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Ivanovic earns Blues slender advantage


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Branislav Ivanovic's header earned Chelsea a draw in the Parc des Princes to give the Blues a slender advantage in their UEFA Champions League tie with Paris St-Germain.

The Serbian defender rose well to divert Gary Cahill's astute near post flick beyond Salvatore Sirigu ten minutes before half-time, only for Edinson Cavani to restore parity shortly after the interval with a header of his own.

Chelsea, clearly set up to avoid defeat, began to drop deep and the hosts soon began to dominate possession, creating a number of decent opportunities that were wasted through a combination of poor finishing and an inspired performance by Blues goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.

The Belgian, under pressure following Petr Cech's heroics against Everton six days ago, made an excellent early save from Blaise Matuidi's close range header and then repeated the trick in stoppage time as he palmed away another headed attempt from Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Ibrahimovic had earlier already produced a fine reaction stop from the Belgian goalkeeper, and alongside goalscorer Cavani he posed a significant threat to the Blues' unbeaten start to their Champions League campaign.

There was no doubting that Chelsea, the top scorers in the group stages of this year's competition, would create opportunities, but this was a tight, tense and tactical affair where both teams afforded one another a visible degree of respect in a cagey opening period - those two early headed chances for the hosts aside.

At the opposite end, Sirigu was virtually unemployed as the hapless Diego Costa demonstrated a lack of match fitness following his three-game domestic ban for an alleged stamp on Emre Can, and it always seemed as if the Blues were always that one incisive pass away from finding their isolated forward every time they drove forward on the counter attack.

Two headers in the space of as many minutes epitomised this game of fine margins as Courtois, at one end, pushed aside a threatening Cavani effort that may have headed inside the near post but for the Belgian's intervention, whilst at the other Ivanovic added another fine headed goal to his European repertoire as he diverted Cahill's sumptuous flick into the top corner.

That strike, crafted by the Chelsea defence, saw John Terry react first to a cleared corner. His poorly-hit cross was flicked on at the near post with great improvisation by Cahill, and Ivanovic rose well to plant a header into the roof of the net for a crucial away goal.

But whilst the Blues' defence excelled in the offensive third of the pitch, they left a lot to be desired just ten minutes into second half when a completely unmarked Cavani was given free rein to effortlessly draw PSG level; netting from Matuidi's excellent delivery from out wide.

Courtois then again foiled Ibrahimovic at close quarters, with a combination of Terry and Cesar Azpilicueta rescuing José Mourinho's men from Ezequiel Lavezzi's follow-up strike as Chelsea struggled for a foothold in the tie.

Cesc Fabregas, absent for the last handful of matches and now nursing a cold, was struggling to cope with the pace of the dynamic PSG attack, and the French champions began to exploit the spaces in behind Ramires and Nemanja Matic.

David Luiz, a big money signing for the French club from Chelsea last summer, netted an own goal in this fixture last season, and came close to earning his new side the lead when his header narrowly went over - but the greatest opportunity fell to Cavani who failed to capitalise on his own fleet-footedness inside the box when, after beating two defenders, he poked wide of Courtois' goal.

There was one last opportunity for Courtois to impose himself on the game, making another fine save in stoppage time to parry away Ibrahimovic's header as he handed his team a microscopic advantage heading into the second leg in three week's time.

This sub-par and introverted Chelsea performance, reminiscent of a poor showing in the first leg of their recent Capital One Cup semi-final with Liverpool, saw the Blues simply show far too much respect to a poor PSG side that, for all of its quality individuals, has struggled in Ligue Un this season; most recently surrendering a two-goal lead against lowly Caen last weekend.

Whether by luck or by design, Chelsea will return to London with a positive result - one infinitely better than last season's second-half capitulation - but a far better performance with a greater degree of urgency will be of paramount importance if the Blues are to progress.

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