It may not have been enough for a valuable first-leg victory, but Branislav Ivanović's header at Paris Saint-Germain was the right-back's latest crucial goal for Chelsea FC.
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Just what is his secret? How does Branislav Ivanović keep coming up with vital goals for Chelsea FC? "If I say that," the right-back grinned after finding the net against Paris Saint-Germain on Tuesday, "it won't be a secret."
The sight of the Serbian international wheeling away after helping his side in a high-stakes encounter has become commonplace to Chelsea fans, and he was at it again at the Parc des Princes, ruining the French club's hopes of a clean sheet with a 36th-minute header. Edinson Cavani levelled after the break and Ivanović had to focus on his defensive duties as Paris pressed for a winner, but his opening strike could prove crucial come the second leg on 11 March.
It was the 30-year-old's seventh UEFA Champions League effort since 2009 and no defender in the competition has been more prolific over the same period. He was aided by a pair of defensive colleagues as well, John Terry sending in a cross after a half-cleared free-kick and Gary Cahill looping the ball into the air with a delicious touch. "It was a great flick from Gary and naturally I went forward to see if the ball would arrive," said the goalscorer. "I think it's important for us defenders and the defensive line to score goals and give a lot for the team."
So too does manager José Mourinho, who noted with wry amusement after this round of 16 first leg that Paris had focused their attentions all week on stopping the likes of Diego Costa and Eden Hazard – only for an unexpected trio to conspire to break the deadlock. "That's the magic of football," enthused the Portuguese, who has also been able to count on Terry contributing a few important goals down the years.
Powerful, courageous and blessed with a sense of anticipation any forward would be proud of, Ivanović scores when it matters most, and his first in Chelsea colours came in a 3-1 win at Liverpool FC in the 2008/09 UEFA Champions League quarter-finals. He notched two that night, and they proved vital as the Blues sealed a last-four spot following a 4-4 draw in the return. He also hit an extra-time winner as the Premier League outfit squeezed past SSC Napoli in the round of 16 on their way to their maiden European title in 2011/12, capping a comeback that has gone down in Chelsea lore.
The former FC Lokomotiv Moskva player missed that season's final against FC Bayern München through suspension, yet made up for it the following year when he headed Chelsea to the UEFA Europa League crown with an added-time clincher against SL Benfica. He is just as effective on the domestic stage, most recently sending his team through to the League Cup final in extra time. "Branislav seems to choose his moments," added Mourinho. "Against Liverpool, tonight with an away goal in a Champions League match, and with the Europa League final – all important goals."
Not that Ivanović is taking anything for granted in this tie, which still hangs in the balance after Paris forced themselves back into contention. "We have maybe a psychological advantage before the start of the second game, but we cannot be relaxed," he noted. "The second game will be a massive game and very difficult, because they have great strikers and a great team and they can score in every game." So too, it often seems, can Chelsea's man for the big occasion.