After a more than two-month break, the UEFA Champions League has resumed with the first leg of the round of 16. For Chelsea FC, the return to the high-profile tournament was something of a moment of truth. Despite a dismal autumn performance in the English Premier League, the Blues managed to fight their way to the top of their group in the Champions League, winning four of their six games and edging out Dynamo Kyiv, Porto, and Maccabi Tel Aviv for the honor. Sure, Chelsea's group, Group G, was one of the easier ones in the competition, but in a period where any win was a landmark for the football club, qualifying for the round of 16 was nothing short of a miracle.

Theoretically, winning their group should have given Chelsea an easier draw for the round of 16. Instead, the Blues were drawn against reigning French champs, Paris Saint Germain, who finished second to Real Madrid in Group A. PSG have been borderline unstoppable in the Ligue 1 this season and are widely expected to win a fourth straight title in the division. Chelsea, meanwhile, lost their chances of defending their Premier League title ages ago and are merely fighting to finish somewhere in the top 10.

The Post-Mourinho Resurgence

Based on how these two clubs were performing in the fall, Paris Saint Germain have been the safe bet to progress to the quarterfinals ever since the round of 16 draw was announced in December. The interesting wrinkle to that prediction, though, has been the fact that Chelsea have enjoyed something of a resurgence since Jose Mourinho was sacked in December.

Chelsea's last UCL group stage match-a 2-0 at-home win against Porto-took place on December 9th. Mourinho was sacked shortly thereafter, on December 17th. Mourinho's last game in charge was a December 14th Premier League match against Leicester City, a fixture that resulted in a 1-2 loss for Chelsea.

To the immense credit of Guus Hiddink, who took over the managerial position after Mourinho's departure, Chelsea avoided further losses in December and remained undefeated throughout January. (The return of goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, who had been injured for much of Mourinho's downward spiral, also deserves a mention.) In fact, Chelsea's first loss since the Mourinho sacking came on February 16th, in their first-leg Champions League match against PSG.

PSG vs. Chelsea

If Paris Saint Germain fans were expecting a runaway victory, they didn't get it. The final score was 2-1 for the Parisians, but Chelsea could very well make a comeback in the second leg. The February 16th soccer match took place at PSG's Parc des Princes, but the home field advantage only netted the French heavyweights a one-point advantage in the aggregate.

To be fair, the Parisians had control of the game more or less from the get-go. It took nine minutes for Chelsea to stop playing defense and make a surge into PSG's side of the pitch, and when they did, Diego Costa's attack was dissembled fairly easily.

A Key Yellow Card

The Blues almost got a stroke of good luck at the 19-minute mark, when Zlatan Ibrahimovic was shown a yellow card for tripping Chelsea midfielder John Obi Mikel. As The Guardian noted in their coverage of the game, the penalty could have easily earned Ibrahimovic a red card had the ref been in a less generous mood. And you can bet that going down to 10 men that early (not to mention losing the crown jewel of their offense) would have put a serious dent in the home team's chances for victory.

Instead, Ibrahimovic stuck around to score the first goal of the match. To add insult to injury for Chelsea, the ball bounced off Obi Mikel's ankle on its way to the goal. It was almost as if Ibrahimovic was taunting his victim from earlier-and scoring in the process.

If Ibrahimovic was taunting Mikel, though, the football gods gave the Swedish striker a lesson in karma just a few minutes later. At 45+1, with virtually no time left before the halftime whistle, Willian and Costa combined to give Mikel a golden assist. The midfielder didn't miss his chance, firing the ball into the PSG goal from six yards away. The equalizer sent the teams to their respective locker rooms, each looking at one side of a 1-1 tie.

The Second Half

Mikel's goal gave Chelsea some much-needed momentum at the top of the second half, and Costa very nearly drained a second away goal at the 49-minute mark. Still, Paris Saint Germain remained the dominant side offensively, and despite more than a few remarkable saves or blocks from Courtois and his defenders, the Blues were mostly battling to stay even.

Eventually, Chelsea lost that battle. At 78 minutes, Edinson Cavani converted an Angel di Maria assist into a second goal for the Parisians. The Blues did their best to equalize again, with Pedro very nearly finding the top-right corner of the PSG goal in the literal last minute of the match. But a save from Kevin Trapp gave Paris Saint Germain the victory and left Chelsea down one point in the round of 16 aggregate.

What Chelsea Needs for the Second Leg 

This loss was undeniably disappointing for Chelsea, but it didn't put an end to their Champions League hopes. The reigning English champions showed more fire in this game than we saw from them in almost any match last fall. The fact that this game ended as close as it did-instead of resulting in a blowout victory for PSG-shows how far the Blues have come under Guus Hiddink.

Still, Chelsea will need to find a bit more offensive fuel if they are going to beat Paris Saint Germain in the second leg. The good news is that the game-scheduled for March 9th-will take place on Chelsea's home turf at Stamford Bridge. If the football club did as well as they did in the away leg, then the hope is that they will do even better with the home field advantage on their side.

The bad news is that PSG are one of the best soccer teams in the world on the attack. Even though the Blues very nearly equalized in the first leg, the Parisians still dominated the match in possession (62% to 38%) and took a lot more shots on goal. (PSG had nine on-target shots and nine off-target shots, versus five on-target and three off-target for Chelsea.)

Of course, those numbers also show how well Chelsea defense (and specifically, Thibaut Courtois) performed in the February 16th Paris match. While the Blues can hope that Diego Costa, Willian, Eden Hazard, Pedro, and Obi Mikel can cook up a few more dangerous attacks on March 9th, their best hopes lie with the defense. Bottom line, Courtois and company need to keep Ibrahimovic and Cavani from scoring.

Indeed, Chelsea's easiest road to the quarterfinals is to win the round of 16 on away goals. If Chelsea can shut PSG out and manage just one goal, they'll tie Paris Saint Germain in the aggregate but win on away goals.

Ironically, when PSG beat Chelsea in the round of 16 last year, they did so on away goals. The Blues were arguably the better football team but gave up leads in both legs for an ultimate 3-3 aggregate draw. By scoring two late-game goals in Chelsea's home leg-one of them in extra time-the Parisians ousted England's best soccer squad. Most pundits and fans blamed Jose Mourinho's tactical approach for the defeats, as it let his team become complacent with their early leads, rather than press to widen them.

This year, Paris Saint Germain are likely the better of the two teams. But could Chelsea manage a reverse of what happened at this juncture last year, and knock the French champs out of the UCL competition on away goals? Stranger things have certainly happened in the world of competitive football.