Paris Saint-Germain head coach Mauricio Pochettino insisted his players were not distracted by Lionel Messi rumours ahead of Saturday's hard-fought 2-1 win over Troyes.

PSG commenced their Ligue 1 campaign with the come-from-behind victory after goals from new signing Achraf Hakimi and Mauro Icardi.

The Parisians have been heavily linked with Lionel Messi in recent days after Barcelona confirmed his departure but Pochettino insisted that had no impact on his team's display.

"No, I don't think so, the players and the team have been focused," Pochettino said at the post-game news conference. "They are professionals.

"His name is associated with different clubs, there are plenty of rumours, but the players have remained committed, they will be until the end of the transfer window.

"We will see what happens in the next few days."

Pochettino admitted it was a "difficult" game for PSG, who are aiming to re-claim the Ligue 1 title after missing out to Lille last season.

“It was a very difficult meeting, we did not start well," the Argentine said. "We conceded an early goal, we have to do a lot better. We conceded too many chances for my liking.

"There were good and not-so-good periods in the game but overall I'm happy. It was very important to get the three points and start the season in this way.

"We have to give credit to Troyes who made the game difficult for us. I hoped for better, but the opponent showed energy.

"We are still at the beginning of the season, still in the process of breaking in. We still hope to win 5-0, but we take this victory as it is."

PSG return to action on Saturday against Strasbourg.

Paris Saint-Germain kicked off their Ligue 1 campaign with a 2-1 victory despite suffering an early scare against Troyes.

Oualid El Hajjam's ninth-minute header had the newly promoted hosts on top but their delight was cut short 10 minutes later when Achraf Hakimi smashed in a first goal for his new club.

Mauro Icardi doubled the blow two minutes later with what proved to be the winner, poking past goalkeeper Gauthier Gallon after good work by Kylian Mbappe.

Amid speculation over the possible arrival of Lionel Messi in Paris, Mauricio Pochettino's side started positively on the field as they look to recapture a Ligue 1 crown which they have claimed in seven of the past nine seasons.

Thilo Kehrer's last-ditch intervention made amends for centre-back partner Presnel Kimpembe's early mistake as Troyes threatened, though PSG did not escape so lightly from the resulting corner. El Hajjam greeted Dylan Chambost's inswinging delivery as the centre-back nodded past Keylor Navas.

Ander Herrera sent a rising effort into the side netting but shortly after Hakimi restored parity, powering onto Herrera's pass before blasting a right-footed volley into the roof of the net.

Things rapidly worsened for the hosts when Icardi added a second, the forward prodding home after Mbappe's cutback found his team-mate inside the area.

Mbappe thought he had scored himself when he rounded Gallon and curled towards goal, only to be denied by Jimmy Giraudon's goal-line clearance.

Renaud Ripart induced a smart reflex save from Navas to keep out a drilled strike that seemed destined for the net, while Mama Balde's audacious acrobatics had the PSG goalkeeper scrambling after the break.

Back-to-back opportunities followed for the away side to finish the game off but neither went in, Icardi flicking a header wide and Mbappe bending a shot narrowly over the crossbar.

What does this mean? PSG off on the right track

A good start to make amends for last season's underwhelming campaign was vital for Pochettino and they began in positive fashion despite an initial blip.

While PSG had lost just one of their previous nine opening games in Ligue 1 (W5 D3), they were beaten by Lens to open the 2020-21 season. However, Saturday's win sets the visitors off in the right direction to reclaim their crown.

Hakimi's happy debut

Hakimi's equaliser rapidly removed any nerves for the away side, smashing in to become the first player since Metehan Guclu in 2019 to score on his top-flight debut for PSG.

Since the start of the 2019-20 campaign, only Robin Gosens (34) has more goal involvements for a defender across Europe's top five leagues than Hakimi (31), while his goal here saw him become just the second Moroccan to score in Ligue 1 for the club.

Tough outing for Touzghar

Yoann Touzghar almost profited from Kimpembe's early error to square across Navas' goal, though his performance declined from there on in.

The forward cut an isolated figure up top, winning just 33.3 per cent of his duels as he touched the ball just 20 times – the lowest figure for any player who started the game.

What's next?

PSG host Strasbourg next Saturday - could Messi be part of the squad by then? As for Troyes, they travel to Clermont Foot the day after.

Paris Saint-Germain kicked off their Ligue 1 campaign with a 2-1 victory despite suffering an early scare against Troyes.

