It truly was a special night.
I think we are going to win. We are going to score more goals than them. By the end of the two legs it can be 4-3, 5-4.Jose Mourinho
That was the response given by Chelsea coach José Mourinho to a reporter who questioned if he truly believed Chelsea could qualify to the semi-finals. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of not taking the man at his word. I thought the probability of PSG advancing was too good after the 3-1 result in the first leg.
Arriving at Stamford Bridge I immediately went out to the pitch and placed myself on the goal line under the away supporters section. My idea was that I would have Chelsea coming at me in the first half and then PSG in the second. Obviously this backfired, and the kicker here is that it is really hard to move around at Stamford Bridge. If you are shooting from the goal line, which is only allowed in Champions League, the space is incredibly narrow. So narrow that the photographer next to you has to stand up and squeeze forward to let you through if you want to get out.
With two hours to go the French started entering the section directly behind us. We had just three empty rows separating us from them. This could have caused some concern but in the end they proved to be a lot of fun. When we were given team sheets they started begging us to see how was starting and who was on the bench. In the end it didn’t go their way, but they can at least take pride in having completely out sung a stadium full of Englishmen.
One major oddity at Stamford Bridge was how the players enter the pitch and line up. They come out from the central tunnel and cross the entire pitch and line up facing the sideline away from the tunnel. Meanwhile the coaches come out and go to their benches to the left and right of the tunnel respectively. This means you can either shoot the team lineups or the coaches. You can’t possibly do both. I knew that Zlatan Ibrahimovic would be sitting behind the PSG bench so for me the choice was clear.
The game was in my opinion all Chelsea, PSG seemed to have no answer to them. You could probably say experience made the difference. Experience between the coaches and experience between the players. Coaching wise Mourinho completely outclassed Blanc. As he made changes looking for the second goal Chelsea got progressively more aggressive. First with the introduction of Demba Ba and then with the introduction of Fernando Torres. The brilliant bit though is these changes didn’t come seemingly or in desperation, but were calculated and prepared ahead of time. According to Mourinho, Chelsea trained with each of the three formations ahead of time. It was all a part of the game plan and every player was prepared for it.
Laurent Blanc on the the other hand seemed to go to Stamford Bridge thinking it was already in the bag. His substitutions were more or less the same ones from the previous leg, introducing Cabaye and Pastore. I can’t help but feel that overall his side was a little to defensive. Often I would see Thiago Motta receive the ball and turn around or play horizontal passes rather than forward passes. There was a period in the second half after Mourinho made his attacking substitutions where PSG found themselves with a lot more space. I remember at least two golden occasions for Edinson Cavani that he failed to convert. Aside from that they never were very threatening. Another aspect I find fascinating is the idea that PSG’s dominance in France perhaps made them more vulnerable to Chelsea’s pressure. I can’t imagine many teams in Ligue 1 putting PSG under that kind of pressure week in and week out.
Going back a minute to a photographer’s perspective I have to mention how the stewards managed to disturb the end of the game for those of us in front of the Paris supporters. As soon as Demba Ba scored the 2-0 goal a small army of stewards ran out along the goal line in front of us photographers. Evenly spaced, standing calmly, ready to keep the peace. They blocked a ton of frames for us.
As the scene calmed down after the goal the stewards retreated to their original position, but they would return as the match went into stoppage time. This time they came in and ducked down in front of the commercial boards, which was great for us. However as soon as the final whistle was blown, they got on their feet to make sure their presence was felt. There were so many great celebration shots I had blocked and it’s a shame because the game ended right in front of our goal. But I guess that’s the price you pay with a venue where people are so close the pitch.
That about wraps it up. I really enjoyed these past two weeks, both Paris and London were great hosts. I meet a lot of great sport shooters who were incredibly friendly and helpful. A shame PSG got knocked out as I was looking enviously at Spain and Germany as possibly destinations. However I do think the best team went forward.
These images and more available via Pic-Agnecy.