A last-gasp Demba Ba goal was enough to see Chelsea claw back their deficit against Paris Saint-Germain on Tuesday night and keep the west London club’s aspirations of becoming European champions alive.
After a poor showing in the French capital, José Mourinho’s men were markedly better this time round and a 2-0 victory ensured the Blues’ passage through to the Champions League semi-finals.
Chelsea must be praised for getting the job done and for the manner in which they took to their task of overhauling a 3-1 first-leg defeat. PSG on the other hand showed their relative inexperience at this level and will be disappointed with their performance at Stamford Bridge.
The Ligue 1 powerhouses have shown their attacking intent this term both domestically and on the continent, and despite missing talismanic striker Zlatan Ibrahimović still had a plethora of offensive weaponry to get a much-needed away goal.
However, apart from a ten-minute spell midway through the second half, Laurent Blanc’s men did not keep the ball well enough and coughed up possession too easily.
With three visiting central midfielders outnumbering Chelsea’s two equivalents, the French side should have been able to slow things down when in possession and stifle the hosts’ momentum more than they did.
When Frank Lampard was removed in the second half it was effectively PSG’s three against David Luiz, but the usually assured Thiago Motta was unable to orchestrate PSG possession like he has done so often this term.
Chelsea went after their target of two goals with urgency but not desperation and over the course of 180 minutes of football were good value for their progression to the next stage.
Although the two starting XI’s were well-matched with superstars on each side, in the end it was Mourinho’s ability to change things up and call on players from his bench that eventually saw Chelsea through by the smallest of margins.
André Schürrle was introduced as his replacement and added a different dimension to the home side’s attack.
Although not as creative or individually brilliant as Hazard, the Germany international adds a real goal threat when he plays. This proved true when the former Bayer Leverkusen attacker opportunistically nipped in to bag the Blues’ opener.
Schürrle may well have only scored seven Premier League goals this term, but he has started a mere 12 games and played a total of 1064 minutes domestically. Hazard has double the goals, 14, but the ex-Lille winger has started 31 games and played 2763 minutes of action.
Although Hazard remains an essential part of the Chelsea side, Schürrle is something of an unsung hero in that he has scored some important goals this season. The German continues to improve is becoming a key man for the club.
Although PSG could well have hung on to their lead, Edinson Cavani had the chance to effectively end the tie with Chelsea pushing forward in pursuit of an equaliser.
The Uruguayan striker got the much-coveted chance to play centrally due to Ibrahimović’s absence, but was not as ruthless in front of goal as the PSG fans have come to expect from his Swedish counterpart.
The winning goal was certainly not pretty, but you can’t help but feel happy for the Blues’ eventual hero. Demba Ba was the man to bundle the ball home, in a fleeting and rare substitute appearance for the striker.
Ironically, the Senegal international was the only player on the pitch that was born in Paris, with his family all PSG fans.
Since Mourinho took over at the Stamford Bridge helm, Ba has not been given a fair crack of the whip, especially given the inconsistency of both Samuel Eto’o and Fernando Torres.
Two Premier League starts this season is a paltry return for a player regarded as one of the most lethal in English football not so long ago. However, when given a chance, the African attacker has delivered for Chelsea.
The defining strike against PSG was Ba’s third goal in four Champions League appearances and the forward should be commended for his attitude and mentality given that his opportunities to play have been severely limited.
A move to another club in the summer must be Ba’s priority after an unsuccessful spell in west London, but the Chelsea fans will remember the forward far into the future for his triumphant moment last night.
Chelsea won the Champions League in 2012 as real underdogs, and although this team is markedly better than the one that Roberto Di Matteo had at his disposal, the Blues will still be written off.
However, with the Mourinho factor to call upon, the Blues have the ability to beat anyone on their day and will be a prickly opponent for whoever is matched up with them in the next stage.
PSG will return to France and be disappointed not to make the next step in their evolution, with domestic glory their consolation. Blanc and his side will take lessons from their exit this season and be back next term an even-more dangerous outfit.