By Robin Bairner in Paris
As expected, Paris Saint-Germain had few problems seeing off the challenge of Bayer Leverkusen at Parc des Princes - posting a comfortable 6-1 aggregate victory thanks to a 2-1 success in Wednesday’s second leg.
Despite a sluggish display from the hosts, Ezequiel Lavezzi’s low finish early in the second half wrapped up a victory that keeps their positive momentum in Europe’s elite competition rolling and marks the continuation of the Argetine’s finest run of form since moving to France.
Initially the hosts started sluggishly, and when Sidney Sam rose unchallenged at the back post to head the visitors into the lead - prompting a mass surge of visiting fans into the ground - there was just a hint that Laurent Blanc’s rotated side were treating the game a little too casually.
Order was restored, however, when PSG replied in a fashion typical of their Champions League campaign. A corner from the right, taken by the impressive Yohan Cabaye was met with a firm header from Marquinhos, whose negligence had partly been to blame for the opener. His baby-rocking celebration was a nod to the birth of Marco Verratti’s son, Tommaso, which was a footnote to a satisfying day for the hosts.
Lavezzi, though, proved the matchwinner with a clinical low finish shortly after the restart.
The Argentine started this campaign fending off criticism over his finishing ability, yet Wednesday’s winner was the 28-year-old’s eighth goal of the season, including five in his last six outings.
With Lucas Moura rising in prominence in recent weeks, most notably in a powerful display against Olympique de Marseille less than a fortnight ago, Blanc’s attacking options have never looked so strong. The young Brazilian still may be prone to making poor choices, though there is little doubt he is becoming increasingly efficient – a frightening thought for PSG’s rivals.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who went off to a hero’s reception, was not at his brilliant best against the German club - spurning a handful of clear sights at goal before leaving the field with little over an hour played - having been something of a surprise starter given recent back trouble.
Aside from placating the Swede, whose desire to be involved in every game is well publicised and was highlighted by his reticence to be withdrawn when he was taken off, there was little need for PSG’s "phenomenon", as Marquinhos described him after the game, to be risked.
Edinson Cavani has returned from his thigh troubles and gave an emphatic display of his fitness by scoring against Marseille, yet the Uruguay star now faces a very real fight for his place in the side given the form of his peers.
Of course, the summer arrival from Napoli remains a fixture in Blanc’s thinking but, with Lucas and Lavezzi both approaching their potential by addressing the flaws in their game, a three-way battle to support Ibrahimovic in PSG’s starting XI is developing.
It is often said that to be a truly successful side, four top-class forwards are required, and PSG’s quartet is coming along quite nicely as the season reaches its crescendo.