I remember this time last year and the excitement surrounding PSG’s first knockout fixture in the UEFA Champions League for nearly 20 years. The buzz around the club at that time was something else. David Beckham had arrived and sprinkled some more star dust with his presence as he watched Les Parisiens put in a near perfect performance at the Mestalla against Valencia which was only dampened by the concession of a late goal and Zlatan Ibrahimovic being sent off. We won 2-1 on the night and it could have been more in truth. But, the fact that Paris was at the focal point of European football and competing at that level, remonstrated just how far the club had come.
12 months later, the club are now considered genuine contenders for the cup with the big ears. The club is France’s representatives as champions. The group are a year older, new personnel have been brought in, a new coach has carried on the good work of Carlo Ancelotti and we are in imperious form with a healthy lead at the top of Ligue 1. Everything is good at the moment but this is where the pressure begins to simmer. February is always a testing month and it’s been relatively kind to us thus far. Tonight is a massive test as we are coming up against the second best team in Germany right now, Bayer Leverkusen.
We are considered to be the favourites and rightfully so. We have the advantage of having the second-leg at the Parc des Princes so we can be calculating in our approach in the BayArena tonight. We can certainly win this first-leg but Laurent Blanc must – and he will – pay respect to the opponents. Coach Sami Hyypia, a bright young one in that, has developed a team with a blend of youthful exuberance and experience. They are 16 points behind the leaders, champions, best team in Europe right now Bayern Munich, but that just epitomises how well they have done so far in their homeland. They are currently best of the rest in Germany – ahead even of Borussia Dortmund judging by the league table (albeit by a point).
Hyypia said in his pre-match presser; “We’re underdogs but we’ll make life difficult for PSG in these two matches”. He is right. No doubt the pressure is on us tonight to get a result to take back to Paris. At the same time, we are up against a team that will be tactically well organised and efficient. They will try and match us in the middle of the park with their very own midfield trio consisting of Simon Rofles, Lars Bender and Gonzalo Castro.
We can take heart that their main striker Stefan Kiessling has had a dry spell of late. He has only netted one in his last 10. Also, Bayer have lost their last two consecutive homes games and were trounced by Manchester United, 0-5, back in November in the group stage where they finished second behind the English champions.
Our attacking threat will be of great concern to them. With Edinson Cavani still out Ezequiel Lavezzi, Lucas Moura and Javier Pastore will be vying for two of the supporting roles for Zlatan Ibrahimovic. It is a tough one for Blanc, he will want the endeavour of Lavezzi but he will also be keen to keep Pastore’s form going and also be tempted to inject Lucas’ flair to the side. Lavezzi put a real strong case to start after an impressive outing last Friday in what had been a troubling week for him in his personal life.
Blanc’s message was simple last night in his presser; “We will try and have the majority of the possession. But, having the ball is one thing, but taking your chances is the most important thing. We need to attack to create chances to try and get a positive result with one eye on the return leg”.
It is imperative to get a positive result to take back home for the clash in two weeks.
The eyes of Europe are more fixated on Paris Saint-Germain than ever before and so they should be. This is a team capable of going afar in this competition. It proved it against Valencia and Barcelona last season as well as in the group stages at the back end of last year. But, for now let’s take it one step at a time. Any kind of result tonight will be superb! But the players will know they can win outright, there is no doubt about that. Blanc will be aware of that too.