Paris Saint-Germain show just how far Chelsea have fallen
Blues no longer dining at top table of European football
Paris Saint-Germain’s Swedish forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic celebrates scoring their second goal during the Champions League round of 16 second leg match against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Photograph: Glyn Kirk/AFP/Getty Images
Chelsea 1 PSG 2 ( PSG won 4-2 on agg)
By the end, it was a sobering reminder for Chelsea that when it comes to the leading European teams there is no longer a place for them at the top table. They might have riches and high ambitions but so do teams such as Paris Saint-Germain and, for a second successive season, the French champions had the personnel to reach the quarter-finals to the backdrop of La Marseilleise from their supporters.
Laurent Blanc’s team still look short, perhaps, of the levels of excellence regularly witnessed by the crowds at Barcelona, Bayern Munich and, on their good days, Real Madrid, but they were still a good degree better than Chelsea and in the process it was a fine night to be Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
In this game last year, the Swede was sent off after 31 minutes. This time, he looked affronted by the memory, laying on PSG’s opening goal for Adrien Rabiot and effectively killing the tie with the close-range volley that made it 4-2 on aggregate, meaning Chelsea needed to score three in little more than 20 minutes.
It used to be said that Ibrahimovic never played well against English opposition but he made sure of showing his better qualities here. Ángel Di María was another constant menace, no matter the mistake that led to Diego Costa making it 1-1, and the 2012 winners must have left the pitch at the end knowing it was a long way back to the top.
Chelsea went into the match with a fine record of turning these kind of assignments in their favour. They had gone through eight times in their previous 13 two-leg Champions League ties after losing the first match, and it is coming up for five years since they last played a home match in this competition without scoring.
Yet they had a wretched start to the night and an already considerable challenge– having lost 2-1 in Paris three weeks ago – became even more daunting once Ibrahimovic set up the opening goal.
Di María had quickly made it clear he would play a prominent role, just as he did at the Parc des Princes, and it was his pass that sent Ibrahimovic running through the inside-right channel. Kenedy, Chelsea’s young left back, had temporarily deserted his post. Branislav Ivanovic did not follow Ibrahimovic’s run and suddenly the home team had lost all their defensive structure. Ibrahimovic slid the ball across the six-yard box and Rabiot had surged in front of César Azpilicueta to score at the far post.
With a 3-1 aggregate lead, PSG threatened in those early moments to make it a stress-free night, knocking the ball around with the confidence that might be expected of a team that has turned Ligue 1 into a procession. Costa, however, looked focused and forceful from the start. His powerful running was a major feature and there was more evidence that the stubborn streak that has been the hallmark of the more productive Chelsea teams has returned on Guus Hiddink’s watch.
After 27 minutes, the previously impressive Di María had a sudden and unexpected wave of his Manchester United form, dithering in the centre of the pitch and allowing Pedro to dispossess him. The Spaniard is hardly a tenacious tackler but his desire to win the ball maybe surprised his opponent.
Willian was running in support, breaking forward with pace and directness, and PSG were vulnerable straight away, with only Thiago Silva in position to cover Costa’s run. Costa took the ball in a central position, turned inside Silva with great determination and aimed a low shot beyond the goalkeeper Kevin Trapp.
It was a surprisingly open first half and there was a flicker of controversy, too, near to its conclusion when Cesc Fàbregas was booked for a studs-up challenge on Thiago Motta but the German referee, Felix Brych, did not notice that the recipient of that tackle had followed through with an even higher connection.
Motta had already been booked and was fortunate not to be shown a red card but, at the same time, Fàbregas was also living dangerously. The Chelsea midfielder should have been cautioned for a deliberate handball earlier in a match when both sides frequently displayed a streetwise edge.
Costa’s own exertions finished 15 minutes into the second half with him aggravating the tendon problem that kept him out of the game against Stoke last weekend and that was a significant setback given the problems he was creating for PSG’s all-Brazilian defence.
His replacement, Bertrand Traoré, offered speed and energy but he did not have Costa’s simmering presence and Chelsea missed their leading scorer after Ibrahimovic struck the decisive blow.
Midway through the second half, Trapp made two fine saves in quick succession, from Willian and Eden Hazard, and in PSG’s next attack Di María reminded everyone of his penetrative qualities with some brilliantly effective wing play. Motta’s pass was beautifully weighted in the build-up and Di María had peeled away on the left.
Ibrahimovic was anticipating the cross and it was delivered just wanted where he wanted it. His shot flashed into the roof of the net from close range and it would have been an incredibly feat of escapology to spare Chelsea at that point.