Here’s what happened on Wednesday in the UEFA Champions League…
THE MAIN STORY
Di Maria: The one that got away
How Manchester United must be kicking itself for deeming a player the calibre of Angel Di Maria to be surplus to requirements and selling him off to PSG. United was once again reminded on Wednesday of what a big mistake they made in letting him leave, as the mercurial Argentine’s talents were on full display at Stamford Bridge.
PSG stormed into the London capital and duly bossed their second leg tie against Chelsea, with Di Maria leading the charge—the former Red Devil tortured the Blues’ defence with his probing runs, sublime distribution and deft skill on the ball. Di Maria completed 95 percent of his passes on the night, and crucially was involved in both of PSG’s goals. It was his cross that directly led to Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s winner in the 67th minute. He also orchestrated the opener, releasing Ibrahimovic down the flank before the Swede set up Adrien Rabiot.
We should hardly be surprised by this, as Di Maria is one of the game’s most astute creators, having provided more assists (12) than any other midfielder over the course of the last five Champions League campaigns.
Ibrahimovic will garner the headlines in English newspapers on Thursday morning, and that’s understandable considering how the mighty Swede performed on the night. He was the figurehead of a PSG attack that Chelsea struggled to contain.
But Di Maria was the architect, the great connector that served as the crucial linked between PSG’s defence and its forwards. Chelsea had no answer for him. If the French champions are to take that next step in Europe and become an elite side, Di Maria will have to play a pivotal and starring role.
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PSG’s second goal in the 67th minute came about as a result of a pretty passing play. It started in central midfield by Thiago Motta and ended with Angel Di Maria scampering down the left before delivering a cross on a plate into the middle for Zlatan Ibrahimovic to volley home from close range.
Zenit goalkeeper Yuri Lodygin came up with an acrobatic save in the 72nd minute, making a flying one-handed stop off a looping header from Benfica’s Victor Lindelof that was earmarked for the top corner.
Zenit’s Yuri Zhirkov found space on the left flank to cross for Hulk to head home and tie the game in the 69th minute. While Benfica players stood still—they argued that Zhirkov slammed into Nelson Semedo to win the ball in the build-up— Zhirkov rightly played to the whistle and ended up punishing the Portuguese.
“It's a pity for a team that pushed so well and created some great chances that we end up losing this game and the tie. I think it was a bit unfair what happened in today's game ... It was not our day.” – Zenit coach Andre Villas-Boas
SIX PACK OF STATS
• Zenit’s Hulk has been involved in 27 goals (17 goals, 10 assists) in 50 Champions League appearances.
• Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been directly involved in 29 Champions League goals for PSG since 2012; 17 more than any other player.
• Nico Gaitan has been involved in more Champions League goals than any other Benfica player this season (four goals, two assists).
• PSG have scored 10 Champions League goals against Chelsea; only Barcelona (18) has scored more against the Blues.
• No other outfield player has made more recoveries (45) for Benfica than Renato Sanches I the Champions League this season (level with Gaitan).
• PSG has scored 100 goals in all competitions this season.
Stats courtesy of Opta
1) Zlatan Ibrahimovic: Cometh the hour, cometh the Swede, who had one goal and set up another to send PSG through to the next round.
2) Angel Di Maria: Brilliant in probing PSG’s charge forward, he helped set up both goals, and routinely exposed Chelsea’s defence.
3) Yuri Zhirkov: The veteran midfielder was a creative sparkplug for Zenit all game with his dangerous runs and sublime passing.
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