Paris Saint Germain begin their second assault on the Champions League group-stages since their Qatari investment on Tuesday night, as they travel to Germany to face Bayer Leverkusen.
Given the remarkable expenditure and the quality now at the Parc des Princes, Paris should be among the favourites for the European Cup. Their owners, certainly, would not want them to aim much lower. Last season they were knocked out by Barcelona in the quarter-finals, but were 19 minutes away from a 3-2 aggregate win before Pedro scored and won the tie on away goals.
Since then, Paris have appointed Laurent Blanc as coach, and spent over €100million on Edinson Cavani, Marquinhos and Yohan Cabaye. Expectations are high, but there is a worry that the French league is not competitive enough to provide Blanc’s side with the top-level preparation they need.
Paris are five points clear at the top of Ligue 1, Bayer Leverkusen are second in the Bundesliga, 16 points behind Bayern Munich, but Sami Hyypia’s team could well be better prepared for the tie.
Blanc admitted that his team could be in for a difficult contest. “Leverkusen a very athletic team,” he said, “they can pose us problems. We will need the ball, but we will need to prove ourselves dangerous and efficient, and win the ball back quickly.”
The last time Paris were seriously tested was earlier this month, at Monaco, the league’s other billionaire-benefacted club. Javier Pastore put PSG into the lead but they could not hold on and Thiago Silva deflected the ball into his own net late on.
That game was one of the few times Paris have come up against high-tempo opposition, and Blanc’s preference is to control the game through his strong midfield of Marco Verratti, Thiago Motta and Blaise Matuidi. Cabaye is a high-profile signing but it remains to be seen where he will fit in.
There is more pressure on Zlatan Ibrahimovic, with Cavani still missing through injury, and the Swedish striker has never quite made the same impression on the Champions League as he has in domestic competition over the years, never reaching the final. Blanc, though, insisted that Ibrahimovic is a man for the big occasion. “Ibrahimovic is a competitor, and great games like this motivate him,” Blanc said. “I think he will be even more effective.”