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Thursday April 3, 2014 MYT 8:27:33 PM
Thursday April 3, 2014 MYT 8:28:36 PM
by julien pretot
PARIS (Reuters) - Zlatan Ibrahimovic is integral to Paris St Germain's five-year plan to win the Champions League but in beating Chelsea 3-1 in the quarter-final first leg on Wednesday the French club proved they can manage when he goes missing.
The Sweden striker was a pale shadow of his usual brilliant self as he failed to score or create chances for his team mates, going off midway through the second half with a thigh injury that looks like keeping him out of the return in London.
On the surface his absence would appear a bitter blow for PSG, especially as the talismanic striker has 10 Champions League goals this season, but in Ezequiel Lavezzi they have a player hitting top form at just the right time.
"He's reached a level of fitness that allows him to make forays into the defence," coach Laurent Blanc told reporters.
"He brings depth and speed. And now he scores goals. He was our best man."
Lavezzi, who joined from Napoli in 2012, the same year Ibrahimovic left Milan for Paris, struggled initially but he is now repaying his coach's faith, having scored seven goals from his last eight appearances in all competitions.
After Ibrahimovic was substituted by Lucas, the Brazil forward showed great pace to rattle Chelsea and late sub Javier Pastore scored a stunning solo goal as PSG coped superbly without the Swede to establish a two-goal cushion.
Almost halfway through the Qatari owners' five-year plan to win Europe's premium club competition, PSG are now beginning to look like a side capable of delivering ahead of time.
"Our players are getting to know each other more and more, and we've had more time to work together," said man of the match Lavezzi.
"The results have improved because of that, which is normal."
Before the game, Ibrahimovic said PSG were in the same position now that Chelsea were in two years after Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich bought the London club in 2003.
Chelsea reached the last four in 2003-04 and the following season, being knocked out by Monaco and Liverpool respectively, and they had to wait until 2012 to lift the trophy.
PSG reached the quarter-finals last season and were eliminated by Barcelona on away goals after drawing 1-1 following a 2-2 draw at the Parc des Princes.
"We beat a great European team but we're just at halftime," said PSG president Nasser al-Khelaifi, who has splashed out over 200 million euros on transfers since 2012.
Lavezzi is well placed to know that the tie is far from over having been in the Napoli side that were beaten 4-1 at Stamford Bridge in the last 16 in 2012, having won the first leg 3-1.
But then Argentine is confident PSG have what it takes to weather the storm.
"I'm not worried about a repeat of that comeback because it's a totally different team," he told reporters.
Two years ago, Chelsea started with Didier Drogba and Daniel Sturridge up front, firepower they no longer boast.
On Wednesday, they started with Andre Schuerrle as a lone forward with Fernando Torres left on the bench.
"I'm not happy with my strikers' performance," Mourinho admitted.
"We have trouble scoring, especially when the games are tight."
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