Chelsea failed to impress away at Paris Saint-Germain in their Champions League round of 16 first leg at the Parc des Princes on Tuesday, but survived a second half barrage from their hosts to draw 1-1. The result means they head into the return fixture with an away goal advantage, though José Mourinho will no doubt be looking for an improved performance.
The game got off to a cagey start, and save for a couple of comfortable Thibaut Courtois saves on headers from Blaise Matuidi and Zlatan Ibrahimović, the first half-hour saw nothing in the way of goalmouth action. Both sides sat deep and compact in midfield, and the resultant lack of space ensured the game was played at a rather pedestrian tempo.
However, inside the final 10 minutes of the first half, it sprung to life. Only a fine near-post stop from Courtois prevented PSG's midfield anchorman David Luiz from heading Ezequiel Lavezzi's corner home, and the hosts looked to be turning up the heat.
But it was just as PSG looked increasingly threatening that Chelsea managed to nick the opening goal. It came in a rather bizarre turn of events: John Terry's poor low cross was flicked on by his centre-back partner Gary Cahill with the uncharacteristic deftness of a silky playmaker, allowing Branislav Ivanović to pop up unmarked at the far post and power the visitors in front.
The opener threatened to derail PSG's gameplan, with Laurent Blanc's side having looked most dangerous in the first half when on the counter-attack. After all, with the advantage and an away goal, Chelsea had no reason to risk leaving any space for the Parisians to exploit on the break.
But fortunately for the home crowd, PSG did manage to adapt, and started to enjoy a sustained spell of pressure for the first time in the match. 10 minutes into the second half their dominance told, when some astonishingly bad marking from Chelsea allowed Edinson Cavani to ghost into the area and power Matuidi's cross into Courtois' top corner for 1-1.
Buoyed by the equaliser, PSG poured forward, and almost netted twice in quick succession when Ibrahimović danced past Willian and through on goal, only to be denied by the leg of Courtois. The rebound fell kindly for Lavezzi, though César Azpilicueta and Terry combined to make a crucial block with their goalkeeper stranded.
Chelsea looked rattled, and inside the final 10 minutes they allowed the hosts to carve out yet another clear-cut chance. This time it was all the work of the impressive Cavani, who dribbled past a handful of yellow shirts, only to curl a low shot just wide wide of the far post from a narrow angle.
The final chance of the game was again PSG's, and it came with just seconds left on the clock. A deep cross from the left was deflected into the path of Ibrahimović, whose header bounced off the turf and up awkwardly towards goal, though Courtois made a crucial punch to ensure Chelsea head into the return leg with an away goal advantage.
Paris Saint-Germain: Sirigu; Maxwell, Thiago Silva, Marquinhos, van der Wiel; Matuidi, David Luiz, Verratti; Lavezzi (Pastore 81'), Ibrahimović, Cavani.
Goals: Cavani (54').
Chelsea: Courtois; Azpilicueta, Terry, Cahill, Ivanović; Matić, Ramires; Hazard, Fàbregas (Oscar 83'), Willian (Cuadrado 79'); Diego Costa (Rémy 81').
Goals: Ivanović (36').
1. PSG made the most of their width
Throughout most of Laurent Blanc's tenure, PSG have been pretty predictable on the ball. Unlike Chelsea, whose attacking midfielders rotate to try and drag defenders out of position, the Parisians are rather more static in their approach play.
But what they lack in predictability, today they made up in effectiveness. The industriousness of Blaise Matuidi, the central drifting of Edinson Cavani and the support running of full-back Maxwell ensured they were able to effectively overload Chelsea's right-back zone, where Branislav Ivanović often leaves ample space to be attacked. It was no surprise their goal came from this flank. On the other side, Gregory van der Wiel's tireless running kept César Azpilicueta on guard, and almost created a goal in the first half.
PSG are predictable in their width, but today Chelsea struggled for an answer.
2. Chelsea didn't look themselves
Football teams have a funny tendency to reflect the personalities of their managers; for Chelsea, this phenomena is particularly apparent. Just like José Mourinho, they're at once charming and frightening; one imagines that like Chelsea, Mourinho would kill you with a wink.
But in today's match, Chelsea were uncharacteristically rattled. Not only did they invariably struggle to find a route through a pretty shaky defence, but after conceding the equaliser in the second half, all urgency seemed to drain from their play. They lost their defensive structure, and were lucky to avoid going behind. They didn't look themselves, and will need to improve for the second leg.
3. David Luiz was supreme
David Luiz has come in for much criticism for being a defender that can't defend. Today, he emphatically proved that wrong. Deployed in a defensive midfield role, he was supreme against his former club, gobbling up everything and everyone who entered into his zone of the pitch. He did a crucial job, and it was thanks to him that PSG were able to look so comfortable for such a large portion of the match.