It’s possible that the level of interest shown by the average Parisian in the city’s football team hit an all-time high yesterday.
Usually ambivalent at best – and outright hostile at worst – towards the fortunes of Paris Saint-Germain, the French capital was awash with rouge and bleu ahead of the Champions League quarter-final second leg at Chelsea; flags were flying, scarves were proudly on display, and replica shirts of various vintages were in abundance.
Unfortunately, PSG weren’t able to capitalise on this uncharacteristic show of goodwill, losing 2-0 and exiting the competition on away goals. Quelle merde.
“I didn’t think there was much between us in the two matches,” said Laurent Blanc afterwards. “But they were the team with more experience, they are used to playing in matches like this.”
That’s certainly one way to look at the tie, and given his track record – and large salary – you would back Blues boss Jose Mourinho to find a way to win in most situations. No doubt this match will go down as another Mou masterclass, with his substitutes Andre Schurlle and Demba Ba netting the goals that took Chelsea through.
But to reflect on the tie thus would ignore the fact that both teams employed tactics which involved little finesse and relied heavily on factors outside their control. For Chelsea, this meant throwing on two extra strikers (I know, according to Mourinho they don’t have any strikers, but humour me) and lumping the ball into the box in the hope that something would fall their way. Meanwhile, PSG spent the final quarter of the game camped on their own 18-yard line, whacking the ball to safety in the hope that they could hold out until the final whistle. So does the end result dictate that Blanc is a berk and Jose is a genius? Or did Mourinho – dubbed a Southern European Tony Pulis by the brilliant Barney Ronay – just get lucky? I guess we’ll never know and, ultimately, he would say it doesn’t really matter anyway.
What we can say is that Chelsea deserved their second leg victory, and that PSG could have done more to try and prevent their demise. They never really took control of a Chelsea midfield deprived of Matic, Ramires and then the injured Eden Hazard, who departed after 18 minutes with a muscle strain, and their overall possession count of 47 per cent was easily their lowest of the season. Then when Blanc made changes in the second half, they didn’t have the desired effect: though Cabaye was an improvement on the out-of-sorts Verratti, bringing on Pastore and Marquinhos for Lavezzi and Lucas stifled our already limited attacking options.
By then PSG were already a goal down. Having kept Chelsea at arms length for most of the first half an hour, they failed to deal with a long throw in from the right, and David Luiz was able to flick the ball into the path of Schurlle, who swept home from 14 yards.
The opening minutes of the second period saw Chelsea hit the bar twice in quick succession, through Schurlle’s powerful shot and Oscar’s free kick, but having breathed a collective sigh of relief, PSG went on to enjoy their best period of the match. Peter Cech did well to paw away a Lavezzi free kick, while a flurry of corners promised much but delivered little.
Then came Edinson Cavani’s big moment: set free by a lovely pass over the top from Cabaye, El Matador found himself in the clear, but blasted over the bar with Cech in his sights. Though the chance was perhaps not as easy as it looked at first glance, it’s still the kind of opportunity a €64million striker should be putting away with his eyes shut. The injured Zlatan watched on from the bench, head partially buried in his coat like an alligator lurking just under the water waiting for a passing hippo.
Sensing their chance, Chelsea went for broke in the closing stages, and the inevitable happened four minutes from time; Cesar Azpilecueta’s ball in took a double deflection and ran kindly for PSG fan Ba, who scooped a shot over the exposed Sirigu. Game over.
So ends PSG’s second post-QSI Champions League campaign, one which, like its predecessor, has been curtailed at the quarter-final stage. Given that we’ve arguably faced inferior opposition this time around, it’s perhaps disappointing that we haven’t managed to go one better than last year, but on the other hand the team’s transition to the big European stage has been a lot smoother than that experienced by our petro-dollar chums from Manchester City.
Certainly there’s something to build on for next season, but for now there are domestic matters to take care of in the Coupe de la Ligue and Ligue 1. Who fancies a double?