Chelsea Limp Out of Champions League After Home Loss to Paris Saint-Germain

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Updated: March 11, 2016

When the final whistle blew at Stamford Bridge Tuesday night, there was a collective anguish shared by the Chelsea faithful within the stadium and without.  None more so than John Terry, who sustained a hamstring injury just three days before the 1st leg tie in Paris during Chelsea’s biggest win of the season, a 5-1 trouncing of Newcastle United.  For Terry, these fixtures may well have been the last Champions League matches of his career – and he didn’t play a minute in either leg.

However, he wasn’t the only anonymous player in a Chelsea shirt.  Eden Hazard has borne the brunt of much fan frustration this season, and last night’s performance didn’t help his cause.  The Belgian has cut a disinterested figure for months and his display at home, against a club who he recently suggested could tempt him to sign, was the last straw for some.

But to place the blame solely on the shoulders of Hazard would be silly.  Several Chelsea players were sub-par yesterday, yet the most glaring weaknesses were not individual but collective.  The spirit shown during the unbeaten league run did not translate to the midweek European fixture.  Most dispiriting was not the quality on display – there was plenty – but, rather, the lack of mettle when it was needed most.

Recap

The first half was a cagey affair, and many home fans were murmuring with uncertainty while watching the Parisian side boss the majority of the possession.  Laurent Blanc’s men weren’t indecisive on the ball, either.  Whether it was Di Maria’s passing, Lucas’ penetrating dribbles or Ibrahimovic’s holdup play, Chelsea were second best to everything.  Despite efforts to absorb pressure, the Blues’s attempts to trap or dispossess PSG players left them repeatedly exposed to cutting balls in behind.

Guus Hiddink’s decision to start Kenedy was controversial, especially considering he had a fully able left back in Baba Rahman on the bench, and it may have been the wrong call considering the opposition’s attacking threat.  This proved to be the case not five minutes into the match.  Di Maria ran onto a through ball behind the back four after Lucas drew three Chelsea players before intelligently caressing a pass into space for his teammate.  Luckily for Courtois, who was caught out, the Argentinian’s shot was off target and Ivanovic cleared.

This proved to be a microcosm for long stretches of the fixture, during which PSG would press and prod, looking for a weakness in their opposition.  Assumedly under instruction from Hiddink, Chelsea would allow a pass into space, looking to trap when possible but, above all, corral the ball to where more defenders could help out.  However, Azpilicueta and Kenedy were repeatedly forced out of position by one touch combination play between the PSG fullback and midfielders who often outnumbered the Blues both in the middle of the park and on the wings.

This was a strategy Blanc had employed in the previous fixture in Paris, and it’s the same sort of move that resulted in Cavani’s crucial second goal.  This time it was Rabiot who managed to slip to the back post untracked and tap-in Ibrahimovic’s pinpoint cross.  But it should never even have arrived. Ivanovic and Kenedy both stepped up to stop the same ball, leaving Ibrahimovic alone with plenty of space to run into.  The big Swede had ages to pick a pass and, somehow, the lanky figure of Rabiot went unnoticed from the top of the box to the goal-line.

To their credit, Chelsea responded quite well, maintaining long spells of possession and testing the PSG back line.  The home side had particular success in jumping on errant passes out of the defense, or from goalkeeper Kevin Trapp.  Often, Pedro and Willian managed to force a poor pass or first touch, only to see the rest of their teammates in a half-press.  It seemed, for the first half of the opening 45 minutes, that Chelsea were far to wary of their visitors.

Hiddink, too, saw this cautious approach and lamented it post-match. “We gave them too much respect in the opening 10 minutes,” said the Dutchman.

Chelsea ended the first half positively, and carried their momentum into the second, the opening minutes of which they dominated with calculated possession and efforts on goal which troubled Kevin Trapp and had the home fans’ hearts in their mouths.  Willian and Hazard were each denied in quick succession by Trapp and, had they scored then, the Blues would have been in the driver’s seat.

But it was not to be.

In an almost carbon copy of the first goal, Azpilicueta and Fàbregas’s momentary lapse in concentration allowed Di Maria to run in behind and play an inch-perfect ball to Ibrahimovic for a tap-in.  Frustratingly enough, Chelsea should have recognized the danger of the off-the-ball run without a problem, and Azpilicueta is rarely the defender whose individual error costs the team a goal.

Diego Costa was forced off with an injury, and Eden Hazard decided a niggling pain he had been dealing with for much of the match had become too much of a hindrance to continue.  Costa’s departure in particular signaled a major let off for the Blues.  His passion and intensity were no longer enough to buoy his teammates, who seemed resigned to their fate.

What’s Next

Chelsea may have played their last Champions League match for the next few seasons, as their dismal league form will see them unable to qualify for the prestigious tournament.  Even the Europa League might be a stretch for Hiddink’s men.  However, the FA Cup, on offer this Saturday, features the Blues against Everton in a crucial match on Merseyside.  If Chelsea want a chance at winning any silverware this season, it’s in this competition that they will have to succeed.

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