They say that 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 quarterfinal 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 was 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 counter-attacking lineup. Furthermore, Eden Hazard had been forced off through injury, thus depriving Chelsea of its most creative and incisive attacking talent.
PSG could hardly believe its luck. It had vowed to attack. Now it 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 was rattled, instantly incapable of dealing with set pieces. Gary Cahill fluffed a glorious chance to put Chelsea ahead in the tie when the ball dropped for him in the area after coming off the back of Edinson Cavani. Just moments before halftime, 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. It never regained it 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 in the second half. Blanc realized that this was no longer any 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 steps backward. It was too late to try to take the game to Chelsea; it was all about survival now. The team was fortunate enough to see the bar twice come to its rescue, with Schurrle and Oscar both striking the woodwork. But its luck finally, and justly, ran out with just 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 its Champions League-winning credentials and not only did it fail it, it did so pathetically, paying the price for its complacency and utter inability to respond positively to adversity, either tactically or mentally.
As midfielder Thiago Motta admitted after, "We got here by playing in a certain way, with a certain style of play, but tonight we were not able to do it. Chelsea have many great players, many international players and they have been in many semifinals and finals. They have more experience than us. To win the Champions League is difficult but we will see what happens in the future."
Blanc had also admitted beforehand that while PSG believed it could realize its Champions League dream this season, it could yet be some while before they get their hands on the trophy. That was about the one thing he could say he got right after this game.
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