Who needs Neymar? Mbappe, Di Maria and Icardi thrive as Paris Saint-Germain maintain Classique dominance

By Sports Desk October 27, 2019

The signs on Sunday evening were ominous for Marseille inside the opening 20 seconds of Le Classique.

Angel Di Maria struck just wide following slick interplay with Mauro Icardi and Kylian Mbappe, and the Paris Saint-Germain trio would go on to dominate the headline match of the Ligue 1 weekend.

Neymar, expected to be out for at least another two weeks due to a hamstring injury, was looking on from the stands at Parc des Princes as PSG's new-look front three ran riot against fallen giants.

As far as attacking performances go, it was as close to perfect as you will get. PSG were 4-0 up by half-time, meaning there was no pressing need to inflict further damage on their floundering rivals, though the champions certainly tried.

The Parisians were spearheaded by players who have ensured the absences of Neymar and Edinson Cavani have not only not been felt, but rather embraced as an opportunity. Thomas Tuchel's side are eight points clear in Ligue 1 and have looked imperious in the Champions League.

Winning over PSG's fans again after his public attempt to leave the club may not be the only battle Neymar faces once he returns to fitness.

Marseille are winless in the last 16 Classique meetings in Ligue 1, but with their opponents in this kind of form, Andre Villas-Boas' side never stood a chance as PSG's fearsome front three reigned supreme in the capital.

MARVELLOUS MBAPPE TAKES THE SPOTLIGHT... AGAIN

Neymar strutted into PSG as the club's superstar signing, but it is Mbappe who is now the leading frontman in this show. It did not take him long to claim the starring role on Sunday.

With Icardi having helped himself to PSG's opening two goals, Mbappe - who scored a hat-trick and provided an assist after coming on as a substitute against Club Brugge in midweek - got in on the act with a tap-in just after the half-hour mark.

A typical poacher's goal was followed by the typical Mbappe goal, France's prodigy racing onto a perfect Di Maria pass before beating Steve Mandanda.

Mbappe is a force of nature and, despite his own injury struggles this term, already has eight goals from 10 appearances in all competitions.

DI MARIA DAZZLES

Di Maria thundered in an outrageous free-kick as PSG went on to win the corresponding fixture 3-1 in March last season. This time, he settled for a playmaking role, and did not disappoint.

After teeing up Icardi's opener, Di Maria slipped in Mbappe to put PSG 3-0 by the 32nd minute, though it was his sublime, sensational throughball for the France forward just prior to half-time which topped the lot.

Arguably in the form of his career, Di Maria has surely cemented himself as the first player on Tuchel's team sheet, whether Neymar is fit or not.

CAVANI'S BOOTS A GOOD FIT FOR ICARDI

If you are going to phase out the leading goalscorer in a club's history, then having a replacement of Icardi's quality certainly helps.

While Romelu Lukaku's fine form has meant Inter are not exactly feeling the loss of their former captain, Icardi has played like a man with a point to prove since his arrival in Paris. Heading into Sunday's encounter, the Argentina striker had scored a goal every 24 touches during his time in Ligue 1.

Record scorer Cavani came on as a substitute for Mbappe, yet at 32 and with injury problems having plagued his start to the season, his days as PSG's chief marksman look to be at an end.

Icardi's deal is at this stage a temporary one, but with seven goals in as many matches, surely PSG have found the heir to Cavani's throne.

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  • Who will replace Setien as Barcelona head coach? Who will replace Setien as Barcelona head coach?

    "Nobody is safe," declared Gerard Pique after Barcelona were humiliated by Bayern Munich in their final match of a long, long season.

    The defender was very clear that changes must be made in the wake of an 8-2 battering in the Champions League quarter-finals.

    President Josep Maria Bartomeu is expected to chair an extraordinary board meeting on Monday, when the dismissal of head coach Quique Setien appears likely to be ratified.

    Barca's problems stem far beyond the man in charge of the first team, but Setien looked powerless in the dugout in Lisbon on Friday and is the first obvious departure as part of a top-down clear-out at Camp Nou.

    Appointing a replacement is complicated by next year's presidential elections. Assuming Bartomeu does not heed growing calls to step aside, he will be in power for at least another 10 months. That means any coach who comes in now could find himself supplanted by the preferred choice of the next president.

    With that in mind, here are six of the firm favourites to take over from Setien.

     

    Mauricio Pochettino

    The favourite in many quarters, former Tottenham boss Pochettino could be a hugely tempting - and low-cost - choice.

    The Argentinian, who left Spurs last November five months after reaching the Champions League final, has softened his stance on coaching Barca after previously declaring he could never take the job due to his allegiance to Espanyol.

    Barca would represent by far the biggest job of his coaching career and the sheer challenge of getting them back on track could appeal to Pochettino, who turned Spurs into Premier League title challengers and top-four regulars over five years.

