Belfast Telegraph

Blasted Eden Hazard backed as Chelsea fans get shirty

By Matt McGeehan

Branislav Ivanovic defended Eden Hazard after the Chelsea playmaker was booed off and made a half-time shirt swap in the Champions League exit to Paris St Germain.

The Blues were eliminated at the last-16 stage by PSG for a second straight season, falling to a 2-1 second-leg loss at Stamford Bridge and a 4-2 aggregate defeat on Wednesday night.

Hazard swapped shirts with Angel Di Maria as the players left the field at the interval and was booed by some Chelsea supporters when he was substituted 13 minutes from time.

The 25-year-old was Chelsea's leading performer last term, but has been underwhelming this season and refused to rule out a summer switch to PSG on the eve of the first leg last month.

Chelsea interim boss Guus Hiddink afterwards revealed Hazard had a hip problem and Ivanovic believes the Belgian showed his commitment to the cause by playing.

"It's not an excuse, but people have to think about the fact he started the game injured," Ivanovic said in the Evening Standard.

"Did that show how committed he is? Yes. Of course when you lose a game the fans are not happy and they have to be like that.

"But in my opinion it was one of his best performances so far. He was very strong and quick. He wanted to score and had a couple of actions where he looked like last season."

Next season appears almost certain to be Chelsea's first without Champions League football under the ownership of Roman Abramovich, who took over in 2003. Their most recent season without top-level European competition was in 2002-03, when they played in the Uefa Cup.

Chelsea are well adrift of qualifying through the Premier League - the Blues are 10th, 10 points behind fourth-placed Manchester City, with nine games remaining - 10 months after winning the title.

The immediate focus now is tomorrow's FA Cup quarter-final at Everton.

Gary Cahill said: "We need to refocus as we have one big chance to do something this season and the first hurdle is at the weekend."

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