives in England with a fresh intrigue about his playing future.
After spells in Spain and Italy will the Swedish forward manage to squeeze in a stint in the English Premier League?
At 34, Ibrahimovic is running out of time.
"I am not in discussion with nobody because for me it's not the time," Ibrahimovic said Tuesday, on the eve of PSG's Champions League game at Chelsea. "I'm not worried about the future, because for me the future looks good after the season I'm doing. People say I'm old. I'm only warming up.
"I don't believe it's the end of my career. Age is just a number and I feel young, I feel very young."
Ibrahimovic never seems to be short of admirers and is still being linked with leading clubs in his advanced footballing years.
Scoring four goals for Sweden against England in 2012 managed to gain him more devotees here.
"After my four goals my relation(ship) became perfect (with the English)," Ibrahimovic said. "Before there was no relation(ship)."
How Wednesday's opponent could have done with a sharp-shooter like Ibrahimovic this season during an alarming domestic decline.
Ibrahimovic's first-leg goal helped PSG to a 2-1 victory in the first leg of its Champions League game in the round of 16 against Chelsea last month.
It was a rarity in an otherwise prolific career: a first goal in four meetings with Chelsea. Ibrahimovic has netted only four goals in 19 games against English clubs.
The statistics show Ibrahimovic is not as lethal in the final rounds of the Champions League compared with other competitions. The former AC Milan, Ajax, Barcelona, Inter Milan and Juventus player averages 0.48 goals per group-stage match — more than double his knockout-phase ratio of 0.21.
"He's got the physique, the talent, and the experience," former Juventus teammate Jonathan Zebina told L'Equipe newspaper. "For me, the explanation can only be mental. Does he put himself under too much pressure?"
There isn't as much pressure domestically where he enjoys a 0.6 goal per game ratio in the French league which PSG lead by 23 points.
PSG has won three straight French titles and is seeking the only major prize to elude both Ibrahimovic and his Qatari-owned club: the European Cup.
"It was almost an obsession, then I started to mature ... I will do my best to win it, but it will not change the player I am," said Ibrahimovic, who joined PSG in 2012. "What we have done in three-and-a-half years I believe is amazing stuff."
It is the third consecutive season Chelsea and PSG are meeting in the Champions League.
Chelsea's success in 2014 came when Ibrahimovic missed the second leg through injury. PSG survived Ibrahimovic's sending-off at Stamford Bridge last season to advance to the quarterfinals.
Here are other talking points going into Wednesday's game:
Languishing in 10th place in the Premier League, Chelsea's only route back into the Champions League is by winning the competition for a second time.
The cup was lifted in 2012 during the interim reign of Roberto Di Matteo and this season another stop-gap manager is chasing glory.
"We are underdogs," manager Guus Hiddink said. "The players have regained confidence, but we are not the favorites.
"You see the PSG team — we also have quality — but they can rest five, six, seven players (in the league at the weekend)."
Chelsea is unbeaten in domestic competitions since Hiddink replaced the fired Jose Mourinho in December until the end of the season, with the only loss coming against PSG.
Captain John Terry will miss a sixth consecutive game on Wednesday as he recovers from a hamstring injury.
"I have thrown everything at my injury trying to get back fit but sometimes you have to let the injury settle, and thankfully I'm on the mend and hope to be back soon," the 35-year-old Terry, whose contract expires at the end of the season, wrote on Instagram.
But striker Diego Costa did train after missing Saturday's 1-1 draw with Stoke.
"He had a little bit of a problem with a tendon," Hiddink said. "He could have started, to be honest, but then the risk was there and afterwards I might be left saying, 'Why did I risk him?'"
PSG MIDFIELDERS RETURNING
Marco Verratti and Blaise Matuidi have finally been included in Laurent Blanc's squad. It's still unclear whether the two key midfielders will start in west London having just recovered from injuries.
Verratti, who has been hampered by a groin injury, has been essential in PSG's domination of the French league this season but he will face a late fitness test in London.