Paris Saint-Germain asserted themselves well in their first journey into the UEFA Champions League, winning a Round of 16 tie before giving Barcelona all they could handle last season. They don't have the same experience at manager anymore, with Laurent Blanc coming in to replace the departed Carlo Ancelotti, but they have added one of the best forwards on earth in Edinson Cavani. This year's PSG is essentially the same team with a bit more talent, but will they have the tactics and cohesiveness to down Bayer Leverkusen?
There's no question that the Germans will be playing at a talent disparity, but they have a slew of German internationals, an emerging young star in Son Heung-Min and a young coach in Sami Hyypia that has turned the team into one of the Bundesliga's best. Bayer are underdogs, but not huge ones.
PSG were one of the few top tier sides to suffer in the past European summer when the top teams chopped and changed coaches, with the appointment of Laurent Blanc after Carlo Ancelotti's departure to Real Madrid representing a significant downgrade. Having won the league under the Italian, the club's attention almost certainly would have turned to the Champions League - but Blanc has very limited experience of the competition, taking Bordeaux to the group stages in 2008.
Still, PSG navigated the group stages with relative ease, largely thanks to a comfortable draw that saw them up against Benfica, Olympiakos and Anderlecht, all of whom were defeated both home and away by PSG bar the final match against Benfica - although, by that stage, PSG's qualification had already been confirmed. On the more favourable side of the knockout round draw, Blanc will know the expectation is to at least match last year's quarter-final exit. If they are to progress, he'll need to find a solution to the left hand side of his preferred 4-3-3 - none of Ezequiel Lavezzi, Jeremy Menez, Lucas Moura and Javier Pastore have felt suited to that role, and the position remains up for grabs.
A lot can change between now and February, but the title race in France is something to keep in mind - if Monaco continue to push PSG at the top, sitting two points behind the defending champions at this stage, there is the threat that Blanc's side could be distracted by their domestic challenge. The two will face off in what is shaping up to be a crucial league match days out from the first leg of the first leg of the knockout rounds, and Blanc could find balancing the multiple trophy hunts a difficult task.
Key Player: Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Is there any other choice? There was a period where the Sweden's goalscoring - and specifically, the types of goals he was scoring - was simply ridiculous, as if he could simply will the ball into the back of a net in any manner he chose. We know all the jokes and outlandish quotes, and Ibrahimovic is certainly one of, if not the world's most entertaining footballers, but it shouldn't be ignored that he's also one of the most effective centre forwards on the planet. There are signs that a truly devastating partnership with Edinson Cavani may be forthcoming but in the meantime PSG will happy to rely on Zlatan's outrageous array of flicks, tricks and spectacular finishes.
Bayer Leverkusen only managed to scrape through the group stages on the final matchday, with their narrow victory over Real Sociedad combining with Shakhtar Donetsk's loss to Manchester United to see them progress in second place. Despite their incredible form in the Bundesliga -- they're just four points adrift of Bayern Munich and six in front of Borussia Dortmund -- Sami Hyypiä's outfit are yet to impress in the Champions League, thrashed by Manchester United both home and away (and who gets thrashed by United these days?), as well as twice beating an unimpressive Sociedad by a single goal.
Their league position suggests they should have a very real chance of causing big teams a problem in the knockout stages, though they'll need to vastly improve on their European displays to date if they are to do so. Offering some reason for optimism is the high-tempo counter-attacking style Hyypiä has implemented, which, providing they don't disintegrate as in the fixtures against Manchester United, could cause bigger sides problems.
Key player: Sidney Sam
One of their most important attacking outlets is winger Sidney Sam, who made his debut for the German national team earlier this year and has so far gone on to pick up five caps. Playing in an exciting attacking trident with one of the stars of last season's Bundesliga, Stefan Kießling, and young South Korean star Son Heung-Min, the goalscoring winger has netted seven times in 13 Bundesliga appearances so far this season -- and that's having missed the last few weeks due to injury. His recovery for the knockout stages would be a huge boost for Bayer, and would boost their slim chances of progressing into the quarterfinals.
PSG's fullbacks against Bayer's wingers. If Bayer Leverkusen are going to get through this tie, it'll be because Sam and Son got the better of the rotating crop of adequate, but not exceptional players that will be marking them. PSG have an outrageous group of forwards, great central defenders and good midfielders with varied skill sets, but Cristophe Jallet, Maxwell, Gregory van der Wiel and Lucas Digne are average for this level. They'll need to step up to keep Bayer off the scoreboard.