Chelsea will take a potentially vital goal along with plenty of heart back to Stamford Bridge as they fell 2-1 to Paris Saint-Germain in a tight Champions League last 16 encounter.
Edinson Cavani hit the deciding goal 12 minutes from time to hand Guus Hiddink his first lost as Chelsea boss, and while PSG were heavily fancied to get the result they did, it did not tell the whole story. Gary Cahill, Branislav Ivanovic and Thibaut Courtois all put in a resolute performance as they kept Zlatan Ibrahimovic and co at bay for large parts of the game.
PSG were initially much quicker out of the blocks as Chelsea failed to settle and struggled to cope with the French side’s intensity and ruthless passing game. The centre-back pairing – only in existence thanks to injuries to John Terry and Kurt Zouma – had to work extremely hard and were tireless in their blocking and chasing down.
Angel Di Maria, a revitalised figure in the French capital after his misery in Manchester so it seems, was spraying passes left right and centre all with breathtaking accuracy and ease and was instrumental all game as PSG’s attacking quality – including Zlatan, Edinson Cavani and Lucas Moura – were reasonably well held.
The same could not be said for a beleaguered Eden Hazard, our own attacking maestro. His pass completion was poor, his energy seemed lacking and generally seemed unable to play to the game plan. On a night where we would have needed his undeniable talent to be at its best, the Belgian just did not show up and was subbed off after 70 minutes after a highly ineffectual display. Hazard is still waiting for his first league goal this season.
After weathering the Parisian storm, Chelsea finally began to gain a foothold and got their first clear chance on 23 minutes. Abdul Baba Rahman, who was brilliant at left back, whipped in a great cross for Costa to head home, but Kevin Trapp tipped it up onto the bar as the Blues were denied an opener.
We held firm until 39 minutes, when the box-office Ibrahimovic finally made his mark. Often considered one of the best in the world at the moment, it was surely only a matter of time before he had played a big part in this game. Though for a man of his self-assured quality, he would have liked to scored a far better goal than the one he will be credited with. His free kick had somehow got through our paper-thin wall, clipping John Obi Mikel and leaving Courtois stranded as PSG went into the half ahead.
Or at least, so they thought. With practically the last kick of the half Mikel redeemed himself by tapping home from a corner. It was the Nigerians sixth goal in ten years for the club, and may prove to be the most vital of the half-dozen should we progress thanks to the away goal.
With the second half came more PSG pressure, but also came more superb defending from Cahill and Ivanovic. Azpilicueta struggled at right back it has to be said, though was not helped by Hazard’s poor positioning and lack of tracking back. Once the Belgian had been removed and Pedro switched to the right, his fellow Spaniard found the going easier.
With chances for Willian and Diego Costa, who ran his socks off all game in an underratedly strong performance, Chelsea could not find another way into the home net. It would prove costly as the excellent Di Maria played yet another fabulous ball through to the fresh legs of Cavani, not long on as a substitute duly obliged by giving the home side the lead and ultimately that’s how it ended up.
However, with a patched-up back four we can take plenty of positives back to London for the second leg. The away goal means this tie is far from over, and given our recent upturn in form and the fact that many expected a big PSG win tonight, we know we have the ability to hold them for large parts and the quality to overturn the deficit. While it’s not a perfect result, it’s not all doom and gloom for Guus.