You would have thought Jose Mourinho’s insistence that his highly-paid stars would not be receiving a Champions League bonus for reaching the last eight was just another one of his mind-games.
The phantom £250,000 windfall per man was strongly denied, but the manner in which his side called upon their usual tricks in a botched attempt to win by whatever means belied an extra sweetener.
The over-riding emotion at full-time of this chaotic encounter was one of relief. Relief for the purists that the team who had played the more enterprising football had prevailed against the dark arts that have so often made an injustice of the sport.
It is on nights like this when you question scrapping the pointless flirting of the group stages all together. The resumption of Europe’s elite competition since the winter break had been underwhelming, but the past two evenings have thrown up as much drama as the entire fare prior to Christmas.
White flags were waved at the beaten but unbowed Champions League holders Real Madrid at the Bernabeu following a soul-searching 4-3 defeat on the night to Schalke, but the blue flag of Chelsea was draped at half-mast 24 hours later by the most sobering of defeats for Jose Mourinho’s side.
Victory would’ve been hollow and underserving for the self-proclaimed Special One. Failure to adapt to the conditions, deploying a risky strategy against 10 men on home soil, was never going to be enough against Laurent Blanc, a man under immense pressure himself to deliver at whatever cost.
It was a night of atonement that punctuated this impressive Paris Saint-Germain performance, as first David Luiz, so often the scourge of Stamford Bridge for his excitable and erratic defensive displays, returned to torment those who bulked at his £50 million price tag, delivering another dose of anguish for those whom he had given sleepless nights during his three-and-a-half spell at the club.
Then, having inexplicably handled in the box to gift Chelsea an unworthy escape route, Thiago Silva rose to land the killer blow with a header which looped above the giant frame of Thibaut Courtois, sinking Chelsea hearts on its way down into the net.Embed from Getty Images
Gary Cahill thought he had the tie won with ten minutes remaining of this ugly, unconvincing night for Chelsea, but despite Eden Hazard’s composed spot-kick six minutes into extra-time, Silva made amends for erring on the penalty to decide this titanic tussle on away goals.
The lethargy into which Jose Mourinho’s side sleepwalked following the wrongful dismissal of Zlatan Ibrahimovic 30 minutes into this feisty affair will have given renewed hope to Manchester City in the domestic race for supremacy.
The Catalans benefitted from a contentious penalty awarded by Bjorn Kuipers then, but unlike on the many occasions Pep Guardiola utilised the extra man to his side’s advantage, it was the 11 men who found themselves on the back foot until Cahill struck.
Mourinho had never exited the Champions League in a two-legged tie having scored away from home in a drawn first leg. The Portuguese described his French opponents as ‘the most aggressive team’ his side has faced this season. It was the kind of swipe that stoked the fire for a feisty night in west London.
“[To draw 1-1 away in the first leg] against opponents with as much power, experience and ambition and pressure to succeed in this competition is a very dangerous result,” Mourinho said before the game. “This is the last 16 match between two of the best teams. One of the best teams will be out of the competition in a matter of hours.”
But his side lacked the grit, if not the guile, that has helped etch his name on this trophy twice in ten years. On the 37th birthday of Didier Drogba, his heir apparent to the throne Costa was tailor made for the fight. His knitted mitts resembling the wrapped knuckles beneath the gloves of a boxer. His were off.
But it was Paris Saint-Germain, wearing black armbands in memory of those who died tragically in a helicopter crash in Argentina this week, who fought with the more pride and incentive right from the first whistle.
Edinson Cavani forced an early corner, which Courtois juggled under the challenge of Luiz. The Brazilian, returning to the Bridge for the first time since his summer departure as part of a defence worth £100m in transfer fees alone, looked at home in the central defensive berth preferred over his midfield role in the Parc des Princes three weeks ago.
Chelsea looked to assert themselves, with passing focused down the left-flank where Eden Hazard menacingly lurked. It meant right-back Marquinhos would be in for a busy night. The Brazilian, linked with Manchester United in the winter, was late on Cesc Fabregas eight minutes in. Mourinho sprung from his technical area and the first howls went up, baying for the sight of yellow. No such handicap was forthcoming from Kuipers, who was in charge of the Blues’ Europa League final success last campaign, but the badgering would remain constant.Embed from Getty Images
The Ligue 1 side were next to appeal, Marco Verratti latching onto Javier Pastore’s delightfully lifted pass before throwing himself to the floor inside the Chelsea penalty box under pressure from Ramires. Kuipers spared his embarrassment keeping his cards in his pocket, but tempers were by now frayed.
It was the home side who were cast as counter-attackers, and only poor control from Oscar prevented a clear four on three scenario engendered straight from the hands of Courtois after a wasted Paris corner. Neither side were being given an inch by high defensive lines, with Ramires the next player to lack the required precision in returning a ball from Hazard back into the Belgian’s path when his preferred option Oscar stood in an offside position.
In truth, the game had seen little incident, and then Le Crunch. Ibrahimovic had hitherto been a nonchalant observer, but this was his only contribution of any note on another bleak evening for the Swede on English soil.
But it was Mourinho’s nine-strong band of irascible interlocutors once more swarming the referee which did for the talismanic forward.
The ball was there to be won, but it was Oscar who arrived first ahead of his assailant, poking the ball before appearing to clatter into the shins of the pony-tailed striker. But it was the force and angle of impact that Kuipers deemed worthy of a straight red card.Embed from Getty Images
Thiago Motta was cautioned in the ensuing uproar. The reaction of the Chelsea players was immediate and forceful, swarming the man in black. Only the Dutch official knows if he hadn’t received undue influence, but the sliding standards of referees in a Chelsea game was again the major talking point.
“It’s not a red card,” Jamie Carragher commented from the Sky Sports studio at half-time. “Oscar is as high as him, if not higher. The reaction of the Chelsea players is disgraceful.
“It’s not a one-off. It’s part of Jose Mourinho’s teams. I think his teams will always be respected, but they’ll never be loved. We see the reaction of players there and Mourinho’s words have worked.”
Graeme Souness added alongside him: “We had a great game of football going on. But it makes me really angry that gamesmanship is deciding really big games.
“I feel this has spoilt the game. Big games at this level are being decided by gamesmanship. If this is what the game’s come to, we need to sort it out quickly.”
A sense of injustice was felt on both sides of the Channel, however, as Costa was then clearly fouled inside the box by a trailing Cavani leg. Mourinho slunk back in his chair, feet up, self-assigned the role of victim once more.
The Portuguese would have ripped into his players at the interval, in a vain attempt to inject a modicum of urgency in his lacklustre charges.
Inhibited, and slightly leggy despite a weekend off, Chelsea had their noses bloodied ten minutes into the second period. Pastore incisively released Cavani with the kind of ball lacking in the hosts’ play all night, but after the Uruguayan had rounded Courtois, he smashed his shot against the near post from the tight angle and agonizingly across the goal-line with the net at his mercy.Embed from Getty Images
The miss acted as a warning sign which finally brought the home side to life, but while former Blues boss Carlo Ancelotti stirred restlessly on the touchline in the dying embers of Tuesday night, Mourinho was given no such reprieve as his dream of a league and European double was ended in dramatic fashion.