On a night when the clash between Manchester City and Barcelona will be considered the ‘bigger’ of the Champions League ties, two of Europe’s most in form teams will also be going head-to-head with a view to advancing to the quarter finals.
A look at the top two in Ligue 1 is proof of the effects that money has on football nowadays, and Paris Saint-Germain have been in fine form as they keep moneybags Monaco at bay by five points.
Though not carrying the financial clout of PSG, Bayer Leverkusen have been just as impressive; Sami Hyypia has guided them to second in the Bundesliga (almost like first, considering Bayern Munich are in a league of their own right now) and they haven’t dropped out of the top three all season.
They find themselves sandwiched between last year’s finalists and Bundesliga rivals Bayern and Dortmund, and will be hoping that they can reach those dizzy heights come May.
Three is the Magic Number
Both sides tend to play a 4-3-3 formation and it is the front three where the majority of the goals come from. While Leverkusen have only scored 38 goals in their 21 league games so far, the attacking trio of Heung-Min Son, Stefan Kiessling and Sidney Sam have scored 25 of those. Meanwhile 36 of the 58 goals PSG have scored have come from the mercurial Zlatan Ibrahimovic, new signing Edinson Cavani and Ezequiel Lavezzi.
Even though Sami Hyypia and Laurent Blanc were defenders in their time, their sides are making good progress going forward and should make for a good, attacking match full of goals. The absence of Cavani through injury will be a miss, but Ibrahimovic has proven on more than one occasion that he can be a one man team if required.
On the Counter
PSG have a strong spine and are likely to have the lion’s share of possession, even away from home. With that in mind, Leverkusen will be relying on counter attacking football and so both Son and Sam will be pivotal; their pace will be crucial on the break and may be the Bundesliga outfit’s best chance of getting a goal.
PSG channel a lot of attacking through their flanks and may become exposed; Hyypia’s men will have to exploit the space in behind the defence if they are to test Salvatore Sirigu.a
Key Battle: Rolfes v Cabaye
They say that games are won and lost in midfield and, while it is the strikers who have been firing so well this season, it is the creativity of the men behind them that is key to supplying them with chances.
Of all the business done across Europe in January, PSG’s capture of Yohan Cabaye from Newcastle is up there with the best. He wanted Champions League football and now the French international has a chance to prove himself in Europe’s most prestigious competition. In the first half of the campaign he scored seven and set up two goals in the Premier League, and his creative influence is likely to play a part either from the start or off the bench. He recently nabbed an assist in a Valentines Day victory over Valenciennes and will be looking to have a similar impact in his Champions League debut for the capital club on Tuesday.
The man tasked with shackling the midfield maestro is man mountain Simon Rolfes; the Leverkusen skipper may have been the sides top scorer in the group stage with three, but he may be expected to take on a more defensive duty as he is charged with containing a creative midfield trio. The German veteran is a consistent fixture at the heart of the midfield, not missing a minute since the second game of the season and featuring in every group stage game, and will look to use his experience and concentration to keep tabs on Cabaye and co.
It would be considered an upset if PSG were to be ousted by Leverkusen, but the German side shouldn't be ruled out simply for being considered the underdogs. The key is to keep a clean sheet at home, and Rolfes is key to that as the midfield anchor who will be tasked with limiting the playmaking abilities of his opposite numbers in the PSG team. Leverkusen’s defence is second only to the almost faultless Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga and they only conceded once in four games in the group when you take away the hammering they suffered home and away against United.
They have their moments, but they’re largely consistent and have conceded almost once a game on average; it’s fair to say they would be happy if PSG escaped with just a solitary away goal from their trip to the BayArena.
But the outstanding talents of Zlatan Ibrahimovic will take some dealing with; the Swedish maverick has played a part in nearly half the 58 league goals PSG have scored this season (scoring 19 himself and setting up 9) and nabbing 8 goals in the group stage of the Champions League, scoring in every game but the first and the last. He and Lavezzi have been a handful in the absence of Cavani, and Leverkusen will need to be at their defensive best to keep them out.
It’s hard to see PSG not scoring- they’ve scored two goals in 15 of their last 18 league games- and they’ll be expecting to dominate both home and away; Cabaye’s addition should help them dictate the game even more so than before and will make it difficult for Leverkusen to get the ball.
However they tend to take their foot of the gas when the job appears done; in the first half of the group stage they were averaging four goals a game as they hammered the opposition, but struggled in the latter half. It took a last-gasp goal to beat Olympiacos and they squandered a one goal lead in the final clash with Benfica once top spot was guaranteed.
They’ll be out to settle the tie in the first leg and score the away goals necessary to make the return to Parc des Princes as comfortable as possible. It’ll prove a tough test to see if Leverkusen are up to the challenge of denying them that luxury:
Bayer Leverkusen 0-3 Paris Saint-Germain
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