Mbappe joins Messi and Neymar in PSG squad despite Real Madrid speculation

By Sports Desk August 29, 2021

Kylian Mbappe is at the centre of one of the biggest transfer stories as the deadline approaches, but he was still named in Paris Saint-Germain's squad on Sunday as Lionel Messi looks set for his debut.

Mbappe has been the subject of two bids from LaLiga giants Real Madrid, though PSG are reportedly refusing to enter negotiations for the 22-year-old, who only has a season left to run on his deal.

Whether PSG buckle before Tuesday's deadline remains to be seen, but Mbappe trained as usual this week and Mauricio Pochettino insisted on Saturday that the France star had not told him he wished to leave the club.

Pochettino also confirmed Mbappe, along with Messi and fellow superstar forward Neymar, would travel for the clash with Reims and all three were subsequently named in the 22-man squad revealed on Sunday.

Mbappe scored his first goal of the Ligue 1 season in last week's 4-2 win over Brest, while Messi is still awaiting his debut since a shock move from Barcelona earlier this month.

Neymar, who guided Brazil to the Copa America final – a clash that Messi's Argentina won 1-0 – also makes his return to the fold having missed PSG's first three matches this season.

Angel Di Maria scored Argentina's winner against Brazil and also netted on his comeback against Brest, and with Mauro Icardi injured, Pochettino seems likely to pick three of the aforementioned players to start at Stade Auguste-Delaune.

"Kylian Mbappe is working very hard and is preparing for [Sunday's] game," Pochettino said on Saturday.

"In terms of communications with our president and sporting director, they have made it clear what the club's stance is in this regard."

Asked for an update on the situation after Madrid's win over Real Betis, Carlo Ancelotti told reporters: "We should stick to talking about the game because the rest is a matter for the club, who are working on it.

"I don't know the details at this stage."

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    Mauricio Pochettino declared Paris Saint-Germain are ready to do business before the transfer window closes – but refused to discuss Tanguy Ndombele.

    Tottenham midfielder Ndombele is thought to be a target for the Ligue 1 leaders, with reports that a loan deal is being discussed between the clubs.

    Pochettino brought Ndombele to Spurs in 2019 and thinks highly of the former Lyon playmaker, but a move back to France is not yet a formality.

    The Argentine head coach declined to explain PSG's apparent interest in the 25-year-old when his name was mentioned in a news conference on Saturday.

    "I don't like speaking about rumours or players who are at other clubs," said Pochettino. "We have a squad with enormous quality. The club made a huge effort in the summer to put together the best possible squad with the right balance.

    "The transfer window is open now. It also depends on the players who are not getting many chances here. Or for whatever reasons it is that they want to leave.

    "The window is open, and the club is always open. Not just to listen but also to see what is happening in the transfer market. I am pleased with the squad that I have. We will deal with individual matters as they come up."

    Lionel Messi is poised for his first appearance of the year as Pochettino's team tackle Reims on Sunday, with Kylian Mbappe also set to feature after recovering from an adductor problem.

    Messi made his PSG debut as a substitute when PSG and Reims met in August, with a double from Mbappe earning a 2-0 away win amid a whirlwind of global interest in the game.

    "It will definitely be a different match to the first one we played against them," Pochettino said.

    Messi is fit after a brush with COVID-19, and Pochettino added: "Leo Messi has trained this week. We are pleased with how he is coming along. He is going to be in the squad tomorrow.

    "It is always good news when players who have been out for a while are able to return and be back in the squad to help the team."

    Mbappe scored in last weekend's 2-0 win against Brest, before a midweek medical bulletin pointed to an injury.

    "We are happy to see the way that his problem has evolved," Pochettino said. "He trained with us in the last two sessions. He is going to be in the squad tomorrow. We will decide tomorrow if he starts or is on the bench."

    Messi has not scored in his last five domestic matches for PSG and has just six goals across all competitions since arriving from Barcelona.

    He has hit the woodwork more than anybody in the French top flight this season (six) – more times than the entire Reims squad (five).

    PSG have won each of their last three meetings with Reims in Ligue 1 without conceding a goal, achieving as many clean sheets in this sequence as in the first 11 between the two clubs in the 21st century.

    Reims will clearly do well to take anything from Sunday's game, having not scored in their last two Ligue 1 games and with PSG having won 12 and drawn one of their last 13 home games in the competition.

  • Hazard is in Ancelotti's plans for Real Madrid next season Hazard is in Ancelotti's plans for Real Madrid next season

    Carlo Ancelotti says Eden Hazard is in his Real Madrid plans for next season as the Belgium star shows signs of finding form at last.

    Hazard scored an extra-time winner to send Madrid into the Copa del Rey quarter-finals at Elche's expense this week, having assisted Marco Asensio in the 3-1 win at Alcoyano in his previous appearance.

