A wonderful solo goal from Javier Pastore in the penultimate minute of injury time turned a narrow edge for Paris Saint-Germain into a sizable 3-1 advantage over Chelsea after the first leg of their Champions League quarterfinal tie at the Parc des Princes.
There had appeared an acceptance from both teams of a 2-1 result heading into the last portion of the encounter in the French capital. But some careless Chelsea defending, which was a feature of the contest, cost them dear as fine run down the byline by the substitute Pastore ended with him firing a shot past a slow-to-react Petr Cech. It was a match which swung both ways and in which arguably neither was at their best, but PSG’s strong second-half performance was met with scant resistance from Chelsea and makes the Ligue 1 leaders favorites heading to London next week.
The home side took advantage of their flying start when Ezequiel Lavezzi thumped a superb half-volley home after a poor header from John Terry. But PSG ceded their early momentum with their midfield all-too ponderous in possession and allowing Chelsea to counter. It was through that route that they got back on level terms when Thiago Silva brought down Oscar just inside the box and Eden Hazard coolly converted from the penalty spot.
With neither team looking particularly threatening at the start of the second half, a further defensive mishap uncharacteristic of a Jose Mourinho side shifted the momentum squarely back to the hosts. Chelsea failed to deal with an in-swinging free-kick and David Luiz bundled the ball into his own net. With Chelsea’s lack of a top level striker all too apparent, such vulnerability at the back was always going to be costly in the rarified air of the Champions League last eight. While PSG have now won 10 matches on the bounce, Chelsea have lost three of their last five just as the season enters its crucial juncture.
PSG had begun the seemingly evenly matched encounter with real purpose. Marco Verratti shot wide in the opening seconds, with Chelsea struggling to match their opponents’ intensity. And just three minutes in, Chelsea’s defensive issues and particularly their surprising weakness from crosses began. From Blaise Matuidi’s ball in, rather than heading away from danger, Terry headed straight to Lavezzi. The forward still had much to do but accomplished it superbly by chesting the ball down into his path and producing an unstoppable strike into the roof of the net.
Rather than seeking to immediately capitalize on that early impetus Laurent Blanc had his players sit deep, with their three central midfielders in close proximity to their back four. The tactic appeared a shrewd one. Not for the first time in recent weeks Chelsea’s one-dimensional threat on the counter-attack was badly shown up. With little creativity on the ball, they were further hamstrung by having no presence whatsoever up front.
Without Samuel Eto’o through injury, Mourinho showed the ultimate lack of faith in Fernando Torres by instead selecting Andre Schurrle in an unfamiliar position in which he already failed to distinguish himself at Old Trafford earlier in the season. The German once again had negligible impact on the match and his inclination to drift wide and deep often left his side with no player in the opposition box.
It will have been immensely frustrating to Blanc then that PSG allowed their opponents back into the match. Their midfield, and in particular Verratti, was continually indecisive on the ball and allowed Chelsea to steal possession and have an opportunity to break in transition. It looked like their only avenue to get back on level terms, and so it proved.
Surprisingly, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who had a quiet game before being taken off with a muscle injury, was the man to crucially lose the ball. From there Willian charged down the right before pulling back for Oscar who was taken out by an uncharacteristically clumsy challenge from Thiago Silva. Eden hazard sent Salvatore Sirigu the wrong way and for the remaining 18 minutes of the half the visitors looked the better team. Only the width of a post prevented Chelsea from going into the interval in front, when Hazard’s expertly struck volley beat Sirigu but couldn’t beat the woodwork .
PSG regained their composure somewhat at the start of the second half but still Chelsea looked to have the game where they wanted it. Mourinho had praised his defenders in the buildup to the match as the one area of his side that had been reliable throughout the campaign, but on this night they let him down. Their weakness from crosses struck again when Lavezzi headed onto the roof of the net when he should have at least found the target. Chelsea didn’t get off so easily in the 61st minute. David Luiz brought on the trouble by foolishly and unnecessarily brought down Matuidi on the left touchline. With Chelsea’s defensive line then caught incredibly deep from Lavezzi’s superb in-swinging delivery, the Brazilian got the only touch to send it into his own net from a couple of yards out.
By that point Torres had made his introduction, but, while one of the world’s best strikers, he looked utterly out of his depth both among his teammates and against this level of opposition. In contrast, PSG’s substitutions added extra impetus to PSG. One of those, Lucas Moura produced arguably the moment of the match when brilliantly beating a host of players dribbling through the middle before playing in Edinson Cavani. The Uruguayan’s touch was badly found wanting and his poor evening continued when curling wide from the edge of the box when the expectation was for the net to bulge.
To the Uruguayan’s relief, those misses may well not now prove costly thanks to Pastore’s late contribution. The Argentine midfielder has thus far largely failed to justify becoming the first major signing of the Qatari Investment Authority’s era at PSG, but on one of the club’s biggest nights since their takeover three years ago he came to the fore. There was some lamentable defending and equally poor goalkeeping to be sure, but the way Pastore evaded the challenge of three players in a tight corner before keeping his composure and firing in an accurate shot is worthy of much praise. It has also given his side a huge boost as they look to reach Europe’s last four for only the second time in their history.