What do you do when Zlatan Ibrahimovic gets sent off after half an hour? Do you crumble? Fall apart and throw in the towel? Not if you are a Paris Saint-Germain player. You give absolutely everything! Heart, guts, desire; these were all traits that were demonstrated to the whole of Europe last night as PSG knocked out Chelsea on away goals thanks to a 3-3 aggregate draw and thus marching into the quarter-finals of the Champions League.
I am going to speak more from the heart in this report rather than give a statistical slant on things. What we saw last night was quite possibly the most inspiring performance from a PSG team since the QSI takeover. I said last night that to go to Stamford Bridge, a fortress for Chelsea, and not only earn a 2-2 to send us through but to play them off the park with 10-men? Well it is as big a statement you can make in my opinion. Not many people were giving PSG a prayer over these two-legs but Les Parisiens have been the better team over both and that is not being bias at all.
You could see what it meant to everyone affiliated with the football club at the final whistle. The players were visibly emotional. Nasser Al-Khelaifi made his way onto the pitch to join in the festivities. And the coach Laurent Blanc was smiling from ear to ear. I am absolutely delighted for LB! The pressure he was under heading into this tie was absolutely insane. Quite simply, his future rested on the performances over these two-legs. I said in my match preview that he had the opportunity to stick it to those in the media that have bombarded him with criticism ever since last year’s quarter-final at Stamford Bridge. He more or less stuck two fingers up to them because he put out a team that played for each other last night. There was no individualism or sulking. Nobody’s head dropped when Ibrahimovic was sent off. It galvanised everybody if anything and you have to give the coach an enormous amount of credit because that belief will have emanated from him as well. His embrace with David Luiz at the end told the story quite frankly! Pure emotion.
So the game itself? Well Ibrahimovic’s red card for a collision with Oscar was never warranted in a millions years. Referee Bjorn Kuipers though had no hesitation to brandish a red card and send the big Swede on his way. That incensed the Parisian players, particularly the likes of Edinson Cavani and Thiago Motta. Things looked as if they would boil over. For five minutes or so after that we were losing our heads a little. Half-time came at good time to simmer things down so we could regroup.
Cavani had to play as the lone man up top with Ibra taking an early bath so we were essentially playing a 4-4-1. Edi had an unbelievable opportunity in the second-half to put us into the lead. Verratti, who was man of the match for me, did exceptionally well to work open some space before passing to Pastore and he threaded the ball through to the striker to latch onto. He rounded Courtois but seemed to stumble which put him off-balance. Nevertheless, he was able to get a shot away and as the PSG supporters gasped for air behind the goal he rattled the post! It seemed as if that would be Paris’ golden chance to swing the tie in our favour as chances were few and far between.
We were outstanding though. With 10-men we dominated the game, bossed the midfield. Thiago Motta was playing like the Motta we know from last season. Little Marco to his right just ran the whole game. He will no doubt be one of the finest central midfielders in Europe. Judging by the performances in the Champions League this season, especially these last two over Chelsea, he is well on course for that.
The home side though who hardly had a shot on goal in the second-half took the lead thanks to Gary Cahill. It looked for the entire world that was it! But David Luiz had his own little script at the ready to head home the equaliser against his former club minutes before full-time. That desire I have been talking about was synonymous in his intent to head the ball home which he did with velocity as it crashed in off the crossbar.
That took it to extra-time. Again, it looked as if it would not be our night as the skipper Thiago Silva handled the ball in the penalty area. The Brazilian had another sterling performance, yet that one moment of madness could have cost PSG dear. Eden Hazard coolly converted to make it 2-1 on the night. It seemed as if that would knock the stuffing out of us.
Did it? No chance. Silva made amends minutes from the end of extra-time as he got above John Terry from 14-yards out to loop a header from a corner over Thibo Courtois to send everyone in a Parisian shirt into delirium! Just before that, the Belgian in goal made a miraculous save to deny the centre-back but he could do nothing about the subsequent attempt. We troubled Chelsea all night on set-pieces, thus scoring two which has put us into the last-eight.
It was a spikey affair. Both sets of players got embroiled in a fair share of spats as tempers flared. So much of course was on the line. Paris though were so dominant in every aspect, and this was with 10-men which makes it all the more incredible. Over the two games, the right team went through. Even the most hardcore Chelsea supporter will admit that.
Paris Saint-Germain did something quite unique last night. The manner of our performance was special but what really struck me was the camaraderie. The players, staff and the fans were all together as one throughout the whole game. Everyone played their part in what was a special night for the football club!