They say the most important thing for the away side in any European tie is to silence the home crowd. Midway through the first half of Tuesday’s quarter-final second leg clash between Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain at Stamford Bridge, the only voices that could be heard were those of the visiting side’s supporters, who were responding to every touch the Ligue 1 champions were enjoying with a hearty ‘Ole!’. It was horribly premature – even without the benefit of hindsight – but it was also understandable. PSG were in complete control. It was almost too easy. There had been no storm to weather. Chelsea saw plenty of the ball in the opening 20 minutes but appeared utterly incapable of doing anything with it. Playing on the front foot looked predictably alien to Jose Mourinho’s counterattacking line-up. Furthermore, Eden Hazard had been forced off through injury, thus depriving Chelsea of their most creative and incisive attacking talent.
PSG could hardly believe their luck. They had vowed to attack. Now they did not even have to. Laurent Blanc’s men were free to do as they pleased in midfield. There was no pressure. So they switched off. But they had lulled themselves into a false sense of security and were deservedly punished for their complacency 32 minutes in when Andre Schurrle suddenly broke the deadlock with an exquisitely executed half-volley from a David Luiz flick-on.
PSG were rattled, instantly incapable of dealing with set-pieces. Gary Cahill fluffed a glorious chance to give Chelsea the edge in the tie when the ball dropped for him in the area after coming off the back of Edinson Cavani. Just moments before half-time, the latter was booked for failing to step away from a David Luiz free kick. In the space of 15 minutes, PSG had lost all control and composure. They never regained either.
Thiago Silva did his best to rally the troops with a spirited pep talk during a huddle just before the start of the second half, but the fear had taken hold. PSG dropped deeper and deeper. Blanc realised that this was no longer a game for a deep-lying playmaker like Marco Verratti, so the youngster was replaced by Yohan Cabaye, who, it was hoped, would drag his side forward.
But PSG had taken too many backward steps. It was too late to try to take the game to Chelsea. They did have one excellent chance to kill the tie when Cavani took a wonderful pass from Cabaye in his stride but the €64.5 million euro man blazed over the bar.
For the most part, though, it was all about survival for PSG. They were fortunate enough to see the bar twice come to their rescue, with Schurrle and Oscar both striking the woodwork. But their luck finally, and justly, ran out with three minutes remaining when Demba Ba bundled the ball home from close range.
It was an ugly goal but this was an even uglier defeat for PSG. This was the big test of their Champions League-winning credentials and not only did they fail it, they did so in meek fashion, paying the price for their complacency and utter inability to respond positively to adversity, either tactically or mentally.
As midfielder Thiago Motta admitted afterwards: “We got here by playing in a certain way, with a certain style of play, but tonight we were not able to do it.”