No airs and graces about Chelsea
As a neutral, you would be forgiven if you were not too interested in Chelsea’s second leg against Porto. There was some wild attacking football going on in Paris, after all, and even Thomas Tuchel recognised that this was not great for television viewing.
But this business-like Chelsea side showed they have professionalism to play two-legged European football, despite inexperience running throughout the squad. Chelsea’s full-backs in Seville were 21-year-old Reece James and 24-year-old Ben Chilwell. Their front line of Christian Pulisic, Kai Havertz and Mason Mount? Just 22, 21 and 22 respectively.
This is not the age or profile of players you would expect to be supremely disciplined, but Chelsea’s youngsters resisted the urge to commit numbers forward, perhaps helped by an empty stadium.
Disregarding a quite sublime Mehdi Taremi overhead kick in the fourth minute of injury-time, this was nearly the perfect second-leg performance. That front three, attack-minded at their core, knew their role: slow down play, win fouls and fight hard.
Pulisic, in particular, was brilliant, and responsible for 11 of the 20 fouls won by Chelsea. It is not creativity. It is not silky play. It is certainly not glorious, unless you are Tuchel looking on. He barely had a touch in the Porto box. But it was so necessary to see Chelsea through, in a home game that felt like an away game, and shows that Tuchel’s side have this chameleon-like ability to adapt to their surroundings.
Such is the nature of two-legged football, it will most probably be needed again.
Has Poch found the perfect mix of skill and steel?
It was hard to ignore any of the majestic PSG front three as Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Angel Di Maria were all full of invention and quality as Maurico Pochettino’s side booked their spot in the last four. A 1-0 defeat on the night to Bayern Munich was still good enough to make it through having scored three goals in Germany. If Bayern had scored another to knock them out it would have been a huge injustice. Neymar struck the post and bar, while Mbappe’s pace in behind Bayern’s high line was at times frightening.
The most important part of the PSG performance was going the other way, though.
The key area where this game was won was the space in front of the PSG back four. Bayern – through Thomas Muller mostly – work that part of the pitch so cleverly, but there was no way through in this game. The PSG defence were protected expertly by Idrissa Gueye, who put in the performance of his life. He has taken his game to another level since his Everton days, judged on this performance. When he was required to snuff out danger, he was there. When he was required to cover one of his team-mates, he was there. For all their attacking talent, Gueye is perhaps their most important player in this style under Pochettino.
No player made more tackles than him on the night (six) as he was supported in the engine room by the classy Leandro Paredes, who sparked plenty of PSG counter-attacks with sublime passing into his front three.
PSG now seem to have the platform to support their array of attacking riches.
Is this the end for Flick?
No Bayern Munich manager has ever posted a higher win percentage than Hansi Flick. Nope, not even Pep Guardiola.
Yet, the current boss could have just managed his last game in the Champions League for Bayern Munich having been knocked out by PSG.
Since taking over when the club were fourth in the Bundesliga in November 2019, everything Flick had previously touched has turned to silverware, winning the Treble in the form of the Bundesliga, German Cup and Champions League. A 12th-straight Bundesliga title looks on the cards, too, with just six games remaining.
Yet, Flick’s future is in serious doubt with the 56-year-old the strong favourite to replace the outgoing Joachim Low as Germany manager after the relationship with Bayern sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic became unworkable, according to reports in BILD.
RB Leipzig boss Julian Nagelsmann is reportedly the man to replace Flick, who has not exactly cooled talk of his impending departure. He said after the PSG defeat: “My family will always be completely behind me, no matter my decision. Regardless of whether everything is going well here or not, you always have to think.”
First legs: April 27/28 | Second legs: May 4/5
- Paris Saint-Germain vs Manchester City OR Borussia Dortmund
- Real Madrid OR Liverpool vs Chelsea