Oualid El Hajjam's ninth-minute header had the hosts on top but their delight was cut short 10 minutes later when Achraf Hakimi smashed in a first goal for his new club.

Mauro Icardi doubled the blow two minutes later with what proved to be the winner, poking past goalkeeper Gauthier Gallon after good work by Kylian Mbappe.

Amid speculation over the possible arrival of Lionel Messi in Paris, Mauricio Pochettino's side started positively on the field as they look to recapture a Ligue 1 crown which they have claimed in seven of the past nine seasons.

Thilo Kehrer's last-ditch intervention made amends for centre-back partner Presnel Kimpembe's early mistake as Troyes threatened, though PSG did not escape so lightly from the resulting corner. El Hajjam greeted Dylan Chambost's inswinging delivery as the centre-back nodded past Keylor Navas.

Ander Herrera sent a rising effort into the side netting but shortly after Hakimi restored parity, powering onto Herrera's pass before blasting a right-footed volley into the roof of the net.

Things rapidly worsened for the hosts when Icardi added a second, the forward prodding home after Mbappe's cutback found his team-mate inside the area.

Mbappe thought he had scored himself when he rounded Gallon and curled towards goal, only to be denied by Jimmy Giraudon's goal-line clearance.

Renaud Ripart induced a smart reflex save from Navas to keep out a drilled strike that seemed destined for the net, while Mama Balde's audacious acrobatics had the PSG goalkeeper scrambling after the break.

Back-to-back opportunities followed for the away side to finish the game off but neither went in, Icardi flicking a header wide and Mbappe bending a shot narrowly over the crossbar.

Lionel Messi will appear at a news conference at Camp Nou on Sunday, Barcelona have announced.

The Argentine forward is widely expected to join Paris Saint-Germain in the coming days after Barcelona said they could not afford to retain him.

That means Messi, 34, is likely to share his perspective of the departure that has stunned world football.

His contact expired at the end of June and both parties had agreed fresh terms, only for Barcelona to announce the bombshell news on Thursday that they could not proceed due to "financial and structural obstacles".

The club's all-time record scorer, who has made more appearances for Barcelona than any other player, recently won the Copa America with Argentina.

He landed the Copa del Rey with Barcelona last season, adding to an array of trophies. During his time at Barcelona, the only club of his professional career, Messi has helped the team win 10 LaLiga titles and four Champions Leagues, while he has been awarded the Ballon d'Or a record six times.

Barcelona said Messi would address media in the Auditori 1899, a large function room at the stadium, at 12:00 local time on Sunday.

The club added: "On Thursday 5 August, it was announced that the Argentine star will not be staying at FC Barcelona, where he has set club records for appearances, goals and official titles."

There has been no indication of a change in Barcelona's stance, with seemingly little prospect of a U-turn.

Barcelona's announcement of Messi's departure stated it was a move that "both parties deeply regret", with the club citing "Spanish LaLiga regulations on player registration" as preventing them from handing him a new contract.

Like many clubs, Barcelona have been hit hard financially by the COVID-19 pandemic, while heavy spending on players in recent seasons has largely not paid off, with Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid winning the most recent two LaLiga titles. 

What Messi has to say about the recent chain of events is keenly awaited.

Barcelona president Joan Laporta said on Friday: "There was a moment when La Liga insinuated to us that the proposed contract could suffice, but after a technical analysis by its financial commission, they then informed us that wouldn't fully suffice either."

Everyone wants Lionel Messi but few have the resources to sign him.

Paris Saint-Germain appear to be strong favourites to land the Argentina international.

A deal could happen in the coming days.

 

TOP STORY - PSG CLOSE IN ON MESSI

PSG believe they are close to a deal to land Lionel Messi.

ESPN reports PSG have been in contact with Messi's father and agent Jorge "for some time" and are set to offer a three-year contract. 

Sky Sport Italia says the deal is more likely to be for two years with an option to extend it to a third. 

The ESPN report said adding Messi would make it more likely Kylian Mbappe would stay with the club rather than leave when he is out of contract next year, though it would end PSG's pursuit of Paul Pogba, partly due to FFP concerns.

 

ROUND-UP

- Chelsea are set to pay about £95million for Romelu Lukaku as Inter prefer a cash-only deal, the Daily Mail reports. Calciomercato says the Blues offered Davide Zappacosta and Marcos Alonso in a swap deal but the Nerazzurri were not interested. 

