Chelsea’s rebuilding headache


LONDON. — English soccer champions Chelsea face the challenge of rebuilding for the future after they were knocked out of the Champions League by Paris St Germain on Wednesday night, interim coach Guus Hiddink said.

The defeat left Chelsea with the FA Cup as their only realistic target this season because they trail Premier League leaders Leicester City by 20 points and are 10 behind Manchester City who occupy the last Champions League qualifying spot.

“My opinion is that Chelsea is now in a transitional period. They have to see how to go on and try to regain the lost terrain where Chelsea used to be,” Hiddink told reporters.

“It’s difficult to get into fourth position.”

Chelsea travel to Everton in the FA Cup quarter-finals tomorrow and must wait to see if striker Diego Costa is fit to play.

Costa hauled Chelsea back into the tie against PSG when he equalised in the 27th minute but he left the field injured with half an hour left.

Hiddink said Costa suffered a recurrence of a tendon injury which left him sidelined for Chelsea’s last league match against Stoke City.

Chelsea have yet to announce the appointment of a new permanent coach.

Hiddink took over on an interim basis in December from Jose Mourinho, who won three league titles in two spells at Stamford Bridge but was fired after a string of defeats left the champions a few points above the relegation zone.

On Wednesday night, Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored one and created another as Paris Saint-Germain won 2-1 at Stamford Bridge to eliminate Chelsea from the Champions League for the second season running.

Leading 2-1 from the first leg of the last 16 tie, PSG stretched their lead when Ibrahimovic crossed for Adrien Rabiot to tap in and although Diego Costa’s slick finish gave Chelsea hope, Ibrahimovic volleyed home in the 67th minute to complete a 4-2 aggregate success.

Victory took Laurent Blanc’s PSG into the quarter-finals for the fourth year in a row, while Chelsea were left to contemplate a first season without Champions League football since 2002-03.

“I thought we controlled the game very well from start to finish,” Blanc said.

“Even when we conceded, we weren’t worried. We carried on working. That control made the evening easier for us.”

Ten points off the top four in the Premier League, Chelsea’s hopes of qualifying for the Champions League are paper-thin and their chances of keeping their season alive in tomorrow’s FA Cup quarter-final at Everton were jeopardised by injuries to Costa and Eden Hazard.

“They are a good side, but once we stepped up we had some chances. In the 67th minute it all changed,” said Hiddink.

“It is a difficult season. We were almost panicking about relegation when I came in, but it is difficult to get into fourth place.”

Much of the pre-game attention had focused on Costa and Ibrahimovic, and it was PSG’s Swedish talisman who emerged triumphant as the French champions claimed further revenge for their elimination by Chelsea in 2014.

Sent off at Stamford Bridge a year ago, when PSG’s 2-2 draw took them through on away goals, he belied doubts about his big-game temperament to keep the runaway Ligue 1 leaders on course for a potential quadruple.

Marco Verratti’s failure to recover from a groin injury meant that Rabiot started in midfield for PSG and he almost cost his side an early goal with a loose pass that culminated in Kevin Trapp parrying from Costa.

But with Angel di Maria and Lucas Moura abandoning their wings at will, PSG’s attack bristled with menace and in the sixth minute stand-in Chelsea captain Branislav Ivanovic had to slide a shot from Di Maria off the line after he had been played in by Lucas.

Ten minutes later PSG tightened their grip on the tie as Di Maria played a pass behind the Chelsea defence for Ibrahimovic, whose masterful low cross was turned in by Rabiot.

Leading 3-1 on aggregate, it should have been the cue for PSG to take the sting out of the game, but instead they allowed Chelsea to level on the night with a goal that owed equally to Thiago Motta’s carelessness in possession and the hosts’ dazzling interplay.

After Pedro Rodriguez nipped in to rob Motta, Willian played a quick one-two with the Spaniard before feeding Costa, who expertly turned Thiago Silva and drilled home left-footed.

Ibrahimovic put a header straight at Thibaut Courtois from a Lucas cross, but the hosts finished the half with the wind in their sails, Cesc Fabregas, Hazard and Costa all going close to levelling the tie. — Reuters.

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