Ligue 1 giants Paris Saint-Germain took a big step toward a place in the Champions League semi-finals on Wednesday night with a 3-1 victory over Jose Mourinho's Chelsea at the Parc des Princes.
The hosts had taken an early lead through Ezequiel Lavezzi but saw Chelsea respond to end the first half level on the scoreboard and on the front foot in the balance of play.
The interval could not come quick enough for Laurent Blanc's side and offered respite from an opponent who were doing their best to disrupt the hosts rhythm—albeit while offering only limited threat in attack.
A momentum change at the break, caused by subtle changes of emphasis in PSG's approach, altered the balance of play in their favour once more, and the hosts did not disappoint.
Thanks to both a David Luiz own goal and an excellent finish by Javier Pastore, they have now established a lead to take to London for what should be an equally competitive second leg.
The basic setups
Chelsea force PSG into first-half errors
PSG's midfield unit has been excellent this season, controlling games against often substantially weaker opposition with relative ease. However, they haven't always been as good at killing off games as they should be when in command.
In the early moments of the first half at the Parc des Princes, the game was heading in PSG's favour. They were the better team and were rewarded with the early goal scored by Argentine striker Lavezzi.
For the remainder of the half, though, there was a lack of ambition. Lavezzi aside, the French club's attacking players offered little, and while PSG were competent at keeping the ball—matching Chelsea 50-50 for possession—they were largely in their own half.
It was almost as though, having got their noses ahead, PSG relaxed in a manner that maybe they can afford most weeks against weaker opposition in their domestic league.
Chelsea deserve credit for their role in proceedings. With their attacking quartet of Willian, Oscar, Eden Hazard and Andre Schurrle all pressing their opponents quickly, PSG were forced into simple mistakes.
With the Parisians deep in their own half, those mistakes—as demonstrated in the diagrams below—gave Chelsea the opportunity to attack quickly from advanced positions.
Brazilian wide midfielder Willian was particularly impressive over the opening 45 minutes for the Blues, while PSG's Marco Verratti was culpable for giving the ball away on several occasions. Oscar, meanwhile, stuck close to Thiago Motta at the base of the midfield.
It was this ability to regularly win the ball back high up the pitch in the second quarter of the game that led to Chelsea's best moves of a half where chances were hard to come by.
The hosts strike back
Laurent Blanc's side quickly reasserted themselves on the game after half-time, having looked worried heading into the break. While no formation change was made, there was a change of emphasis from their ranks.
PSG no longer sat so deep in possession. Full-backs Christophe Jallet and Maxwell both offered more of an out-ball on the flanks, and PSG were able to push into the Chelsea half.
The Brazilian Maxwell was particularly excellent, completing all 63 of his passes on the night, per WhoScored.com. Jallet, too, proved a reliable outlet on the opposite flank, lessening the impact of Chelsea's wide players in the second half.
The Blues failed to find the urgency with which they pressed in the first period. Oscar, eventually withdrawn early for Frank Lampard, was no longer as close to Thiago Motta, while Ramires' influence on the game also waned.
For the latter, a major warning from the referee as to his proximity to a second yellow card inhibited his usual energy. David Luiz, forced to work harder than ever in turn, would then concede the free-kick for PSG's second goal.
With their full-backs pushing higher up the pitch, PSG were also able to bring their wide forwards into the game with increasing regularity—particularly after the 68th-minute introduction of Lucas Moura for Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
While there were plenty of excellent attacking players on the pitch, the pace and directness of both Lavezzi and Lucas troubled Chelsea at various times in the second period.
The Ligue 1 champions had outlets to spread the ball, could push higher up the pitch and were in control of the game—averaging closer to 60 percent possession in the second half.
A tie-changing individual goal?
Sometimes there are moments that change games in just a matter of seconds. And at the highest level, when games are fiercely competitive, it is often these individual contributions that can be decisive.
Argentine Javier Pastore has not always been a hugely popular figure with the PSG support due to his general inconsistency. But his goal in added time on Wednesday swung the tie massively in his side's favour.
Pastore's run was excellent; he had no right to get anywhere near goal from his starting position. The benefits of being truly two-footed were also clear from his well-struck left-footed shot.
Chelsea, though, will be furious at the defending and goalkeeping mistakes that allowed him to score. The previously excellent Cesar Azpilicueta was rash in sliding in, Lampard was beaten too easily and Petr Cech should never have been beaten on his near side.
On such moments of inspiration or, from a Chelsea perspective, casual defending are games won and lost.
The French side will now take a two-goal lead to Stamford Bridge, albeit with the Blues having a potentially important away goal to their name.
The odds are firmly in PSG's favour at this midpoint of the tie, but both Cavani and Lavezzi will have vivid memories of taking 3-1 leads to West London and coming away empty-handed from their Napoli days.
The first battle is won, and thanks to Pastore, Chelsea are a deeply wounded enemy. However, the overall conflict between two of Europe's most wealthy sides is far from over.