- Inter are looking within Serie A to replace their outgoing striker, Sky Italia says, with Atalanta's Duvan Zapata and Roma's Edin Dzeko their preferred options.

- Barcelona are trying to come to an agreement with Lille on midfielder Renato Sanches, Le10 Sport reports. 

- Rafa Mir is set for a move from Wolves to Atletico Madrid, with Fabrizio Romano reporting personal terms have been agreed. 

- West Ham have offered €14m (£12m) to Marseille for Duje Caleta-Car, L'Equipe reports, saying the Ligue 1 side are holding out for €20m (£17m).

Mauricio Pochettino admits Paris Saint-Germain are "working hard" to improve the team amid strong links to free agent Lionel Messi.

PSG open a new Ligue 1 season with a trip to Troyes on Saturday, though Pochettino's pre-match media conference understandably saw a focus on the possibility of a big-name arrival in the French capital.

Messi is looking for a new team after Barcelona confirmed they will not be signing the Argentina superstar to a new deal on Thursday, ending his long association with the club as they grapple with financial issues and LaLiga salary restrictions.

The 34-year-old was said to be a target for PSG a year ago when he wanted to leave Camp Nou, only to end up staying put to play out the final year of his contract.

Pochettino confirmed sporting director Leonardo and president Nasser Al-Khelaifi are looking into making further additions to the first-team squad.

"As I said before, we are focused on the start of the season," the PSG boss said.

"At the same time, the club is working hard and discreetly in the transfer window to improve the team in order to reach the goals set for this year.

"Regarding Messi, we know what happened yesterday, but we are focused on the Troyes game and the desire to have a good game to start the season.

"Leonardo and our chairman are working to improve the team."

When the subject of Messi was raised again later, Pochettino replied: "In Messi's case, it's the quality of a player of this caliber that counts.

"The club works hard, assesses options and of course Messi is one. But our priority is to prepare well for the match against Troyes."

PSG have already had a busy window, bringing in goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, centre-back Sergio Ramos and midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum on free transfers, as well as signing Achraf Hakimi from Inter.

Not all the new faces will be involved against Troyes, with Pochettino confirming Ramos will have to wait to make his debut as the Spaniard recovers from a calf injury.

Kylian Mbappe could feature from the outset, however, having missed the Trophee des Champions defeat to Lille last weekend.

The France international's own future at PSG is the subject of much speculation as he moves into the final year of his current deal, with Real Madrid reportedly determined to sign the former Monaco star.

"He is at the disposal of the team," Pochettino said. "There is a high percentage chance that he will start the game."

So now we know: Lionel Messi is leaving Barcelona.

Having pushed hard to force through an exit a year ago, the Argentina superstar appeared set to commit his long-term future to the Spanish club by signing a new deal this offseason.

However, his Camp Nou days now appear over due to "economic and structural obstacles", despite reportedly agreeing to take a 50 per cent wage reduction. Put simply, the dire financial situation means Barca cannot keep their prized asset.

Unless there is another dramatic twist to the saga (and we definitely should not rule that out just yet), Messi must find a new home.

So where could the six-time Ballon d'Or winner end up? The list of options appears to be short, albeit varied.

Hello, Paris!

Paris Saint-Germain are the early front-runners in this unexpected race, and rightly so. Thanks to owners Qatar Sports Investments, the Ligue 1 side have the financial backing to make Messi a tempting offer, plus they would give him a chance of Champions League glory once again – they were beaten finalists in 2020, then knocked out in the last four the following season.

Compatriot Mauricio Pochettino is there, as too are international team-mates Leandro Paredes and Angel Di Maria. When you add in another familiar face in former Barca colleague Neymar, it suddenly seems like a cosy, obvious fit. Such a signing could also help sway Kylian Mbappe to sign a new contract, or at least make it far more palatable to consider cashing in on the Frenchman before his deal runs out.

The Pep reunion tour

A year ago, when Messi made us look up exactly what a burofax is, Manchester City appeared the likely landing spot. A once rock-solid relationship with Barca appeared in tatters, amid disgruntlement over what was happening both on and off the pitch. Moving to England would have finally answered the old line of, 'Yeah, but can he do it on a wet Tuesday in [insert team here]?', as well as reuniting him with Pep Guardiola, the coach who twice steered Barca to Champions League glory.

