Champions League: Courtois keeps Chelsea, PSG even; Bayern held
None of the four teams kicking off the Champions League round of 16 could gain a true advantage in their first legs on Tuesday. The 2015 knockout round began with two draws, as Shakhtar Donetsk couldn’t break through a 10-man Bayern Munich, while Paris Saint-Germain came back to draw 1-1 with Chelsea at the Parc des Princes.
PSG and Chelsea came out with low postures, with neither willing to throw too many numbers forward in fear of going behind on a counterattack. After Chelsea scored with its first shot on target 10 minutes before halftime, PSG had to change its approach.
Laurent Blanc’s men came out more positively in the second half and received an almost-immediate reward. Crowded out by Chelsea’s low 4-4-2 defensive shape, central midfielders Blaise Matuidi and Marco Verratti pulled wide to find space. Matuidi combined with left back Maxwell and crossed in for Edinson Cavani to equalize with a header in the 54th minute.
In Lviv, Ukraine, Shakhtar continued to play its home games in exile due to the military conflict in Ukraine that has left its Donbass Arena with structural damage. Bayern left the match with damage to its own tactical structure, as Xabi Alonso was sent off for two yellow-card offenses in his 100th career Champions League match.
Shakhtar mainly absorbed pressure to that point, but Mircea Lucescu’s team began to press more in the last 20 minutes with the numerical advantage. On the other bench, Pep Guardiola should be unsatisfied that his team struggled against a team making its 2015 debut after a long winter break, but getting any sort of result at the Allianz Arena will be a struggle for Shakhtar.
Here is what else caught the eye after Tuesday's first-leg encounters:
Player of the Day: Thibaut Courtois, Chelsea
Courtois drew praise from David Luiz for his shot-stopping after the match, and rightfully so. A vital save on a Cavani header just before halftime preserved the 1-0 score at the break for Chelsea, and a couple other point-blank efforts looked bound for goal if not for last-second interventions from the goalkeeper.
Rumblings before the match were that Petr Čech might get to start, but Courtois cemented his No. 1 status with another superb performance. He couldn’t do anything on PSG’s goal, as Cavani’s unmarked header from six yards out had plenty of power on it, and he directed it toward the ground, which is the most difficult spot for a goalkeeper to come up with a save from that range. Courtois managed to do so on his final save, one that denied Zlatan Ibrahimovic a match-winning goal.
Moment of the Day: Three Chelsea defenders combine for crucial away goal
Branislav Ivanović has a knack for scoring in key games for Chelsea, and he nodded home his 30th in the first half. It came off a set piece that PSG cleared with its first effort. As it bounced wide, John Terry was the unlikely first on the scene.
He played the ball back toward the middle, finding central-defensive partner Gary Cahill with his back to goal. Rather than trying to take a touch, Cahill deftly flicked the ball with his heel toward goal, where Ivanović glanced it home from close range.
Major Takeaway of the Day: First legs rarely produce all-out attacking play; these fit the trend
Nobody wants to lose in the first 90 minutes of what is essentially a 180-minute matchup. Despite a heavily-favored Bayern failing to score against a clearly inferior Shakhtar, all Guardiola has to do is find a way to win at home to advance to the quarterfinals.
José Mourinho has the biggest reputation for defensive football among the four managers whose teams played today, and he didn’t disappoint in his approach against PSG.
Remember that even a one-goal loss in the first leg away in the same matchup last year couldn’t keep Chelsea from winning, which shows that it’s important just to be within striking distance when the second leg rolls around.
Neither of these ties is over, which bodes well for March 11, when they will be decided.
How the Second Legs Shape Up
Bayern Munich's last loss at the Allianz Arena came in last year’s Champions League, the 4-0 shock defeat to Real Madrid, and it has only failed to win there once since then, in its 1-1 Bundesliga draw with Schalke early this month.
Even without Xabi Alonso, it’s tough to see Bayern losing against a Ukrainian side that hardly threatened Manuel Neuer’s goal.
In Paris, PSG came out of its defensive shell in response to conceding and found the crucial equalizer, but that won’t be enough to win if Chelsea can keep a clean sheet at Stamford Bridge. The Blues won on away goals last year but needed a win in the home leg to do it; this time, they don’t, so it could be a long 90 minutes of frustration tactics from Mourinho’s men.
For both home teams in the next game, it feels like one goal might do it. Once Bayern gets one, more will almost certainly follow. For Chelsea, one goal coupled with an away goal from today could be all the excuse Mourinho needs to lock down the defensive end and bleed the clock for the rest of the game.