PSG establishing themselves on and off pitch as new wealth kings

The French clubs continues to maintain its rise as a European football superpower

PSG’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic throws his jersey to fans after his side knocked Chelsea out of the Champions League at Stamford Bridge. Photo: Eddie Keogh/Reuters

Goodbye to all that then. Chelsea exited the Champions League at Stamford Bridge for the last time in some time, outgunned by a high quality Paris Saint-Germain team with strength in reserve in midfield and scalding pace on the flanks.

On a chilly night in west London Chelsea threw what they had at PSG. Diego Costa mustered up an hour of heartfelt chasing. Beyond that this was a committed but ultimately doomed performance against the highest-paying sports team in the world, a pedigree group of players who simply had too much control and too much incision in Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Lucas and Ángel Di María.

Chelsea have often been dismissed as the plaything of a public-asset-snaffling billionaire businessman. For now, though, they’ll be dancing in the streets of Doha, 21st desert-arrondissement of Paris, and the great gurgling pipeline driving this curious rising superpower. At the end here Nasser al-Khelaifi, Qatari government minister (and chairman of PSG) could be seen capering about the Stamford Bridge turf savouring the moment, a thrillingly modern elite football moment.

It was a strange kind of game: edgy, spiky, anxious at times, a night for someone in blue to show a little leadership. This was always likely to be Costa, who went panting after the game from the start. The tweet sent by PSG’s official account describing Costa as “a fraud” was, of course, a great deal of nothing, a joke gone wrong, albeit an unfunny one in the first place. Costa may be many things. Street footballer, wind-up merchant, outsider. But he is the most heartfelt of footballers. Here he was out of the blocks quickly, hurling his mask away in dramatic fashion, all the better to see the throng of undisturbed white shirts around him whenever Chelsea managed to drive forward from their defensive crouch.


For the opening 20 minutes PSG were unruffled, a well-grooved possession machine, edging towards an opening goal that came far too easily. Somehow Chelsea’s defence contrived not to see the world’s most unavoidable strutting, ponytailed, 6ft 5in centre-forward dashing out to their left.

Adrien Rabiot turned in Ibrahimovic's low cross and the game was slipping away.

Chelsea kept scuttling. The pressure paid off as Pedro surged back to win the ball and fed Willian, whose pass allowed Costa to spin away from Thiago Silva and slide the ball past Kevin Trapp.

It was Chelsea’s high point on the night. Just before the hour Costa simply sat down in the PSG half, indicating straight away his calf injury had flared.

He was applauded warmly from the field, not least by David Luiz and Thiago Silva, who know a good thing when they see it. With Costa went Chelsea's last real hope. Eight minutes later Ibrahimovic tapped in to make it 2-1 and that, for all Chelsea's spirited efforts, was pretty much that.

In a sense elimination here is also a bookend on the extended first act of Roman Abramovic’s reinvention of the club. Perhaps this mix-and-match fag-end of a Chelsea team will start to fall apart a little now, as it probably should. This is an odd lot of players, with strengths in many areas, shortages in others, a lack of muscle and, above all, an absence of tone-setting, style-setting key players.

If Chelsea have run into a cul-de-sac in the last eight months, a team without any obvious direction or pattern of play, this is both a failure of recruitment and a symptom of years of chop-and-change management. Behind it lies the lingering absurdity of 25 players out on loan, with a combined value of something close to £100m.

Kenedy, for example, is a fine, promising footballer, but right now he really shouldn't be playing left-back against PSG in the last 16 of the Champions League. Filipe Luís, Ashley Cole and Ryan Bertrand have all left in recent years, with César Azpilicueta, covering the hole on the other side here, the only convincing cover. Bertrand Traoré replaced Costa on the hour, an excellent young player but a tellingly callow back-up striker at this level.

Antonio Conte is the kind of ruthless, pragmatic manager the club could probably do with as it tries to clear out its closet and re-gear for the next leap forward. Really, though, what Chelsea need is not so much a list of transfer targets as a team, a set of foundations, a way of playing to be grooved and honed. Blessed with an armature of pre-existing champion players – Petr Cech, John Terry and Frank Lampard were all there pre-Roman – the centre has held through the last 12 years of new brooms and revolving-door management. As Guus Hiddink suggested afterwards, something more profound is required from here, after a night that felt like an ending as much as an exit.

(Guardian service)