Remember the beginning of the season? It was a magical time when Bayer Leverkusen were praised for looking better than Borussia Dortmund, as well as Champions League group mates Shakhtar Donetsk and Real Sociedad. They were clearly the second best team in the Bundesliga and even gave Manchester United a nice game. Sami Hyypiä had emerged as one of the top young managers in the world. That was fun, wasn't it?
Snap back to reality. Bayer have suffered huge blowouts at the hands of United, Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain, their Champions League Round of 16 opponents. They've fallen to third in the Bundesliga, level on points with fourth-placed Schalke, and are in very real danger of missing out on automatic Champions League qualification spots. They're also already all but out of this year's Champions League, but have made a trip to Paris for the second leg anyway.
While beating down an outrageously out of form Bayer Leverkusen squad is hardly an indicator of an ability to hang with Europe's best, Paris Saint-Germain probably came out of their trip to Germany confident that they can better last year's quarterfinal showing in this competition. They look like they've put together the right group of players, blending flair with industriousness perfectly, partially thanks to their transfer policy and partially thanks to Laurent Blanc's selections.
In short, PSG are very good and Bayer are not. If you enjoy watching excellent teams go up against teams that are totally out of their depth, you might like this, though Bayer might look somewhat competent due to the high number of PSG players that are going to be rested.
First leg score
Bayer Leverkusen 0-4 Paris Saint-Germain. We knew that Zlatan was good, but sheesh.
Jens Hegeler is out, while three other Bayer Leverkusen players are struggling for fitness. All of Lars Bender, Stefan Reinartz and Ömer Toprak will face late fitness tests to see whether or not they're able to play. Emir Spahic is suspended, so Bayer are extremely thin at central defense if Toprak isn't able to start.
The list of Paris Saint-Germain players that will miss out is long, though most of them are fringe players, long-term absentees or both. Marco Verratti, Gregory van der Wiel, Blaise Matuidi, Hervin Ongenda, Kingsley Coman, Jérémy Menez and Zoumana Camara will not play on Wednesday. Blanc has also said that he may rest Zlatan Ibrahimovic, which is code for 'he won't start but he'll come in if we're getting killed'. They won't get killed.
Projected lineups (left to right)
Stefan Kießling vs. PSG's defenders - Stefan Kießling has been running extremely hot and cold for ... well, for the vast majority of his career. This is one of those cold spots. Not only is he not finishing, but he's not exactly getting into great positions either, and his hold-up play has left something to be desired. If Bayer are going to save face and win in Paris -- even though they have virtually no chance of progressing -- they'll need Kießling to turn in a top performance. But against Thiago Silva? Don't count on it.
Edinson Cavani vs. oh god Bayer are so screwed - The same matchup as above, only on the other end of the pitch and against lame scab central defenders. Someone who is either kind of injured or not a central defender is going to be tasked with slowing down one of the most complete strikers in the world. I'm so sorry, Bayer.
It's unlikely that Paris Saint-Germain are going to be totally motivated for this one, given that they won 4-0 away. However, while we have to consider the possibility that they will not be focused for this match, we also have to consider the possibility that a Bayer side that regularly gets blown out -- especially by teams as lame as Manchester United -- might kind of stink. 2-0 PSG.