Chelsea can overcome PSG in return leg, says Gary Lim
Despite defeat, Chelsea demonstrate enough ability to push PSG all the way in return leg
ROUND OF 16, 1ST LEG
PARIS ST GERMAIN 2
(Zlatan Ibrahimovic 39, Edinson Cavani 78)
(Jon Obi Mikel 45+1)
In the end, few at the Parc des Princes batted an eyelid at the scoreline.
Paris Saint-Germain carved out a handy 2-1 win over Chelsea in the first leg of their Champions League Round-of-16 tie to reflect their growing standing among Europe's elite.
But it was Chelsea's battling display that caught the eye.
They were ultimately outfoxed by a superior side, but they were by no means outfought.
In the face of an array of some of the world's finest, the Blues were always going to be up against it yesterday morning (Singapore time).
Zlatan Ibrahimovic led the home line with sublime speed of mind, Lucas Moura blazed the turf with his searing pace and Angel di Maria tormented a rejigged Chelsea backline with vigour.
For the first 20 minutes, the hosts had their opponents by the scruff of the neck.
Yet, Chelsea rode out the storm.
Following his appointment, manager Guus Hiddink has returned more than just respectability to a team which won the English Premier League last May.
The transformation from the abject team of two months ago to the current version is remarkable.
He has also re-instilled in the team the cohesion and drive required to handle Europe's big tests.
The old Chelsea spirit was back and it showed against a team leading the French Ligue 1 table by a whopping 24 points.
As PSG sparkled in their free-flowing offensive game, Chelsea impressed with their defensive solidarity, tenacity and counter-attacking prowess.
Chelsea could do little to prevent the opening goal, an Ibrahimovic free-kick in the 39th minute that took a huge deflection.
They, however, demonstrated their combativeness by drawing level through Jon Obi Mikel on the stroke of half-time.
The only real blot on their performance came 12 minutes from the end, when the central-defensive pairing of Branislav Ivanovic and Gary Cahill failed to spot Edinson Cavani's intention and allowed him to turn and score the winning goal.
But there were times when they had PSG on the ropes.
Once they got past the difficult moments in the early stages, Hiddink's men managed to expose PSG's uncertainty without the ball.
The Ligue 1 runaway leaders' all-Brazilian back four impressed with their distribution, but not quite so in their primary tasks.
In Hiddink's words, PSG "got a bit unstable".
Chelsea were able to expose a soft underbelly with Willian's excellent technical ability and energy in midfield, Diego Costa's relentless running up front and Cesc Fabregas' steadfast tactical discipline despite the temptations to stray from his post.
It should have been Chelsea taking the lead through Costa's header midway through the first half, if not for Kevin Trapp's tremendous one-handed save from point-blank range.
Although it was PSG who dominated possession (65 per cent) and racked up more shots (20, to Chelsea's 10), the visitors' attacking threat never ceased.
Costa had another big opportunity shortly after the break, racing clear into the box only to see his shot saved again by Trapp.
It would have been a very different outcome had substitute Oscar's touch not let him down when he was racing through on goal, just moments before Cavani struck the winner.
Even in the dying seconds, with PSG clearly satisfied to maintain the scoreline, Pedro Rodriguez was able to flash a venomous effort against the side netting.
Chelsea's main failing was in their inability to put away the several excellent chances that came their way.
There were positives to take from the other end of the pitch as well.
Cahill and Ivanovic, in the heart of defence, produced heroics to keep their side in the game, particularly the important 64th-minute block when they threw themselves in the way of a Blaise Matuidi shot.
Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois kept his composure in front of a star-studded attacking line-up.
Even the raw Baba Rahman at fullback produced a creditable performance.
It is little wonder Chelsea looked content to sit back in the latter stages.
The away goal puts them in good stead.
But the display of unity and confidence, in what is possibly their best performance of the season, is something Chelsea can really take heart from.
A mouth-watering second leg awaits at Stamford Bridge.
It’s 50-50 still. You have to consider it’s a twoleg game. Scoring away is always good. — Chelsea interim manager Guus Hiddink (above)
Chelsea interim boss Guus Hiddink believes Jon Obi Mikel's away goal in the 2-1 defeat at Paris St Germain could be key in determining the victors of the last-16 tie.
A rare goal from Mikel cancelled out Zlatan Ibrahimovic's opener, before substitute Edinson Cavani earned a 2-1 first-leg win for the hosts at the Parc des Princes yesterday morning (Singapore time).
Away goals have separated these sides in the Champions League in each of the last two seasons and Hiddink is optimistic Chelsea's position is favourable ahead of the March 9 second leg at Stamford Bridge.
"I'm never happy with a loss, but it's not a dramatic loss," said Hiddink, who saw his 11-game unbeaten run end.
"It's 50-50 still. You have to consider it's a two-leg game. Scoring away is always good."
Gary Cahill said: "It's poised now. We know what we have to do and we have done it before at home. We go all out now."
Hiddink expressed jealousy at the options at Laurent Blanc's disposal after Cavani's impact.
"I envy a bit the bench of PSG. They have a very strong bench," Hiddink said.
Chelsea's defensive effort was impressive, but Eden Hazard made a limited impact.
The Belgium playmaker, who chose the eve of the match to reveal it would be difficult to turn down a move to PSG, did little to boost any potential transfer fee and was withdrawn 19 minutes from the end.
Hiddink said: "He had a chance and he had some good runs, but of course this was a game with a high intensity. After 65, 70 minutes, it was enough for him.
"He has to grow and, when he does, his shape will grow as well.
"Happily we also have Oscar for his position. He will be better and better."
PSG took the lead when Mikel fouled Lucas Moura and Ibrahimovic's resulting free-kick deflected off the Nigerian.
Earlier, Diego Costa had a header tipped on to the bar by Kevin Trapp and Hiddink rued further missed opportunities.
"We could have been a little bit more lethal in the four, five counters we made," Hiddink said.
John Terry missed the trip to Paris and may have to wait for his 700th Chelsea appearance, as he is a doubt for Sunday's FA Cup fifth-round tie with Manchester City.
Hiddink will not rush the captain back.
"We'll see," he added.
"We must be careful. We must not go into a situation where he will drop back into a longer period of injury."
Cahill and Branislav Ivanovic stepped up in the absence of Terry and Kurt Zouma, who is out for the season with a knee injury.
"The players did well, not just the four defenders," Hiddink said.
Blanc rued the concession of an away goal and said PSG would strive to score at least one of their own in London in three weeks' time.
"When you play at home, you need to be stronger in defence because, if you concede a goal, it effectively counts double," Blanc said.
"Chelsea scored, so we go to Stamford Bridge eager to score ourselves.
"We'll have chances, most likely, so it'll be about defending well, but we are an attacking team.
"We'll have chances to score there. I hope we do."
Blanc predicts an open second leg.
He added: "I don't think Chelsea will change their approach for the second leg. Neither will we.
"So the return game will probably be open and, hopefully, with some goals." - PA Sport.
BY THE numbers
5: Edinson Cavani has been involved in five goals in seven Champions League games against Chelsea (three goals, two assists).