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PSG have hope after pegging back Chelsea

PSG will have reason to believe they can progress to the quarter finals of the Champions League after outplaying Chelsea in the first leg of their last 16 tie in Paris on Tuesday. Although with the match tied at 1-1, Chelsea will be favourites.

PSG have hope after pegging back Chelsea
PSG's Zlatan Ibrahimovic talks to his old coach Jose Mourinho at the end of the match. Photo: Franck Fife/AFP

A first-half away goal by Branislav Ivanovic and some fine goalkeeping by Thibaut Courtois put Chelsea in command of their Champions League last-16 tie with Paris Saint-Germain as Tuesday's first leg ended 1-1.

Ivanovic headed in on 36 minutes after Gary Cahill had helped the ball into his path to give Chelsea the lead from their first and only real chance of the evening at the Parc des Princes.

Edinson Cavani replied with a header of his own in the 54th minute and PSG enjoyed the bulk of the chances but Courtois intervened time and again to keep the Premier League leaders on level terms.

"I think the first half was our half. The second half was their half. I think 1-1 reflects that," said Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho.

"But if you go to chances created and the goalkeepers' performances we have to be honest and say they had more than us, so if somebody was closer to winning the game it was Paris not Chelsea."

Mourinho's side should certainly fancy their chances of progressing to the quarter-finals when the second leg comes around in London on March 11, with Paris needing to score an away goal in that game to keep the tie alive.

That was something Laurent Blanc's side failed to do when the teams met in the last eight a year ago, allowing Chelsea to go through on away goals despite losing the first leg 3-1 in France.

"The score is not favourable to us, but I'm very happy with my team," said Blanc.

"There were lots of very satisfying things but the score is what counts at the end so the return match will be complicated."

Seven points clear at the top of the Premier League, Chelsea are a stronger side than they were a year ago, while PSG had been forced to deal with something of an injury crisis in the build-up to this game.

With Lucas, Thiago Motta and Yohan Cabaye among the players on the sidelines, Blanc opted to start David Luiz in midfield against his former club while Marquinhos lined up in central defence despite being a doubt ahead of the game.

Chelsea were at full strength but their chief creator, Cesc Fabregas, struggled to make an impact up against the combative Luiz.

In a cagey opening, it was the hosts who created what chances there were, with Blaise Matuidi the first to test Courtois on 11 minutes with a header from a Cavani cross.

The Belgian goalkeeper was equal to that effort and was called into action again seconds later to keep out a Zlatan Ibrahimovic header from a Matuidi
centre.

Ibrahimovic and his fellow forwards were afforded little space in the final third and they had to wait until after the half-hour mark to trouble Courtois
again, Cavani seeing his near-post header from Ezequiel Lavezzi's corner turned behind.

Sucker punch

Chelsea were happy to soak up the pressure and hit Paris with a sucker punch nine minutes before the interval thanks to a rare attacking combination between three of their back four, Ivanovic stealing in behind Luiz to head home after Cahill had flicked on a John Terry cross.

However, those defenders hardly covered themselves in glory as PSG drew level nine minutes after the restart, leaving Cavani completely unmarked to head home his 17th goal of the season — his sixth in the Champions League — from a Matuidi left-wing cross.

Paris came out fighting in the second half and Chelsea were again grateful to the outstanding Courtois as he saved from Ibrahimovic before Lavezzi's follow-up was blocked.

Courtois, again preferred to Petr Cech between the posts by Mourinho, then got his fingertips to a Luiz header from a Lavezzi free-kick.

PSG's unbeaten record at home this season did not appear under threat in the closing stages, but they could not get the winning goal on the night.

Cavani put a glorious chance wide of the far post 10 minutes from time and, when Ibrahimovic got a header on target in stoppage time, that man Courtois was on hand yet again to save Chelsea.

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FOOTBALL

OPINION: Mbappé’s title, but PSG need to breathe new life into Qatari project

After being the star of France's 2018 World Cup triumph, Kylian Mbappé has been the standout player for Paris Saint-Germain in a Ligue 1 title-winning campaign that has been slightly marred by the manner in which they limped over the line.

OPINION: Mbappé's title, but PSG need to breathe new life into Qatari project
Photos AFP

PSG finally wrapped up the title on Sunday after second-placed Lille failed to beat Toulouse, having not won any of their previous three games when the opportunity to confirm a sixth French crown in seven seasons was there.

The Qatari-owned club can still make it a domestic double, with the French Cup final to come against Rennes next weekend, yet this will not be remembered as a vintage year.

While Neymar once again went missing due to injury at the crucial point, Edinson Cavani has struggled with fitness too, and coach Thomas Tuchel has regularly lashed out at the lack of depth in his squad.

The 5-1 capitulation at Lille a week ago was the worst league result for PSG since Qatar Sports Investments bought the club in 2011, and the first time they had let in five in a league game since 2000.

A record-breaking 14-match winning run with which they started the season now seems like a long time ago, the latest Champions League failure clouding Tuchel's first campaign in charge.

Mbappé, at least, has been a constant, revelling in his status as a World Cup winner and hardly ever being rested. He only turned 20 in December, but has now won three Ligue 1 titles in a row.

Mbappé has 36 goals in 40 games this season, with 30 in the league. And, frighteningly, his team-mate Daniel Alves told RMC recently that “he doesn't realise how good he is, he can go much further”.

He is also not used to losing, and may have upset some of his teammates with his assessment of last week's defeat at Lille. “We played like beginners,” he said.

Hollow ring

To be fair, they have usually been exceptional domestically. However, the problem is that as long as they keep failing in the Champions League, domestic success for a club backed by a Gulf state will continue to ring hollow.

The title has effectively been in the bag for some time, but their season has been winding down ever since their exit against Manchester United in the last 16.

That, combined with being knocked out in the League Cup quarter-finals, means Tuchel in his first season has actually done worse than Unai Emery, his unloved predecessor.

Paris Saint-Germain coach Thomas Tuchel has actually done worse than his predecessor, Unai Emery
However, according to sports daily L'Equipe, Tuchel has agreed to extend his contract to 2021. Thoughts have already turned to the future, with new signings needed at the Parc des Princes.

The costly Neymar experiment cannot be said to have succeeded until he stays fit for the games that matter, and there will always be speculation about his future.

“We have a contract, we're not even halfway through that contract,” Neymar's father pointed out to RMC Sport.

Time for a clear-out? 

Mbappé is the one man they really cannot afford to lose, but is it time for a clear-out elsewhere?

Some of the excitement of the early part of the decade has gone, replaced with a staleness. The days of Thiago Silva, Edinson Cavani and Marco Verratti are maybe ending.

Youri Djorkaeff, a World Cup winner for France and a PSG star in the 1990s, offers a frank assessment, suggesting real change is needed higher up.

“If you're not great in every compartment, from the bus driver to the girls who clean the shirts, you will go nowhere,” he told Ligue 1 Podcast, 'Le Beau Jeu'.

“Paris Saint-Germain, after many years without success, have to rebuild everything, restart from scratch, because the foundations are not good. You cannot expect to one day win the Champions League without these foundations.”

The Qatar project needs a breath of fresh air, and all eyes will be on president Nasser al-Khelaifi and sporting director Antero Henrique.

UEFA's Financial Fair Play rules remain a problem, though, with PSG said to have a hole of around 100 million euros and the need to present a balanced budget by the end of June. The next few months will be interesting.

By Andy Scott/AFP

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