Branislav Ivanovic
Branislav Ivanovic celebrates after scoring the opening goal for Chelsea against Paris Saint-Germain. Reuters

Paris Saint-Germain produced a stirring second-half performance to keep their Champions League quarterfinal hopes alive, but Branislav Ivanovic’s first-half header was enough to put Chelsea in the driving seat heading back to Stamford Bridge for the second leg of their Round of 16 matchup.

In a repeat of last year’s quarterfinal, Ivanovic grabbed a potentially crucial away goal in an opening 45 minutes characterized by caution from both sides. But, although PSG stepped up a gear after the break and drew level through Edinson Cavani’s header, Chelsea managed to avoid a repeat of the late collapse they produced to lose 3-1 at the same Parc des Princes venue a year ago. While severely tested, Jose Mourinho’s men withstood the continued pressure from the French champions to leave PSG needing to score in London in three weeks’ time.

For PSG, given their struggles in Ligue 1 and a host of fitness concerns coming into the contest, it was a highly creditable display. Yet there will be undoubted frustration, too, that they were unable to turn their superiority throughout the contest, and especially in the second half, into a first-leg advantage. In particular they will be ruing a goal-saving block from Cesar Azpilicueta and a glorious chance spurned by the man whose misses ultimately cost PSG against Chelsea a year ago, Cavani.

The two teams had come into the contest in very different conditions. Premier League leaders Chelsea had enjoyed a weekend off, while PSG had toiled to a disappointing draw while incurring a rash of injuries. While Balise Matuidi and Marquinhos were passed fit, Yohan Cabaye, Lucas Moura and Serge Aurier missed out and, perhaps encouraged under pressure manager Laurent Blanc to go for a defensive lineup featuring former Chelsea defender David Luiz in midfield.

PSG were happy to sit back early on, allowing Chelsea to have the bulk of possession and encouraging them into a proactive role they weren’t entirely comfortable with on the road. And it was PSG, playing on the counter-attack, who had more forward thrust. Throughout the encounter, Blanc’s side caused Chelsea problems with crosses into the box, especially from down the left.

Matuidi was superb on that side of midfield, and came close to opening the scoring 11 minutes in when his header from Cavani’s cross was palmed away at by full stretch by Thibaut Courtois. After a match-winning performance by Petr Cech against Everton last time out reignited the debate over Chelsea’s No. 1, Courtois was faultless throughout. He was called into action again seconds later when this time Matuidi provided the cross and Zlatan Ibrahimovic was just unable to get the required power behind his header. More spectacular was the Belgian’s stop in the 34th minute when he had to fling himself across his near-post to stop Cavani’s header creeping in.

Despite the home side having implemented their game plan more successfully, it was Chelsea that grabbed the lead with what was their only chance and only shot on target in the entire 90 minutes. The manner of it was far from expected. After a half-cleared free-kick, John Terry put a poor, low cross back into the box that Gary Cahill stylishly flicked on and Ivanovic escaped Maxwell to head in from six yards. While the set up couldn’t have been foreseen, the scorer was far from out of the ordinary. It was Ivanovic’s third goal in his last five appearances, and continued his habit of finding the net on the big occasion.

Unlike his previous two goals, however, it wasn’t to be the winner. PSG struggled to change from reactive to proactive for the remainder of the opening half, but came out full of purpose in the second. And within nine minutes they were level. Chelsea’s defending broke down, first to allow Willian to be left two-on-one down the flank, and then from Matuidi’s quality cross in, Cavani got in between Cahill and Terry to head down and past Courtois.

It could have been so much more. Ibrahimovic produced his best moment of the match to take the ball past Cahill and fire a low shot at goal. Although Courtois made a smart save, the rebound looked certain to be converted by Ezequiel Lavezzi, only for his effort to deflect off Terry and then bounce to safety off the leg of Azpilicueta. More chances were to come, the best of which fell to Cavani, but after doing so well to create the opening the Uruguayan forward poked wide of the far post.

Chelsea can count themselves somewhat fortunate to be leaving the French capital with a draw and an away goal. But back at Stamford Bridge, where they have been considerably stronger this season, and with Diego Costa, who looked rusty after serving a three-match domestic suspension, likely to be much sharper, Chelsea will be confident of making the last eight.