PSG 2-1 Chelsea, Leg 1

PSG and Chelsea renewed their Champions League rivalry with the first leg of the Round of 16 tie on Tuesday at the Parc des Princes in Paris, France.

PSG dominated the game, with 62% possession and 18 shots compared to Chelsea’s 8. How did that happen?

The game started with PSG pressuring Chelsea heavily in the first 20 minutes, threatening their makeshift back line that lacked captain Terry and Zouma, both out with injuries. Chelsea sat back in defense and invited pressure, allowing PSG to advance up the field and their defenders to lurk in the attacking half for most of the game.

Both teams were comfortable in possession when they had it, but Chelsea barely had any possession, especially not long-lasting stretches. This was likely due to Fabregas playing almost in a central defender position when in possession, trying to find long passing lanes and move the ball forward but not dictating play like he usually does. When Chelsea began attacking a little more in the 20th minute Fabregas moved forward with the rest of the team, but still played much deeper than he usually does.

Fabregas and the rest of the Chelsea midfield played very deep the entire game, inviting pressure and looking to break on the counterattack through long through balls to Chelsea’s forwards, including Diego Costa. These balls looked to pass through the midfield of PSG, passing to their forwards very soon once they got the ball. They therefore didn’t have a lot of possession, and their strategy also failed because the PSG was strong and tracked back well throughout the game.

Because of this strategy, Chelsea were not very threatening on the counter, even when they had a numbers advantage and PSG’s defense was spread thin. The only time their strategy worked was when Fabregas played a ball over the PSG defense onto the feet of Oscar in the 76th minute, putting him through on goal but not resulting in a goal. Chelsea sat very deep in defense away from home and looked like they were playing for a draw for all but 10 minutes of the game.

Contrastingly, PSG attacked well throughout the game and sustained constant pressure on Chelsea. Ibrahimovic frequently came back to help bring the ball forward from the midfield, had creative holdup play around the edge of the box, and drew several fouls that gave PSG good chances. In the first half, Lucas had some great runs down the left side and was fed well by slicing Di Maria through balls. Maxwell also played well down the left with many overlapping runs that created crosses and chances, placing balls onto the heads of the tall PSG attackers. The controversy surrounding Serge Aurier definitely hurt PSG on the right wing though – with Marquinhos (usually a center back) replaced him at right back and wasn’t able to cross the ball into the box as threateningly, accurately and frequently as Aurier does.

One of Courtois's many saves

One of Courtois’s many saves

Chelsea attacked more starting in the 20th minute, maintaining some possession and rotating their attacking players to create space and confusion for PSG’s markers. Diego Costa hit the post in the 23rd minute, wrongly called onside, making Trapp put a hand to the direct header which rebounded off the post. Costa should have headed it down into the open goal, but it was Chelsea’s best chance so far in the game.

The chance was created by Luiz’s poor marking, which was part of an all around shifty day for Luiz. He gave away numerous fouls and couldn’t deliver accurate passes going forward, and his poor marking gave Chelsea a few chances in attack. His runs forward also didn’t help PSG much in attack and created gaps in defense.

Unlike Costa, Ibrahimovic had a great chance in the 33rd minute, similarly on an open goal, but headed it so far down that it bounced off the ground and over the crossbar. Both headers should have resulted in a goal.

Ibrahimovic made up for his header by scoring off of a free kick in the 39th minute. Mikel, Chelsea’s defensive midfielder, gave away a free kick, and also deflected the ball from the edge of Chelsea’s wall past Courtois to give PSG the lead.

Mikel similarly made up for his errors by equalizing off of a corner and getting Chelsea the crucial away goal. The ball from Willian grazed the head of Ibrahimovic, placing it perfectly into the feet of Mikel who slammed it home, relatively uncontested.

One of Pedro's few attacking contributions

One of Pedro’s few attacking contributions

Starting the second half, PSG attacked Chelsea hard and making Courtois dive for many saves. However, this attack was blurred by a general lack of creativity and execution for PSG in the final third of the field at the end of most of their possessions. Pedro, playing on the right wing for Chelsea, did well tracking back and defending for Chelsea when PSG were threatening, and cleared the ball from his own box numerous times. This defending was needed because of the threats of Maxwell, Lucas (first half), Di Maria (second half until Cavani came on) and Cavani, but Pedro didn’t provide his usual attacking threat because of it.

Lucas and Di Maria switched sides in the second half, and Lucas did much better in attack down the right hand side (probably because he was playing on his favored foot. Despite this favorable change and great attacking threat, Lucas was taken off in the 74th minute and replaced by Cavani, who was placed on the left wing and pushed Di Maria back to the right.

Edison Cavani after his goal

Edison Cavani after his goal

This change was crucial for PSG, as Cavani scored a great goal to put PSG ahead 2-1. He spun quickly away from Ivanovic and made a direct run towards goal, and the ball over Chelsea’s defense by Di Maria was placed perfectly on the feet of Cavani. He finished on a narrow strike under Courtois from a difficult angle, seemingly out of nowhere.

Thiago Silva did extremely well in defense for PSG and stayed back in defense the whole game, marshaling the back line extremely well. Chelsea wasn’t able to maintain possession at all during the second half, and all of their clearances went to lurking and awaiting PSG midfielders and defenders such as Silva.

PSG really pushed for a third goal in the final 10 minutes of the game, and despite creating several chances, the goal didn’t come. Overall, PSG played much better than Chelsea and deserved to win the game, but Chelsea’s away goal will give them strong hope for a victory that will advance them to the next round of the Champions League during the home leg of the tie. With very little else to play for this season, Chelsea should prioritize Champions League success and look to compete for some form of silverware.

It was a great atmosphere at the Parc des Princes, and the game was highly competitive and exciting. If games like this result from rivalries in the Champions League, we could all do with some more rivalries.

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