    There are reports, however, that Pochettino's appointment could be a majorly divisive move, given his previous comments about Barcelona.

    Xavi

    Barca's former captain turned down the coaching job in January when Ernesto Valverde was sacked, and he may think the time is still not right to take the reins.

    The Catalans would need to buy out his deal with Al Sadd as well as convince Xavi to come back, plus there are political complications, with presidential challenger Victor Font declaring the former Spain star would be his choice in 2021 if he wins the election.

    Still, there are few who better understand the 'Barca DNA', he is adored by the fans and, crucially, he could be the man to convince Lionel Messi to stay.

     

    Massimiliano Allegri

    Another unattached option, Allegri has a commendable pedigree from his time with Milan and Juventus. Six Serie A titles, seven domestic cups and two Champions League finals in the past decade give Allegri a CV to rival any candidate.

    He would certainly bring an uncompromising authority to the dressing room, as well as vast experience, but the 53-year-old could well be put off by the complications of those elections, especially given other leading clubs such as Paris Saint-Germain and Inter are said to be interested if they make a change.

    Patrick Kluivert

    Kluivert represents one of Bartomeu's more sensible possible appointments given he would probably accept the job despite the uncertainty of next year.

    The former Barca striker is currently head of youth football at Camp Nou, and that is a role to which he could return if the head coach position became untenable in 2021.

    He is another who understands the club well, would presumably be more than happy to promote youngsters to the first team, and he learned some of his coaching craft at the right hand of Louis van Gaal with the Netherlands national team.

     

    Ronald Koeman

    Another former Barca star who knows only too well the demands of the club, Koeman also spoke with them about replacing Valverde only to turn them down.

    Like Xavi, Koeman is committed to his present project, which is to lead Netherlands at Euro 2020. With that tournament having been pushed back to next year due to the coronavirus pandemic, the 57-year-old would appear unlikely to quit his national team now for the sake of a potential short-term posting at his old club.

    Garcia Pimienta

    Like Kluivert, Pimienta represents an internal candidate who would likely be unmoved by the looming elections.

    A former academy player who made one appearance for the senior side, Pimienta has been coaching at La Masia since 2001 and took charge of the B team two years ago.

    It would be unfair to expect him to become the new Pep Guardiola or Luis Enrique, who also honed their first-team credentials with the B team, but the 46-year-old would likely be a popular choice for the new generation of talent breaking through, even if the appointment lasted only until next year.

  • Nobody is safe: Who should leave in the big Barcelona clear-out Nobody is safe: Who should leave in the big Barcelona clear-out

    For the Barcelona players and staff, there was nowhere to hide in the glare of the Estadio da Luz. 

    An unprecedented, unmitigated, humiliating 8-2 defeat to Bayern Munich in the Champions League on Friday laid bare the serious malfunctioning of one of the world's grandest clubs. 

    President Josep Maria Bartomeu has already confirmed that "announcements will be made" next week, likely beginning with the future of coach Quique Setien, but Barca's problems run far deeper, from the boardroom to the dressing room. 

    "Nobody is safe," said Gerard Pique after the match. "It is not the first time, the second time or the third time, it's very tough. I hope it is useful for something." 

    The defender needs nobody to tell him that significant changes must be made at Camp Nou and he himself offered to leave for the good of the club. Ironically, such a public admission suggests he is the kind of character Barca need to keep. 

    Who, then, are the people who should go if Barca are to become great again? 

    THE BOARD

    Josep Maria Bartomeu

    The buck stops with the president. Bartomeu survived those infamous nights in Rome and Liverpool, but Lisbon must surely be the beginning of the end for a man who has presided over a wretched, expensive decline. Victor Font is presently the only rival candidate for the 2021 elections, if we get there.

    Javier Bordas

    Bordas is the director in charge of the football first team at Barca and, regardless of the presidency, it is only right that a new figurehead is put in place to oversee the rebuild.

    THE EXECUTIVES

    Eric Abidal

    Barca's first-team technical secretary came under pressure after a public falling-out with Lionel Messi this year, and his job now looks untenable.  It's essential Barca appoint someone who can repair the damaged relations between the board and the players. Carles Puyol has been touted as a good candidate for the role, including by Messi. 

    Oscar Grau

    As CEO, Grau is the beating heart of Barcelona's operations and he cannot escape blame for the way the football project has been run in recent years. Speculation has seen Sevilla's Monchi linked with the role.

    THE COACHES

    Quique Setien

    The problems ran deeper than Ernesto Valverde and sacking his successor will likewise not solve everything, but watching him lean against the Luz dugout, silent and stewing, made it abundantly clear that he cannot fix this team. Mauricio Pochettino is available and, despite past reservations, he seems willing to put aside his Espanyol loyalty.

