Belfast Telegraph

Chelsea still have fighting chance as Mikel grabs lifeline against Paris St Germain

Paris Saint-Germain 2-1 Chelsea

By Mark Ogden

Guus Hiddink tasted defeat for the first time in his second incarnation as Chelsea interim-manager, 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 winner, four minutes after being introduced as a substitute by PSG coach Laurent Blanc, tilted the balance in favour of the French club ahead of the second leg at Stamford Bridge on March 9.

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 win, but John Obi Mikel's away goal gives Chelsea hope of overall victory.

For all the question marks over the quality of Ligue 1, PSG's domestic dominance ensured that they were confident due to the winning habit that has been developed.

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.

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

Chelsea, of course, are some distance south of the top four, 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 would 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.

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

Azpilicueta redeemed himself moments later by stopping Lucas Moura in his tracks. 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 for Diego Costa.

Despite a powerful header, Costa saw goalkeeper Kevin Trapp produce a stunning one-handed save.

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.

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 seeing the ball drop to Mikel, who buried his shot.

It could well prove a crucial strike for Chelsea.

But after the Blues began the second-half brightly, PSG started 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.

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, he opened up the Chelsea defence with a precision pass to Maxwell, whose cross into the centre was cut out.

PSG's attacking talent is without question and they poured forward.

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

But there was no stopping Cavani after he had been freed by Di Maria after 78 minutes. Chelsea can still come back from this defeat, though.

Belfast Telegraph

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