PSG 3 Chelsea 1 - comment: Champions League victory sees the Paris St Germain dream takes a step closer to reality
Paris has rarely been associated with the beautiful game, but that is changing
parc des princes
Thursday 03 April 2014
There are many reasons people choose to visit the French capital in their droves on an annual basis, but few would ever have expected a football team to be one of the main attractions on view.
Paris has rarely been associated with the beautiful game. National pride was restored when France lifted the World Cup here in 1998, yet when it comes to the club game it has largely been a forgotten city.
Before the dramatic takeover by Qatar Sports Investments in 2011, there had been some occasional highlights in Paris Saint-Germain’s history. A glorious period in the early to mid-Nineties saw regular duels with Europe’s elite as David Ginola’s gallic flair took on the likes of mighty Barcelona and won.
As Chelsea can testify, there is nothing like a wealthy benefactor to help change things around, and this Champions League quarter-final first leg provided a great opportunity to see exactly what progress has been made a few years into their “project”.
Last season PSG had good reason to be encouraged. They reached the last eight of the Champions League and only suffered defeat to Barcelona on the away goals rule.
However, even though the then manager Carlo Ancelotti led them to their first French title for 19 years, the style of football considering the wealth of talent on display left observers underwhelmed.
Eden Hazard converts from the spot to equalise for Chelsea Ancelotti was lured to Real Madrid and normally such a departure might threaten to bring a halt to momentum. Indeed, the appointment of the former France captain Laurent Blanc wasn’t greeted warmly. Given that the club’s new motto was to “dream bigger”, the lack of a world-class coach in the Jose Mourinho mould seemed an indication of a backward step.
Yet with the signing of players such as Edinson Cavani in the summer taking their total spending in the transfer market past the £300m barrier in under three years, the desire to excel was clear.
Even before kick-off here the marked improvement in forward play was clear. While Ancelotti’s reward for employing a counter-attacking style was a mere 69 goals in Ligue 1, Blanc’s more adventurous approach has seen them already find the net 71 times with seven games left.
David Luiz turns the ball into his own net It is why PSG already find themselves 13 points clear at the top and earning new admirers on a weekly basis. It’s not just domestically either, for only Real Madrid have scored more in the Champions League this term.
This was a proper test, though, against Chelsea players who have experienced winning the Champions League and the Europa League in the previous two years.
Talismanic striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic took centre stage in the build-up, not just because of his ability but due to a relationship with Mourinho from their time at Internazionale. “Why should we fear the Special One’s team when we have the only one,” was PSG’s confident pre-match assessment due to Ibrahimovic’s presence.
Setting up in Blanc’s preferred 4-3-3 formation, it was clear to see that the self-belief was justified. With the experienced Thiago Motta enjoying the presence of livewire midfielders Marco Verratti and Blaise Matuidi either side of him, the home side took control from the outset.
Chelsea have spent their fair share of millions too under Roman Abramovich, yet over a decade later they are still not associated with expansive play such as this.
They were being bypassed with ease. The movement of Ibrahimovic and fellow musketeers Ezequiel Lavezzi and Cavani was proving too much for reliable performers John Terry and Gary Cahill to handle. In a blur the visitors found themselves a goal down and already facing a major struggle to stay in the contest, let alone the tie.
The passing and speed of movement was a joy to behold. It was refreshing to see a side not change their aggressive style on the big occasion.
The one criticism aimed in PSG’s direction since the switch from Ancelotti’s conservatism to Blanc’s dynamism has been the price paid as far as their defending is concerned. While it’s admirable that full-backs Christophe Jallet and Maxwell are encouraged to push forward, it naturally leaves gaps for opponents to exploit, particularly ones as wily as Chelsea possess.
Centre-halves Thiago Silva and Alex are experienced and talented, but even they can get unnerved when Eden Hazard and Oscar are dribbling with menace toward the penalty area. And so it proved as Silva gifted Mourinho’s men a way back into the game with a rash challenge on Oscar and Hazard made no mistake from the penalty spot.
Chelsea’s attacks remained sporadic but every time they did come forward PSG looked uneasy and liable to concede another. Hardly an encouraging sign if they do progress next week because much more dangerous opponents will await them in the last four.
Still, thanks to a clumsy David Luiz own goal that prospect is a real possibility, though credit should go to man of the match Lavezzi for a sublime cross into the area.
Even the sight of Ibrahimovic limping off with a suspected hamstring strain, which surely makes him doubtful for the return at Stamford Bridge, couldn’t silence the excited roars of the crowd. No wonder as substitute Lucas Moura went on the kind of dazzling run that generates thousands of hits on YouTube.
Then Javier Pastore produced an even more devastating dribble just before the whistle to establish a crucial two-goal advantage.
PSG may still be a work in progress but on this evidence their dreams do look a step closer to turning into reality.
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