However, City have seemingly moved on since missing out on Messi. Not so long after Barca's statement was released, the Premier League champions confirmed the signing of Jack Grealish for £100million. Harry Kane has also been heavily linked with them, and the England captain will not come cheap (certainly if Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy has anything to do with it). Even with City, there is a limit to how much you can spend.

Made in Chelsea

So how about Messi moves to the Premier League anyway, but just not to the club where everyone once expected? Chelsea have not been mentioned too much as a possible destination, either last year or now, but they have the resources and are seemingly keen to add to their attacking options, considering rumours of moves for Erling Haaland and, more recently, Romelu Lukaku. Unlike that duo, Messi is unattached and available for nothing (in terms of a transfer fee at least).

However, those links to central strikers suggest head coach Thomas Tuchel and the Chelsea hierarchy have a certain idea of what they want to add to the squad – and it may not be a 34-year-old who would require a rethink over the entire structure of the team. While Messi would no doubt enhance the Blues, west London appears unlikely to be welcoming him into the neighbourhood.

ML-YES!

Could Messi be set to take the well-trodden path from Europe to the United States? MLS has appeared a viable option for him at some stage in his playing days – he even said so himself in an interview with La Sexta in December 2020: "I would like to play in the United States someday, it's always been one of my dreams... but I don't know if it will happen!" Well, that dream could now become a reality, with the competition having a history of attracting big names in the twilight stages of their careers.

David Beckham did just that, and now he is heavily involved with Inter Miami – perhaps the leading MLS option for Messi. New York and Los Angeles could factor into consideration, with the chance for a global superstar to take the plunge in a major market. In truth, though, it seems this idea could come to fruition further down the line, rather than in the coming weeks.

No place like home…

While he has been at Barcelona since his teenage years, coming through the famous La Masia youth academy, Messi started out with Newell's Old Boys in Argentina. A move back to his hometown of Rosario would be a wonderful way to bookend his illustrious playing days. However, having scored 30 goals in 35 LaLiga games last term, he shows no signs of his ridiculously lofty standards slipping just yet.

Diego Maradona did have a brief stint there, with Messi revealing a Newell's number 10 shirt after scoring against Osasuna to pay tribute to the Argentina legend, who died in November 2020. Still, after finally securing a first international trophy with the national team, winning this year's Copa America on Brazilian soil, a return to his roots appears unlikely.

Where will Lionel Messi land?

Barcelona's shock announcement of his departure set rumours flying.

Will it be Paris, Manchester or somewhere else?

 

TOP STORY - MESSI ON THE MARKET

Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City are rumoured to be the top suitors for Lionel Messi.

The French giants have already made contact with Messi's representatives, according to Fabrizio Romano, and are seen in many quarters as the favourites to land the Argentine forward.

It remains to be seen wherher PSG can take on Messi after making several major moves during the transfer window, while City may be in a similarly difficult situation after finalising their £100million deal for Jack Grealish on Thursday.

A reunion with Pep Guardiola may still be a possibility, though, especially if Tottenham refuse to engage in talks around a Harry Kane deal.

Major League Soccer could also be a possibility, though Messi is expected to remain in Europe for at least a few more years.

 

ROUND-UP

- Manchester United have not given up on a move for Kieran Trippier, though they have not come close to Atletico Madrid's £34million demands for the England international, The Sun says.

- West Ham are in talks with Fiorentina for centre-back Nikola Milenkovic, Fabrizio Romano reports, with the Serie A side eyeing Matija Nastasic of Schalke as a replacement.

- Arsenal have bid £17m for Lazio striker Joaquin Correa, claims Corriere dello Sport.

- Juventus are interested in bringing back Barcelona's Miralem Pjanic on either a loan or a permanent deal, says Calciomercato.

- Roma are lining up a £21m bid for Fulham midfielder Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa, says Gazzetta dello Sport.

- Crystal Palace are among multiple clubs hoping to lure Adam Armstrong from Blackburn, with the Daily Mail saying they are favoured ahead of Norwich City and Southampton.

The new Ligue 1 season is on the horizon and Paris Saint-Germain are clear title favourites. They may have lost the championship race last term, but some things never change.

If Lille's triumph was unexpected in 2020-21, another upset in the coming campaign would be on another level entirely.

While PSG have continued to spend, many of their rivals are feeling the effects of a tough financial market struggling to recover from the collapse of a mammoth television deal late last year.

Is silverware inevitable then for Mauricio Pochettino's men? Stats Perform takes a look at the state of play in France...

