Chelsea were supposed to be the great English hope for lifting the Champions League trophy in Berlin in June. Now, they’ve crashed out spectacularly at the hands of the team they sucker punched last year in the quarter-finals. A trophy so many thought was theirs is now further away than it ever has been, and Chelsea only have themselves to blame.
Jose Mourinho’s tactics are not hard to figure out, especially in big matches. He wants to get a goal and then do his best to see his team kill the game off. More often than not, as in the League Cup final 10 days ago, it works. But when a team comes in determined and with a tactical plan, parking the bus can backfire, and did it ever at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea look labored, slow and tiresome despite having a week to prepare for this game, while PSG looked determined, fit and resolute, despite the early odds going against them when Zlatan Ibrahimovic was incorrectly sent off.
Laurent Blanc had so much pressure heaped at his feet at the start of the season, and wasn’t dealing with it well, as evidenced by the dogfight for the French league title that PSG find themselves in. When they were drawn against Chelsea many thought the Parisians would again come up short in a big tie as they have often done in the past, while their opponents would find a way as they did last season to come through again. Blanc had a plan, and his plan worked to perfection.
Marco Verratti, for all of the criticism he’s received, was fantastic. To beat Chelsea you need an engine in midfield like him, especially when your side goes down to 10 men. PSG lost nothing when he was substituted for Adrien Rabiot either. The all Brazilian back four was also terrific, even discounting the goals they scored. Chelsea were never able to consistently generate pressure from open play, and often stalled just outside of the penalty area looking to pick the perfect pass to undo the defense in front of them. This was largely due to the imperious central defense partnership of Thiago Silva and David Luiz.
Chelsea had too many players become bystanders. Cesc Fabregas was almost invisible, Nemanja Matic wasn’t himself, Diego Costa spent too much time arguing for calls instead of making his trademark runs towards goal and Hazard could do little because PSG swarmed him at almost every opportunity. But worst of all, Chelsea had numerous chances to kill off the tie early, but simply refused to.
It looked as if Mourinho was the manager more under pressure than Blanc based on the way he set out his team. One expects the negative, dour soccer from a Mourinho led team in a game like this, but up a man? Chelsea looked nervy, skittish and tired in and out of possession. They never offered up anything outside of a scrambled set piece goal and a penalty off a horrendous mistake by Thiago Silva. Bayern Munich, against 10 men, put seven past their arguably inferior opposition, but left no doubt early on in that match. Chelsea let PSG stay in the match, which gave them confidence that never left.
Yes, the referee Bjorn Kuipers had a shocking match. But in the end, the better team over the two legs is advancing to the quarter-finals, and there can be no complaints from Mourinho, the players or any Chelsea supporters as to who the better team was.
Chelsea are on course for a double this season. Yet because of this two-legged defeat, it will feel like another season lost at Stamford Bridge.
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