Chelsea 1-2 PSG - A Tactical Analysis

Following a 2-1 home win for Paris Saint-Germain in the first leg, both they and Chelsea could consider themselves to be in a good position ahead of the second match between the sides at Stamford Bridge. PSG were largely dominant in the opening game and deservedly earned a lead to bring to London, but an inability to convert that control over Guus Hiddink’s side into clear chances meant that Chelsea were far from out of it – and their very useful away goal had potential to really punish the French side for that.

Both teams only made one change to their starting eleven from the game in Paris. For Chelsea, the 20-year-old Kenedy was brought into the team at left-back for Abdul Baba Rahman, but otherwise their 4-2-3-1 shape from the first leg remained intact. PSG’s change similarly did very little to affect their fluid 4-3-3 structure in possession, although in personnel terms it was quite a drastic switch; an injury to Marco Verratti meaning that their side’s main playmaker was absent from the midfield. Instead, Adrien Rabiot (also 20) was called upon to play alongside Blaise Matuidi and Thiago Motta.

Verratti’s absence didn’t really hinder PSG in the early stages though, and for the most part they, much like in the first game, controlled things for the opening 20 minutes. Rabiot filled in very well for the Italian, rotating excellently with Motta to help create space and ease their build-up phase of play, while Ángel Di María regularly dropped into the midfield to support them and become the extra man. This constant movement and overloading, enhanced further by Lucas Moura making lots of runs infield from the left flank, meant there was a real dynamism about the French side when they had the ball.

Lots of movement and quick combination play from PSG meant that they found it easy to create free players & get behind the Chelsea midfield in the early stages of the game.

Lots of movement and quick combination play from PSG meant that they found it easy to create free players & get behind the Chelsea midfield in the early stages of the game.

And Chelsea’s man-orientated defensive structure struggled to cope with that initially. They were unable to put much pressure on PSG’s deeper playmakers, despite them holding a higher line than they did at the Parc des Princes, and didn’t hold a shape that was compact enough to block off the central areas of the pitch properly. Lucas and Di María often found lots of space between the lines of their 4-4-1-1, giving them opportunities to drive at the defence which (in combination with the more advanced defensive line) dragged players out of position and meant there were opportunities for both them and Zlatan Ibrahimović to get in behind.

This all came together neatly for the opening goal of the game, PSG taking the lead in the 16th minute and negating any fears they might’ve previously held over Chelsea’s away goal. It was quite an avoidable goal from a Chelsea perspective though – the initial defensive mistake being made by Cesc Fàbregas, who abandoned his position near Di María to step up from midfield and try to press Motta upon his receiving of the ball. Motta easily used a first-time pass to avoid the pressure, though, finding the now unmarked Argentine winger with a ton of space for him to run into.

He exploited that, carrying the ball towards the Chelsea defence and pulling both Kenedy and Branislav Ivanović (poor communication between the two to both step up) towards him; opening space for Ibrahimović to run into. Gary Cahill initially tracked his diagonal run behind, but he then indecisively moved back towards the centre of the box, giving the Sweden international plenty of time to pick out the deep run of Rabiot at the far post. Rabiot duly tucked the ball home with a simple finish, and just like that the poor structure of Chelsea’s team led to PSG going 1-0 up.

Fàbregas stepping out of position left a huge hole in the Chelsea midfield, and Motta exposed this with a simple first-time pass to Di María here. Now, with nobody to close him down, the winger had lots of space to run into and eventually play the pass which was prior to the assist for the opening goal.

Fàbregas stepping out of position left a huge hole in the Chelsea midfield, and Motta exposed this with a simple first-time pass to Di María here. Now, with nobody to close him down, the winger had lots of space to run into and eventually play the pass which was prior to the assist for the opening goal.

Shortly afterwards, however, the game started to change. Chelsea began to defend less passively, pressing more up the pitch and getting closer to the players who were developing possession from the back for their opponents. Rabiot typically coped very well with the pressure placed upon him but Motta, who’s usually quite press resistant but lacks mobility, struggled to deal with it on a fair few occasions – leading to a number of opportunities for turnovers and contributing to a slowing down of their overall build-up play.

All four of Diego Costa, Eden Hazard, Pedro and Willian pressed effectively for the home side, especially the latter two, while the midfielders behind them (Fàbregas and John Obi Mikel) also did a good job of pushing up and helping to keep Chelsea compact vertically. PSG still managed to find a bit of space between the lines sporadically at first, Di María and Lucas continuing to make threatening runs, but as time went on they got increasingly less support to the player in possession in the middle and final thirds of the pitch.

Shortly after PSG took the lead, Chelsea began to restrict their midfield access and make it much harder for them to build play. This led to the French side often moving the ball wide in an attempt to try and find a route forward, but they didn't have much success.

Shortly after PSG took the lead, Chelsea began to restrict their midfield access and make it much harder for them to build play. This led to the French side often moving the ball wide in an attempt to try and find a route forward, but they didn't have much success.

