Thibaut Courtois and Chelsea defence stand tall in narrow loss to PSG
Chelsea fell to a 2-1 defeat in the first leg of their Champions League round-of-16 tie with Paris Saint-Germain on Tuesday, but they will take encouragement from an excellent team performance in this pulsating encounter.
The energy levels from both sides were high from the start, with the hosts flying out of the blocks and pushing Chelsea onto the back foot. The early territory and possession was all with PSG, although they failed to carve out any meaningful openings and allowed the Blues to grow in confidence. On the 20-minute mark, Chelsea sprang into life with some wonderful passing moves that surprised the French champions, and they really should have taken the lead when Baba Rahman's delicious cross was met by Diego Costa, only for Kevin Trapp to stick out his right hand and pull off an outstanding reaction save.
With Chelsea in the ascendency, PSG's goal came somewhat against the run of play. A clear foul and yellow card from John Obi Mikel was compounded when the same player turned his back on Zlatan Ibrahimovic's free kick and unwittingly deflected the shot past Thibaut Courtois. To his relief, Mikel made amends with the last kick of the half after he lashed home just his sixth goal for the club following Costa's clever flicked header from Willian's corner.
The ebb and flow continued after half-time, and again Chelsea should have taken the lead when Willian's through ball to Costa was marginally over-hit with the striker only able to fire straight into Trapp's body as the goalkeeper narrowed the angle. The pressure then began to build on the visitors as PSG cranked up the intensity and Courtois was forced into making a number of saves culminating with an excellent tip over the bar from an Angel Di Maria shot.
Chelsea continued to look dangerous on the counter-attack and were inches away from scoring a second when Oscar, on as a substitute, could not quite poke the ball past Trapp following a lovely long pass from Cesc Fabregas. But the onslaught from PSG finally told when another substitute, Edinson Cavani, fired home the winner from a tight angle. Chelsea might have lost but they remain very much in the tie.
Player ratings (1-10, 10=best; players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating):
GK Thibaut Courtois, 8 -- He knew he would have a busy game, and he was not disappointed. Made several decent stops to keep Chelsea in contention and could not be blamed for either goal.
DF Cesar Azpilicueta 7 -- Many of PSG's more-promising attacks came down his flank, though not due to any deficiencies on his part. Had his hands full with Di Maria but refused to be cowed or pinned back in his half, even trying to get on the end of a Costa cross in second-half stoppage time.
DF Branislav Ivanovic, 9 -- The Serb has had his critics at times this season, and justifiably so, but he answered them all with a commanding display of pure rugged defending. Imperious in the air and decisive on the ground, his only disappointment will have been failing to track Cavani's run for the winner, the only mistake he made all game.
DF Gary Cahill, 9 -- Another to have suffered at times this campaign, but displays like this will dissuade any doubters. Cut out more crosses than one could count and laid his body on the line whenever called upon.
DF Baba Rahman, 8 -- One of the forgotten men of the season, this was his best display in a Chelsea shirt by a considerable distance. Positionally excellent, composed on the ball and always looking to join the attack, the future is bright for the Ghanaian if he maintains this form.
MF Cesc Fabregas, 8 -- There were concerns about Chelsea's soft centre against such skilled operators when the team sheet saw the Spaniard playing in a more defensive role. The worries proved totally unfounded as Fabregas put himself about effectively while also distributing cleverly. Tired visibly as the game wore on.
MF John Obi Mikel, 7 -- It looked like being one of those days for the Nigerian, having been given the early runaround by Lucas Moura and being doubly culpable for the opening goal. Redeemed himself no end with the equaliser and did well not to earn a second booking considering the theatrical opponents that he had to deal with.
MF Willian, 8 -- Used the ball intelligently and with purpose as he constantly looked to spring counter-attacks. The only blemish was his dead-ball delivery, which, by his standards, was poor with the obvious exception of the corner that led to Mikel's goal.
FW Eden Hazard, 7 -- Linked the play well but did not offer as much direct running as one would have liked. Was withdrawn in the second half as his influence began to wane.
FW Pedro, 8 -- Fresh from his brace against Newcastle, the Spaniard was bundle of positive energy from first minute to last. Although not a natural defender, he never shirked his responsibilities despite being caught unawares on occasion and was a constant threat on the counter.
FW Diego Costa, 8 -- Will be wondering how he didn't score all evening, with his first-half header being the most glaring chance. Even so, he led the line magnificently, chasing every lost cause and getting an assist for the equaliser.
MF Oscar, NR -- Never quite got up to the pace of the game, but did almost score a second goal that really would have made it a night to remember.