Chelsea lost 2-1 to Paris Saint-Germain at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday.
Despite s spirited display, the Blues crashed out of the UEFA Champions League at the Round of 16 stage to the French champions for the second-straight season.
Here’s what we learned from the clash in west London.
ZLATAN HAS THE LAST LAUGH
Zlatan Ibrahimovic set up PSG’s opener and scored the second to show he is very much still at the top of his powers.
At the age of 34, many said Zlatan was washed up. He’s not. Far from it. With just two months left on his PSG contract, you can expect the top clubs in the Premier League to come calling for him and offer huge sums of cash. He has done it in Italy, Spain and now France. Can the Swedish international striker finish his career off with a swansong in England?
Ibrahimovic has spoken about PSG being “destined to win the Champions League” and after his deadly display at Stamford Bridge — much different to how he fared last season as he was sent off in the first half when the two teams met in the second leg — it’s hard to argue with him. In previous seasons the one criticism you’d have of Les Parisiens were that they lacked cutting edge in the final third and sometimes failed to finish teams off when they had the chance. They have now made the UCL quarterfinals for the fourth-straight season and have their first win in England in the bag. PSG’s dominance of France is undeniable and led by ambitious Qatari ownership, they have their sights set on dominating Europe.
Supporting Zlatan was Angel di Maria who crossed for his goal (which came somewhat fortuitously after Blaise Matuidi’s pass was misplaced but the ball eventually found Di Maria anyway) and generally looked dangerous whenever he was on the ball. Zlatan is far from a one-man band for PSG this season, but in what could be his final campaign in the French capital, he is on course to post his best goals tally (31 and counting) and looks to have saved his best until last as they head into the UCL last eight as one of the favorites to win it all. The way the team celebrated with their away fans at the end was telling. There was jubilation but it was a little subdued. They’re hoping there’s more to come. As for Zlatan, he simply threw his shirt into the crowd and wandered off with a mundane expression on his face. Zlatan will dare to lead PSG to new heights in Europe before he leaves this summer. Whatever happens between now and then, nights like this mean he will always be a hero in Paris.
COSTA NO “FRAUD”; ABSENCE COSTLY
In the build-up to this game Paris Saint-Germain’s official Twitter account had labeled Diego Costa a “fraud.” That appeared to be coming back to haunt them as Costa coolly spun his way past Thiago Silva in the box and slotted home to make it 1-1 on the night and 2-3 on aggregate. Game on.
When Costa is in this type of form, he is unplayable and he was holding balls up, running in-behind David Luiz and Silva and linked up well with Eden Hazard, Pedro and Willian. Then, just after the hour mark, Costa pulled up holding his right leg.
He had missed Chelsea’s game against Stoke at the weekend to rest up for this clash but obviously it wasn’t enough and losing him as the focal point of the attack was a huge blow. The fact that PSG took advantage of Costa’s absence so quickly was no coincidence and it gave them a boost to finish Chelsea off.
Costa has scored 11 times and added six assists in his last 15 games for the Blues and has finished the season strongly. He did all he could and proved he’s not a “fraud” as PSG suggested, but he couldn’t be the hero.
HIGH-PRESS ALMOST PAYS OFF
Alongside Costa’s dominant play up front, Chelsea put PSG under plenty of pressure by pushing up high and nicking the ball off Thiago Motta and Adrien Rabiot on multiple occasions. The three attackers supporting Costa worked superbly as they hunted in packs and pinched the ball in good areas. However, they didn’t go enough with it when they had a chance in and around the box, with Pedro, Willian and Hazard guilty of snatching at chances.
If there’s a positive to take out of this defeat, it’s that Chelsea can continue to surge up the Premier League standings between now and the end of the season with their top attacking talents almost back to their best. The negative is that two very similar goals undid them and you can’t help but think that if injured captain John Terry had been on the pitch that both Rabiot and Zlatan would not have been able to wander aimlessly onto loose balls which found them unmarked at the back post to tap in. Those mistakes, and not the failure to make the most of loose balls in and around PSG’s box, was the biggest factor in Chelsea letting slip their best remaining chance of qualifying for the UCL next season. It’s all but certain that for the first time in 14 years the Blues will not be playing in the Champions League next season.
They will now focus on the FA Cup and finishing as high as possible in the PL, but will the Blues really want to be in the Europa League next season? What we also saw from Hazard was slightly alarming as at half time, with the scores locked at 1-1 and 3-2 to PSG on aggregate, he swapped jerseys with Di Maria as they walked off the pitch. Really? Do it after the game. Keep your focus on the play. Sure, it may not make a big difference but in the biggest game of the season, why do you want to get a PSG shirt at half time? Perhaps Hazard’s comments about it being “hard to say no to PSG” if they came calling are closer to the truth than we previously thought. The Belgian playmaker also didn’t help himself by turning up his nose and limping off shortly after Chelsea 2-1 down. The worry for Chelsea is that Hazard has mentally checked out and some of his actions on Wednesday suggested just that.