Paris Saint-Germain claims first-leg advantage vs. Chelsea

PARIS — Paris Saint-Germain claimed a famous scalp tonight in the Champions League, downing Chelsea 3-1 in the first leg of their quarterfinal tie. Goals from Ezequiel Lavezzi, Javier Pastore and the guile of Blaise Matuidi powered PSG past a Chelsea side that looked good in flashes but faded down the stretch. Sickeningly, Chelsea conceded Pastore’s stinger – a lovely piece of individual skill – just before full-time.

“It was a horrible time to concede and a sloppy goal,” said Chelsea’s Gary Cahill. “It’s a big blow. 2-1 would have been OK but this is devastating.”

Jose Mourinho was even pithier: the goal was: “ridiculous.”

“The third goal was a joke,” said the Chelsea manager. “It was not a goal, it was a joke.”

A cynic would point out that newer money beat new money Wednesday night, that petrodollars bought both these teams’ glory. The raucous Parc de Princes won’t care, and why should they? The guard may well have changed here, and these PSG fans sense that their team may finally be joining the true elite.

Yes, Chelsea have a precious away goal, and yes, they can recover. But on the evidence, they will struggle against this smart and fast PSG side in a week’s time. “We are not out,” said Mourinho. “We will try.” But he looked as if he believed the match was beyond him.

FAT CLUBS

Oddly enough, this result came on a night that saw PSG’s star dimmed. Ibrahimovic is at the core of so much that PSG do, but tonight, he was merely seen in flashes, marshalled by Ramires and Gary Cahill. He would ultimately come off in the 65th minute with a leg problem.

Laurent Blanc said that, “[Ibrahimovic] has a hamstring problem. It needs to be seen tomorrow. It would not have been reasonable for him to continue tonight.” It is suspected that Ibrahimovic may be sidelined now for a few weeks, but that has not been officially confirmed.

Yet it is a testament to Ibrahimovic’s genius that even at low wattage, he was involved in both goals.

It took just four minutes for PSG to seize the lead with Lavezzi firing home a beauty when John Terry lamely headed a clearance right at him. The Argentine was able to take it on his chest to volley past a helpless Petr Cech. Even Mourinho was admiring, saying: “one touch, boom. Top player, top goal.”

The entire play was started by the rampaging Ibrahimovic, who caused an overload on the left side, popping the ball wide to Cavani, who in turn rotated that ball back across the top of the box through Marco Verrati. When Matuidi served the ball in, the defense had been pulled to the right, and only Terry was there to stop the cross — and he did it in characteristically snake-bit fashion. It was Terry’s header, of course, that gifted Crystal Palace, and Chelsea fans must have been agonized to see him concede yet again.

Thiago Silva conceded the equalizer when he clattered into Oscar just before the half-hour mark. Willian sent in a superb ball to spark the play at the far edge of the area and the masked man’s clumsy challenge really left ref Milorad Mazic no choice. Eden Hazard then coolly sent Salvatore Sirigu the wrong way to slot it into the near post.

COMBINATION PLATTER

Hazard nearly doubled Chelsea’s advantage five minutes before the half when he met Willian’s cross with a sublime volley that only succeeded in pinging past off Sirigu’s far post. It was a special strike and the Belgian, who had given Christophe Jallet all he could handle down the near flank, should have had a reward for his brilliance.

But after the break, Chelsea looked noticeably flatter, and PSG took full advantage. Just at the hour mark, David Luiz committed two bad errors. First, he fouled Matuidi in a dangerous area to give Lavezzi a free kick deep in Chelsea territory; then he redirected Ibrahimovic’s shot into his own net. The first was folly, and Jose Mourinho could be seen remonstrating with him from the sideline; the second was momentum and was unlucky rather than stupid.

Pastore punctuated the win with a brilliant goal right at the death of the game. Taking a throw-in nearly out of bounds on the endline, he spun past Ceasr Azpilicueta, left Frank Lampard for dead and fired through Terry and Cech at an acute angle. It was a special goal and deserved punctuation on the night.

The talking points now will be the severity of the injury to Ibrahimovic, and if Chelsea can pull off another great escape. Mourinho was gracious, but his manner belied his doubts. And there was no mistaking where he lay the blame: on his perceived lack of strikers.

“We have players who can associate and have possession. But football is not about possession, it is about scoring goals, and for that you need real strikers… so we have nothing to lose. We are losing 3-1. We have to try to win 2-0, 3-1 – there is no other approach.”