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PSG's direct attacks halts Mourinho's Cautious Chelsea

By Tyrrell Meertins     Feb 17, 2015 in Sports
Jose Mourinho looked quite disinterested when he proudly boasted about his side’s evolution ahead of Chelsea’s showdown with PSG in last night’s pre-match press conference.
“We have changed a bit some players and the identity of our game. We have changed the profile. I don't want to say if Chelsea are better or worse than last season but, tomorrow, Parc des Princes will see a different Chelsea to last year,” Mourinho said.
Although there was no difference in Chelsea’s play in comparison to last year’s trip to Parc des Princes, it was interesting to see PSG adopt a similar approach. The French club currently sits in third place in their domestic league, and their issues breaking down inferior opposition could explain their initial caution.
Both sides operated in a 4-3-3 that transitioned into a 4-5-1 without the ball, but their motives were quite contrasting. While PSG’s lack of incisiveness in the final third feasibly correlated with their vigilance, the fear of being blitzed on the counter by the likes of Eden Hazard and Diego Costa likely crossed Laurent Blanc’s mind.
Yet, in that respect, PSG were well equipped to cope with Chelsea’s firepower. Diego Costa, who perhaps showcased signs of rust from a three-match domestic ban, was contained by Marquinhos and Thiago Silva, while proactive man marking from Gregory Van der Wiel and Maxwell saw Hazard fouled a match-high nine times. PSG’s lack of pressure of the ball enabled Chelsea to dominate possession, but more importantly, their shape stifled the attacking players. Ramires and Nemanja Matic operated in deep positions, while Cesc Fabregas, Willian, and Hazard’s attempt to receive the ball in central areas was negated by PSG’s midfield trio.
Chelsea, on the other hand, were rarely tested when the home side monopolized possession, and apart from Blaise Matuidi's running, PSG lacked a link between midfield and attack. In the early stages, Nemanja Matic pressed Marco Verratti when he picked up the ball, Ramires tracked Matuidi, and Cesc Fabregas was responsible for David Luiz. But as the match progressed, PSG’s midfield trio dropped into pockets of space in deeper positions to retain possession. Ultimately, Chelsea remained untested due to PSG’s non-existent penetration, but it appeared that Oscar’s energy and tactical discipline might have amended an ineffective attempt to break on the counter.
Perhaps Mourinho didn’t fear PSG’s threat on the counter as the their XI lacked natural pace in attacking areas, but the French side still stormed into threatening positions –– including an excellent move between Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Lavezzi that led to an impressive second half Thibaut Courtois kick save. Likewise, Matuidi constantly surged past Ramires down the left, creating a match high four goal scoring chances, and Edinson Cavani’s equalizer. Ramires offers an element of dynamism and running in the Chelsea midfield, but here, he was second best against the powerful Matuidi.
However, while Chelsea’s goal showcased great work from three Chelsea defenders, Cavani’s equalizer stemmed from two areas the French side aimed to exploit throughout: Matuidi’s powerful running into the left channel and isolating Cesar Azpilicueta. It was evident Blanc instructed his centre forwards to isolate Azpilicueta in the early stages but Maxwell and Gregory van der Wiel’s crossing was underwhelming.
Nonetheless, the Argentine drifted behind the Chelsea left back when Matuidi’s header forced Courtois into a save in the first half, while Ibrahimovic towered over the Spaniard shortly afterwards to test the Belgian. Cavani’s equalizer saw Matuidi overload the left flank –– where Ramires was equally guilty for allowing Matuidi space to deliver two good crosses into the box that led to a quality chance and the goal –– whilst Ibrahimovic’s presence on the right attracted John Terry to the French striker, thus enabling the Uruguayan enough space to freely nod the ball past Courtois. Lastly, Ibrahimovic nearly edged a winner in stoppage time when he beat Azpilicueta to Maxwell’s cross, but more heroics from Courtois preserved a draw.
At 1-1, PSG grew in confidence due to improved pressing, thus pegging Mourinho’s side into their half. Chelsea dropped into two banks of four with Costa moving deeper to press Verratti, and Fabregas attempting to close down Luiz. Additional caution from Mourinho –– which led to Chelsea adopting a low block –– and a reinvigorated PSG second half performance shifted the momentum of the match, but the Portuguese manager was punished for failing to fix the issues his side sporadically encountered in the opening half.
Surely Mourinho will be pleased with the result –– considering his side nicked an away goal, along with the high possibility of progression –– but this was another high profile match where the Blues failed to cope with direct play in wide areas.
Though Chelsea’s growth over the past 12 months is distinct, the jury is still out on whether they can make the final jump amongst Europe’s elite, and the return leg at Stamford Bridge in three weeks provides Mourinho’s side the ideal platform to make a statement.
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