THE RICH GET RICHER

Few teams in Europe have recruited as impressively as PSG ahead of the new season, but many of the changes might not be immediately evident in Ligue 1.

Take Sergio Ramos, for example. PSG may have lost their domestic crown last term, but their repeated failures in the Champions League are of primary concern. Ramos should help to fix that.

Few players can match the centre-back's European pedigree. Following Cristiano Ronaldo's departure in 2018, Real Madrid won 10 of the 15 Champions League games Ramos featured in and only four of the 13 he missed.

It is likely he will be the man for the big occasion again in Paris. Now 35 and having played only 15 games in LaLiga last season due to injury, that might mean limited Ligue 1 outings.

Likewise, Gianluigi Donnarumma's role is not entirely clear. He was the standout player at Euro 2020 but must now compete with Keylor Navas, who prevented 8.1 Ligue 1 goals last season according to Opta's expected goals on target (xGOT) data – the third-best mark in Europe's top five leagues.

 

Georginio Wijnaldum is a solid addition but unlikely to move the needle, although Achraf Hakimi should give PSG a new dimension. The wing-back has been involved in 30 goals (12 goals, 18 assists) since the start of the 2019-20 campaign, trailing only Robin Gosens (34) among defenders in the top leagues.

However, if Mauricio Pochettino prioritises the Champions League, Moise Kean – 13 goals in 26 league games last season but now back at Everton – might be a miss.

LILLE A LEADING CONTENDER

It was anticipated Lille's key men would be picked off following their title win and that did happen to an extent. Mike Maignan left for Milan, replacing Donnarumma, and Boubakary Soumare for Leicester City. Coach Christophe Galtier is now at Nice.

But Lille have retained their strike force in Burak Yilmaz and Jonathan David along with centre-back pairing Jose Fonte and Sven Botman – two old-and-young combinations.

Fonte and Botman were particularly impressive last term, leading a defence that conceded a league-low 23 goals. They both started last week's Trophee des Champions triumph over PSG, the third time since the start of last season the capital club have failed to net against Lille.

They were not the only club to end 2020-21 with momentum, though. Monaco collected a league-high 51 points from their 21 games in 2021, while only Lille (11) have conceded fewer than their 17 this year.

Stretching that form out across an entire campaign to put PSG under pressure is no simple task, but Monaco have Ligue 1's form man in Aleksandr Golovin.

With five goals and eight assists in 969 minutes in 2021, Golovin is averaging a goal involvement every 75 minutes in Ligue 1 – the best rate among players with 200 minutes or more.

 

MAKING MOVES

Money may be in short supply throughout the division, but PSG are not quite alone in spending ahead of the new season. Rennes and Nice are looking to climb back into the top-four picture.

Rennes finished sixth last term after ex-Lyon man Bruno Genesio arrived with 11 games of the season remaining, finding the side winless in eight and stuck in mid-table.

A record-breaking run lifted Rennes into a European place. No coach in their history can match Genesio's points-per-game average (1.8) or win rate (54.6 per cent).

His reward was significant expenditure on centre-back Loic Bade, joining the third-best defence in the league (40 goals conceded), and forward Kamaldeen Sulemana.

Meanwhile, Nice will hope their own coaching change has a similar impact. Galtier has also been backed, with Jean-Clair Todibo and Calvin Stengs among his recruits.

Perhaps creator Stengs can get Kasper Dolberg firing again after a disappointing six-goal season.

No player in the Eredivisie last term underperformed their expected goals (xG) tally by as wide a margin as Stengs (9.3 xG, five assists), who will hope to find more clinical team-mates in France.

 

Presnel Kimpembe conceded the absence of supporters proved costly to Paris Saint-Germain's Ligue 1 title hopes last season.

Les Parisiens' run of three straight league titles ended as they finished a point behind champions Lille under Mauricio Pochettino.

Pochettino's side surrendered top spot following a 1-0 defeat by Lille at the start of April, and were unable to reclaim it as the French domestic crown eluded them for only the second time in nine seasons.

That loss was one of five they suffered during the Ligue 1 campaign at Parc des Princes, where they scored 44 goals while conceding 14 and keeping nine clean sheets.

By contrast, 2018-19 – the last full season played in front of full-capacity stadia – saw them go unbeaten on home soil, finding the net 63 times and letting in just 10 goals and recording the same number of clean sheets.

