The build up to this affair was dominated by one question: which side would be able to raise their game to get a positive result? The French champions elect, who had been cruising domestically, and risked being outdone by complacency? Or the dethroned English champions, who had been underperforming all season?
As always, the answer lay somewhere in between. Paris Saint-Germain at times dominated affairs, in a style reminiscent to their defeat at the Bernabeu in the fall. But they were, at times, pinned back by a Chelsea side which was constantly threatening when on the ball. This made for an intriguing match, and Chelsea’s defensive discipline ensured that they took a decent score back to Stamford Bridge..
PSG played a nearly first-choice 4-3-3, with Marquinhos deputizing (or replacing, rather) the suspended Serge Aurier. Maxwell started at left back, while Lucas Moura played instead of Edinson Cavani.
Guus Hiddink named the expected Chelsea XI, with Branislav Ivanovic and Gary Cahill playing in place of the injured Terrry and Zouma. Azpilicueta shifted to the right as Baba Rahman started on the left of defense. Neither Oscar nor Nemanja Matic were fit enough to start in the 4-2-3-1.
Chelsea’s primary plan was to sit back and hit Paris on the break, with Mikel and Fabregas instructed to sit deep. Pedro and Willian did their fair share of defensive work as well. PSG deployed their typical possession game, and looked to dominate affairs.
Chelsea Press PSG Successfully in the First Half
When Cesc Fabregas dictated play, Willian connected attack with defense, and Diego Costa surpassed defenders, Chelsea managed to stave off PSG’s threat and control the game. Ironically, Chelsea’s dominance was prior to Ibrahimovic’s goal itself, although they recovered and responded superbly with an equalizer.
In the French League, there is no doubt that the champions are not accustomed to being pressed into their own half. Laurent Blanc, despite his supposed efforts, was unable to drill some defensive organization into his side. While when dominating PSG are a dangerous proposition, as witnessed against Real Madrid and CHelsea this term; off the ball they make for poor viewing, as proven by Barcelona’s thumping victories over this side last year.
Lucas Provides Outlet From Center
Perhaps looking to expose the pace, or lack of it, of Chelsea’s center back pairing, Lucas Moura was key to PSG’s counter-attacks during the first half. The Brazilian played off Ibrahimovic and made runs in behind and wide, attempting the odd shot and even drew the foul that led to the Swede International’s goal.
After half-time, Chelsea retreated into a shell as PSG looked to break through. This was a resilient Chelsea, although they were coming up against the strongest PSG side in recent history. Despite missing both of their all action full backs signed in the summer (Kurzawa and Aurier), PSG managed to siege a tiring Chelsea thanks to the brilliance of one man- Angel Di Maria.
Di Maria is known to single-handedly break defenses. He turned in an excellent performance in a 4-3 clasico defeat to Barcelona, and was the man of the match in Real Madrid’s 4-1 win in the Champions League Final. In both matches, his Real Madrid side’s expensive wingers were not performing. Yet in both matches, Di Maria induced chaos. More of which he did on Tuesday night. Di Maria was arguably his side’s best player, full of energy and pace, constantly looking to create chances. It’s of no surprise that Di Maria completed the most crosses, the second most passes in the attacking third, and won the most take-ons on the pitch.
Di Maria’s intensity also brought out the best in Maxwell, the aging left back who’s late overlapping runs caused Chelsea all sorts of problems. Maxwell exploited the gap between Chelseea’s center backs- who marked Ibrahimovic tightly, and the full backs, who stayed relatively wide to deal with Paris’ explosive wingers.
With Pedro tucking in, Willian coming back, Mikel and Fabregas staying rigid, and even Hazard tracking back, it was no easy feat to break this defence. But the sheer volume of chances created by this Paris side spoke of their quality.
Willian Crucial For Chelsea
Chelsea’s player of the season proved indispensable once more this match. He linked the defense to attack, and pressed PSG all over the pitch- quite literally. He created the most chances this game as well. Chelsea always looked dangerous on the break, with Willian enjoying the lion’s share of the ball going forward.
Ultimately PSG’s unforgiving pressure proved to be too much, as the advantages of having an easy domestic league and room for rotation showed- they dominated the majority of the second half and could afford to bring a world class striker off the bench despite their issues with personnel- luxuries which Chelsea don’t have. This is where the Londoners’ lack of transfer business during last summer came back to haunt them.
The match was ultimately decided by PSG’s superior squad and energy levels, while Chelsea’s lack of a true all action midfielder came back to bite them. Hiddink was forced into fielding a limited Obi-Mikel and attacking Fabregas in his midfield, while Laurent Blanc could play his strong midfield Trirumvirate with Matuidi, Verratti and Motta. Clearly, one side’s midfield was far superior to the other.
If Chelsea are to win the second leg, they could do worse than take their chances more efficiently. However, one has to keep in mind they will have Matic, Oscar, and a certain Pato (off the bench?) to help them. An upgrade on this makeshift setup for sure.
As for PSG, their system managed to overwhelm Chelsea this time around. However, if PSG are to progress, they will have to show some form of organization off the ball at Stamford Bridge, and hope that Diego Costa doesn’t take his chances.