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.

PL Preview: Manchester City vs. Newcastle

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  • Newcastle has lost 8 PL away matches in a row
  • Man City last lost at home in PL play to Chelsea in Dec 2016
  • Newcastle has picked up 1 of a possible 30 points vs. PL top half this season

Manchester City has a great chance to rebound from its first loss of the season as they host struggling Newcastle at the Etihad on Saturday, live at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC or live online at NBCSports.com.

WATCH LIVE, HERE

The Magpies have picked up their terrible mid-season form of late, but still remain just three points above the drop. They are unbeaten in three, with a win and two draws, and have lost just once in their last five.

Through Newcastle’s losing streak, the Magpies struggled to keep the ball out of their own net, with defensive issues all over the place. They suffered through a nine-game winless run where they conceded 19 goals. However, of late, the roles have reversed, and suddenly they can’t score. In their last four games, they have just two goals.

City, meanwhile, have a few injuries to deal with on the defensive side of things, where they cannot afford them. Fabian Delph went down in the last match and could be out for significant time, along with Vincent Kompany who continues to show his age and history of fitness issues.

INJURIES: Manchester City – OUT: Fabian Delph (knee), Benjamin Mendy (knee). QUESTIONABLE: David Silva (illness), Vincent Kompany (fitness). Newcastle – OUT: Jesus Gamez (ankle). QUESTIONABLE: Dwight Gayle (knock).


What they’re saying

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola on build-up of injuries: “In these situations, it always depends on the mentality of the players, if they can make a step forward. If they can they play in positions that are not natural positions and the other guys help them, everything is going well.”

Newcastle manager Rafa Benitez on not having a full squad: “When you have a short blanket, if you pull it to your face, your feet are cold, if you cover your feet, your top half is cold.”

Prediction

Newcastle has been ok of late, but not nearly enough to keep Manchester City out of the back of the net. This could get ugly, with the Citizens looking to rebound from their season’s first loss. 3-0 Man City with the possibility that it could get much worse if Newcastle gives up.

PL Preview: Burnley vs. Manchester United

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  • Burnley has 1 win vs. Man United in last 23 meetings
  • Manchester United has not conceded a goal in 2018
  • Paul Pogba is joint-top of the league with 9 assists

A critical top of the table battle comes our way from Turf Moor (!!) on Saturday as Manchester United travels to Burnley live on NBCSN or live online at NBCSports.com.

WATCH LIVE, HERE

Since losing at Chelsea back in early November, Manchester United in unbeaten away from home and has won four of the five road matches. Burnley, meanwhile, has lost three matches in a row to start the new year and has not won in Premier League play since December 12th against Stoke City.

The goalscoring form of each team is also in stark contrast. Manchester United has not allowed a goal in any competition in 2018, and last conceded back on Boxing Day in a 2-2 draw with this Burnley side. The Clarets, meanwhile, have just one goal in their last three Premier League games and just three goals in their last six.

INJURIES: Burnley – OUT: Chris Wood (knee), Stephen Ward (knee), Jonathan Walters (knee). QUESTIONABLE: Chris Taylor (ribs). Manchester United – OUT: Daley Blind (undisclosed), Eric Bailly (ankle), Michael Carrick (heart), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (knee). QUESTIONABLE: Marouane Fellaini, Antonio Valencia.

What they’re saying

Burnley manager Sean Dyche on the gap in riches between clubs: “I don’t think any of us are surprised by the gap in the Premier League – I think it’s been there a long time and it’s getting harder year on year since the business model of football has changed.”

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho on focusing despite transfer rumors: “In this moment, [Henrikh] Mkhitaryan our player, [Alexis] Sanchez an Arsenal player and with a match tomorrow, I want to switch off and focus on the most important thing, which is the match.”

Prediction

Burnley may be coming back down to Earth, but they are still a formidable team with great organization, and Manchester United will be once again held to a draw, this time 1-1.

Alexis Sanchez in Arsenal squad, could play vs Crystal Palace

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Ahead of his nearly imminent move away from the Emirates, Alexis Sanchez could make an appearance for Arsenal against Crystal Palace this weekend as he was with the squad at the team hotel on Friday night, according to reports in England.

According to the reports, Arsene Wenger has not decided if he will play Sanchez against Palace or not, as any potential injury could seriously jeopardize any outgoing transfer in the works. However, naming him to the bench and allowing Sanchez to make one last appearance in front of the home fans would be a nice touch before he leaves, likely for Manchester United.

It probably doesn’t help Wenger’s selection that oft-injured Danny Welbeck will miss the match after picking up a muscle problem in training.

Sanchez did not travel with the team to Bournemouth last weekend as Arsenal lost 2-1 in stunning fashion. Sanchez has missed four Premier League games this season, and Arsenal has lost three of them.

The reports state Sanchez trained with the Arsenal first team on Friday, but only because the youth team he trained with the day before had left for a road trip.

Reports: LA Galaxy trades Gyasi Zardes to Columbus for Ola Kamara

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According to a reports by the LA Times and by ESPN, the LA Galaxy have traded US international Gyasi Zardes along with allocation money to the Columbus Crew for striker Ola Kamara.

Both reports state that Columbus will receive $400,000 in guaranteed allocation money in the deal, plus another $100,000 should Kamara score 12 goals next season to trigger the incentive.

Zardes was once a force along the wing for Bruce Arena and the Galaxy, but the 26-year-old has declined heavily in the last two seasons as injuries and poor form have held him to just eight goals over the last two seasons, including just two last campaign. Meanwhile, Kamara has been a star for Columbus in his first two years in Major League Soccer, scoring 16 goals in 2016 before netting another 18 last season, leaving him third in the league in goals scored over those two seasons.

The LA Times report states that Kamara will earn a new contract after the trade, giving him a raise over his current $482,500 yearly salary.

Zardes is an interesting case who shouldn’t be given up on just yet. A homegrown player for the Galaxy, he scored 17 goals in the 2014 season, including on in the MLS Cup Finals as the Galaxy won it all. He earned a seemingly permanent place on the USMNT as a result, and has 37 caps to this date. However, his goalscoring form has since evaporated, leaving him with no more than six goals in an MLS season since, and has just six goals in those 37 caps for the national team.

The Galaxy will need to acquire an additional international roster spot in order to activate Kamara for the season opener on March 4th against Portland, as they have filled up their seven spots as of now.