How Hiddink has improved Blues: 5 things from PSG 2-1 Chelsea
1. Hiddink has fixed Chelsea
This well-drilled, battling performance against Europe’s emerging heavyweight was a firm indicator of progress
If Guus Hiddink was looking for a sign that, under his leadership, Chelsea have banished the demons that left his inherited side’s season in tatters by January, then this well-drilled, battling performance against Europe’s emerging heavyweight was a firm indicator of progress.
Despite losing, Chelsea showed spirit, doggedness and simple organisation without the ball, qualities that appeared to have vanished during the desperate final days of Jose Mourinho’s reign. That they are still firmly in this tie is a testament to Hiddink’s wily instincts as a man-manager and all-round football practitioner.
It’s impossible to imagine the Blues of late 2015 coping with the free-flowing, confident movement of a PSG outfit that looked every bit a side who are 24 points clear in Ligue 1. Gary Cahill and Branislav Ivanovic were disciplined for the most part and bred confidence in Chelsea’s defensive third, while offensive trio Willian, Eden Hazard and Pedro were willing to hassle and harry when out of possession.
Even if the return leg at Stamford Bridge proves a hurdle too high, the signs are there that Hiddink has reminded Chelsea how they became champions nine months ago.
2. PSG’s domestic dominance an advantage in Europe
While the hosts looked fresh and positive, the visitors seemed worn down by their rather workmanlike mission to salvage their dire Premier League campaign
With the Ligue 1 title all but wrapped up by Christmas and Laurent Blanc’s men now showboating their way towards the finish line at home, PSG’s carefree world was on show for all to see at the Parc des Princes.
They began the game with a delicious swagger bred from their increasing feeling of invincibility – the ball barely entered their own half of the field during the opening few minutes – and didn’t let their opponents disrupt their rhythm all night.
These are players used to playing without pressure, and there was a surly sense of entitlement in the way they kept the ball and demanded it back when it was lost. The contrast between the two sides’ domestic situations was clear in their performances on the night: while the hosts looked fresh and positive, the visitors seemed worn down by their rather workmanlike mission to salvage their dire Premier League campaign.
3. Financial clout made the difference – even against Chelsea
Who else in Europe could afford to leave one of the world’s costliest forwards kicking his heels on the sidelines for most of the season?
Even when Chelsea looked to be weathering the PSG storm, there was the small matter of a £55 million striker coming off the bench to inject inspiration at the death. Who else in Europe could afford to leave one of the world’s costliest forwards kicking his heels on the sidelines for most of the season?
The introduction of Edinson Cavani with 15 minutes left on the clock added an unstable element to an equation that Chelsea were just about wrapping their heads around, with his brilliant spin off the shoulder of Ivanovic and strike through the legs of Thibaut Courtois a reminder that PSG swim in financial seas even Roman Abramovich cannot traverse.
4. PSG won the battle of the goalkeepers
On Tuesday Trapp showed the king of form that would be expected from a keeper who has conceded just 12 goals in 26 league games1
As recently as early January, PSG’s German glovesman Kevin Trapp was coming in for some heavy criticism after nearly gifting Bastia a draw they would not have deserved with some loose handling.
Those voices have quietened down lately, though, and on Tuesday Trapp showed the kind of form that would be expected from a keeper who has conceded just 12 goals in 26 league games.
His reaction save from Diego Costa’s header at 0-0 maintained parity at a time when PSG were well on top, but it was in racing out to deny Oscar as the Chelsea man bore down on him with 15 minutes remaining that he swung the game in the home side’s favour. Moments later, Cavani nipped in to beat Trapp’s opposite number Courtois at the near post, with the Chelsea stopper failing to race across his six-yard box in time to set himself. This was the archetypal tale of two goalkeepers.
Trapp saves from Costa
5. Chelsea fail to heed warnings
If Chelsea are to progress to the last eight, more attention will be needed when it comes to heeding persistent threats
When Lucas Moura raced onto Angel Di Maria’s lofted pass midway through the first half, the task of clearing the danger was left to covering full-back Cesar Azpilicueta, who raced across to intercept just in time.
A little more than an hour later, Chelsea were undone by the same sort of ball for Cavani’s winner, an elegant but simple lift over the defence that left Ivanovic struggling to recover. There were other examples, too: Lucas was denied by Courtois after darting through the middle on the hour mark, while John Obi Mikel allowed the Brazilian to streak away from him before conceding the free-kick from which Zlatan Ibrahimovic opened the scoring.
Late in the game, PSG repeatedly had success down Chelsea’s right, with Azpilicueta exposed on numerous occasions by the intrepid Blaise Matuidi and marauding full-back Maxwell. The warnings seemed to go unheeded, and it was only the full-bloodedness of Chelsea’s centre-half pairing that ensured PSG have a slender one-goal lead.
If Chelsea are to progress to the last eight, more attention will be needed when it comes to heeding persistent threats. PSG have already fired enough warning shots for there to be no excuses in three weeks’ time.