Chelsea 'in transition' as PSG end Champions League dream
Zlatan Ibrahimovic strikes as French side knock the Blues out of Europe for the second year running
Chelsea 1 Paris Saint-Germain 2 [PSG win 4-2 on aggregate]
Chelsea were knocked out of Europe for the second consecutive season by Paris Saint-Germain as the French champions progressed to the quarter-finals of the Champions League. The 2-1 defeat at Stamford Bridge means the Blues will likely end the season without silverware and interim manager Guus Hiddink admitted it's not been the best period for the club.
"It is a difficult season," he told reporters. "We were almost panicking about relegation when I came in."
Chelsea currently lie tenth in the Premier League and their chances of qualifying for next season's Champions League rest on finding some form in the nine league games that remain while hoping their rivals lose theirs. No such uncertainty for PSG, who are not only leading the French league by 23 points, but are genuine contenders to lift this season's Champions League title.
Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich will have something to say about that but any team that has a player of Zlatan Ibrahimovic's ability can't be taken too lightly. The veteran striker scored the winner on Wednesday night and he said of the victory: "We played with lots of patient possession and when we had a chance to strike we scored two goals. We had enough to win the game.
"Overall we played the way we wanted to. It was not easy, you have to watch out. Chelsea's front four are able to do anything. We are doing good things, where we end up we don't know. We are not satisfied yet."
Ibrahimovic was outstanding throughout, and it was his cross that enabled Adrien Rabiot to put the visitors 1-0 up after just 16 minutes. An away goal so early was a cruel blow for the Blues, but they fought their way back and when Diego Costa scored on 27 minutes hopes rose that a famous night might be brewing for the Stamford Bridge faithful.
But Costa limped off injured on the hour mark and seven minutes later Ibrahimovic killed off Chelsea's dreams once and for all, running onto Angel di Maria's pass to restore PSG's advantage and leave Chelsea with a nasty sense of deja vu. The French side knocked Chelsea out of the Champions League on away goals at the same stage of the tournament last season, and while they consoled themselves by winning the Premier League, this season they have the FA Cup and the distant prospect of fourth to consider.
"It is difficult to get into fourth place, there is a very big gap," said Guus Hiddink, referring to the ten points that separate the Blues from Manchester City, who currently occupy fourth place. "In my opinion, Chelsea are now in a transitional period."
Laurent Blanc said as much himself in admitting that he "thought it would be harder this year". It wasn't, however, with PSG returning triumphant once more across the Channel. "That's twice now we've won the tie here," reflected Blanc. "It's a sign that we're making progress in Europe. To go further, we must be lucky, but not just that, these ties are decided on details and an important detail is the draw. "
PSG have until March 18 to wait to see who they draw in the quarter-final but on the evidence of last night, few teams will relish facing the French side in the last eight.