Edinson Cavani’s second-half equalizer at home against Chelsea gave Paris Saint-Germain life heading into their second leg in London, but the British side is in far better shape after securing a critical away goal. It is probably a far better fate than many of the Blues’ fans deserve, and it came in a match where a full-strength Chelsea was on its back foot the whole day against an injury-depleted PSG side that saw former Chelsea defender facing his own club as a midfielder due to the attrition.
Despite fielding a deadly midfield featuring playmaker Cesc Fabregas and getting Diego Costa back from suspension, Chelsea was able to muster only one actual shot on goal. Branislav Ivanovic’s 36th-minute header gave the visitors the lead, and it developed out of a pretty interchange where Ivanovic finished off a pretty set-up by fellow defenders John Terry and Gary Cahill. An attack featuring plenty of high-priced parts was anemic, and it required a bit of genius on that trio’s part to bail out Jose Mourinho’s hopes of winning a third Champions League.
They had plenty of work to deal with in their own third of the pitch as well, as Zlatan Ibrahimovic dominated in his usual catalytic role and the hosts generated more than a dozen attempts. The efforts paid off for PSG nine minutes after play resumed out of the halftime intermission, when Edinson Cavani shook off Cahill to connect with Blaise Matoudi’s cross to beat Thibaut Courtois and level the match.
PSG really should have had several more goals, with Cavani and Zlatan both squandering ripe opportunities to put the French side ahead on aggregate going into the second leg. And that could ultimately cost the Parisians a shot at the quarterfinals, with the return march coming on March 11.
By that point Costa — who sat for three weeks after the FA ruled he stomping on Liverpool’s Emre Can in the second leg of the Capital One Cup semifinal — will undoubtedly have returned to match form. The offense will have time to reintegrate all the other moving parts that have returned to full health. And Mourinho has the security of knowing a scoreless draw is all that is necessary to advance to the next round.
PSG’s style of play will always make them a threat against a team that is intent on clamping down defensively, as a Mourinho team is prone to do in situations like this. But Chelsea simply has too much talent to rely on Courtois and the back four alone for 90 minutes, and will need players like Fabregas, Costa, Eden Hazard, and Nemanja Matic to challenge for more possession and threaten Salvatore Sirigu’s goal far more than thaey did at the Parc des Princes on Tuesday.
Against a club of PSG’s class, Chelsea isn’t guaranteed to keep a clean sheet at home. Look for Cavani or Ibrahimovic to make the Blues sweat before Mourinho fully unleashes the Premier League leaders. A late winner, probably off a set piece, will put through Chelsea 3-2 on aggregate as they dismiss PSG for the second straight season.