PSG bench power fells Chelsea, but Blues still confident
Edinson Cavani scores late winner in Paris but away goal for Chelsea could prove vital in second leg
Paris Saint-Germain 2 Chelsea 1
A late goal from substitute Edinson Cavani handed PSG the advantage in their Champions League clash with Chelsea, but Blues boss Guus Hiddink believes his side still have a 50-50 chance of reaching the quarter-final.
The French champions dominated the early exchanges and took the lead on 39 minutes through Zlatan Ibrahimovic's deflected free-kick. But six minutes later the hosts were pegged back by John Mikel Obi's equaliser, the Nigerian pouncing on some slack PSG defending to fire home from six yards.
It remained all-square deep into the second half but it was the PSG bench that made the difference. While Chelsea had a quartet of 20-year-olds in Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Bertrand Traore, Kenedy and Matt Miazga among their substitutes, PSG had the likes of Adrien Rabiot, Javier Pastore, Gregory van der Wiel and Edinson Cavani. And it was the latter who scored the winner, the Uruguayan guiding Angel di Maria's pass past Thibaut Courtois on 78 minutes.
"I envy a bit the bench of PSG," admitted Hiddink, who in the absence of the injured John Terry had forged a makeshift central defensive partnership of Gary Cahill and Branislav Ivanovic. "They have a very strong bench. If you see what this team can bring on in the second half - world-class players as substitutes. This is a very strong PSG."
The defeat was Chelsea's first under Hiddink since he replaced Jose Mourinho as manager in December, a 12-match run that has restored some respectability to the London side after their shocking start to the season. And despite the scoreline, the Dutchman was quietly upbeat ahead of the return leg at Stamford Bridge on 9 March. "I'm never happy with a loss but it's not a dramatic loss," he told reporters. "Scoring away is always good."
Hiddink also praised his patched up defence, which included a rare start at full-back for Ghana defender Baba Rahman. Under the cosh for much of the night, their resilient display has given Chelsea a reasonable chance of overturning the deficit next month.
"The players did well, not just the four defenders but also the midfielders defended well," said Hiddink. "We had to reshuffle... meaning the full-backs don't have the same position now. In that regard I think it's a good performance."
Before the match, Hiddink had questioned the quality of the French league, which PSG lead by 24 points, but the home side proved they have the quality to step up a level when required. "It's one of our best displays of the season," said PSG coach Laurent Blanc. "Tonight's match will do us good because it proves we're on the right track, and this makes us even stronger."
It's the third successive season that the two sides have clashed in the knockout stages of the competition with Chelsea triumphant two years ago and PSG winning last season's last 16 encounter.
Like Hiddink, Blanc believes that the outcome of the third head-to-head remains very much in the balance. "Chelsea scored, so we go to Stamford Bridge eager to score ourselves," he said. "We'll have chances, most likely, so it'll be about defending well but we are an attacking team. I don't think Chelsea will change their approach for the second leg. Neither will we. So the return game will probably be open and, hopefully, with some goals."