Demba Ba the unlikely hero as Chelsea advance
Outcast striker grabs late winner to complete second leg comeback over Paris St Germain
Paris St Germain’s goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu is beaten as Demba Ba scores Chelseas’s vital second goal at Stamford Bridge. Photo: Stefan Wermuth/Reuters
This was a glorious, thrilling and ultimately rather old school night of European football at the end of which Chelsea find themselves, breathlessly, in the semi-finals.
It must be said Jose Mourinho is nothing if not adaptable. Having spent the past fortnight bemoaning publicly the failings of his strikers, Chelsea’s manager produced in the moment of triumph an unabashed reprise of his famous touchline sprint at Old Trafford to congratulate his chief outcast, Demba Ba, on the goal that made the score 3-3 on aggregate, and the tie Chelsea’s on away goals.
Mourinho saw his team go 1-0 up through Schurrle in the 32nd minute and then hit the crossbar twice in quick succession early in the second half.
When Ba struck, the manager came racing out of his technical area towards his players to speak them as they celebrated by the corner flag.
And asked what he had done that for, Mourinho said: “Not to celebrate — to tell Fernando (Torres, another substitute) and Demba the changes we had to do, because there was still three minutes plus added time and with that amount of time left, playing like we were playing, it was too risky.
“I wanted to use my two freshest players for a different job in the last period.
“We did enough in the beginning of the second half to score, but we couldn’t and after that there was a bit of a contradiction in terms of what PSG are and what they were saying yesterday — they played pure counter-attack, with no ball possession, just getting behind using counter-attack and closing everything.
“It was difficult for us to penetrate in that second part of the second half, so I played Demba and Fernando. We had looked at different systems yesterday and the players knew what to do.
“Then Demba made a crucial finish for us and I think it was very much deserved.
“The team that decided to defend was punished. The team that gave everything, sometimes with their hearts, deserved to go through to the semis.”
Ranged against one of Europe’s glitziest carbon-fuelled assemblages of star turns and high-grade talent, Chelsea produced a performance that was hugely committed, underdog-ish in spirit, and in design even a little old fashioned English as they drove PSG back throughout the second half at Stamford Bridge.
By the end Mourinho, dressed in an unusual shell-suit and trainers combination, seemed to have morphed briefly into Tony Pulis as his team of three centre-forwards tested PSG’s will with a series of long balls and an unrelenting cavalier energy in midfield.
Chelsea captain John Terry hailed the team’s character after his side pulled off the perfect comeback against Paris St Germain to book their place in the last four by overturning the 3-1 defeat in France with a 2-0 home victory.
“I think everyone probably doubted that we would do it. But I think we showed great character, great desire and will to fight no matter what, and it paid off.”
Asked if he felt the game had been slipping away when it was still 1-0, Terry said: “No — I thought at 1-0 we always had a chance. We worked a lot all week on scenarios – 1-0, 2-0, 3-1, what would we do if Demba came on. We planned to hit the big man and he has scored a great goal.
“For every scenario, we had a game plan and once again we got it right.
“This competition means a lot to us. The manager has been very successful and in terms of the club, we have experienced it once (winning the Champions League, in 2012) and had disappointments over the years as well.
“It keeps you fighting and keeps you believing as well. That one time winning it – believe me, it is the best feeling ever. And nights like tonight, when big players have put in big performances, that is what we live for.”
Regarding his goal, striker Ba said: “It happened so quickly. “I was on the floor, just looked at the goal and I saw the ball was in the net. It was a big joy for everyone. I just do what I have to do when I get chances. I haven’t had many this season but it’s okay.”
Mourinho had been pointed in his praise for Paris Saint-Germain’s ownership and acquisitions bureau after the first leg. And yet the bald facts suggest Chelsea are not too far behind the state of Qatar’s Parisian franchise on the largesse front.
But where were Chelsea’s stars? Eden Hazard aside, it looks at times as though great deal has been spent on a collection of eager, scurrying attacking midfielders.
And yet for all that, and despite an underpowered-looking central midfield, Chelsea produced a spirited performance.
Rousing themselves from a sluggish first half hour during which they looked a peculiar combination of heavy legged and callow, this team of warriors and middleweights drove PSG back via a combination of set-piece expertise and basic fighting spirit.
When Hazard left the pitch with an injury on 17 minutes the contrast in star quality looked even more stark but somehow Mourinho’s men found a way to advance to take the spoils.