A late tap-in from Chelsea’s forgotten man Demba Ba saw the Blues through to the semi-finals of the Champions League, overturning a 3-1 defeat in the first leg to advance on away goals against a disappointing PSG. The visitors were without Zlatan Ibrahimovic but failed to deal with Chelsea’s physical side, with Andre Schuerrle scoring the first goal in a 2-0 victory.
From the beginning of the match, Chelsea fans were in fine voice singing ‘we’ve done it before,’ in reference to their comeback against Napoli in their Champions League-winning season. The opening 20 minutes of the game were fairly cagey with the French league leaders clearly happy to settle for a draw, but they were comfortable and assured in possession, refusing to be rushed. Disaster seemed to strike early in the first half as Chelsea’s prime attacking threat Eden Hazard was withdrawn with an injury; Schuerrle came on to replace him, with both sides by then missing their biggest stars.
The atmosphere was heating up and Lucas Moura was hacked down on the edge of the box by his compatriot Willian, but Edinson Cavani started a poor performance by hitting his free kick tamely into the wall. He was nearly made to pay for it shortly after as a Frank Lampard free kick from the wide left took a wicked deflection towards the near post, but Salvatore Sirigu made a fine reaction save.
He could do nothing about Chelsea’s first goal, though, which came five minutes later. On 32 minutes, a fairly innocuous long throw was flicked on by the head of David Luiz into the feet of Schuerrle, who was only too happy to stroke a first time shot into the bottom right hand corner; both goalkeeper and defense were firmly rooted to the spot. Gary Cahill should have doubled the advantage from close range shortly after, but his wild swing at the ball flew high and wide into the stands.
More yellow cards followed; Lampard was cautioned for taking down the countering Ezequiel Lavezzi from behind after Cavani was ruled out of the semi-final for foolishly standing over the ball for a Chelsea free kick – David Luiz thought quickly, slamming the ball against the Uruguayan’s legs and claiming obstruction.
With only seconds remaining in the half, Jose Mourinho’s men nearly had their coveted second goal. A free kick from the defense was nicely flicked on by Samuel Eto’o to the increasingly likely Schuerrle, who put the ball back into the box – nobody could take the ball under control, and it was hooked away desperately by Alex.
As the second half started, the home side were clearly starting to throw caution to the wind with clear attacking intent – David Luiz was becoming increasingly involved in the attacking half. However, it was clearly leaving them more open at the back as PSG also began to attack more, with a Lavezzi free kick beaten away by Petr Cech after Schuerrle and Oscar saw their shots crash back off the woodwork.
Ba came on midway through the first half, and he immediately began to prove a useful outlet for long balls and clearances as Chelsea sought to break with pace. Schuerrle had another chance from a Ba head-on but a deflection took the sting out of his shot and it was gratefully lapped up by Sirigu.
In the closing fifteen minutes, PSG had two chances to put the tie to bed, but they couldn’t make their pressure pay. A cross from the first leg’s hero Javier Pastore found its way to the advancing left-back Maxwell, who hit a first time shot low across the face of the goal and wide of the far post.
Then, a delicious diagonal ball over the top from former Newcastle man Yohan Cabaye put Cavani through on goal, but he lifted his shot over the bar under some pressure from the defense. Torres and Marquinhos replaced Oscar and Lucas, leaving Chelsea with three strikers and PSG with five defenders, but it was Ba who was to have the decisive touch three minutes from time.
A shot came in towards the goal but was flying harmlessly wide, however two small deflections took the ball just inside the reach of the flailing Ba, who managed to put his shin through the ball and loop it over the helpless Sirigu. As the Bridge erupted, Mourinho ran down the touchline and hauled players off the ensuing pile-on to issue instructions to Torres, Eto’o and Ba, who were reminded of the need to keep the ball. With ten seconds of the four minutes stoppage time remaining, PSG nearly had a dramatic winner but the teenage defender’s low shot was well saved by Cech, who punched the ensuing corner away to be greeted by the welcome sound of the final whistle.
With Real Madrid also progressing and Atletico, Barca, Bayern Munich and Manchester United playing tonight, there will be no easy game remaining in the competition for the Blues – though Mourinho must surely have his eyes on a possible match-up with former employers Madrid. The question on many people’s lips regards Chelsea’s push for the Premier League title – will their progression prove an inspiration or an unwelcome distraction against a Liverpool side who have played far fewer games this season?