Wednesday March 11th, 2015

Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich will join Real Madrid and FC Porto in the Champions League quarterfinal draw next week after a stunning, and controversial night of action in Europe’s elite competition. Bayern progressed after winning 7-0 against Shakhtar Donetsk, who had Oleksandr Kurcher sent off after just three minutes. The German side's goals came from Thomas Muller (two), Jerome Boateng, Franck Ribery, Holger Badstuber, Robert Lewandowski and World Cup final hero Mario Gotze.

PSG played for 90 minutes with 10 men after the talismanic Zlatan Ibrahimovic was shockingly dismissed in the first half but still beat a below-par Chelsea on away goals thanks to Thiago Silva’s extra-time winner from a long-distance header.

Here is what caught the eye after a pair of wildly different matches:

Player of the Day: Thiago Silva, PSG 

The PSG captain went from villain to hero in the space of 18 minutes. After watching his fellow Brazilian center back and former Chelsea stalwart David Luiz score a late equalizer in regulation– with a textbook header into the roof of the net, reminiscent of Didier Drogba’s header in the 2012 Champions League final–Silva had a moment of madness in the first half of extra time.

He raised his arms to a high ball and made needless contact with his hand. Silva even seemed to nod in agreement when referee Bjorn Kuipers (more on him soon) awarded it. That gave Eden Hazard the chance to put Chelsea ahead from the spot, and he took it. 

But Silva was not finished. With both sides clearly weak from set pieces –all four goals at Stamford Bridge Wednesday came as a result of corners–Silva was at the other end and came close with a header that Thibaut Courtois brilliantly pushed around the post. From the subsequent corner, Silva outjumped his man and looped a header from about 14 yards away into the top corner. It was his moment of redemption. And he even managed to waste an extra 90 seconds with an emotional celebration.

“He made a mistake, and like a man, he rectified it,” said TV pundit Thierry Henry.

Moment of the Day: Zlatan Ibrahimovic sent off for PSG

Paris Saint-Germain’s task became a whole lot harder after its key player Ibrahimovic was sent off 31 minutes into the game. The decision was a controversial one: Ibra and Oscar both flew into a full-blooded tackle. Both players were a little high, and Oscar looked like he came off worst, rolling over four times and clutching his ankle. Immediately, Kuipers was surrounded by nine–yes, nine–Chelsea players demanding punishment.

“It was a disgraceful response from the Chelsea players,” former Liverpool star, now TV analyst Jamie Carragher said on Sky Sports. 

Kuipers responded quickly, perhaps too quickly. The supermarket owner is one of Europe’s top refs: he worked the 2013 Europa League final, the 2014 Confederations Cup final and last year’s Champions League final (he was also in charge when Luis Suarez, then at Ajax, bit Ottman Bakkal).

This time, his red card was out of his pocket in a flash, and, with Ibra still on the floor kneeling on one knee, the Dutchman sent him packing. Without complaint, to his credit, the Swede headed off down the tunnel. But on the play in question, Ibrahimovic kept his leading foot pointing down, and even looked like he was pulling out of the challenge to avoid dangerous play. Replays showed the decision was a wrong one. 

That ignited an already feisty affair, with David Luiz’s tangles with Diego Costa an ongoing sub-plot. Luiz even fell out with Branislav Ivanovic at a corner. More yellow cards, to Oscar and Blaise Matuidi, quickly followed, and just when you thought that Jose Mourinho’s pre-match comments about PSG’s physical approach had clearly hit home, Chelsea then found reason for complaint: Costa claimed Luiz had elbowed him off the ball, and just before halftime, Edinson Cavani clipped Costa’s heel in the box.

Kuipers turned down strong shouts for a penalty. Mourinho laughed on the touchline. At that point, Kuipers had lost control and needed halftime to come. 

Things calmed down a little in the second half, for much of which Chelsea looked content to play for a 0-0 draw. It had some might nervy moments, not least when Cavani was one-on-one with Courtois, but somehow struck the near post and the ball agonizingly rolled across the face of goal.

PSG had more Kuipers complaints when Costa went through the back of Thiago Silva and was shown only a yellow card (he could have got another for pushing Marquinhos but Kuipers and his three assistants missed it). 

Major Takeaway of the Day: Referee drama follows Chelsea 

In the past, Chelsea’s Champions League eliminations have been embroiled in controversy: Anders Frisk against Barcelona in 2005, Tom Henning Ovrebro against the same opposition in 2009. Both times Chelsea claimed the officials were against the club, but it could have no such complaints this time. Ibrahimovic was unlucky; Costa very lucky.

In France, the TV commentators were stunned by Kuipers’ decisions. Was it because Mourinho had got into his head with his pre-match comments, or because no team surrounds and pressures referees like Chelsea?

“Chelsea were punished for their lack of football, their refusal to play,” said former Lyon coach Remi Garde. “They paid the price in the end for being too calculating.” 

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Said a relatively calm Mourinho after the game​: "Our performance was not good enough. The game was in our hands twice. PSG was stronger than us, they coped better with pressure of game. With 10 men, we felt even more the pressure of winning, and they had nothing to lose.” 

Perhaps Chelsea relaxed once Ibrahimovic was off the pitch, thinking it would be easier than it was.

In which case the sending-off perhaps helped the visitor: Ibra had done little before that point, and his dismissal coincided with Marco Verratti playing the game of his life and dominating the midfield.

Mourinho also claimed that PSG “were aggressive the same way [as the first leg], they were clever, and they did what we didn't. After second goal, they stopped completely the game, with simulation, substitution and long celebrations.” As though he does not do the same on a regular basis!

For the rest of us, though, the sight of blue shirts surrounding the referee after every tackle, of Costa constantly playing on the edge, deserving "orange" cards and winding up opponents is getting tiresome. The fact is, Chelsea is the best team in England, the best the Premier League has to offer. It should not need to resort to such tactics. That it does, and still loses, does Mourinho no favors.

Assessing Bayern, PSG as deep-run candidates

This was a Bayern side without (arguably) its first-choice midfielders Philipp Lahm, Xabi Alonso and Thiago Alcantara, and it did not miss a beat. Guardiola even left Juan Bernat, one of Bayern’s stars of the season so far, on the bench. With Arjen Robben going off injured after 20 minutes, and Ribery injured later on, this was a potential banana-skin safely negotiated by the competition favorite.

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It could have been even more comfortable, as  Lewandowski headed against the post in the first half. Guardiola won’t allow a repeat of last season’s semifinal rout by Real Madrid, and with his varied use of fullbacks–sometimes he picks all four, Bernat, Lahm, Alaba and Rafinha–his tactics make Bayern the side no one will want in the draw.

“His team constantly changes position to get the better of you,” Shakhtar coach Mircea Lucescu said before the game. “It’s more tactical than physical, and reminds me of Holland’s Total Football in the 1970s.” One difference, Mircea: Holland never won a title with that side. 

Guardiola’s night got even better with the news that his nemesis Mourinho was knocked out. It also plays into Bayern hands too: PSG must now be taken seriously for a deep run in the competition–after away-goals losses to Barcelona and Chelsea in the previous two seasons–but, until now, has lacked the street-savvy of Chelsea.

The last eight is the bare minimum requirement for coach Laurent Blanc, but for a coach under pressure and reportedly fearing for his job, the situation is not looking too bad: one point off the top of Ligue 1, in the final of the League Cup, the semifinal of the French Cup and now in the Champions League quarterfinals.

As David Ginola put it: “Tonight, a team has been born.”

13:20 | Planet Futbol
Under The Crest: Chelsea FC

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