Pitchside Europe

PSG look much too strong for Leverkusen in Champions League

Before Monday's Champions League last 16 draw, Leverkusen CEO Michael Schade said he hoped Zlatan Ibrahimovic would get the chance to play at the BayArena. He will now see his dream become reality with Paris Saint-Germain's Swedish superstar heading to Germany, though the tie may well end up being something of a shame for Schade.

"A challenge we'll happily take on" was Simon Rolfes' reaction to the draw, while Stefan Reinartz was bullish in claiming "we have already proven that we can match teams who are much better off financially". The response in France was one of muted jubilation. With Manchester City and Arsenal avoided, Laurent Blanc, the PSG coach - habitually grouchy with media - was all smiles in front of the cameras just minutes after the draw, and though he insisted Leverkusen were "also a big team", he gave the impression of a man for whom Christmas had come early.

Looking at the key match-ups in the tie, Blanc's barely concealed glee had some justification.

Bernd Leno v Salvatore Sirigu

Just imagine Sirigu actually arrived at PSG as second-choice to Nicolas Douchez. Hard to believe as many of you will barely have heard of Douchez given Sirigu immediately seized the first-choice gloves when his rival was injured at the start of the 2011/12 season and has not relinquished his grip. Five years Leno's senior, Sirigu has only marginally more experience at Champions League level - 16 games to Leno's 14 - and is equally as steady. With Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Edinson Cavani in the PSG ranks, Leno will have a magnificent opportunity to extend his renown beyond Germany's borders; he may also simply find himself too busy to care.

VERDICT: The only area in which Leverkusen will match PSG

Emir Spahic v Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Serbo-Croat lip-readers: Look away now! Two players who should have 'highly flammable' stamped on them - actually, given Ibrahimovic's penchant for tattoos, perhaps he already does - this will be a combustible contest. The imposing Swede may actually meet his physical match in the robust Bosnia-Herzegovina defender. I wondered why Leverkusen brought in a snarly centre-back in Spahic, now I know. It's just a shame it's not Hyypia in his heyday tackling PSG's star among stars.

VERDICT: Zlatan by a submission

Stefan Kiessling v Thiago Silva

Stefan Kiessling has been hard done by with regard to not being picked by Germany etc. but the Leverkusen forward will get no sympathy from Thiago Silva, and little opportunity to enhance his reputation. Kiessling's aerial prowess is undoubtedly greater than that seen from most Ligue 1 forwards, but Silva showed last season that when the stakes are raised, he lifts his already world-class game to extra-terrestrial standards. He was even praised by Joey Barton for displays against Barcelona in last season's quarter-final, which says it all.

VERDICT: Kiessling will need more than a hole in the net to help him

Lars Bender, Simon Rolfes, Gonzalo Castro v Thiago Motta, Marco Verratti and Blaise Matuidi

This is - at least for me - the most intriguing area of the tie: the midfield battle of the respective 4-3-3 formations. Though less technically gifted than that of PSG, the mobility and energy of Leverkusen's trio could hinder the ability of Motta and Verratti in particular to orchestrate play. Can the Leverkusen threesome keep their pressing sufficiently suffocating across the two legs though? Unlikely.

VERDICT: PSG with too much silk not to succeed

Laurent Blanc v Sami Hyypia

Blanc said he knew who the Leverkusen coach was in his press conference minutes after Monday's draw, but then asked media to remind him of Hyypia's name before acknowledging the Finn was "a former Liverpool player". He did add that there would be time to study Leverkusen, and clearly he needs to do some homework.

Like his fellow former centre-back Blanc in his first coaching job at Bordeaux, Hyypia has shown he has quickly and successfully made the transition from player to boss. Given just how inspirational he could be for Liverpool on European nights, you can expect Hyypia to find the right words to fire up his side, who should need little encouragement.

Blanc, whose team start undoubted favourites, will have the opposite problem, though the ultra-professionalism and will-to-win of Ibrahimovic, Silva et al should be enough. Even if Hyypia springs a surprise, Blanc has enough quality in his squad and experience in himself to react.

VERDICT: Bigger and better squad means its Blanc all the way to the last eight.

Ian Holyman (Twitter: @ian_holyman)