PSG vs Chelsea match report: Cavani and Ibrahimovic give PSG advantage, but Mikel goal could prove crucial

PSG 2 Chelsea 1: Ibrahimovic opened the scored before Mikel equalised from a corner, only for Cavani to put PSG back in command of the Champions League last-16 tie

Guus Hiddink tasted defeat for the first time in his second incarnation as Chelsea interim manager last night, but despite the dominance of Paris Saint-Germain and the brilliance of Angel Di Maria, the Premier League champions are down, but not out, of this Champions League last-16 tie.

Edinson Cavani’s winning goal, four minutes after being introduced as a substitute by the PSG coach, Laurent Blanc, tilted the balance in favour of the French club ahead of the second leg at Stamford Bridge on 9 March.

But it could have been much worse for Chelsea had the wizardry of Di Maria reaped a greater dividend for the hosts, who proved they are more than merely domestic flat-track bullies.

Cavani’s clinical finish on 78 minutes from Di Maria’s sublime pass secured a deserved victory for PSG, but John Obi Mikel’s away goal gives Chelsea hope of overall victory.

For all of the question marks over the quality of Ligue 1, PSG’s domestic dominance ensured they were supremely confident owing to the winning habit that has been developed by Blanc’s players.

Success breeds success and PSG have become accustomed to cruising past opponents in France, so much so that their only defeat in any competition this season came against Real Madrid in the Bernabeu.

The French champions also went into this game having not lost at home since Barcelona triumphed at the Parc des Princes in last season’s Champions League quarter-final, so the magnitude of Chelsea’s challenge was clear.

PSG may lack a genuine domestic rival – Monaco are second in Ligue 1, 24 points adrift of Blanc’s team – but it is difficult to imagine their squad struggling to sit comfortably in the top four of the Premier League.

Chelsea are some distance south of the top four, having delivered the poorest defence of a league title since Leeds United in 1992-93, but their revival under Hiddink gave them a puncher’s chance of testing the true strength of PSG’s jaw.

Memories of last season’s dramatic round of 16 triumph over Chelsea will have bolstered PSG’s belief, but they also knew that this would be the first genuine test of their quality since the group stage encounters against Real.

And having lost just one of their last 37 European games on home turf, PSG started like a team accustomed to going in for the kill.

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Inside three minutes, midfielder Marco Verratti tried his luck from 25 yards and the Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois was fortunate that no PSG forward was close enough to convert the loose ball from his unconvincing parried save.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic sent a 30-yard free-kick over the Chelsea bar before Blaise Matuidi and Maxwell combined to leave Cesar Azpilicueta exposed down the left as Hiddink’s team struggled to keep their head above water in the early stages.

Azpilicueta redeemed himself moments later by stopping Lucas Moura in his tracks as the Brazilian winger powered towards goal and the Spaniard’s interception lifted Chelsea, perhaps only because of the defiance shown in claiming the ball.

But it was not until midway through the first half that the London club were able to build a sustained period of possession inside PSG territory.

Chelsea made it count, however, with the ball being played across the pitch and into Baba Rahman on the left flank, before the full-back delivered a perfect cross for Diego Costa.

Despite producing a powerful header, Costa saw goalkeeper Kevin Trapp produce a stunning one-handed save to push the ball on to the bar, just as the Chelsea forward appeared set to end a Champions League goal drought that had hit 501 minutes by the time he connected with the cross.

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Chelsea midfielder John Obi Mikel is congratulated on his goal

It was a rare attacking foray by Chelsea, though, with PSG retaining the upper hand, and the breakthrough came on 39 minutes when Ibrahimovic scored from a free-kick following a foul by Mikel. Ibrahimovic struck his shot low and a heavy deflection off Mikel in the wall left Courtois helpless as the ball diverted into the opposite corner to which the Belgian keeper was diving.

But Chelsea were thrown a lifeline with the last kick of the first half when the same players, Ibrahimovic and Mikel, combined once again, this time with the Swede’s fluffed header from Willian’s corner letting the ball drop to Mikel, who buried his shot from six yards to level the tie.

It could well prove a crucial strike for Chelsea, and Blanc knew the significance, to judge  by his exasperated reaction on the touchline, with the coach kicking the air in frustration as the teams left the field for half-time.

But after Chelsea had started the second half brightly, with Costa once again denied by Trapp after being released by Willian’s fine pass, PSG began to turn the screw.

Di Maria led the charge. The Argentine, who arrived in Paris last August following a disastrous season at Manchester United as a £59.7m flop, was a constant menace in Chelsea’s defensive third, flitting from wide left to the centre of the pitch and testing the visitors whenever he received the ball.

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On 51 minutes, Di Maria forced a fingertip save from Courtois with a dipping  25-yard shot and, after the goalkeeper had saved from Ibrahimovic, the former Real Madrid winger opened up the Chelsea defence with a precision pass to Maxwell, whose cross into the centre was cut out by the sliding Gary Cahill.

Chelsea held firm, though, and Courtois once again rescued his team on the hour when he smothered a close-range effort from Moura.

PSG’s attacking talent is without question and they poured forward in search of a second.

 

Cahill and Branislav Ivanovic combined to block a Matuidi shot on 64 minutes before Courtois tipped over a Di Maria free-kick three minutes later.

But there was no stopping Cavani after he had been freed by Di Maria in a tight position on the edge of the six-yard box after 78 minutes. It was a tough chance, but the Uruguayan held his nerve to shoot past Courtois.

Chelsea can still come back from this defeat, though.

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