Laurent Blanc’s wingers reacted to that by taking up much wider starting positions when they were trying to develop play. This made it a little easier for PSG to keep the ball, because they weren’t attempting to go through the middle of the pitch with Chelsea blocking it off, but David Luiz and Thiago Silva were forced into pretty harmless circulation from the back as a result.

Despite the momentum shift, a period in which they scored, Chelsea didn’t really retain possession a great deal themselves during this part of the game. Given that they weren’t set-up to play in such a manner that was no real surprise though; instead they looked most threatening in transitions, when their three attacking midfielders could run at speed into space and exploit the individualistic nature of PSG’s defending in such phases. The threat of those fast ball-carriers was certainly evident in the first leg, and it was at Stamford Bridge too.

Following a pass infield from Rabiot to Motta, Pedro put in some excellent pressing work to force him off the ball in a dangerous position. The ball then ended up going to Willian, with both he and Pedro now having lots of space to run into.

Following a pass infield from Rabiot to Motta, Pedro put in some excellent pressing work to force him off the ball in a dangerous position. The ball then ended up going to Willian, with both he and Pedro now having lots of space to run into.

Their aforementioned work off the ball was often what allowed them the opportunities to do that to its full effect, meaning that, in the event of a turnover, they could hit PSG when they were in their wider possession shape. That was shown when they equalised through Costa in the 27th minute, Motta being rushed off the ball by Pedro in the build-up phase – allowing him and Willian space to combine together in the gap behind the away side’s midfield. The Brazilian then fed Costa through, and the striker excellently engineered a shooting opportunity for himself against Silva before firing past Kevin Trapp to make it 1-1.

Chelsea managed to create a couple of minor chances between when they scored the goal and the half-time interval, while PSG had a soft header from Ibrahimović comfortably saved by Thibaut Courtois after Lucas did well to get a cross in, but other than that the game continued very much in the same pattern for quite a significant period of time. Neither side made a substitution or noticeable tactical change during the break, though one did eventually happen on the hour mark when Costa was forced to go off with a muscle injury.

Willian regularly found pockets of space to drive into as the game progressed, as did Hazard at times, with Fàbregas being the one to keep the ball moving for Chelsea.

Willian regularly found pockets of space to drive into as the game progressed, as did Hazard at times, with Fàbregas being the one to keep the ball moving for Chelsea.

Bertrand Traoré came on as his replacement having impressed a lot in his recent breakthrough appearances, but losing the Spaniard was quite a blow for Hiddink at a time when they were pushing for a necessary goal. Chelsea did still continue to show some threat regardless though; Fàbregas was moving the ball smoothly, while Hazard and Willian got into some dangerous pockets of space in the final third. The two attackers forced an impressive double save from Trapp, and with PSG looking far from their best with the ball (now they really were feeling the absence of Verratti) there was certainly a chance for the home side to go on and score the goal which would even up the tie.

So, for all their good work from the 20th minute onwards, it was a bit of a sucker punch when PSG scored again in the 67th minute through Ibrahimović. Just like the other two goals in the match, there was something quite avoidable about this – César Azpilicueta switching off to the threat of Di María running in behind him. Initially it looked as if the Argentine had given the ball away with a sloppy lateral ball infield, but Motta reacted quickly to play a wonderful pass through the left half-space to the winger. Di María then chased it down and put in a similarly excellent cross to the back post, Ibrahimović tapping home and suddenly giving Chelsea a mountain to climb.

With Azpilicueta switched off, Di María was able to run in behind him and get on the end of a superb first-time pass from his teammate, Motta. This then left him in a great position to cross it to Ibrahimović, who started his run towards the far post here.

With Azpilicueta switched off, Di María was able to run in behind him and get on the end of a superb first-time pass from his teammate, Motta. This then left him in a great position to cross it to Ibrahimović, who started his run towards the far post here.

Extra-time was now off the table and, given that Chelsea needed to score three late goals to have any chance of progression, the tie was realistically over as a contest. Unsurprisingly that consequently led to a drop in intensity from the home side and there was a pretty quiet end to the game other than a few substitutions (Hazard came off for Chelsea, and PSG subbed off three of their key players) which changed very little.

Chelsea’s Champions League campaign came to an end with more of a whimper than they would’ve hoped for, then, but given the pretty disastrous season they’d been having up until lately it was no real surprise to see them get knocked out at this stage. They showed promise in various periods of the two games, keeping themselves well in the tie up until the third goal went in at Stamford Bridge, but ultimately the better side went through in the end.

As for PSG, well, it wasn’t a great performance from them on the night. It was far from their best in fact, but, in contrast to the first leg when their midfield and excellent build-up play comfortably carried them through, it was a clinical edge from the attack which helped to secure their win this time. They punished two defensive mistakes from Chelsea, and while they’ll need to play much more like they did in the first leg if they’re to fulfil their ambitions of lifting the trophy in May, they deserved their qualification through to the quarter-finals.