José Mourinho's side must replicate 2012 Champions League thriller against Napoli after being 'bankrolled' over in Paris
The headline that screamed across the first spread in Wednesday's edition of L'Equipe had served as a reminder that the capital expected. "PARIS, premier grand défi" it declared, the first big challenge ahead for the team assembled by Qatari billions and virtually untouchable at the top of Ligue 1. Yet thrashing Sochaux or Nantes is one thing, as is thumping Bayer Leverkusen or Olympiakos. This was Chelsea, a club who have secured European silverware in the past two seasons. It ended as a landmark moment for the "new" Paris Saint-Germain.
This tie may not yet be claimed, with Tuesday's rematch at Stamford Bridge still offering the London club some hope of recovery. They will hope to replicate that deafening revival that overhauled Napoli in this competition two years ago but they had achieved that recovery from a two-goal deficit with Didier Drogba at the club and fate almost written in the stars.
These days, as José Mourinho pointed out post-match, they have no strikers of note to mount the recovery, with their hopes pinned on Samuel Eto'o's hamstring. In that context, PSG will travel across the Channel convinced now that they belong on this lofty stage.
An eye-catching victory born of a second-half revival and a potentially decisive third goal in stoppage time has ensured the Doha-backed "projects" feels more persuasive. A year ago Carlo Ancelotti's team had been edged out on away goals at this stage by Barcelona, their displays drawing praise but not progress. This time around they are comfortably ahead, with Mourinho denied the suspended Ramires in the return leg and left to acknowledge "nothing is impossible but this is difficult". That felt like an understatement.
There were some reality checks for the locals to endure, too, the most significant arguably the sight of Zlatan Ibrahimovic limping away clutching his right hamstring. The Swede had come into the game with a back problem and PSG's president, Nasser al-Khelaifi, claimed the forward will be absent on Tuesday – indeed, for two to three weeks. Marco Verratti will need checking after retiring disconsolately 15 minutes from the end.
Yet Laurent Blanc should turn those setbacks into a positive. PSG scored three goals, with Ibrahimovic, their 40-goal talisman, off-colour and Edinson Cavani peripheral and lacking confidence. He will surely play more centrally, rather than wide right, at Stamford Bridge and that may extract more from the Uruguayan. In truth, from the moment the substitute Javier Pastore beat Frank Lampard and fizzed the third inside Petr Cech's near post, the problems in this tie lay with Chelsea.
Mourinho had moved to shake hands with Blanc and those on his bench immediately after Pastore's reward before retiring down the tunnel with plenty to contemplate. The Portuguese had admitted on the eve of the contest to being surprised by his opponents' quality, lavishly acquired since Qatar Sports Investments bought into French football three years ago. Their rise has been rapid.
The Portuguese had brought Chelsea here once before, for his first European game in charge a decade ago, when the hosts had been a different animal: a club feeling satisfaction at securing Fabrice Pancrate from Le Mans and Lens' Charles-Edouard Corridon, or at convincing Jean-Hugues Ateba to move from Nantes under freedom of contract. The Cameroonian defender would make 30 appearances in three years and Chelsea won 3-0. PSG are unrecognisable now.
Their problem, as suggested by Mourinho in the buildup, is that they are not tested enough in their domestic league to gauge accurately just how far they can expect to progress in Europe. Monaco, bankrolled by their own roubles, will offer a more concerted challenge in the years ahead, when Ligue 1 will presumably become "more like Spain, who have Real Madrid and Barcelona", as pointed out by Blanc. For a while that ring-rustiness threatened to undermine them, PSG's furious opening blowing itself out as the visitors resisted, with some in their number apparently flummoxed that Chelsea did not simply wilt once behind early on.
Yet, while Ibrahimovic was largely nullified and Verratti subdued, there was still strength to persevere and prevail. Thiago Silva and Alex, a former Chelsea player, were strong and drove on their team, the former recovering from the trip on his compatriot, Oscar, that yielded the visitors' penalty.
Thiago Motta was calm and authoritative, while others briefly seemed gripped by panic. And, in Ezequiel Lavezzi, PSG boasted the best performer of the evening. The Argentinian was a constant menace down the left, having slammed that glorious opening goal in off the crossbar from John Terry's weak clearance, with Chelsea's rearguard scorched by his pace and invention.
It was his header that had Petr Cech concerned from Matuidi's centre early in the second half, a chance that served to shrug the locals out of the inferiority complex that had flared since the equaliser. Lavezzi can feel like the forgotten man at times, lost amid the clutter of egos and reputations, but he scintillated for Napoli to earn his move here and is established ahead of the costlier Lucas Moura in the first-choice lineup.
That says much for his ability. He will be a nuisance on the break next week, when PSG will seek to complete the job, and he and Cavani will remember all too well what occurred when the Italians visited that arena two years ago and were dismantled by Drogba and Roberto Di Matteo's team.
Chelsea will draw on that spirit for the return but theirs feels an onerous task. "Dear Chelsea fans," came the tweet from the official PSG account. "For better Parisian souvenirs, better try Montmartre." This was nightmarish.