Stubborn resistance, luck and a Branislav Ivanovic header earned Chelsea a 1-1 draw in the Champions League last-16 first leg with Paris St Germain at Parc des Princes.
Jose Mourinho’s men are well placed to advance to the quarter-finals after Ivanovic netted a vital away goal, although Edinson Cavani equalised and PSG showed enough for Chelsea to be wary in the second leg on March 11.
Chelsea advanced to the semi-finals at PSG’s expense last term on away goals after losing 3-1 in Paris and Demba Ba’s last-gasp strike in the return in London.
The Blues had won just once in six prior attempts on French soil, at PSG in Mourinho’s first European match as boss in September 2004.
With striker Diego Costa restored following his disputed three-match ban for stamping on Liverpool’s Emre Can and returns for goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, defender Gary Cahill and playmaker Cesc Fabregas, Chelsea were at full strength against an injury-depleted PSG, who started with former Chelsea defender David Luiz in midfield.
Luiz stated on the eve of the match that Chelsea were a better team than last season and they fared better than on their last trip to Paris.
Chelsea’s bus became stuck entering the stadium and Zlatan Ibrahimovic caused the visitors all kinds of difficulties once the match began. Courtois made three saves from headers in the first half, the pick from Cavani, before Ivanovic’s header against the run of play.
Cavani equalised after losing Cahill to meet Blaise Matuidi’s cross and both the Uruguay striker and Ibrahimovic had chances to give PSG thes lead.
The Swede was denied by Courtois in stoppage time to leave Chelsea in slight control of the tie heading to Stamford Bridge. There are three weeks and a day before the return, by which time Chelsea’s confidence may be boosted by silverware, with the Capital One Cup final against Tottenham on March 1.
PSG manager Laurent Blanc, having to deal with a barrage of injuries, fielded Luiz in an unusual holding midfield position while Marquinhos paired up with fellow Brazilian Thiago Silva in central defence.
PSG were without defensive midfielders Yohan Cabaye and Thiago Motta, full back Serge Aurier and forward Lucas, who were all injured.
Gregory van der Wiel started at right back with the task of containing Chelsea’s Belgium forward Eden Hazard, which he did rather well.
Chelsea, who were only missing John Obi Mikel, looked content to sit back and wait, hoping to hit the hosts on the break.
PSG dominated possession and came close to opening the scoring in the 11th minute when Courtois tipped away Matuidi’s header from Cavani’s cross.
Uruguay striker Cavani’s header at the near post from Ezequiel Lavezzi’s corner was also superbly saved by the diving Courtois in the 34th. But it was Chelsea who took the lead two minutes later with their first attempt on goal involving three defenders as Ivanovic headed the ball home after Cahill cleverly flicked on a John Terry cross.
PSG went on the attack after the break and were rewarded when the unmarked Cavani equalised after 54 minutes with a firm downward header from Matuidi’s cross on the right.
Ibrahimovic then slalomed through the defence before his low shot was saved by Courtois and the rebound fell to the feet of Lavezzi, whose attempt was blocked.
Cavani then had another header tipped over the bar by Courtois and after a dazzling run into the area saw his low poked shot roll just wide 10 minutes from time. Blanc brought on Lavezzi for Javier Pastore before Ibrahimovic almost found the winner with a header that was brilliantly saved by Courtois in added time.