Belfast Telegraph

Paris St Germain land first blow but a huge test awaits Chelsea at the Bridge

By Jack Pitt-Brooke

Having lost the battle at Parc des Princes, Chelsea did enough last night to suggest that they can win the war with Paris Saint-Germain when the French kings visit Stamford Bridge for the second leg of their Champions League tie next month.

Laurent Blanc's side hold the edge, but Chelsea's away goal could prove crucial as we reflect on five key observations from last night's encounter:

Mikel scores at both ends but gives Chelsea foothold

John Obi Mikel has made his career at Chelsea shutting down games, keeping the ball, making sure that no goals are scored. That is why so many Chelsea managers have used him over his long Stamford Bridge career. So his was a rather unusual contribution, as he made goals at both ends at the end of the first-half.

Mikel could not have been more obliging with PSG's opener. First he gave away a free-kick by tripping Lucas Moura. When Zlatan Ibrahimovic took it, Mikel, turned his back and deflected the ball past Thibaut Courtois.

But six minutes later he scored his sixth goal in more than a decade at the Blues, hacking a loose ball into the net after Diego Costa flicked on a corner.

Cahill steps in for Terry with assurance and bravery

This would have been a perfect night for John Terry, as Chelsea faced experienced opposition on a big stage, a game requiring all the nous and focus he has developed. But in his absence it was a big occasion for Gary Cahill, back in the centre of defence after a very difficult January on the bench.

Cahill gave a performance Terry would have been proud of, throwing himself in front of everything, winning challenges with Ibrahimovic and trying to block every PSG effort. Branislav Ivanovic moved alongside Cahill and played like he did four years ago, on the way to Chelsea's unlikely Champions League triumph. They survived as long as they could without Terry, though of course they will want the captain back for the second leg.

Willian once again shows his ability from box to box

For most of this season, Chelsea have used Cesc Fabregas or Oscar as No.10, behind Diego Costa. Jose Mourinho even opted for Eden Hazard there when he was trying to spark some form.

Last night, Guus Hiddink played Willian in the hole, and he was rewarded with another excellent all-round performance.

Willian cleaned up in front of his area and counter-attacked with pace. Had Costa finished more efficiently, Willian would have recorded an assist or two.

PSG do not have what it takes to win Champions League

PSG have excellent players and are cruising in Ligue 1, in which they are 24 points clear. But this game was a demonstration that they cannot quite hit the very highest level demanded of teams who want to win the Champions League. They had all the early pressure but could not blow Chelsea away.

When Chelsea dug in and tried to hit them on the break, PSG did look like they had not faced opponents like them for some time.

This is not to say that PSG are a bad side, they are very good. They will expect to go through, and perhaps reach the semis. But they do not quite have that top gear of the biggest teams.

Frustrating Cavani comes good at last for PSG

Edinson Cavani has not had an especially good time at PSG since they bought him for £50m from Napoli in 2013. When PSG played at Stamford Bridge in the quarter-final in 2014, he had a chance to knock the English side out which he blazed well over.

Demba Ba scored at the other end soon after, knocking PSG out. Cavani did not even start last night, and PSG look a more balanced team with Angel di Maria on the wing instead. But it was Cavani who made the difference, running in behind and finishing sharply.

He had a more efficient night, in fact, than Ibrahimovic. Whether this makes him a PSG hero again, wait and see.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph