Ten men PSG relied on goals from their Brazilian centre backs to come from behind on two separate occasions, effectively knocking Chelsea out of the Champions League at Stamford Bridge
Jose Mourinho made one change to the side that featured in France, with Oscar joining Eden Hazard and Ramires behind Diego Costa. This was the expected Chelsea XI with the back four unchanged, while Cesc Fabregas dropped deeper to form a midfield duo with the returning Nemanja Matic, and Ramires operated on the right to help contain Blaise Matuidi.
Laurent Blanc welcomed back Thiago Motta into the XI alongside Marco Verratti and Matuidi to form a midfield trio. Javier Pastore was selected over compatriot Ezequiel Lavezzi on the right of a three-pronged attack, with David Luiz moving to centre back and Marquinhos pushing Gregory Van der Wiel to the bench.
Although PSG never took the lead, the French champions displayed the confidence to not only maintain their initial approach, but also outplay and outmuscle a limp Chelsea side that held a man advantage for over 90 minutes.
Cagey opening period
This was a contrast of last year’s return leg at Stamford Bridge. On that night, Chelsea required two goals to secure progression, and PSG happily sat deep in their half, with the intent of playing on the counter. But this time around, a scoreless draw would see the French champions crash out of the tournament, which led many to believe an entertaining European clash was on the horizon.
The interesting feat in the opening half hour, however, was the manner in which both sides approached the match without the ball. Blanc’s men maintained a medium block and their pressing, led by Verratti, was initiated when Chelsea’s attacking players entered the French side’s half. Chelsea aimed to peg PSG into their half from the opening kickoff, with Oscar joining Diego Costa in leading the press. PSG enjoyed lengthy spells of possession in the first leg with Verratti and Luiz retaining possession near the semi-circle, but Mourinho instructed his men to cut off those passes. Costa and Oscar sat between the two players, while Matic sporadically pushed forward to aid the aforementioned attackers.
Still, PSG was better equipped for Chelsea’s threat in open play and it started with the inclusion of Marquinhos, who was handed the task of negating Hazard’s threat down the left – mainly because van der Wiel struggled in the first leg. Hazard was fairly quiet down the left in this regard, only enjoying a powerful run when he skipped past Pastore in the third minute.
On the other hand, Cesar Azpilicueta was a tad more adventurous. The Spanish left back moved into advanced positions due to Pastore’s reluctance to track his runs, along with his narrow positioning, but his attacking impact was scarce. Nonetheless, an interesting feat of the second leg was the risk Blanc took on the left. With Cavani often in a central position, Branislav Ivanovic, the best right back in the Premier League, and Ramires, a powerful runner received space to overload Maxwell. Oddly, Chelsea’s activity often transpired on the opposite flank, whilst Matuidi’s discipline was evident, as his tireless work ethic saw the French midfielder track Ramires and Ivanovic when they attempted to surge forward.
While Chelsea’s attacking six combined well with nifty intricate passing, the Blues lacked a final ball on numerous occasions. And despite the likes of Oscar, Costa and Fabregas finding space between the lines to receive the ball, Chelsea’s creative players were underwhelming.
A tame Oscar effort was the sole attempt on target from both sides combined, but more importantly, Mourinho’s side were breaking into key areas. On two occasions in the first half, Thibaut Courtois coolly collected corners and instantly ignited breaks with his quick throws. First, Fabregas found Oscar between the lines but his heavy touch halted the play. Then, Courtois’ rolled ball to Hazard earned Matuidi a booking for tugging the Belgian to the ground. Chelsea’s quick breaks from Courtois throws were promising, but ultimately, the quality in the final third was disappointing.
As stated prior, it was peculiar to see Chelsea reluctant to overload Maxwell or increase Matuidi’s workload. Costa, who was heavily isolated in Paris, drifted to the left to avoid 1v2 situations with Luiz and Silva, and attempt to combine with Hazard. Silva eventually shifted over to the left to provide Marquinhos cover as the match progressed, and despite a splendid individual slalom that led to a penalty shout, Costa rarely outfoxed the Brazilian centre backs.
10 v 11
The turning point in this frenetic second leg took place when Ibrahimovic was harshly dismissed for a tackle on Oscar. Despite occasionally dropping deep to help PSG push forward and launch counter attacks, the Swede hardly influenced the match – in reality, the sending off was beneficial to the French side.
Oddly, the tempo of Chelsea’s passing and movement decreased, which ensured PSG’s solid shape was rarely threatened. Likewise, Blanc’s formation remained the same: Cavani moved upfront, with Matuidi playing a dual role on the left, and Pastore drifting laterally into pockets of space on the right.
More so, PSG’s assertion of dominance was spectacular considering the French side was down a man against the Premier League leaders. In particular, Motta and Verratti were the key men: they completed the most passes (Motta 95 and Verratti 80) and achieved over a 90 per-cent passing rate.
The duo grew in prominence in the second half, as Chelsea’s work ethic and approach out of possession was shocking, while their energy levels significantly decreased. Mourinho’s side sat in two banks of four, but the midfield band wasn’t compact, and there was plenty of space to drift into to receive the ball. PSG’s ball playing midfielders weren’t pressed, and when so, it was often disjointed, which could explain why the top passing combinations in the match involved Motta and Verratti.
