Chelsea Should Be Feeling Buoyed Despite UCL Defeat to Paris Saint-Germain

Garry HayesFeatured Columnist IVMarch 10, 2017

Chelsea's Nigerian midfielder John Obi Mikel (3rd L) celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal  during the Champions League round of 16 first leg football match between Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) and Chelsea FC on February 16, 2016, at the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris. AFP PHOTO / KENZO TRIBOUILLARD / AFP / KENZO TRIBOUILLARD        (Photo credit should read KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images)

There's never victory in defeat. Or is there? Chelsea will find out for certain in three weeks when they welcome Paris Saint-Germain to Stamford Bridge for the second leg of their last-16 tie in the UEFA Champions League.

They trail PSG 2-1, so far from being over, this game remains finely in the balance. Laurent Blanc's side may have the advantage by leading on the scoreboard, but the feeling is that we witnessed something encouraging from Chelsea in Paris on Tuesday night.

The Blues looked like the Premier League champions again. They played with a swagger that's been missing this season, matching their opponents in areas few had predicted.

With no John Terry or Kurt Zouma through injury—Nemanja Matic was also suspended—Chelsea's hand was forced, and they had to approach this game differently. They couldn't sit back and soak up pressure and attempt to pick their moments in the way they have done in the past. The emphasis was on them playing to their strengths, which were much different from what we're used to seeing.

When Baba Rahman lines up at left-back, for instance, Chelsea's instincts change completely. It means they have a whole new dynamic in attack, and that factor asked big questions of PSG at the Parc des Princes.

Paris Saint-Germain's Brazilian midfielder Lucas Moura (C) vies for the ball with Chelsea's Nigerian midfielder John Obi Mikel (L) and Chelsea's Spanish defender Cesar Azpilicueta (R) during the Champions League round of 16 first leg football match betwee
FRANCK FIFE/Getty Images

After a cagey opening 20 minutes, Chelsea were their equal. They were soon passing through the French champions, spreading the ball and really working them at the back.

They seized the initiative, and had it not been for a wonderful Kevin Trapp save, tipping Diego Costa's header onto the bar, Chelsea would have taken the lead midway through the first half.

This tie already has a different complexion to it from those in previous seasons when these sides have met in the Champions League—that Costa header would have ensured it even more so.

"We're still in the race," Chelsea interim manager Guus Hiddink said to the BT Sport cameras at full-time, assessing what lies ahead in the second leg.

It's that message the manager must drum home to his players between now and when these sides meet again on 9 March, as Chelsea can't afford to lose the momentum they picked up in Paris.

Given how this season has gone, Chelsea weren't expected to be a match for a side that has remained unbeaten in their domestic league for over 30 matches. PSG hadn't even conceded at home all season in the Champions League, either.

They really do have the look of formidable opponents, but Hiddink's rebuilding at Chelsea continues. From playing with the handbrake on when he deployed that stifling Matic-John Obi Mikel midfield partnership just a few weeks back, the Dutchman has given his players more freedom in this past week, and they've reacted positively.

On Saturday, Chelsea thrashed Newcastle United 5-1, before running PSG close in their own backyard.

Indeed, in the three games Chelsea have played at the Parc des Princes in recent seasons, Tuesday's display was by far their best.

PARIS, FRANCE - FEBRUARY 16:  Lucas Moura of Paris Saint-Germain in action during the UEFA Champions League round of 16 (first leg) between Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea FC at Parc Des Princes on february 16, 2016 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Xavier Lai
Xavier Laine/Getty Images

It hasn't been a happy stamping ground for them in the slightest; Chelsea lost 3-1 there in 2014 and drew 1-1 last season. On each occasion, the Blues looked second best, either being outplayed or by committing some unforgivable mistakes that almost gifted PSG the tie.

Chelsea lost again this time, but the feeling is different now. The sight of Blanc throwing on Javier Pastore with 10 minutes remaining was a sign of that. It meant PSG had four out-and-out attackers on the pitch at a time they would have been expected to close the game out, protecting the cards they had been dealt before we go again at Stamford Bridge.

Watching this Chelsea side, Blanc knew he couldn't miss the opportunity of attempting to score a third to give his side a cushion for when they head to west London. It was the manager showing his players that 2-1 wasn't enough.

That's where the positives are for Chelsea. PSG may well have been the overwhelming favourites to advance into the quarter-finals before a ball was kicked in this game, but despite a victory, they no longer are.

Suddenly Chelsea look capable once again. All those draws in the early stages of Hiddink's second coming may not have dramatically racked up the points in the Premier League, but they seem to have served a whole different purpose.

PARIS, FRANCE - FEBRUARY 16:  Branislav Ivanovic of Chelsea, David Luiz of Paris Saint-Germain, Thibaut Courtois of Chelsea and Edinson Cavani of Paris Saint-Germain shake hands after the UEFA Champions League round of 16 first leg match between Paris Sai
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

From not losing matches at a rate of three a month like they were under Jose Mourinho—this loss was the first of Hiddink's reign—Chelsea's players are now looking stronger, physically and mentally. It meant they did much more than just show up in Paris; they competed.

Transfer that sort of performance to Stamford Bridge, where they'll boast a passionate home crowd behind them, and suddenly the momentum seems to have swung back in their favour.

It's why Blanc was seemingly chasing the first leg to the bitter end of the 90 minutes. Like those in the stadium and millions watching on TV screens across the globe, the PSG manager could sense what was happening, and he needed to combat it.

We're close to 12 months on since the Blues were humbled at Stamford Bridge by 10-man PSG in the last 16 of the Champions League. There's still plenty for both sides to do in this tie as it stands, but the smart money is looking to be on Chelsea to exact their revenge now.


Garry Hayes is Bleacher Report's lead Chelsea correspondent. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow him on Twitter @garryhayes