STAMFORD BRIDGE, LONDON – Paris Saint-Germain’s European adventure came to a screeching halt at Stamford Bridge as Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea overcame a 3-1 first leg deficit to advance to the UEFA Champions League semi-finals on away goals with a 2-0 win on the night.
For the second time in consecutive seasons, the French champions exit the competition on the wrong side of a 3-3 aggregate scoreline. However, this time around they were beaten in one of the two legs, whereas last campaign they drew twice against Barcelona.
Andre Schurrle and Demba Ba’s goals were enough for the 2012 winners, who showed the better experience at this stage to overcome their disadvantage. Mourinho outwitted PSG counterpart Laurent Blanc, but the Parisians could still have scored a vital away goal themselves that would have rendered the hosts’ double futile.
That chance for the crucial strike fell to Edinson Cavani.
Playing in the middle of an attacking front three for PSG–featuring speed demons Ezequiel Lavezzi and Lucas Moura–the Uruguayan was finally given the chance to play in his favoured role as the focal point of the attack in place of the injured Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
He failed to grasp it.
Cavani put in a poor performance for the Ligue 1 leaders when his team were looking for him to step up and make the difference. It was a display that suggested that el Matador might not be able to stamp his authority on the side from the French capital and eventually become the main man in Zlatan’s place.
Deep into the second half, after being played in by a brilliant lofted through ball from substitute Yohan Cabaye, the South American drilled his shot over when he was expected to demonstrate why he cost the French giants €64million last summer.
Cavani was not alone in showing naïvete for PSG on the night, but it was he who choked at the vital moment. The team struggled to create clear-cut chances and–given the circumstances–the 27-year-old’s was the clearest opening enjoyed by Blanc’s men.
However, Ibrahimovic’s shadow loomed large over the side on the Stamford Bridge pitch, despite the fact that he was sat on the bench with his teammates. The fact that Cavani appeared to be trying to emulate his strike partner, a role totally unsuited to him, was particularly telling.
If this encounter was an audition for Cavani to justify the recent controversy he has caused by complaining about his deployment out wide, he failed to justify his grumblings.
Despite playing through the middle from the start, the Uruguayan international spent more time playing wide than he did as the main focal point of the PSG attack. In effect, the former SSC Napoli man was just another support striker without any recognisable figure leading the line.
The fact that Cavani is prepared to drop back, enter the defensive half of the pitch and get involved to help the Parisians’ defenders at all times is admirable. His willingness to accept being effectively deployed as the world's most expensive makeshift defender in the first leg was commendable even.
However, when cast as the leading man and particularly away from home, it is something that he could not afford to do.
Not a single shot on target over 90 minutes in a match of this calibre–the sort of game that convinced PSG to spend big on him in order to guarantee that chances are not missed–makes for damming reading.
The fact that he picked up a foolish booking that would have ruled him out of the semi-finals, had the side from the French capital made it, added insult to injury.
While Blanc will no doubt incur plenty of wrath for his role in the defeat, arguably not making the right changes to the team from the first leg and for not making the necessary substitutions in order to change the flow of the match, the fact remains that PSG had the chance to score.
That goal, away from home, would have ultimately put them in the semi-finals and Cavani was unable to take it. Ibrahimovic arguably would not have let such a chance pass.
Zlatan was missed.
Not only was the Swede’s absence sorely felt because of his ability in front of goal and to orchestrate the play from deep for the French giants, but his experience was also needed. The 32-year-old has a reassuring presence for his teammates and, deprived of their talisman, they were forced to turn to Cavani.
Predatory striker he might be, but the Uruguayan does not boast the same all-round package that Ibrahimovic does. He is not at that level yet and arguably might never get there, certainly not for PSG.
To say that Cavani has been a flop at PSG is unfair; he has scored 15 league goals and a further seven in all other competitions. However, there can be no doubt that that something has changed with el Matador since 2014.
His position has now become a problem when, prior to Christmas, it was not an issue. Following a showing like the one at Chelsea though, he will not be getting many more chances to lead the line in his favoured central role until he earns it.