Chelsea interim boss Guus Hiddink declared his side still very much in the hunt for a Champions League quarter-final place despite substitute Edinson Cavani handing Paris Saint-Germain a slender one-goal advantage in the tie last night.
PSG unleashed £55m striker Cavani in the second half and the Uruguay hitman secured victory for the hosts after unlikely Blues scorer John Obi Mikel had cancelled out prolific marksman Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s deflected free-kick.
Defeat ended Hiddink’s unbeaten run since returning to Stamford Bridge in December – he has lost only twice in 34 fixtures across two spells in charge – although the Dutchman believes Mikel’s crucial away goal leaves the Blues in firm contention.
“The result is negative on one side but on the other it is always important to have an away goal,” said Hiddink, who had to contend without suspended midfielder Nemanja Matic and injured centre-halves John Terry and Kurt Zouma.
“It hurt a bit at the end because I think the team was playing very decently against a team which has a lot of capacity to play. In the end it hurt but still we are in the race.
“We were not lethal enough at times but otherwise we can be relatively happy. Over two legs it is important to have the away goal. At the end, if we can do it at Stamford Bridge then a defeat here does not count so much.”
PSG knocked Chelsea out of the competition on away goals at this stage last season, although defender Gary Cahill echoed Hiddink’s sentiments that the west London club can clear the hurdle of the second leg on 9 March.
“We are more confident at home, we know what we need to do,” said the 30-year-old. “We knew how tough it was to come here and get a result. The way the tie is poised we have done it before at home.”
PSG, who are 24 points clear at the summit of Ligue 1 and cruising towards a fourth straight domestic title, swarmed all over Chelsea in the opening stages and a swerving 20-yard shot from Marco Verratti was palmed away by goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.
Chelsea weathered the early storm and striker Diego Costa failed to convert a glorious chance on 23 minutes as his goal-bound header from a whipped Baba Rahman cross was clawed onto the crossbar by PSG stopper Kevin Trapp.
Ibrahimovic had already fluffed a header by the time his ferociously hit free-kick took a wicked deflection off Mikel in the Chelsea wall and flew beyond an already committed Courtois for his 46th Champions League goal.
But with the final kick of the first half Chelsea secured the holy grail of an away goal as an unmarked Mikel fired home from six yards after controlling Costa’s flick from Willian’s corner on his thigh.
After Trapp had denied Costa early in the half PSG laid siege to the Chelsea goal and Courtois twice repelled efforts from Manchester United flop Angel di Maria, including a free-kick, as well as Lucas Moura.
Stand-in skipper Branislav Ivanovic was also on hand to superbly block Blaise Matuidi’s close-range shot but was powerless to deny Cavani on 78 minutes, as the substitute spun onto Di Maria’s clipped pass and lashed through Courtois from an acute angle.