Lightning is incredibly unlikely to strike twice, especially in European competition. Chelsea have rode that train before and somehow emerged victorious. To go at it again, to attempt to reclaim the Champions League without a good enough centre-forward, is looking to be an exercise in futility.
PSG are proving to be the real deal in Europe. They went out at this stage of the competition last year after giving it a real go against Barcelona. They’re not just here to make up the numbers, but to conquer Europe as they have done their domestic league.
The gulf in both teams’ forward line was glaring and stunning considering the stage we’re at in the Champions League. Jose Mourinho opted against both Fernando Torres and Demba Ba and selected Andre Schurrle to act as Chelsea’s point of attack. The German is neither a centre-forward nor an effective false.9. As Lionel Messi has shown countless times since Pep Guardiola’s reign in Barcelona, that position requires much more than simply adding another body in midfield and “controlling” the game, as Mourinho implied post-match.
At the other end of the pitch, French football’s representative in Europe resembled more of a super group in attack than a run-of-the-mill football team. The image of Laurent Blanc’s forward line being flown out of Italy and parachuted into Paris, with the backdrop of the Eiffel Tower, is an easy one to envisage.
PSG have acquired the very best from Italian football and thrown them together – though there is without question method to the extravagant madness. Zlatan Ibrahimovic may have been quiet by his standards, but his constant threat was telling by how closely Chelsea’s players chose to watch him. Edinson Cavani also had an off night in an attacking sense, but Chelsea, above most others, should be well aware of the Uruguayan’s capabilities in front of goal; while former Napoli teammate Ezequiel Lavezzi was simply fantastic.
PSG showed Chelsea that if one doesn’t get you, one of the many others will. Blanc’s side shifted formation throughout; the basis was 4-3-3, but the ability of many to slot into various positions made it tough work for Chelsea. Ibrahimovic, as an example, has been known to drop deeper into midfield at this stage of his career. With 11 assists in Ligue 1, he’s a supplier for others as much as a goal scorer himself.
If Blanc’s fluid system needed an opportunity to tell of its effectiveness, Lucas Moura came on for Ibrahimovic to add pace, which for the most part can be described as stunning, and Javier Pastore relieved Lavezzi late on to provide the third in the 3-1 win. The Argentine arrived in Paris as the club’s marker of intent from Palermo in 2011. He came as a No.10, but in this system he proved to be a more than able addition to the front three.
The Parisians rapid assembly of some of the best players in the world show not only that they understand the need to keep up with those who have been at this game for much longer, but also that there can be no weakness if they’re looking to dominate in Europe, a Europe where Bayern, Real Madrid and Barcelona possess such strength and depth in quality.
Tactics is a vital component in forging a winning team, as Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp and Mourinho will attest to. But being the best tactically also requires the best to execute those instructions to good effect. There’s no cutting corners with this PSG team. That which Mourinho has bemoaned for much of the season – his lack of quality options in attack – is a problem completely alien to the French league leaders.