    It means the 31-year-old has been involved in as many goals in his past two games as he was in his previous 17, suggesting he is starting to find his feet at last in LaLiga.

    Hazard has reportedly already rejected approaches to leave this month, including from Newcastle United, and Ancelotti seems keen to keep him for the longer term.

    "Yes, he's in the planning for next season," the Madrid coach said ahead of Sunday's league game with Elche.

    Asked if it might be a good day for Hazard to be in the starting line-up, Ancelotti replied: "Yes, it's a good day. Hopefully, it will be a good day."

     

    Isco also got on the scoresheet against Elche to underline his value as another option for Ancelotti, while the Italian says Gareth Bale, who has not played for the club since August, is also close to a return.

    "Isco doesn't have injuries, but Bale has been out for longer than Hazard. Each one is a different case," he said.

    "Gareth is getting back to having a good physical condition, he's improving, he's starting to train every day with the team."

    Dani Ceballos has also returned to the Madrid set-up after a long injury absence, playing three times this month, and Ancelotti hopes he will prove a useful player for the rest of the campaign.

    "He's starting to be well, to improve his physical condition," he said. "I like him on a personal level, for his character, for his lack of fear in playing games and making plays.

    "He'll certainly have an important role in the second part of the season."

    Madrid head into the weekend with a four-point lead over Sevilla at the top of the table, while champions Atletico Madrid are 13 points adrift in fourth and Barcelona down in sixth.

    Ancelotti accepts it is a surprise to see their biggest rivals struggling.

    "Of course, we can talk about them, what two great teams, two great clubs are doing, and of course we're surprised they're having more difficulties than normal," he said.

    "They're still both great rivals, with sufficient quality to get out of any complicated situation."

  • AFCON matchday preview: Nigeria bid to extend winning run as knockouts begin AFCON matchday preview: Nigeria bid to extend winning run as knockouts begin

    By Sunday evening in Cameroon, the first two quarter-finalists at the Africa Cup of Nations will be known.

    Burkina Faso should start as slight favourites against Gabon, chiefly due to their win when the teams met ahead of the tournament.

    Nigeria will then be expected to overcome a Tunisia side who qualified for the last-16 stage via the back door.

    Burkina Faso v Gabon (16:00 GMT)

    Burkina Faso rather scrambled through the group stage, losing their opener to the hosts before winning 1-0 against Cape Verde and drawing 1-1 with Ethiopia.

    They were runners-up in 2013 and finished third in 2017, so this is far from uncharted territory and a 3-0 win over Gabon in a warm-up game for this tournament at the start of January may be a guide of what to expect from this tussle in Limbe.

    Midfielder Adama Guira is urging caution though, telling the Sidwaya newspaper: "A lot of things have changed on the Gabonese side after this friendly match. Their last outing against Morocco attests to this. They are a very good team."

    Gabon were unbeaten in the group stage, despite the disruption of losing captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and midfielder Mario Lemina after brushes with COVID-19. A win over the Comoros was consolidated by draws with Ghana and Morocco.

    That pre-tournament loss to the Stallions might be a factor, but Gabon are unbeaten in their previous two AFCON meetings with Sunday's opponents – both having taken place in the group stages (2-0 in 2015 and 1-1 in 2017).

    One to watch: Guelor Kanga (Gabon)

    Red Star Belgrade attacking midfielder Kanga has been a livewire for Gabon so far in the tournament, with a team-high eight shots and five chances created (one assist). It earned him a place among the substitutes in the tournament's official best team of the group stage.

     

    Nigeria v Tunisia (19:00 GMT)

    Nigeria have two players in the group stage's best XI, with centre-back William Troost-Ekong and forward Moses Simon both earning plaudits for their early performances.

    Augustine Eguavoen's team were the only side with a 100 per cent winning record in the groups, and now they tackle a Tunisia outfit who only edged through as one of the best third-placed teams, having lost twice already.

    These sides are meeting for the sixth time at the Africa Cup of Nations and Tunisia's only successful AFCON meeting with Nigeria came in 2004, when they progressed via penalties in the semi-finals, going on to win the competition.

    Nigeria have won 12 of their last 14 AFCON games (L2), and they start this game as hot favourites.

    Nigeria have had more different scorers (6) than any other team so far at this year's tournament, with Kelechi Iheanacho, Simon, Simon Chukwueze, Taiwo Awoniyi, Troost-Ekong and Umar Sadiq each scoring once.

    One to watch: Kelechi Iheanacho

    The Leicester City striker has one goal and one assist so far, creating a team-high six chances. Such evidence points to him being a likely menace to the Tunisian defence.

     

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