Champions league football stands out as the pinnacle of experience for a club supporter for many reasons – the prestige, the history of the competition, the night atmosphere, among others; the thing which is truly remarkable about these evenings however is none of the above, but their capacity to suppress into irrelevance all of the trivial narratives and subplots that invariably dominate the build-up. When the game finally kicks off, no one is concerned by statistics or the contents of the manager’s presser. Grounds simply fill up with raw emotion and passion and the outcome is a scenario where even games as disjointed and aggressive as last night’s can become instant classics in a club’s history. Yesterday might not have been our best performance of the season; it was, nonetheless, an enthralling tactical contest with an astonishingly dramatic ending and ultimately another vintage night of Champions League football, indisputably won by the better team.
It was another vintage moment in the career of Jose Mourinho also, who despite predicting beforehand that his side would manage to upset their French opposition, had reasonably lost some face with the supporters over the past few weeks. Since the defeat to Aston Villa the Portuguese had become increasingly sullen and irascible in his analysis of his players and referees. But last night was a crucial reminder, ahead of this final month to the season of just what he’s really all about – the game highlighting his qualities as a coach almost perfectly. In preparing his side for the big occasion/as a motivator, he is unrivalled in his profession. Whilst as a tactician, nothing was left to chance in terms of organisation and whilst his tactics and substitutions seemed intuitively obvious, they were perfectly timed/implemented. Laurent Blanc is a good coach and has done a decent job at PSG; last night however, he was comprehensively outthought.
Petr Cech – After a disappointing first leg performance and with rumours in Spain of Thibaut Courtois’ imminent return, this was a vitally dominant performance from the Czech. He dealt with everything that came into his box calmly and made a crucial (though straightforward) save right at the end. 7/10
Branislav Ivanovic – The Serb was another who managed to live up to his well-earned reputation as a big game player. With PSG sitting deep, Ezequiel Lavezzi was their key attacking player on the break and Ivanovic did a fine job to limit his influence. He’ll be missed, without question in the first leg of the semi-final 6/10
Gary Cahill – Probably the most comfortable of our backline in the highline we had no choice to employ last night. Edinson Cavani was extremely disappointing over the course of the two legs but Cahill’s role in subduing the Uruguayan isn’t to be disregarded. He should’ve scored however, uncharacteristically snatching at a chance at the end of the first half. 6/10
John Terry – The relentless personification of what makes Chelsea such a tough competitor on nights like yesterday. Despite being set in a higher position than we know he’s comfortable in, the captain was his usual impeccable self. It’d be dishonest to suggest that this was a particularly challenging evening for him however. 7/10.
Cesar Azpilicueta – Much of how well Azpilicueta has done this year has been due to his limited responsibility at first to move forwards and his licence to focus on defending. That is no longer the case however. Against even a player as fast and difficult to mark as Lucas Moura, our Spanish ‘makeshift’ left back did an fanstastic job last night, both defensively and offensively. He has become an outstanding all-round full back. 7/10
David Luiz – In a performance every bit as erratic and gritty as the game itself, Luiz did more than anybody to help keep the French side pressed back and to continually win possession. He is really beginning to grow into this ‘volante’/midfield destroyer position under Jose Mourinho – 8/10
Frank Lampard – Showed his age with some late tackles and by tiring visibly around the hour mark but throughout the first I thought he was excellent with his distribution from midfield, recycling possession quickly and picking out several key long passes. 5/10
Willian – Followed up a MOTM performance on Saturday with another fantastic all-round contribution. The Brazilian has gradually added a level of sophistication and intelligence to his game over the season and is currently the most in-form (certainly attacking) squad member we have 7/10
Oscar – Thank goodness our other outstanding Brazilian all-rounder seems to be recovering his best form also, although he still looks a fraction off the pace, last night was his most energetic and influential performance for a long time. 8/10.
Andre Schurrle – Surely the most flattering way to describe the German’s contribution was that he managed to leave nobody missing Eden Hazard. He exposed Christophe Jallet as the weak link in this PSG side throughout the first half, whilst his finish was unbelievably cool and techinically superb. 7/10
Samuel Eto’o – Played despite not being ‘fit’ fit, and did a reasonable job, Quite understandably didn’t have the pace or sharpness to give Thiago Silva any problems but helped a great deal in holding back the PSG midfield by dropping deep and wide at times. 5/10
Fernando Torres & Demba Ba – Although it was the Senegalese who grabbed the winning goal and the headlines, both forwards deserve equal credit for their part in ensuring our more direct style of play towards the end paid dividends. For me, Fernando Torres’ challenge on Alex and knock down for Azpilicueta’s assist was equally as impressive and gutsy as Demba Ba’s finish. Fair play to both of them. 6/10
I know it’s a shame to be at all pessimistic after such an impressive victory, but there are some problems as a result of last night worth bringing up. The first being Eden Hazard’s calf injury which looks set to sideline the Belgian for ‘at least two weeks’ and maybe even the semi-final first leg and our away game to Liverpool. No one needs telling what a crushing blow this is. Hopefully the improved form of our other attacking midfield options will be enough to compensate. The fact that the semi-final ties will sandwich our league match with Liverpool is another potential cause for cynicism. Even now the Premier League is surely still our best chance of silverware this year and now our odds have undeniably been lengthened – even if only a small amount, this is surely a season where the small details will be decisive.
Now is not the time for disparaging rumination of such permutations however. Now is the time to be proud of reaching our seventh Champions League semi-final in 11 years. And it’s the time to enjoy the afterglow of yet another famous European performance in which our ability to win a game by sheer force of will has been made manifest in such wonderfully dramatic circumstances. We might be a deeply imperfect side, but the fact we can take these imperfections and still be in with a shout of the double, should tell you all you need to know about the uniqueness of this side’s character and capabilities in Europe. The remaining sides will all be delighted to draw us in the semis, but they can bet their lives it won’t be easy. Perhaps the most definitive lesson of recent Champions League history, is count out Chelsea at your peril.