Paris Saint Germain's Champions League win over Chelsea indicates that sterling work in England no longer converts into strong European currency.
The away goals triumph may represent something of a breakthrough night for the French side – breathing new life into a project that looked to have lost a little direction.
The same could be said for besieged manager Laurent Blanc, with rumours circulating that his job could well have been on the line had the Parisians fallen in West London. In the end, it’s the Chelsea project that will come under the microscope.
More proof, if it were needed, that England's best sides are struggling to cope tactically on the big European nights.
PSG’s progress owed much to a palpable sense of belief – an ingredient missing the last time they travelled to Chelsea – and the exemplary way in which they executed their game plan. Blanc must take credit for both.
But his players also deserve high praise for the gutsy, composed and intelligent way in which they played despite the harsh dismissal of Zlatan Ibrahimovich on the half-hour. The Swede had been largely anonymous up to that point, but was unlucky that his first serious intervention was deemed to be worthy of a red card.
The key to this game lay in PSG’s efforts to detach and destabilise the defensive shield offered by Matic and Ramires in front of Terry and Cahill and exploit the ensuing space. Chelsea can be formidable in this area if they are allowed to be – but if that screen can be shifted, the two English centre halves can be exposed. Neither boasts serious pace, and neither is comfortable holding a high line.
PSG’s approach involved drawing Fabregas and Ramires to the ball then working on the spaces that appeared either side of Matic and between the centre halves and full backs.
Time and again, Verratti, Thiago Silva and Thiago Motta formed a tight passing triangle deep in their own half, tempting a Chelsea midfield press. And time and again, they moved the ball quickly and cleverly beyond that press and into the feet of the elusive Pastore and the hard-running Matuidi – both outstanding on the night – or into the path of the willing full backs Maxwell and the excellent Marquinhos.
The two Brazilians caused Chelsea constant problems in wide positions, taking advantage of the defensively work-shy Hazard and the undisciplined Oscar and Willian.
In a game that Chelsea simply could not control, Terry and Cahill enjoyed an uncomfortable evening – unsure whether to step up to try and maintain contact with Matic or hold their deeper positions. Both proved fraught with danger. Step up and Cavani and PSG’s full backs threatened in behind. Sit deep and Pastore revelled in the space afforded.
Impressively, PSG continued with their game plan even when they were reduced to ten men. And worryingly for Mourinho, Chelsea continually found themselves the victims of overloads in midfield and out wide, despite their numerical superiority.
PSG’s work rate was certainly a factor. But so too was Chelsea’s inability or unwillingness to match them, leaving the Special One to reflect on a midfield and forward line where each individual appeared to believe that he was the extra man.
And so with the final whistle, there was little doubt that the better side over the two legs was progressing. A massive night for PSG and their owners – as their side finally got the better of one of Europe’s recognised big guns and did so with a show of character and composure at odds with their disappointments in the knock-out stages in the last two seasons.
And Chelsea? Well, the impression still lingers that the Pensioners would most probably have gotten away with such a performance in the Premier League, where they and England’s other European failures simply get away with too much too often.
Mourinho often likes to cry conspiracy in defeat, but last night he was left with no such recourse as his side was simply out fought, out thought and out played.
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