Follow the Ball – Game 10: Paris Saint-Germain vs Chelsea

 
Here we are. The 47th day of 2016 and a chance for Follow the Ball to go international with the return of European football and the UEFA Champions League. When I first decided to watch games in a Winner Stays On fashion, I expected that this week would be my first chance to leave the English domestic game behind – and so far, we’re on track.

Game 6: MK Dons 1-5 Chelsea (c)
The Emirates FA Cup, Sunday 31st January 2016, Stadium mk

Game 7: Watford 0-0 Chelsea (c)
Barclays Premier League, Wednesday 3rd February 2016, Vicarage Road

Game 8: Chelsea 1-1 Manchester United
Barclays Premier League, Sunday 7th February 2016, Stamford Bridge

Game 9: Chelsea (c) 5-1 Newcastle United
Barclays Premier League, Saturday 13th February 2016, Stamford Bridge

After nine games from the two major English domestic competitions, the Champions League should be a nice change of pace.

Game 10: Paris Saint-Germain vs Chelsea
UEFA Champions League, Tuesday 16th February 2016, Parc des Princes

The Skinny: Of the teams seriously wanting to challenge Europe’s big three – Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich – Paris Saint-Germain are probably the closest. They have a squad that just about manages to compete. There is quality throughout their team – such as David Luiz, Marco Verratti, Angel Di Maria and Zlatan Ibrahimovic – and they have got their league title basically sewn up. If the stars have ever aligned for one team to really give the Champions League their full attention, this is Paris’ opportunity.

For Chelsea; it’s hard to figure out where they might be – even after watching them for the last few weeks. They will be without their first choice defensive pairing of John Terry and Kurt Zouma due to injury, and that will probably mean we see two defensive midfielder deployed to frustrate their opponents. The squad hasn’t played well enough this season for the 2012 winners of the competitions to be seen as anything other than outsiders, but with the league gone and a recent upturn in form they should be able to play without pressure.

As actual match previews go, this video by UEFA TV – voiced by Iain Macintosh – is pretty good.

An away goal and nothing worse than 1-1 will suit Chelsea. Any sort of lead should be enough for Paris Saint-Germain although a clean sheet will be the priority.

The Match: A quick Google of the phrase “finely poised” suggests that it is only used in sporting lexicon (although that may have something to do with my search history). It’s certainly applicable after the first leg finished 2-1 to the French team; and ensured I get to spend some time watching French football.

Chelsea allowed their hosts to dominate possession and won’t be that miffed to lose the game. They got their away goal – through John Obi Mikel no less – and that will give the French champions the jitters ahead of their trip to London. Both teams will be happy with their lot coming out of the game, but conscious that the other are still very much in the game. The return leg should be a belter.

It’s a shame for Zlatan that his first Champions League goal against an English side other than Arsenal came when no-one was watching, even if he had a pretty wicked deflection to thank. At 34 the Swede doesn’t have many chances left to finally win the Champions League – as far as I can tell he’s never won it before.

Edinson Cavani’s winning goal was brilliantly taken. He has always been one of those strikers that I assume is good, as his numbers are good. He has scored at least 10 times in each of the last eight league seasons (for Palermo, Napoli and now Paris Saint-Germain) and that’s a dependable record.

From a tight angle, at near full speed and with an onrushing goalkeeper Cavani did superbly well to find the back of the net and win the game for his team. He also ensured to make a point with his celebration as he slide on his knees in front of the home team bench. Last month, Rory Smith brilliantly summed up the the Uruguayan as basically just Dirk Kuyt in more exotic packaging and I plan to check on that theory in the coming game(s).

With only 12 minutes left Chelsea didn’t have time to change their whole plan and go after a second goal. They won’t mind losing by a single goal.

The Result: Paris Saint-Germain 2-1 Chelsea

A new winning team to follow and a chance to watch French football. That went swimmingly well as far as I’m concerned.

What’s next? Paris Saint-Germain vs Stade Reims in Ligue 1

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