Similar to Verratti, Matic pushed forward to press the Italian – the duo led the match with five fouls committed – and disrupt the away side’s passing rhythm, but apart from the Serbian’s effort, Chelsea was overloaded in midfield. The midfield trio casually waltzed into pockets of space to serve as passing options, and Pastore also dropped deeper to offer an outlet.
PSG’s best move of the match, and arguably the tie, illustrated the freedom they received in midfield. Prior to picking up the ball near his box and quickly combining with Marquinhos and Motta, the Italian evaded challenges from Hazard and Willian, slid a pass between the lines for Pastore, who finally connected a through-ball to Cavani – who ran behind Fabregas and off the shoulder of Ramires – to round Courtois, but he fired his shot off the post.
Cavani was culpable for missing two key chances in the same tie last season, and although he was nearly responsible for their exit once again, the move vividly epitomized a mobile, yet fluid side in the second half. Cavani played off the shoulder of the centre backs, Matuidi continued to shuttle forward from the left to try to connect with crosses from wide areas, Motta sat deeper and retained the ball, Verratti offered tenacity and intelligent passing with his dynamism, and Pastore’s aim to drift into pockets of space and play through balls should have resulted in a goal.
Perhaps Chelsea can be criticized for their dire play, but PSG were clearly the better side in the second half, with their ball playing midfielders overloading central areas to steamroll Chelsea’s midfield.
Apart from Willian’s second half arrival, it was interesting to see both managers attempt to alter the match subsequent to Cahill’s opener – there was less than 10 minutes remaining in the match.
Blanc called upon Adrien Rabiot and Ezequiel Lavezzi to replace Matuidi and Verratti with PSG moving to a 4-2-2-1. Rabiot and Motta sat in midfield, with Lavezzi and Pastore behind Cavani – the former stormed forward from the right to play closer to the Uruguayan striker, and the latter persisted with drifting between the lines.
Within seconds, Pastore’s move to the left proved beneficial as it offered Maxwell space to surge past Willian to deliver a cross to Lavezzi in the box, but the Argentine’s header flew right at Courtois. Then, Maxwell’s adventurous off the ball run enabled Pastore to isolate Willian to earn that corner that resulted in Luiz’s equalizer.
Mourinho, on the other hand, remained cautious and introduced Kurt Zouma for the knackered Matic, and similar to big matches against both Manchester clubs this season, the Blues conceded a late goal after dropping deep to soak up pressure. Mourinho turned to Didier Drogba in extra-time opposed to Juan Cuadrado or Loic Remy, and was likely aiming to add an additional aerial presence in the box.
Drogba moved upfront, and Costa was now positioned on the left, which in truth, didn’t harm Chelsea because Marquinhos rarely ventured forward and the Spanish international was often positioned in that area throughout the match. The Ivorian served as an expedient outlet for Hazard to play off of in extra-time, but Marquinhos and Salvatore Sirigu’s last ditch efforts prevented the Blues from notching a third goal.
Nevertheless, set pieces, or to be specific, aerial duels, proved decisive over 210 minutes of football. The first leg saw three Chelsea defenders combine for an unorthodox away goal, PSG aim to isolate Cesar Azpilicueta via crosses, and Cavani rising high to snatch a second half equalizer.
Both sides possess dominant aerial players, and the lack of guile and creativity – despite PSG showcasing both as they pushed for a goal and created a few half chances in the second half – increased the significance of set pieces. Where Sirigu desperately flapped at corners throughout, PSG’s inability to clear their lines resulted in both Chelsea goals.
However, PSG’s two goals were quite extraordinary considering their corners and crosses into the box in the opening half – that Courtois easily snagged – were poor. But moments of sheer brilliance from the world’s most expensive centre backs, combined with shocking marking from Chelsea’s defenders, saw Luiz’s thunderous header force extra-time, and Silva win the tie on away goals – he beat Terry on two occasions within minutes, as Courtois made a stellar save prior to the equalizer.
PSG’s performance at Stamford Bridge was superb, and amazingly it appears Ibrahimovic’s dismissal was a blessing in disguise. The French side was unconvincing prior to the sending off, as Chelsea’s numerical advantage altered the Blues’ approach both mentally and tactically.
Blanc, however, deserves credit for his game management. The French manager stuck with his initial approach in a major European tie at Stamford Bridge: his side was defensively organized out of possession, while the ball playing midfielders were vastly superior in central areas.
Mourinho was astonishingly unprepared for this situation, and his sluggish midfielders, particularly Matic (who trained once prior to kick-off) failed to dictate the tempo of the match and were severely underwhelming in the final third. The Blues were lethargic in possession, and they were shockingly open without the ball in the second half, lacking the structure and solidity required to compete with PSG’s powerful, yet technical ball playing midfielders.
In recent years, Mourinho has been left humbled in world football’s most prestigious tournament, but here, he was outcoached and outwitted by Blanc’s bravery. While Chelsea and Mourinho continue the club’s “evolution” – a mission to return the former to Europe’s elite – Blanc will hope PSG’s historic triumph could be the catalyst in the club’s journey into that exclusive group.