Well that was almost fun, until it wasn't. Chelsea are out of the Champions League for the immediate and (one has to assume) mid-range future, dumped by Paris Saint-Germain for the second year running. In all honesty, three quarters of a closely-fought knockout tie against one of Europe's bigger side was more than this season deserved, so while the result today is obviously a disappointment, it can hardly be construed as a shock.
Down 2-1 after a reasonable but nervy performance at the Parc des Princes, the Blues needed to win the second leg 1-0 or by two or more goals to advance. Given that Guus Hiddink is down both John Terry and Kurt Zouma and that his second-choice left back has been so defensively dubious that Kenedy keeps playing there instead, a clean sheet looked unlikely. So it proved.
Although Chelsea had the first chance of the game, a Diego Costa snap-shot saved by Kevin Trapp, it was PSG who drew first blood. The Cesc Fabregas-John Obi Mikel midfield proved unable to cope with the visitors' trio, especially when Lucas Moura and Angel di Maria wandered infield, and when PSG managed to pull Fabregas out of position while Zlatan Ibrahimovic attacked the space behind the Blues' left*, we were in real trouble.
*A note on that space before we get to the looming inevitability of the goal itself: it's difficult to imagine a more incoherent piece of defensive play than that which Gary Cahill displayed in the 16th minute. The twin errors of failing to hold a defensive line by tracking a run to closely and backing away from that run are extremely difficult to make at the same time, but Cahill somehow managed to do just that. We've seen worse errors, but I don't think I've ever seen a better piece of absurdist football un-art. There should be some sort of medal.
With Kenedy failing to anticipate the pass from di Maria and Cahill beating a hasty retreat towards the opposite corner flag, Ibrahimovic was allowed to play an uncontested pass towards the far post, taking Thibaut Courtois out of the equation and leaving Cesar Azpilicueta needing to make a superhuman tackle to prevent a goal. He didn't quite manage -- though not for lack of trying -- and Adrian Rabiot, in for the injured
King of Snide Rodents Marco Verratti, steamed in to fire home.
1-0. Away goal advantage gone. At this point, Chelsea needed to score twice to take the match to extra time and were at the risk of conceding a second (and surely killer) away goal. They needed to score, quickly, and prevent PSG from breaking through the defence again.
To their credit, the team responded, and were level 10 minutes later. Rabiot was forced into a messy pass towards Thiago Motta in the centre, and he couldn't get the ball away in time to avoid Pedro picking his pocket. Willian picked up possession, played a one-two with the former Barcelona man to dispose of David Luiz, and then found Costa at the top of the box.
Being one on one with Thiago Silva might faze some centre forwards, but Costa spun his man hard enough to induce vertigo and slid a quick shot beyond Trapp. At 1-1, needing a single goal to take the tie to extra time, Chelsea were in with a shout.
They pushed on still further, creating half-chances by pressing PSG high up the pitch. The tide seemed to be turning, Chelsea grinding their way towards a second goal and, perhaps a place in the quarter-finals. Then came a series of unfortunate events that heralded the end of the tie as a competition.
Ibrahimovic's killer goal was obviously the most significant, but it's difficult to downplay the fine double-save Trapp pulled off just after the hour mark. Even more difficult to ignore is Costa's injury, which, with the greatest affection for Bertrand Traore, took most of the bite out of our attack and might prove costly for the Everton match on Sunday as well.
But yes, it was the Ibrahimovic goal that mattered most. After he bundled in di Maria's cross from close range, the tie was dead, and Chelsea played like it. It'd tempting to be upset at the man who switched off for the goal if that was anyone other than Cesar Azpilicueta, but although it's disappointing he chose this particular moment to make a ghastly error it's pretty hard to be too angry at one of the few players who've been consistently competent (and up for it this season).
In fact, I'm finding it quite hard to be angry at the team at all. We're having a horrific season and PSG are simply better than us this time around. Keeping the tie close until well beyond the three-quarter mark meant that we could have nicked it and started another 2012-style run, but in truth we were outclassed in every facet of the game to a far more serious degree than four years ago. There was no Chelsea bus to park this time, and no Didier Drogba to bail us out either. Falling at the second hurdle is hardly the world's greatest surprise.
So. That's the end of Champions League football for the Blues for a while. But we'll be back, and we'll have some scores to settle when we return.