Zero things we learned: Bayer’s problems make it impossible to evaluate PSG’s Champions League hopes

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After Champions League matches, we (PSTlike 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.

Wenger: Sanchez, Giroud will both be with Arsenal next year

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Arsene Wenger thinks Alexis Sanchez will sign a new deal at Arsenal this summer, whether the manager changes or not.

Speaking ahead of Wednesday’s visit from Leicester City, Wenger did not offer any clues as to his future with the club. He also said it does not hinge on how the Gunners finish the current campaign, and that he is working on transfers for the benefit of Arsenal regardless of his future.

[ MORE: Will Real open door for Barca? ]

That’s no surprise, given his reputation and fidelity to the club. What may surprise some is Wenger’s confidence that Sanchez will stay at the Emirates Stadium.

From Sky Sports:

“I personally think he will stay and sign. First of all he is happy here, his desire is to stay, that is what I deeply believe.

“I don’t think you would sell him to any Premier League club, that is for sure. The question is why would you sell him to another club? You want to be as strong as you can be and not strengthen the other teams.”

Wenger said both sides want to work out a deal and that the hold-up resides in agent-related matters. He also said Arsenal does not have interest in selling Olivier Giroud, who backed Wenger just over a month ago.

Title fight in Spain: Will Real slip up again?

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Barcelona’s dramatic 3-2 win over Real Madrid has set La Liga’s title race on its ear, with both clubs level on points with 75.

Real still controls its own destiny in a bid for its first league title since 2011-12, but a single loss puts Barcelona in pole position for its fourth title in five seasons.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

The tiebreaker is head-to-head, which Lionel Messi lifted from Real with his thrilling stoppage time thriller on Sunday at the Bernabeu.

Here are the run-ins for both sides, with Real facing a more congested schedule thanks to its status as a UEFA Champions League semifinalist.

Real Madrid

Only two of Real’s remaining five La Liga matches are at home, a boon for Barcelona considering Real boasts a strong home mark. The loss to Barca was Real’s first at the Bernabeu this season, and the Merengues only drew three matches at home (Villarreal, Eibar, Atletico Madrid).

Those home matches, however, are against teams that beat Real in the sides’ other league meetings this year, Sevilla and Valencia.

Wednesday – at Deportivo de la Coruna (16th)
Saturday – vs. Valencia (12th)
May 2 – vs. Atletico Madrid (UCL)
May 6 – at Granada (19th)
May 10 – at Atletico Madrid (UCL)
May 14 – vs. Sevilla (4th)
May 21 – at Malaga (14th)

Barcelona

Barca is home for three of its remaining five matches. The Blaugranas drew Villarreal and blew out Osasuna and Eibar ahead of the return visits.

As for the road matches, Barca has the Derbi barceloni with Espanyol, having taken the Camp Nou meeting 4-1, as well as a trip to Las Palmas (5-0 at home).

Wednesday – vs. Osasuna (20th)
Saturday – at Espanyol (9th)
May 6 – vs. Villarreal (5th)
May 14 – at Las Palmas (13th)
May 21 – vs. Eibar (8th)
May 27 – vs. Alaves (Copa del Rey Final)

The verdict

Any whiplash Real faces from schedule congestion should be offset by Barcelona’s much tougher schedule. Real could lose again, perhaps versus Sevilla, but Barca will likely finish second thanks to dropped points against Espanyol, Eibar, or Villarreal.

Premier League Weds. preview: Desperation on display

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Two London powers face a race to stay alive for their lofty season goals, while two Northeast sides see their last chances to claim hope for another year in the Premier League.

[ STREAM: All PL games here ]

That’s what’s on the docket for Wednesday’s PL matches, one day after Chelsea buried Southampton 4-2 t0 move seven points clear of Spurs in the race for the league’s 2016-17 crown.

Crystal Palace vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN

No team has looked better than Spurs lately, though Palace won’t be bowed by a big name or good form. Sam Allardyce‘s Eagles boast wins at Liverpool and Chelsea, as well as a home defeat of Arsenal. Those have all come in 2017, as Palace has leapt to within striking distance of the top half.

Spurs need to win at Selhurst Park to keep pace with Chelsea and sit four points back of the No. 1 spot with five matches to play. Lose, concede, and feel like last April all over again. It was a year from Tuesday that Spurs coughed up a home lead to Leicester and saw any hopes of catching Leicester fade into the sunset.

Middlesbrough vs. Sunderland — 2:45 p.m. ET

This Tees-Wear Derby oozes desperation, with Sunderland knowing it needs to win its matches-in-hand on Hull City and Swansea to have any hope of staying up, and Middlesbrough nearly as desperate.

Boro’s 24 points is three more than Sunderland, who has played one less game. Hull sits 17th with 33 points while Swansea holds 31.

Middlesbrough hasn’t won in the Premier League since Dec. 17, a run of 16 matches. Their only wins of the year are over lower league opposition, a trio of victories against Sheffield Wednesday, Accrington Stanley, and Oxford United.

Sunderland has just one league win since that same date in December, and that came at Crystal Palace. The Black Cats have lost six of eight, and look destined to join Boro in the second tier as Northeast neighbors Newcastle comes up.

(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images )

Arsenal vs. Leicester City — 2:45 p.m. ET

Did Sunday’s FA Cup semifinal win over Manchester City snap Arsenal out of its funk, or was it just a matter of Alexis Sanchez’s class squeezing a bit of excellence out of the tube?

Arsene Wenger will hope for the latter, because Arsenal’s Top Four hopes hinge on winning its matches-in-hand on Liverpool and getting significant help from Man City and Manchester United. Their opposition will also be rested, having rested since bowing out of the UEFA Champions League on April 18.

Leicester’s five match winning streak, part of Craig Shakespeare’s new manager bounce, has died down a bit. The Foxes lost at Everton and drew at Palace, and get a third tricky road test in a row at the Emirates Stadium.

Pochettino calls out Xavi for Dele Alli-Man City “lie to lie to lie”

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“He tried to destroy our focus to win because he hates me because he’s Barcelona.”

Even half-kidding, the Derby Barceloni is alive and well for longtime Espanyol man Mauricio Pochettino and Barcelona legend Xavi.

At least that’s why the latter is trying to sabotage the former’s Premier League title fight, Pochettino says.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

Speaking from his club team in Qatar, Xavi claimed that Manchester City is going to bid high for Spurs’ young star Dele Alli.

Tottenham boss Pochettino says that’s just not true. Pochettino was joking a bit when he answered questions on the topic, but then told a story about Xavi diving for a penalty in the derby. Here are a few of his thoughts, from The Telegraph:

“It wasn’t a penalty but Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored for Barcelona and they won the game. After in the replay it was very funny because it was clear no one touched him. Come on! It goes from lie to lie to lie.”

“He is working for Manchester City, maybe? He wants to help Guardiola and [Vincent] Kompany.”