Edinson Cavani’s goal nine minutes into the second half matched a strike from Branislav Ivanovic nine minutes before halftime in a 1-1 tie between Paris St. Germain and Chelsea Tuesday in the Champions League round of 16.
Ivanovic headed home a flick from fellow defender Gary Cahill to give Chelsea the lead, but waves of PSG pressure in the second half produced the equalizer by Cavani, who escaped Cahill’s marking to nail a sharp downward header that bounced high into the net.
The teams square off again March 11 at Stamford Bridge with Chelsea holding an away-goal edge. Here are three takeaways from the first leg at the Parc des Princes:
1. Quiet Costa, silent Cesc.
Chelsea’s chances of snagging a road goal were boosted, supposedly, by the return of top scorer Diego Costa from a three-game Premier League suspension, but he labored to make any kind of an impact and was replaced by Loic Remy in the final minutes.
He didn’t get much service, true, but he also looked sluggish on and off the ball and seldom peeled away from opponents to show himself in space. The attack looked stagnant and Cesc Fabregas seemed more concerned with stifling former ex-Chelsea player David Luiz than generating offensive thrusts. Once PSG tied the game, he faded badly as Luiz took command in the center.
PSG outshot Chelsea, 14-2, with Ramires the only Chelsea player besides Ivanovic to be credited with a shot. Only the brazen dribbles of Eden Hazard gave Chelsea’s attack any spark of life, and his efforts usually ran aground as PSG players ganged up to stop him before he could get a shot or serve a dangerous ball.
2. Courageous Courtois thwarts PSG.
As expected, the duel for playing time between newcomer Thibaut Courtois and longtime starter Petr Cech has stretched the nerves of both players. Courtois is first-choice for Premier League games; they split time in the six Champions League group matches. Rumors that Cech would leave during the January transfer window didn’t come to fruition but the situation can’t continue indefinitely.
Perhaps manager Jose Mourinho remembered a few shaky moments for Cech in last year’s encounter with PSG that Chelsea won on away goals (3-3 aggregate). Whatever the manager’s reasoning, his selection of Courtois prompted a superb display. Chelsea succumbed to several balls lobbed by PSG into the penalty area and only Courtois’ heroics deprived PSG of a victory.
Nearly all of Courtois’s six saves were crucial. He denied Blaise Matuidi, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Cavani prior to Ivanovic’s goal, and after Cavani’s unstoppable header flashed past him, he stabbed out his foot to deny Ibrahimovic and got some help when John Terry and Cesar Azpilicueta both got a piece of Ezequiel Lavezzi’s follow-up shot. In stoppage time, the Belgian keeper parried another header from Ibrahimovic to leave the gangly Swedish striker and his team frustrated.
3. Zlatan the Eloquent and Elegant?
Courtois’ kick save stoned Ibrahimovic after he’d burst past two opponents and glided away from Chelsea midfielder Nemanja Matic to sting a low shot that would have tucked inside the far post had not the keeper’s foot intervened.
Ibra outshot Chelsea all by himself, both in total shots (five) and those on frame (three). His close control and superb balance are extremely rare in a player of his size (6-foot-5) and as fearsome as he is in the air, on the floor he’s just as threatening. Even a volleyed clearance was impressive, since he lifted his right foot to nearly head-height to effortlessly swat away a Chelsea free kick.
Though he was blanked in the Parc des Princes, he’s a main reason PSG can be confident of getting a goal at Stamford Bridge in the return leg. He’s scored 11 Ligue 1 goals this season and netted against Ajax and Barcelona in the Champions League group phase.
(His outrageous pronouncements have continued unabated during a 16-year career that has taken him to seven clubs in five countries. The Telegraph has compiled “The 20 most ridiculous things he has ever said." As a sample, here’s No. 3: “I can’t help but laugh at how perfect I am.”)
TRIVIA. Though the teams finished even in fouls with 20, the duo of David Luiz and Marco Verratti combined for 11, more than one-half of PSG’s total. Most of their fouls occurred far from goal and were clearly tactical, yet neither drew a caution until Verratti was carded in the 79th minute.
Feb. 17 in Paris
Paris SG 1 Chelsea 1. Cavani 54; Ivanovic 36.
Paris SG -- Sirigu; Van der Wiel, Marquinhos, Thiago Silva, Maxwell, David Luiz, Verratti, Matuidi, Lavezzi (Pastore, 81), Cavani, Ibrahimovic.
Chelsea -- Courtois; Ivanovic, Terry, Cahill, Azpilicueta, Matic, Fabregas (Oscar, 84), Willian (Cuadrado, 79), Ramires, Hazard, Diego Costa (Remy, 81).