Eight weeks is an awfully long time in football.

When the draw for the last 16 of the Champions League was made on December 17, Jose Mourinho was in charge of Manchester United and had presided over just two wins in the club's last eight fixtures.

A 3-1 loss to Liverpool less than 24 hours earlier left United 19 points adrift of their rivals in the Premier League. Optimism was scant at Old Trafford.

Meanwhile, Thomas Tuchel's then-unbeaten PSG side boasted a 10-point advantage at the Ligue 1 summit, with two games in hand, and they had entered the Champions League draw having topped a group that included Liverpool and Napoli.

Tuchel declared himself "neither satisfied nor unsatisfied" at his team being pitted against United in the first round of the knockout stages, yet, privately at least, he must have felt there was little to fear about a team lacking identity and fight.

Then, on December 18, United's hierarchy pulled the trigger, sacking Mourinho and changing the course of their campaign.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was handed the reins until the end of the season and a revitalised United side reeled off eight straight wins in all competitions, including victories at Tottenham and Arsenal.

The United side PSG will face in Tuesday's first leg is now a different beast. They are unbeaten in 11 games under Solskjaer and key figures like Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford, seemingly subdued and stifled under the previous regime, are playing with the type of confidence, freedom and attacking verve that may cause Tuchel to reconsider his view on whether he is satisfied with drawing United or not.

On the other hand, PSG are still 10 points clear at the top of Ligue 1 with two games in hand, but the air of invincibility that surrounded them is no longer there, even for teams in France.

Guingamp shocked the capital club in the Coupe de la Ligue last month and after Lyon handed PSG their first league loss of the campaign on February 3, Tuchel's side needed extra time to overcome third-tier Villefranche in the Coupe de France last week.

The world's most expensive footballer was absent for the Lyon and Villefranche games and Tuchel will be without Neymar for both legs of the United tie too, while the club's record scorer Edinson Cavani could also be missing on Tuesday due to a hip injury.

Solskjaer, and Mourinho before him, might have worried about facing the man who scored five times in the group stages but PSG's attack appears far less daunting without Neymar.

There is a mental aspect for PSG to overcome too. They have not progressed past the Champions League quarter-finals in any of the previous six seasons and Tuchel knows that it is on the continent, rather than domestically, where he will be judged.

The Champions League may hold the key to Solskjaer's long-term future too. The man who delivered the trophy with his last-gasp goal in the final 20 years ago has aspirations to be the permanent boss at United and knocking out PSG would be a significant boost for his CV.

That CV did not even include the job title 'Manchester United manager' when this draw was made, but these two clubs are evidence of how swiftly the footballing landscape can alter.

Marco Verratti could return to action for Paris Saint-Germain in Wednesday's Coupe de France match against Villefranche, head coach Thomas Tuchel has confirmed.

The Italy international resumed training on Monday after missing the last three matches with an ankle injury.

Tuchel is prepared to play the midfielder in the cup trip against their third-tier opponents, provided he comes through their latest practice session unscathed.

"We have to decide today [Tuesday] if it's possible for him to play again," he told a news conference.

PSG will definitely be without Neymar, who is out for 10 weeks with a foot injury, and his absence coincided with their first Ligue 1 defeat of the season against Lyon last Sunday.

Despite missing the Brazil star's creativity, Tuchel has ruled out asking Kylian Mbappe to adapt his game and try to fill in for his team-mate.

"I don't want Kylian to play like Neymar and keep the ball," he said. "Kylian is incredibly dangerous in the final move and I want him to stay that way."

Tuchel expects his senior players to make sure PSG do not show any complacency against Villefranche, who knocked out last season's surprise finalists Les Herbiers in the last round.

"I expect a match with great domination and possession of the ball. They're going to want to play on the counter-attack. We must play with seriousness and vigilance," he said.

"It's a decisive match, we definitely want to win and it's our responsibility to win.

"We have experienced players like Gianluigi Buffon, Dani Alves and Thiago [Silva]. They play every match with the same state of mind."

Kylian Mbappe made the difference in the absence of Neymar, scoring the only goal of the game as Paris Saint-Germain beat Nantes 1-0 to end 2018 in victorious fashion.

Brazil star Neymar had been allowed to travel back to his home country to rest following recent struggles with a groin injury, and while PSG missed his craft, they scraped the win nonetheless.

Angel Di Maria looked PSG's biggest threat in the first half, though his two best strikes did not quite hit the target as the hosts failed to make the most of their superiority.

PSG remained the controlling force after the interval and finally broke the deadlock through Mbappe in the 68th minute, and that proved to be enough as the hosts' first Ligue 1 game since December 5 – due to the 'gilet jaunes' demonstrations – ended with a triumph.

It took less than a minute for PSG to threaten, as Di Maria saw a controlled volley go just agonisingly over Ciprian Tatarusanu's crossbar.

But that failed to usher in a period of PSG bombardment, with their next opportunity not presenting itself until the 25th minute, when Julian Draxler shot over from 20 yards after Mbappe's cut-back.

Di Maria went close again a few moments later, his 25-yard strike flying past the right-hand post with Tatarusanu looking beaten.

