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Chelsea’s adventure in Europe came to a somewhat inglorious end on Wednesday night when the Blues lost 2-1 (4-2 on aggregate) to Paris Saint-Germain at Stamford Bridge in a match they needed to win to stand any chance of progressing.
There were several sub-plots in the game and here’s what we learned from the clash in west London…
ANNUS HORRIBILIS FOR ENGLISH FOOTBALL
Chelsea’s loss is symptomatic of the not too impressive performances of England’s representatives in Europe’s top competition this season which can, at best, be described as horrible.
Of the four Premier League teams to compete in the group stages, only Manchester City qualified with a game to spare. Chelsea picked top spot in Group G with victory on Matchday 6 with a victory over FC Porto while Arsenal crawled through in second place behind Bayern in Group F with a last gasp effort. Manchester United failed to go through in a group which had Wolfsburg, PSV Eindhoven and CSKA Moscow.
With Chelsea out and Arsenal going to Barcelona next Wednesday with a two-goal deficit from the first leg, it is safe to assume that only Man City, with a 3-1 advantage from their first leg game at Dynamo Kyiv, are assured of making it to the quarter-finals.
From a league that consistently had three teams in the last four couple of years back, this is nothing short of tragic.
BLANC OUT-THOUGHT AND OUT-PLAYED HIDDINK
Chelsea went into the game with a 2-1 deficit yet the grain of wisdom was that Guus Hiddink, in the Chelsea dug-out, had enough ammunition in his box of tricks to overturn the result and see the Blue through. Afterall, Chelsea had walked this same rope before when they came back from a 3-1 loss in Paris to win 2-0 and qualify.
True to expectations, despite starting tentatively, Chelsea put PSG under plenty of pressure by pushing up high and nicking the ball off Thiago Motta and Adrien Rabiot on multiple occasions, giving the three attackers supporting Diego Costa enough room to roam as they hunted in packs and harried the Parisiens off the ball.
Laurent Blanc, who had said at a pre-match news conference that he knew how Chelsea would set up their game but that he was ready for them, came good on his promise. He deployed Rabiott, Thiago Motta and Blaise Matuidi in the middle to counter Chelsea’s free run of the page and, as a stroke of genius, asked Angel Di Maria to sit at the tip of this midfield formation. Lucas Moura and Zlatan Ibrahimovic were allowed to interchange places and run down each flank as the occasion demanded.
Chelsea’s wing-backs were fully milked as PSG played the better-controlled game all night long. Although Blanc was probably in diapers when Hiddink started coaching, on this night it was the younger man who had the last laugh.
DI MARIA WAS A MONSTER
Whatever plans Blanc had before the game, he needed a player to help transmit it on the pitch and, luckily, he got that in Angel Di Maria. The Argentine was near perfect on the day and was the pivot upon which the team revolved.
Barely 10 minutes into the game, I’d tweeted thusly: “Until Chelsea find a way to neutralise Di Maria, they’ll continue to play catch-up. PSG game revolves around the No11. Deal with him.”
Unfortunately, Chelsea did not deal appropriately with Di Maria. At the end of the game, Ex-England international and newspaper columnist Jamie Redknapp had this to say: “I wonder what Manchester United fans would give to have Angel di Maria playing for them now in this form. I have no idea how he failed so badly at Old Trafford under Louis van Gaal when he’s capable of that pinpoint cross for Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s late winner. What a player!”
Those two comments summed up his performance and the result was Chelsea’s elimination from the competition.
DEFEAT WAS COSTLY FOR CHELSEA
Diego Costa proved once again that, tantrum aside, he’s one of the game’s most fearsome players and when in the type of form he showed on Wednesday night, he is unplayable as he held the ball up intelligently and played his teammates in while giving the PSG centre-backs untold grief.
He did this for all of one hour, getting a well-taken poacher’s goal, until he pulled up with a suspected hamstring and had to limp off to be replaced by Bertrand Traore. Such was his influence that you could practically hear everyone on the PSG bench as well as some section of the away crowd heave a sigh of relief.
Add his injury to that of Eden Hazard who asked to be replaced and John Terry as well as Kurt Zouma and you can begin to estimate the price Chelsea had to pay for that defeat. Perhaps it would have been a bit bearable if they’d won but they didn’t.
ZLATAN’S EURO DREAM KEPT ALIVE
Zlatan Ibrahimovic set up PSG’s opener and scored the second to show he is very much still at the top of his powers and to also continue his quest for the elusive Champions League winners medal.
Zlatan has played for some of Europe’s biggest teams from Ajax to Inter Milan, Juventus, AC Milan, Barcelona and now PSG yet it is one trophy in club football he would gladly kill to have.
And in the week in which he was remonstrated by his former teammates including Nigeria’s Taye Taiwo (they played together at AC Milan) who dubbed his ambition “obsessive”, the Swede did well to show a single-minded pursuit of his goal.
HAZARD NOT SHOWING DESIRE
What we also learnt from Hazard, apart from his bizarre exchange of shirts with Di Maria as they walked off the pitch at half-time, was his barely concealed body language which showed that whilst he might physically be on Chelsea’s roaster, his soul has departed Stamford Bridge for pastures new. Then factor in the fact that he was caught on camera signaling to the bench to substitute him.
Remember the same Hazard’s comments about it being “hard to say no to PSG” if they came calling and his eagerness to claim their shirt even with the game yet to be decided and you’re not far off if you think the Belgian is already sending subtle come-get-me pleas to suitors.
FA CUP MUST WIN TO GET BACK INTO EUROPE
Chelsea are set to miss European football next season for the first time in 14 years after their ouster and the only way left for the Blues to get back into Europe will be if they win the English FA Cup, the quarter-final tie of which they’re billed to play against Everton at Goodison Park.
If they fail to win the FA Cup, then Blues fans are guaranteed to be engaged in other ventures on Eurpean midweek nights when the UEFA anthem would be heard from the Emirates to White Hart Lane and, possibly, West Ham’s Olympic Stadium. It sure would be a strange feeling.
TERRY WAS SORELY MISSED
Television cameras continuously panned onto the face of John Terry where he sat in the stands recuperating from injury and probably wondering what would have been if he had passed a late fitness test to play the game.
The Chelsea defence showed an acute absence of a leader who could rally the troop as PSG time and again picked holes in their wall and made the game appear easier than it was. You can’t help but think that if the injured captain had been on the pitch that both Rabiot and Zlatan would not have been able to wander aimlessly onto loose balls which found them unmarked at the back post to tap in.
Probably Terry’s last opportunity to win the competition with Chelsea after announcing he would be leaving at the end of the season but he showed how much his shoes would be difficult to fill by whoever is coming in during the summer.
THERE’S STILL SOME FIGHT IN ZLAT’S OLD HORSE
At the age of 34, many would be forgiven to think Zlatan was washed up. On the back of what he did over two legs against Chelsea, he’s not. Far from it.
With just two months left on his PSG contract, you can expect the top clubs in the Premier League to come calling for him and offer huge sums of cash. He has done it in Italy, Spain and now France.
With Arsenal and Manchester United constantly being speculated as possible destinations, it is not impossible to think we could be seeing the Swedish international striker finish his career in England.
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