Paris Saint-Germain started fast and finished strong, overcoming a Chelsea fightback to earn a 2-1 win in London to win their Champions League round of 16 tie with a 4-2 aggregate scoreline. A goal from Zlatan Ibrahimović was the final blow, and he and PSG were simply too much for Chelsea to overcome on the night.
Chelsea did their best to build early momentum, but a sixth-minute goal called out for offside from Zaltan Ibrahimović would prove ominous to the English team's chances. PSG would repeatedly stymie Chelsea's efforts to get forward, with their only shot in the opening minutes proving to be an easy save for Kevin Trapp.
In contrast, every time Paris Saint-Germain got forward it looked dangerous. Ibrahimović and company were regularly finding space to work with thanks to shaky defensive positioning from Cesc Fabregas and Gary Cahill. They frequently targeted young Chelsea left back Kenedy, who seemed perhaps overwhelmed by the occasion early on as he was making his first-ever Champions League start and only his fourth start in all competitions this season. That helped lead to PSG's opening goal, with Zlatan driving hard down Chelsea's left, catching Cahill and Kenedy out of position before rifling in a low cross that Adrien Rabiot turned in with ease at the far post.
That goal gave PSG a 3-1 aggregate lead, and more importantly, it wiped out Chelsea's hold of an away goal tiebreaker. It also seemed to wake the hosts up and got Chelsea rolling at last, with them surging forward much more effectively than they had earlier in the match.
That, plus a couple moments of sloppy defending from PSG, gave Chelsea the opening they needed to get a goal for themselves, with a poor giveaway in midfield from Thiago Motta leading to a rapid-fire Chelsea counter. David Luiz stepped up off the back line to try to cut out the attack, but never got into the position he needed to and then was slow getting back when his efforts failed. That gave Diego Costa the time and space he needed to find his shot before Thiago Silva could get over and mount a strong enough challenge, leveling the match's scoreline and bringing the aggregate to a tense 3-2 score.
There would be more scoring chances for both sides in the first half, but eventually their efforts to outdo one another ground to a halt and the halftime whistle blew shortly after.
The second half started as an open back-and-forth affair, with both sides battling each other in almost chess-like fashion. Paris Saint-Germain started attacking more heavily down Chelsea's right, so Chelsea countered by pulling John Obi Mikel further over to that side and pushing Fabregas and Kenedy up more aggressively up the other side of the pitch. PSG countered that by setting Rabiot higher up the pitch to more directly distribute to their attacking trio and be harder to predict, forcing Chelsea to reset their earlier adjustments. Chelsea countered that, then PSG countered that, then Chelsea, then PSG -- it was fascinating to watch the moves and counter-moves unfold.
An injury to Costa forced Chelsea to change their approach, bringing on youngster Bertrand Traore. That change saw Chelsea begin to struggle as they tried to adjust to Costa's absence, since his physical play had been key to keeping their attack moving. PSG were quick to take advantage, ramping up their pressure and knocking Chelsea further off-balance. That helped lead to a phenomenal pass from Motta -- who had previously been having a rough day in possession -- to a streaking Angel Di Maria, who gutted Chelsea's defense before centering the ball for Ibrahimović to hammer home.
That gave Pars Saint-Germain a 2-1 lead in the match and a 4-2 lead in the tie, as well as the away goals tiebreaker. That lead looked unassailable, with Chelsea having to score three times to win at that point. They needed to find another goal quickly with the clock winding down, but as the minutes ticked away it became clear that Chelsea were not coming back in this tie.
The result was well-deserved, with Paris Saint-Germain clearly outplaying Chelsea on a whole during the match, and for the tie as a whole. Them picking up a win against Chelsea in England is also huge, even despite Chelsea's struggles this season, and is a sign of just how far they've come this season. There are only a couple other teams left in the Champions League this season who are clearly and obviously better than PSG are right now, and we could be looking at a team who will finally make a deep and challenging run towards the Champions League final.
Chelsea: Thibaut Courtois; Cesar Azpilicueta, Gary Cahill, Branislav Ivanovic (c), Kenedy; John Obi Mikel, Cesc Fabregas; Pedro, Willian, Eden Hazard (Oscar 77'); Diego Costa (Bertrand Traore 60')
Goals: Costa (27')
Paris Saint-Germain: Kevin Trapp; Marquinhos, Thiago Silva, David Luiz, Maxwell; Thiago Motta, Adrien Rabiot, Blaise Matuidi (Gregory van der Wiel 87'); Angel Di María (Edinson Cavani 81'), Zlatan Ibrahimović, Lucas Moura (Javier Pastore 77')
Goals: Rabiot (16'), Ibrahimović (67')
Three things we learned
1. That was the best match of the round so far
Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain have had some wonderful matches against each other over the last few years, and this one was no exception. In fact, compared to the rest of the Champions League round of 16 so far, you could easily call it the most fun of the matches we've seen in the round. It had the perfect balance of supremely talented players doing excellent things mixed with hilarious miscues and genuinely wonderful tactical football. There wasn't a single dull moment all game long. Matches like this are something to treasure, because we don't get them anywhere near as often as we'd like to.
2. Don't blame Kevin Trapp for Chelsea's first goal
Many commentators (both professional and of the fan variety) have spoken out against Trapp for allowing Chelsea's opening goal. Could he have done better on it? Yes, probably. His positioning wasn't great, and his reaction was perhaps a beat slow. But Costa's shot doesn't even happen if there hadn't been a comedy of errors in front of him, from Rabiot's not-quite-on pass to get himself out of trouble, to Motta passing straight to Willian, to Luiz stepping up, going to the wrong place and then not bothering to hurry back to his place in defense, which Costa quickly took advantage of.
So yes, Trapp could have been better -- but he shouldn't have needed to be better.
3. Kenedy started rough, but quietly did well
There was a fair bit of pre-match discussion after the starting lineups were announced about Chelsea starting Kenedy at left back. They didn't have a ton of choice in the matter, with Baba Rahman in poor form and Azpilicueta having to play on the right thanks to the raft of injuries Chelsea are dealing with in central defense, but his inexperience and the quality of their opposition still made using Kenedy a risk.
And sure enough, the Brazilian started off the match in pretty rough fashion, with Kenedy being among the Chelsea players responsible for PSG's opening goal. But after that, he quietly had a solid match, doing well against the ever-dangerous Di Maria and Moura and even doing well going forward to support the attack. It wasn't a man of the match performance by any means, but Kenedy still did well to shake off that rough start and put in a good shift in a huge match for his team.