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article imagePSG's patience overcomes Chelsea attempt to disrupt via pressing

By Tyrrell Meertins     Mar 10, 2016 in Sports
The two previous second leg encounters between Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain at Stamford Bridge featured dramatic late goals, but here, Laurent Blanc’s men showcased their superiority with relative ease.
Guus Hiddink’s Chelsea had to win the game, but the risk of pushing men forward meant the likelihood of being blitzed on the counter was high. The decision to persist with John Obi Mikel and Cesc Fabregas in midfield, and youngster, Kenedy, at left-back represented an adventurous Chelsea XI. PSG were also missing PSG dynamo Marco Verratti, forcing Blanc to turn to Adrien Rabiot in a fluid midfield trio.
Nonetheless, similar to the first leg in Paris, Chelsea were overwhelmed in the opening stages of the match by the away sides interchanging midfield trio, along with Angel Di Maria and Zlatan Ibrahimovic moving into deeper central positions to create overloads. Initially, Chelsea struggled in the midfield zone with Rabiot and Blaise Matuidi stepping forward to press the Mikel and Fabregas, which ultimately set the tone of the match.
PSG were proactive and aiming to stifle Chelsea in their own half, whereas the home side’s persistence to sit deeper enabled the French champions to dominate possession. Lucas Moura and Di Maria’s dribbling bypassed Fabregas in the opening 10 minutes, but apart from their mazy runs, PSG’s threat in the final third was limited due to their conservative possession within Chelsea’s half.
While many may have expected Blanc’s men to play on the counter, the away side simply bypassed the Chelsea defence with short intricate passing, rather than exploiting their sluggish centre-backs with balls into space for Di Maria and Lucas. PSG’s opener served as a fine example — with Di Maria in a central midfield zone, Rabiot’s forward run into the box saw Ibrahimovic dart into the right channel to receive the Argentine’s reverse ball, and deliver a sumptuous cross for the 20-year-old midfielder to convert.
"We gave too much respect in the first 10 minutes, they were dominating,” Hiddink told BT Sport.
“They are a good side but once we stepped up we had some chances. In the 67th minute it all changed. We had a good chance to score, then Diego Costa was injured. We knew he was not totally fit but he desperately wanted to play and scored a beautiful goal.”
Chelsea quickly responded to a well-worked PSG opener, as their desire to press the away side higher up the pitch when they aimed to play out the back provided problems for Blanc’s midfield. Ultimately Hiddink’s men should have started the match with this work-rate and dynamism that flustered the away side, and served as the Blues’ main attacking outlet.
Even in the early stages of the match, PSG’s insistence to pass their way out of tight positions placed them in danger — Rabiot’s second minute giveaway in the box led to Diego Costa forcing goalkeeper, Kevin Trapp, to make a save. The 20-year-old’s wayward passing in this situation presented Chelsea chances, but the Blues’ improved pressing also overwhelmed Thiago Motta, who encountered difficulties coping with Willian following Rabiot’s opener.
Willian, an excellent transitional ball carrier, ignited several Chelsea breaks, but some of the Blues’ promising moves concluded with poor final balls and finishes from Eden Hazard. Still, Chelsea were now positioning themselves in dangerous areas, and their equalizer followed this theme — Pedro dispossessed Motta, combined with Willian, and subsequently slid a pass into Costa, who gained a yard on Silva level the score-line.
Chelsea had gained ascendancy of the match during the second phase of the first half by disrupting PSG’s rhythm in midfield, and quickly breaking towards the French side’s box. By half-time, every PSG player drifting into the midfield zone was guilty of conceding possession that led to a Chelsea counter-attack, which further highlighted that Blanc’s men had lost their way.
However, though the French champions displayed improved care in possession at the start of the second half, Chelsea continued to drive into key areas. First, Willian charged past Rabiot down the left channel and into half space — the 20-year-old was booked earlier when recovering in the same zone for a cynical foul on Costa — but the move witnessed two key blocks in the box. Then, Willian’s combination with Hazard on the same flank forced Trapp into a vital double save a minute prior to Ibrahimovic’s winner.
Ibrahimovic has been heavily criticized for his performances in monumental Champions League games, but his movement was pivotal in the buildup to both goals. Likewise, where the Swedish international was also the goal-scorer in the first leg, Di Maria’s productivity from deeper positions proved decisive.
Although Di Maria’s pass into Rabiot was over-hit, the ball fell to Motta who instantly played the Argentine into half-space, as he charged behind Cesar Azpilicueta. The Chelsea right-back was guilty of switching off, and Di Maria’s splendid cross towards Ibrahimovic put PSG ahead and left Chelsea with an insurmountable task of scoring three goals without Costa or Hazard, as both men departed due to injury.
“We were preparing for a tough match and we were right to do so,” Blanc said. “We didn't necessarily think we were able to put in such a good performance away from home, so that is very pleasing.”
“We controlled the game and that allowed us to have an easier night than we perhaps expected to.”
Therefore, the final stages of the second half was drab — PSG simply passed their way to full-time, whereas substitutes Bertrand Traore and Oscar didn’t muster up the required energy to help mount what would be a memorable comeback. Ibrahimovic’s goal ended the tie, but on the basis of two legs, Chelsea’s limitations were exploited by a better PSG side.
Nevertheless, it was a bold move from Blanc to instruct his team to dominate possession, opposed to playing on the counter in an away Champions League tie — yet it also highlights the club’s progress on their quest to attain European glory. They were undoubtedly the better side over two legs, but questions still arise as to whether they’re good enough to finally break into the aforementioned category.
More about PSG, Chelsea, uefa champions league, Ibrahimovic, RABIOT
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