PSG continued to threaten from distance after the break, with Di Maria – again – and Mbappe shooting just off target in the first 12 minutes.

Draxler thought he opened the scoring after an hour, but VAR proved the ball went out of play in the build-up, despite Marco Verratti's best efforts.

There was no denying Mbappe 22 minutes from time, though, as he turned in – via the crossbar – from close range after Marquinhos flicked on Di Maria's corner.

Di Maria saw another effort thud against the crossbar but it mattered little as PSG secured victory to open up a 13-point lead over Lille - beaten 2-1 by Toulouse - at the top of the table.

What does it mean? PSG lacking sharpness

It is fair to say PSG looked a little off the pace on Saturday, and it is easy to understand why, given the only teams they have faced since December 5 were Red Star Belgrade and Orleans. Considering the circumstances and the absence of Neymar, they will surely be happy to get this one out of the way.

Di Maria provides PSG's spark

With Neymar not featuring, Di Maria took on the mantle of PSG's creative hub and he was certainly lively, seeing several shots go close. He was unable to get a deserved goal, but there is no doubt about the quality he showed.

Cavani blends into the background

Perhaps the service to him was lacking, but Edinson Cavani did little to make any openings for himself and rarely featured in build-up play before being hooked towards the end.

What's next?

After the winter break, PSG have games against Pontivy and Guingamp in the Coupe de France and Coupe de la Ligue, respectively, before then returning to Ligue 1 action on January 11 at Amiens. Nantes will host Chateauroux in the Coupe de France, then Montpellier in the league four days later on January 8.

Former France star Robert Pires thinks Barcelona would be unwise to offload troublesome winger Ousmane Dembele in order to re-sign Neymar from Paris Saint-Germain.

Dembele arrived last year as a replacement for Neymar, who joined PSG in a world-record €222million deal.

Injuries had a particularly damaging impact on Dembele's first season, while his time in Spain has also been plagued by suggestions of a poor attitude and bad timekeeping.

His latest misdemeanour reportedly came last week when the 21-year-old was said to have turned up late for training, yet Dembele has still impressed at times, scoring in each of his two most recent outings against Espanyol and Tottenham.

Neymar has been strongly linked in recent months with a return to Camp Nou, leading to speculation about Dembele's future, but Pires is convinced Barca are better off with his compatriot.

"I love him [Dembele] very much," he told Mundo Deportivo. "We always talk about [Lionel] Messi, but this guy is very good.

"He's young but what he does we all did as kids. What you must do is self-impose discipline in your life, but he is young and with his quality and talent, he can help Barca to win the Champions League and also the league, as we have seen against Tottenham and Espanyol with great goals.

"If I had to choose, I would not change Dembele for Neymar. Ousmane is 21, plays with the left and the right [foot] with a lot of quality with the ball. He has a lot of potential, more than what we've seen so far."

Adrien Rabiot is another PSG player to have been linked with Barca, and Pires thinks the France international would fit in well to Barca's midfield alongside Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic.

"I do not know what will happen, but he has qualities for it [playing at Barca]," Pires added. "Barca has Busquets and Rabiot is like him because he plays simple and does not move much, but Rabiot can also play on the left while Rakitic plays on the right [of Busquets].

"He has very good technique, he is left-footed and he is competitive like the other two."

Paris Saint-Germain will still have the weapons to hurt Liverpool even if Neymar and Kylian Mbappe are ruled out of their Champions League meeting due to injury, according to Reds centre-back Virgil van Dijk.

Carlo Ancelotti believes his Napoli side will be coming up against the heirs to Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi when hosting Paris Saint-Germain on Tuesday.

Paris Saint-Germain's winning streak at the start of the Ligue 1 season was extended to 10 games in the rested Neymar's absence as the reigning champions scored three late goals in a 5-0 win over Amiens. 

Neymar and Gabriel Jesus caught the eye as Brazil claimed a 2-0 friendly win over 10-man Saudi Arabia in Riyadh on Friday. 

Lionel Messi, Neymar and World Cup winner Kylian Mbappe are among the final players named on the 30-man Ballon d'Or shortlist. 

Neymar heaped praise on "winner" Thomas Tuchel and warned the best is yet to come from Paris Saint-Germain as they seek Champions League success.

Joey Barton has branded Neymar "the Kim Kardashian of football" and insists he could train former club Marseille "without any problem".

The outspoken Barton criticised Neymar in an interview with L'Equipe, insisting the Brazil international does not deserve to be considered on the same level as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. 

Neymar and Kylian Mbappe are the best two players in the world, according to Paris Saint-Germain president Nasser Al-Khelaifi.

Paris Saint-Germain president Nasser Al-Khelaifi hopes a conversation with Real Madrid can put an end to persistent speculation linking Neymar with a switch to Los Blancos.

The Brazil captain – who moved to PSG

New Paris Saint-Germain defender Thilo Kehrer is aiming for the top and is convinced training every day with the likes of Kylian Mbappe and Neymar will help him get there. 

Lucas Moura was sad to leave "brother" Neymar in January, but believes he joined a bigger club when he moved from Paris Saint-Germain to Tottenham.

The Brazil international spent five years in Paris and, although he

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