Friday 30 September 2016

Zlatan Ibrahimovic the master as Chelsea's Champions League hopes come to an end

Chelsea 1-2 Paris Saint-Germain (Paris Saint-Germain win 4-2 on aggregate)

Mark Ogden

Published 10/03/2016 | 02:30

PSG's Thiago Motta collides with Chelsea's Cesc Fabregas during last night's game at Stamford Bridge Photo: Reuters / Eddie Keogh
PSG's Thiago Motta collides with Chelsea's Cesc Fabregas during last night's game at Stamford Bridge Photo: Reuters / Eddie Keogh

Zlatan Ibrahimovic signalled the end of the road for Chelsea with a Champions League masterclass at Stamford Bridge on a night when injuries to Diego Costa and Eden Hazard threatened to have ramifications beyond this one-sided tie.

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Ibrahimovic, the 34-year-old forward who may yet be tempted to the Premier League this summer, created the opener for Adrien Rabiot and the scored the decisive second as PSG eliminated Chelsea at the last 16 stage for a second successive season.

But while the Swede was majestic, Chelsea's star players were scythed down by injury, with Costa and Hazard limping off in the second half, seemingly now doubtful for the FA Cup quarter-final at Everton on Saturday.

Defeat at Goodison Park, following this ultimately comprehensive 4-2 aggregate loss, would bring the curtain down on Chelsea's season with two months left to run ahead of major rebuilding work this summer.

PSG's David Luiz celebrates after the match Photo: Reuters / John Sibley
PSG's David Luiz celebrates after the match Photo: Reuters / John Sibley

Since defeating Chelsea at Parc des Princes three weeks ago, PSG have suffered what, for them at least, has been something of a wobble, with Laurent Blanc's team going into this second leg having collected just one point from their last two league games.

Blanc did not field his strongest XI in the defeat at Lyons or the home draw against Montpellier, but nonetheless, any failure to win for successive games in Ligue 1 is as close to a form slump as PSG have endured for quite some time.

They remain 23 points clear at the top of the table, however, and that cushion enabled Blanc to rest his key players in preparation for the trip to Stamford Bridge. Guus Hiddink enjoyed no such luxury and was once again forced to do without captain John Terry for a game which required all of Chelsea's leading lights to shine if they were to have any hope of overturning their first-leg deficit.

The Premier League champions certainly began brightly, with Costa forcing the first save of the game from Kevin Trapp on three minutes when his drag-back on the edge of the PSG penalty area preceded a left-foot shot from 20 yards.

PSG's Zlatan Ibrahimovic tries to win the ball ahead of Chelsea's Gary Cahill and Cesc Fabregas Photo: Reuters / Eddie Keogh
PSG's Zlatan Ibrahimovic tries to win the ball ahead of Chelsea's Gary Cahill and Cesc Fabregas Photo: Reuters / Eddie Keogh

It was an early example of Costa's desire to make a difference but while he looked sharp - he ditched his face mask after nine minutes as if to prove his readiness to lead the fight - PSG's front three of Ibrahimovic, Angel di Maria and Lucas Moura were like wasps buzzing around the Chelsea penalty area and their movement and understanding was a threat from the off.

Moura, who rejected a lucrative offer from Manchester United in the summer of 2012 to sign for PSG, was allowed to run across the Chelsea 18-yard box before teeing up Di Maria for a clear chance early on, but the winger's right-foot shot was blocked on the line by Branislav Ivanovic.

Di Maria then saw a left-foot effort blocked by Gary Cahill before top quality play between the Argentinian and Ibrahimovic opened up the Chelsea rearguard to enable Rabiot to score the opener on 16 minutes.

It was a sublime pass by Di Maria to Ibrahimovic, but the Swede was given too much room by the dozing Cahill and he was able to run into space before delivering a perfect ball for Rabiot to guide home at the far post.

PSG may have it easy at times in their domestic league, but Rabiot's goal was proof enough that Blanc's team still possess world-class quality.

It was a deserved opener for PSG, whose control of possession was impressive against Chelsea's more frantic approach, but the home side were able to draw level on 27 minutes when Costa scored following careless play by Di Maria in the centre of the pitch.

Diego Costa celebrates after scoring the sole goal for Chelsea Photo: Reuters / Eddie Keogh
Diego Costa celebrates after scoring the sole goal for Chelsea Photo: Reuters / Eddie Keogh

The Argentinian, still the British record signing following his disastrous £59.7m move to United, was dispossessed by Pedro before the ball dropped to Willian. Spotting Costa's run, Willian released the forward, who turned Thiago Silva before scoring with a low strike past Trapp.

Costa was a constant menace and the Spain forward almost created a second in first-half stoppage time when his shot was fumbled by Trapp, only for Pedro to fail to convert the loose ball.

Despite claiming a foothold in the tie, largely through Costa's efforts, the threat of a PSG away goal hung heavy over Chelsea at the start of the second half.

Hiddink's men needed a second, but another PSG goal would leave Chelsea having to score three times and the French champions cleverly turned the screw by retaining possession and attempting to strike on the break.

Rabiot was at the heart of PSG's game-plan, with the languid midfielder effortlessly spraying the ball around from the centre of the pitch with incredible economy and accuracy.

Chelsea struggled to land a blow, with Willian's energy their best outlet, but Hiddink's team lacked the snap and crackle of PSG.

And Chelsea's hopes of clawing themselves back into the tie were dealt a blow on the hour when Costa, appearing to have pulled a calf muscle, limped off to be replaced by Bertrand Traore. Without their talisman, Chelsea now faced an even more difficult challenge than when they started.

PSG began toying with Chelsea, waiting to land the killer blow, and it was delivered on 66 minutes when Ibrahimovic scored his 50th European goal.

Thiago Motta's pass out wide to Di Maria instigated the move, and the winger's cross was powerful and precise, leaving Ibrahimovic to guide the ball home from six yards.

The old man of PSG switched off the lights for Chelsea, who appeared a very old and ordinary team against the rising force from Paris.

Independent News Service

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