Josh Mart makes his return and takes the chance to preview PSG’s crucial Champions League round of 16 trip to German club Bayer Leverkusen. On balance, Les Parisien’s will be relatively happy with the draw, as they managed to avoid ‘more challenging’ teams who finished 2nd in their group’s such as Arsenal or Manchester City. However, Laurent Blanc will be wary of the threat that Leverkusen possess, after they finished 2nd in their group ahead of established European outfits in the forms of Shakthar Donetsk and Real Sociedad.
The first leg in a knockout competition such as the Champions League is very important in deciding the outcome of the tie as away goals can become crucial to determining the type of game in the 2nd leg. Both managers will be eager to gain the upper hand in Tuesday’s game at the BayArena.
The hosts sit 2nd in the Bundesliga at the moment, which is a great achievement considering that they sit above last season’s finalists Borussia Dortmund and continental regular’s Schalke 04. However, Sami Hyypia’s men have not made a good start to the ‘Rueckrunde’, losing 3 of their opening 5 games of 2014 including crashing out of the German Cup to 2nd division club Kaiserslautern. Saturday’s defeat to Schalke is not an ideal way to prepare to face such challenging opposition as PSG but home advantage could be key here.
PSG’s form couldn’t be much better as they sit 5 points clear at the top of Ligue 1 after Friday’s convincing 3-0 win over lowly Valenciennes. Since the winter break, the Paris club are yet to lose in the league and have only lost to Montpellier in the Coupe de France. Despite the threat from other big spenders Monaco, the safe money would be on PSG to regain the Ligue 1 title, however, it is common knowledge that the PSG owners are keen for the club to be successful in Europe’s elite competition, so the pressure will be on Laurent Blanc’s men to perform.
Squad Selection and Tactics
The hosts have a few selection issues with young defender Emre Can suspended and Bosnian centre back Emir Spahic is a doubt after limping off in Saturday’s defeat to Schalke.
Leverkusen will probably line up in 4-5-1 formation with talisman Stefan Kiessling leading the line up front. The centre of midfield will probably consist of club captain Simon Rolfes and Lars Bender, with Gonzalo Castro an option for the third spot. Heung-Min Son and Sidney Sam will provide the ammunition for Kiessling and will be pivotal to Leverkusen’s success in this match. Turkish defender Toprak will come in for Spahic if necessary.
The Parisians will be without one of their star men as Edinson Cavani will miss out with a thigh strain. He joins Jallet and Camara on the side-lines. Aside from those absentees, Laurent Blanc has a wealth of options to choose from including new signing Yohan Cabaye who is looking to make his debut in the Champions League for PSG.
I expect Laurent Blanc to recall Lucas Moura into the starting line-up, replacing Jeremy Menez. He (Lucas) and Lavezzi are expected to flank the imperious Zlatan Ibrahimovic who has been in ominous form this season. Marco Verratti and Blaise Matuidi are also in contention to start in the centre of the park, as both have had great seasons so far. The experience of Alex and Maxwell may be preferred to the youth of Marquinhos and Digne respectively although both are capable of starting this game.
Sidney Sam (Leverkusen) – Sam has been fantastic for Leverkusen this season and has caused many defence’s problems both domestically and on the continent this season. A left footed right winger, Sam possesses real pace and a powerful shot cutting in from the right flank. Maxwell/Digne will have to be guarded against this and will need cover from Lavezzi and the central midfielders.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic (PSG) – At times this season, one has run out of superlatives to describe the Swede’s wonderful performances and goals in both Ligue 1 and the Champions League where he is the 2nd top scorer. I expect him to cause Leverkusen’s defence no end of problems and he could be the difference on the night.
PSG will know that tonight’s game in North-Rhine Westphalia will be very tough but equally they will understand the importance of a positive result here. I expect both teams to score in a close encounter that PSG will edge.
Prediction: Bayer Leverkusen 1-2 PSG