I am back home in the United Kingdom having digested what was a pulsating, exhilarating, heartfelt performance from Paris Saint-Germain against Chelsea last night. The 1-1 draw in the first-leg of this second-round match will please Blues boss Jose Mourinho as Laurent Blanc is left to ponder what might have been. Thibaut Courtois in the Chelsea goal pulled of a number of key saves to ensure the Premier League leaders left the French capital with a hard fought draw. But what a performance from Les Parisiens in the second-half!
With all those injuries heading into the game, even the most hard-core Parisian must have had doubts about even getting a result in this first-leg. The turmoil from the 2-2 draw with Caen where we let slip of a two goal lead due to a depleted team had wrangled everybody associated with the club. Lucas Moura, Yohan Cabaye and Serge Aurier were all ruled out before the game. Thiago Motta was given every chance up until the team was announced but he too had to forfeit. So the coach played a masterstroke – albeit a logical choice. Former Chelsea man David Luiz was given the task of being the holding player in the three man midfield and he was superb! Marquinhos dropped in at centre-back alongside Thiago Silva where the pair were fantastic. The three of them, the spine of that side last night, were instrumental. Gregory Van der Wiel and Maxwell at full-back showed no ill effects from their knocks. Neither did Blaise Matuidi who ran his socks off all night. The Frenchman put in a man of the match performance and epitomised the spirit of everyone affiliated with the club during those 90 minutes.
What an atmosphere though! Sitting in the higher echelons in the ground you sensed a real buzz. Forget all the turmoil heading into the game, this was the last-16 of the Champions League. On these nights, anything can happen. And the club’s plea for the supporters to get behind the team was never needed. They backed them to the hilt. Operating as the 12-man if you will.
The opening half-hour was fairly tentative as you would expect in a European game of this magnitude. Both sides allowed each other to have the ball and sat deep to prevent any possible attacks. Chelsea employed an interesting tactic by having right-back Branislav Ivanovic stray ahead of the half-way line with Cesar Azpilicueta on the opposite side sitting deeper. Well, Ivanovic was the man who opened the scoring in the 36th minute with a header. The assists came from two of his defensive colleagues. John Terry played a cross in which was cleverly flicked on by Gary Cahill and the big Serb got in between Maxwell and Luiz to head home.
That did not dampen PSG’s spirit by any means. We could easily have crumbled but instead we showed no signs of panic, kept things tight and demonstrated patience with our play. After the interval we continued to keep the ball, looking for little gaps to unhinge a sturdy Blues defence. David Luiz was instrumental with the ball but Chelsea were happy to give him time and space.
10 minutes after the break, we levelled at 1-1. The goal came from Edinson Cavani who was top draw. This was El Matador at his purest! He was a threat for the vast majority of the night. Blanc swapped him from the left to the right which paid off. He and Ezequiel Lavezzi – who also had a good game – would swap from time to time. The Uruguayan levelled as he got his head on the end of Matuidi’s delicious cross to send the Parc into raptures.
From then on in, it was PSG posing all the questions. It was Chelsea doing the defending. They could hardly get anywhere near our penalty area to create an attack. It was constant Parisian pressure.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic was a physical presence all night. He almost put us into the lead with a superb piece of acceleration to get into the box but his shot was saved by Courtois.
Cavani too – almost a carbon copy of the Ibra move – was inches away from putting us into the lead but dragged his shot wide. He did everything right up until the finish. Had that rippled the night, the whole of Paris would have shook to its core I think.
Courtois was the difference. He then made a save in the dying embers from a Zlatan header which puts Chelsea in control of this tie with a draw and an away goal
Despite their performance, Mourinho will be smiling like a Cheshire cat. It is a massive result from their perspective. The tie is in their hands heading into Stamford Bridge. Nevertheless, it is all to play for.
PSG proved that they should not be written off. Tactically, we were superb. Blanc deserves his kudos for ushering Luiz into the holding role where – after this performance – his long team future may lie. The fact that we did not panic after going behind, plus the patience in our build-up deserves an awful amount of credit. It was a vastly professional performance from the lads.
The trip to London is going to be tough – of course it is – but after this level of display, PSG can head into that game with no fear. President Nasser Al-Khelaifi’s reaction said it after the game when he said; “We have every chance to go through in London, I’m optimistic”.