    Eder Sarabia

    Setien's assistant would almost certainly follow him out of the door. Sarabia looks to have struggled to get the players to buy into the boss' demands and it would not make much sense to stay.

    THE SQUAD

    Martin Braithwaite

    Barca were given special dispensation to sign Braithwaite from Leganes due to injury, while Leganes were denied the same option. They were relegated, Barca's season ended in infamy, and Braithwaite was not even eligible to play. West Ham are apparently interested.

    Philippe Coutinho

    Coutinho came off the bench to score twice and assist another for Bayern against Barca, the Catalans having loaned out their €140million-plus man after becoming unconvinced by his form. You'd struggle to imagine a more damning visual indictment of Barca's transfer policy.

    The coronavirus pandemic has hampered spending across the continent, but any moderate fee for the Brazilian would help Barca to build for the future.

    Rafinha

    Rafinha has played eight league games in three years for Barca, spending most of that time on loan at Inter and Celta. Now 27, it's time they cash in. Everton and Wolves have been linked. 

    Ivan Rakitic

    Unfairly maligned by a section of the fanbase, Rakitic has probably reached the point where a move is in everyone's best interests. He has declined since helping Croatia to the 2018 World Cup final and, despite insisting he will stay, a return to Sevilla would ease the burden on the Barca wage bill and help to bring down the squad's average age.

    Nelson Semedo

    Right-back has been a problem position since Dani Alves left in 2015, and Semedo's performance against Bayern made it clear that he is not the long-term solution. Manchester City had been linked, although Pep Guardiola will surely have been put off by Friday's viewing.

    Jean-Clair Todibo

    He's only 20 and has played four times in LaLiga, but selling Todibo would be a simple way for Barca to raise desperately needed funds. Schalke, who signed him on loan in January, had a €25m purchase option.

    Samuel Umtiti

    Barca were terrified of losing the centre-back in the wake of Neymar's Paris Saint-Germain move, with Umtiti's release clause at just €60m. Since that buyout price was increased to €500m, Umtiti has been undermined by injuries, inconsistency and coaching changes at Camp Nou, but he could still command a decent fee.

    Arturo Vidal

    One of the few players who has impressed under Setien, Vidal is 33 and should not really be part of the Barca rebuild. His contract is up next year, so now is the time to sell to earn even a small fee.

    Moussa Wague

    Nice chose not to activate their purchase option on the full-back, but he remains a sellable asset for Barca, who are unlikely to use him in the first team next season.

  • Rumour Has It: Barca to sack Setien, Man Utd pursuing Atletico's Saul Rumour Has It: Barca to sack Setien, Man Utd pursuing Atletico's Saul

    Goodbye Quique Setien?

    Barcelona's Champions League horror show against Bayern Munich is reportedly the final straw for the club's hierarchy.

    Who will replace the former Real Betis boss at Camp Nou?

     

    TOP STORY – BARCA TO SACK SETIEN

    Barcelona have decided to sack head coach Quique Setien, according to journalist Fabrizio Romano.

    LaLiga giants Barca were humiliated in the Champions League quarter-finals on Friday following an 8-2 defeat to Bundesliga holders Bayern Munich.

    Barca have already decided Setien – who replaced Ernesto Valverde in January – will not continue in 2020-21, and former Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino has already been linked, while club great Xavi and Massimiliano Allegri are other possible options.

     

    ROUND-UP

    - The Star reports Manchester United are eyeing Atletico Madrid star Saul Niguez. United have been linked to the Spain international previously and are believed to be ready to revive their interest.

    - Staying at Old Trafford and the Evening Standard says United remain in talks with Borussia Dortmund regarding Jadon Sancho. Dortmund insist Sancho will not leave the Bundesliga side, though United are reportedly still in negotiations for the England international. Meanwhile, Outlet Republika in Serbia claims United have agreed to sign teenage sensation Filip Stevanovic from Partizan Belgrade before loaning him back to the capital club.

    - Hella Verona defender Marash Kumbulla wants to join Inter, Sky Sport Italia claims. Kumbulla has been linked to Napoli, Lazio and Juventus.

    Bayern Munich want to keep loanee Ivan Perisic, according to Sky Sport Italia. Perisic has spent the season on loan from Inter and Bayern are hoping to negotiate a permanent deal.

    Zlatan Ibrahimovic wants to remain at Milan and could soon sign a new contract with the Rossoneri, reports Calciomercato.

    - Foot Mercato claims Barca could consider re-signing Thiago Alcantara from Bayern. Thiago, who left Barca in 2013, has been tipped to join Liverpool, while Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City have emerged as possible destinations.

    Arsenal are planning to sign Thomas Partey from Atletico following the arrival of William, reports The Daily Star.

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