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article imageBlanc's PSG's diversed direct attacks overpower Hiddink's Chelsea

By Tyrrell Meertins     Feb 17, 2016 in Sports
Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain have experienced contrasting domestic campaigns and the pre-match notion suggested Laurent Blanc’s men were clear favourites, here.
Considering this was third consecutive knockout encounter between the two sides, there were very few surprises prior to kick-off — this was simply PSG’s possession dominance against Chelsea’s intent to break on the counterattack. Guus Hiddink’s Blues entered the fixture unbeaten since his arrival, with the Dutchman regaining confidence, unity, and an improved defensive structure.
However, PSG were exceptional in the opening 20 minutes, with all three midfielders dropping deep to receive possession and playing quick passes beyond the opposition. The midfield zone has been crucial in the previous encounters, and with the hosts possessing six technically gifted attackers the duo of Cesc Fabregas and John Obi Mikel were always likely to be overloaded.
The most interesting aspect of PSG’s attack featured the two wide players. Lucas Moura drifted into pockets of space from the left flank, while Angel Di Maria occasionally moved into deeper positions to serve as an additional passing outlet before scampering towards goal. Yet, when Zlatan Ibrahimovic dropped into midfield, they both aimed to break beyond Chelsea’s slow makeshift defence to receive the ball.
Nevertheless, Hiddink’s side were vulnerable from open play for majority of the first half. Gary Cahill and Branislav Ivanovic displayed moments of uncertainty when crosses were played into Ibrahimovic, Maxwell occasionally charged forward down the left, and Fabregas and Mikel were easily bypassed in central areas.
The buildup to Ibrahimovic’s free-kick opener perfectly displayed the Chelsea midfield’s susceptibility. Lucas moved into a deeper midfield zone to receive possession before easily evading Mikel and driving towards goal, which forced the Chelsea midfielder to commit a foul. Prior to Verratti recording the first shot on target in the opening two minutes, Lucas also stormed past Fabregas but slashed his effort wide.
On the other hand, Hiddink’s side gradually grew into the game due to the interchanging movement of the attacking quartet within the final third. Cesc Fabregas’ passing was integral in this respect, along with the quick incisive passes amongst the attacking players, which resulted in crosses played into the box from the left flank — Costa forced Kevin Trapp to make a stellar save, whereas Ivanovic fired his half chance into the side netting.
Mikel’s stoppage time equalizer provided Chelsea with a vital away goal, but also presented a nervy start to the second half. Courtois make two stellar saves to deny Di Maria and Ibrahimovic, while Willian ignited two swift counterattacks that nearly pushed the Blues ahead. Still, Blanc’s decision to instruct his wingers to swap flanks was positive.
My main regret is conceding the goal in the 45th minute. There was not long to go until half-time at 1-0, but we conceded a corner and the goal — it's the only regret I have," Blanc said.
With Pedro positioned closer to Costa than Azpilicueta, the Chelsea right-back faced several 2v1’s against Di Maria and Maxwell. One attack forced Pedro to cover for his compatriot to claim a well-weighted Di Maria chip pass into the left channel. Then, Courtois was quick off his line to deny Maxwell a shot on goal. Lucas continued his threat on the opposite flank, as he combined with Ibrahimovic again only to have his shot saved by Courtois.
Chelsea struggled to sustain possession throughout the second half, and apart from Willian quickly turning defence into attack, and a Baba Rahman attack that resulted in Lucas’ booking, Hiddink’s side were perplexed going forward. The Dutchman didn’t have many game changing players on the bench, but opted to replace Hazard — a legitimate counter-attack threat whom occasionally dribbled Chelsea forward — with Oscar who failed to convert a quality chance from Fabregas’ quick free-kick over the PSG high-line.
It appeared PSG’s initial approach was based around overloading the left and quickly seeking Ibrahimovic in the box, which was logical considering Marquinhos is a natural centre-back, and the questionable defending from Cahill and Ivanovic. Though, Blanc persisted with 4-3-3, the PSG manager’s decision to introduce Edinson Cavani for Lucas highlighted his awareness of the issue, whilst refusing to risk a possible dismissal.
Cavani represents a striker that offered PSG mobility upfront, an aerial threat, and the willingness to get behind the Chelsea back-line. Within minutes he scored the winner but the move epitomized PSG’s overall attack along with Chelsea’s frailties. Ibrahimovic dropped into midfield to receive the ball — shrugging off Fabregas’ pressure in the process — and played a short pass to Di Maria, who wasn’t closed down by Mikel and free to play a ball beyond the Chelsea defence for Cavani to finish.
"Of course the result is negative on one side but on the other hand it's also important to have an away goal," Hiddink told BT Sport Europe. "But it hurt a bit at the end because I think the team was playing very decently against a team which has a lot of capacity to play.
Both sides shared chances playing simple balls over the defence, which further typifies the substandard collective defending, but PSG finished the match the way they started it. Courtois’ heroics prevented a potential onslaught, but based on long spells of PSG’s dominance, it’s odd that a personnel change was required to earn the French side a victory.
Chelsea have progressed under Hiddink, but here, PSG’s star-studded options off the bench not only proved decisive, but served as a reminder as to how far the English club has declined.
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