A late, brilliant goal from Javier Pastore shocked Chelsea and put Paris Saint-Germain firmly in the driver's seat in their Champions League quarter-final after a 3-1 first-leg victory on Tuesday.
Substitute Pastore scored a wonderful solo goal to double the French side’s lead and give them a healthy advantage heading into next Tuesday’s second leg.
The tally built on the foundation placed by David Luiz’s own goal after Eden Hazard’s penalty had cancelled out Ezequiel Lavezzi’s third-minute opener.
Following a stumbling start, PSG gifted Chelsea a chance to restore parity when Thiago Silva brought down Oscar, but Luiz conceded a somewhat avoidable second goal to restore PSG’s momentum, leaving Jose Mourinho extremely frustrated.
The Portuguese manager then grew even angrier in the dying moments of the game, as Pastore pulled the proverbial rabbit from the hat to make his side the favourites to reach the competition’s semi-finals.
After the defeat Chelsea defender Gary Cahill described Pastore's goal as "sloppy", but Mourinho was even more strident. He told Sky Sports (via ESPN):
I say it is ridiculous. He [Cahill] says it is sloppy, I say it is ridiculous.
The first goal, the ball is in an easy position, we assist the striker and there is nobody for the second ball in the crucial position. In the second goal, I think it is one of my players [David Luiz] in his own goal and that is obviously unlucky but the way the team is positioned is not the correct one.
And finally, the third one is even more, em, 'sloppy'. Gary used that? The word for me is ridiculous.
3 - This is only the second time in 21 CL games that Chelsea have conceded 3+ goals. Reeling.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) April 2, 2014
Mourinho’s decision to select Andre Schurrle as something of a false nine, just as he had done in a negative 0-0 draw with Manchester United at Old Trafford at the start of the season, perhaps indicated that defensive solidity was his priority.
However, it took the home side just three minutes to grab the lead.
In fairness, it was a fine strike that Petr Cech could do little about. Blaise Matuidi fired in a fine cross from the left that John Terry could only head weakly away from goal, straight into the path of Lavezzi.
The Argentine took the ball down and hit a half-volley in one flowing motion, the ball rising over Branislav Ivanovic’s despairing dive and beyond Cech’s clawing reach as it found the back of the net off the underside of the crossbar.
Understandably emboldened by that start, Blanc’s team dominated the early proceedings, with Ramires forced into an early deliberate foul that ensures he will miss the second leg.
Clear-cut chances were relatively sparse, though. Lavezzi wasted two further openings while Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Edinson Cavani struggled to get into the game.
Chelsea, however, had invoked their manager’s ire with the level of their display, as they were restricted to a handful of shots from range. Just before the half-hour mark, they were handed a glorious chance to score, as a lovely touch from Oscar lured his compatriot, Silva, into bringing him down in the box.
Hazard stepped up to take the penalty and coolly sent Salvatore Sirigu the wrong way.
That instantly restored the balance both on the scoreboard and on the pitch, as suddenly Chelsea pushed forward with more threat.
They had one glorious chance before the break—Hazard hitting the post with a first-time volley from Willian’s cross—but were also perhaps lucky not to concede a penalty when Cavani complained bitterly after he fell under a challenge from Cahill.
The referee was not having any of it, believing—perhaps correctly—that the Uruguayan was already slipping before the defender made contact.
The second half began in similar vein to the first, with an unmarked Lavezzi failing to find the target with a header from Matuidi’s cross.
Mourinho responded with a substitution, bringing on Fernando Torres for the hard-running but relatively anonymous Schurrle,. No sooner had he done that, then Chelsea were behind again.
It was a cheap goal to concede, Luiz giving away a somewhat needless foul out on the touchline before compounding the error by turning the resultant delivery into his own net after it had evaded everyone else.
Mourinho fumed, but his team failed to respond positively, with PSG continuing to press—even after Ibrahimovic, their focal point, was forced off with what appeared to be a hamstring injury.
Lucas Moura replaced the Swede and almost immediately made an impact on the flow of the game, with his driving run nearly releasing Cavani for a potentially important third goal.
Another injury hit the home side, with Marco Verratti forced off for Yohan Cabaye, but they were not unduly disrupted. Chelsea struggled to muster any sort of response. Indeed, a brief tussle between Luiz and Cavani was about as fiery as they got in the final 15 minutes.
"Not just a vanity project" means PSG are a good side as well. Were able to send on Pastore, Cabaye and Lucas as subs.— Paul Hayward (@_PaulHayward) April 2, 2014
With 10 minutes remaining, Cavani thought he had turned the tie further in his side’s favour, but his curling shot could not clamber back inside Cech’s far post. Thiago Motta then whiffed a headed chance in injury time, as it looked like the home side would be forced to settle for a 2-1 victory.
Pastore had different ideas.
The substitute looked to have nothing on when he wriggled free inside the box down the right, but the ex-Palermo man danced around both Cesar Azpilicueta and Frank Lampard before beating Cech at his near post.
It was a remarkable twist in the tail, turning the tie further in the French side’s favour. Mourinho knows his team now face an uphill battle to progress.
"I think we managed to be better in the second half," Blanc said afterwards, per UEFA.com. "We won more balls and Javier's goal was fantastic.
"Zlatan felt a slight muscular pain; I'm not sure whether it's his calf or his hamstring. We'll have to look after that but it will require a certain amount of rest."
The second leg of this quarter-final takes place at Stamford Bridge next Tuesday. Prior to that, PSG host Reims in Ligue 1 on Saturday while Chelsea welcome Stoke, who beat them earlier in the season, to West London the same day.