After Champions League matches, we (PST) like to come back with an analysis piece, something that often takes the form of a “things we learned” post. As today’s game in France developed, the idea of writing a “reasons why Paris Saint-Germain can compete for Champions League” post was floated, an idea that has one debilitating sticking point.
Bayer Leverkusen — PSG’s steamrolled opponent — was such a non-factor over the course of two legs, it’s impossible to say what dominating them means for a Champions League contender. The play of Sami Hyypia’s team was so ineffectual, almost any European title aspirant would have put up an equally lopsided result. Maybe another team would have scored fewer goals (PSG put up six over the course of 180 minutes), but the control would have been the same. Any side with aspirations for this year’s title would have dismantled Leverkusen.
Bayer didn’t belong at the stage of the tournament. They came through a weak group, one which saw Manchester United claim first place. Had Shakhtar Donetsk and Real Sociedad not gone through their own early-season adjustments, Hyypia’s team may have been coaxed into Europa League. Without strong opposition, it survived, becoming one of the two or three weakest teams in the Round of 16.
It’s a shame, too. Bayer should be much better. And at points this season, they were. Through the first months of the Bundesliga campaign, they managed to remain within arm’s length of Bayern Munich, their attacking trio of Stefan Keißling, Sidney Sam, and Son-Heung Min rivaling the production of their peers at Bayern and Borussia Dortmund.
Those days are long gone, though. Relative to PSG, Bayer is a team with huge deficiencies in midfield and defense – gaps that left them ill-equipped to match up with the French champions. Even with the talent Leverkusen has in attack, it’s impossible to point to any player in Hyypia’s XI and say “he would start for Laurent Blanc.” They’re overmatched; drastically so.
When trying to draw conclusions about PSG, that’s important to remember. It’s tempting to see a 6-1 aggregate and be impressed by Paris Saint-Germain — and to a certain extent, that’s the right response — but Bayer’s limitations force us to maintain perspective. Unless the Parisians get drawn against the winner of Manchester United-Olympiakos in the next round, the competition’s going to take a major step up in the quarterfinals.
That midfield solidity that allowed PSG to go toe-to-toe with Barcelona last season? Bayer never challenged it. The defense that might be improved thanks to the summer purchase of Marquinhos? PSG’s control left it untested. And that attack which sees Edison Cavani and Ezequiel Lavezzi leverage the creativity of Zlatan Ibrahimovic? It had it far too easy against Bayer’s defense.
Theoretically, PSG should be a tougher out this season. Not only does it have last season’s experience under their belts, but its league form portrays a control and maturity it was still growing into last year. The team no longer plays like as aspiring giant. Though they remain on the fringe, PSG’s already achieved a place among Europe’s elite.
But only one elite can raise the trophy in Lisbon, and to the extent that we can assess PSG’s chances, their 180 minutes against Bayer do not tell us very much. They were impressive, dominant, and flashed the potential the Parisians need to take the next step in their ascent. They also came up against a team that should have been in Europa League by now.