Paris Saint-Germain already have one foot in the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals after a rampant performance in Germany saw them put four past Bayer Leverkusen at the BayArena on Tuesday.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic netted twice, featuring a spectacular drilled second, as additional goals from Blaise Matuidi and Yohan Cabaye secured the French champions a big first-leg lead. Laurent Blanc’s men produced a dazzling first 45 minutes to sweep aside die Werkself 4-0, but can count themselves fortunate with the penalty decision that provided the second goal.
Emir Spahic made matters worse for Leverkusen, getting himself sent off for a second bookable offence in the second half, but by that time the damage had already been done to Sami Hyypia’s men.
Substitute Cabaye sealed the win with a late fourth, his first since signing for the capital club at the end of the January transfer window. But it could and should have been five after the Parisians had an own goal wrongly ruled out because of Ezequiel Lavezzi’s supposed offside involvement.
PSG are now all but guaranteed to at least equal last season’s quarterfinal appearance with the two-legged affair seemingly already done and dusted.
Central to the resounding victory, as usual, was Ibrahimovic.
The Swede is now up to 10 goals from just six appearances in this season’s edition of the Champions League and looked in dominant form at the BayArena. Not only did he bag a brace, but he was also instrumental in Cabaye’s late goal.
Ibrahimovic currently leads Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo in the competition’s scoring stakes, with the Spaniards due to recommence their campaign next week. Faced with similar opponents to Leverkusen, PSG have thrown down the gauntlet to Real and their former coach Carlo Ancelotti.
More than that though, they have demonstrated that they are finally back to their frightening best after a lull in form since the start of 2014.
Thiago Motta and Marco Verratti were exceptional in midfield, immediately seizing the advantage and rendering their hosts’ own midfield trio of Simon Rolfes, Lars Bender and Gonzalo Castro obsolete.
In doing so, PSG ensured that Sidney Sam and Heung-Min Son saw little of the ball, with striker Stefan Kiessling also suffering as a consequence. That enabled Ibrahimovic to work his magic and for the French champions to immediately move into the ascendancy.
Matuidi, who was at his relentless and irrepressible best once again, stole in to make it 1-0 inside of three minutes although Leverkusen goalkeeper Bernd Leno will feel that he should have done better.
Ibrahimovic made it 2-0 from the spot, an expertly taken penalty after Spahic had fouled Lavezzi to concede in controversial fashion. But there was no debating the legitimacy of his second goal, a sensational drive from the edge of the area across goal that rivals his outstanding goal against RSC Anderlecht in the group stages.
That it comes in a last 16 clash made it all the better, considering the criticism that the Swede gets for his perceived lack of influence in the latter stages.
He then turned provider as Maxwell crossed low following his clever pass and Lucas Moura cushioned the ball for Cabaye to sweep home from just inside the area at the end.
The penalty undoubtedly changed the game at that moment, as Leverkusen were coming back into it, but there can be no arguing that PSG were not the better side on the night.
Blanc’s men were far superior from start to finish and the red card to Spahic, although unnecessary, was coming after he decided to antagonise Ibrahimovic earlier in the game.
As per Ligue1.com, Le President revealed his delight at the return to top form after the final whistle:
"I think we saw the Paris from the first half of the season that had the desire to construct, be clinical, things that we had lost a little bit. Tonight we were clinical while also maintaining our philosophy."
"After the match against Valenciennes, the players prepared well for this game. They applied themselves well and they deserve to be congratulated. I am very satisfied with the whole squad."
"What pleased me was that we hurt Bayer, we never let them through. I said to the players that a last 16 tie, a quarter-final, a semi-final, are always two matches."
"We are not exempt from playing the second leg because we won 4-0 away. We will savour this and try to refocus on the second leg which we will need to win at the Parc in three weeks."
It was quite fitting that the Swede should come up against Andres Guardado once again in the last 16. The Mexican was guilty of getting the 32-year-old sent off in last year’s meeting at this stage with Valencia CF.
PSG and Ibrahimovic have obviously learned their lessons from that inefficient performance that saw them almost blow a two-goal away lead, narrowly progressing to the quarterfinals 3-2 on aggregate.
It was an infinitely more convincing showing and left no doubt that this season’s French champions are stronger than last term’s side that was led by Ancelotti.
Now the question is: how far can PSG go after such a thorough performance?
On this evidence, the semi-finals and beyond is a distinct possibility. Ibrahimovic now has a taste for this season’s competition and seems determined to lead the Parisians further than last year’s quarterfinal appearance.
So much will depend on the draw for the last eight of course, but right now and in this form, PSG should fear nobody. What they should fear most is losing Ibrahimovic at any point of this season’s competition.