And Kimpembe believes the potential return of supporters will be instrumental as he and his team-mates look to regain the Ligue 1 crown.

"For me, it will make all the difference," the vice-captain told the official club website.

"They are the 12th man and given how important they are to us, last season was not easy. 

"We felt that the absence of the supporters weighed on us when we were a bit down. 

 

"You hear the voice of the supporters, the chants, the shouts and obviously that pushes you on. 

"I hope that they will come back soon and that we will be able to have a great season together."

They launch their quest against reigning Ligue 2 champions Troyes on Saturday.

Laurent Batlles' side are back in the top-flight after a three-year absence, having finished five points clear of second-placed Clermont.

PSG began 2020-21 with back-to-back 1-0 defeats against Lens and Marseille; a start to the season that Kimpembe is eager to avoid this time around.

"We saw last season that the start of the championship was complicated," he added. "We lost a lot of points stupidly.

"Against Troyes, we know what to expect. They're not going to do us any favours and they're back from Ligue 2. 

"We know that they will want to play well against us. We need to get off to a good start."

Can Paris Saint-Germain get back on track? Are champions Lille in contention again? Could any top French sides face the drop?

Stats Perform aims to answer all of these questions and more as the new Ligue 1 season gets under way.

The Stats Perform League Prediction Model, created by Stats Perform AI using Opta data, has analysed the division ahead of the new season to assign percentages to potential outcomes for each club.

The model estimates the probability of each match outcome (win, draw or loss) based on teams' attacking and defensive qualities, which considers four years' worth of results, with weighting based on recency and the quality of opposition. The season is then simulated 10,000 times to calculate the likelihood of each outcome.

What does that mean for PSG and the rest of the French elite? Read on to find out...

POCH'S PSG TITLE FAVOURITES

It will surprise nobody, but PSG have been identified as the clear pre-season favourites. They are given a huge 79.5 per cent chance of reclaiming their title after falling behind Lille last term.

The signings of Sergio Ramos, Gianluigi Donnarumma, Achraf Hakimi and Georginio Wijnaldum should ensure PSG get back on track, while Mike Maignan, Boubakary Soumare and coach Christophe Galtier have all left Lille.

The defending champions are still considered PSG's most likely challengers, though.

Lille have a 12.4 per cent likelihood of retaining the championship, which puts them well clear of Lyon (5.7 per cent) in third. Monaco's 2.4 per cent bid to repeat their 2016-17 success makes them the fourth and final side to be given any chance at all.

TOP FOUR SEEMS SET IN STONE

Four into three does not go, so at least one of the title contenders will miss out on the Champions League. They should all make the top four, though, with Europa League qualification guaranteed for fourth place.

PSG unsurprisingly look certain for one of the two automatic Champions League spots, rated at 94.9 per cent.

Lille are considered most likely to join them at 54.6 per cent, leaving Lyon to take third – the Champions League third qualifying round (35.2) per cent – and Monaco fourth – the Europa League group stage (40.0 per cent).

There are at least a clutch of rival clubs given a slim hope of crashing the Champions League party; Marseille (0.5 per cent), Rennes (0.2 per cent) and Montpellier (0.1 per cent) are all just about in the running for second place.

Interestingly, Nice – ninth last term but having recruited Galtier – are not given a significant chance of even making the Champions League qualifiers, whereas Lens (0.2 per cent), Nantes (0.1 per cent), Reims (0.1 per cent), Saint-Etienne (0.1 per cent) and Strasbourg (0.1 per cent) all come into consideration.

Every team in the league have at least a 0.1 per cent likelihood of finishing fifth – a Europa Conference League play-off round place – although PSG are joined by newly promoted pair Troyes and Clermont with the most remote chance.

BIG-NAME BORDEAUX IN BOTHER?

It figures that Troyes (38.8 per cent) and Clermont (34.5 per cent) are backed for relegation straight back down to Ligue 2, but some of last season's top-flight sides are also at significant risk.

Brest are rated at a 26.4 per cent chance of relegation, with Angers at 19.0 per cent and Lorient at 15.0 per cent.

Most interestingly of all, though, Bordeaux are third-favourites for the drop behind the two promoted clubs.

The six-time champions won the title as recently as 2009 but have been in steady decline, even if a 12th-placed finish last time out saw them steer five points clear of the relegation play-off.

Indeed, Bordeaux were in the European picture in late January before an awful run and they will hope new coach Vladimir Petkovic can ensure there are no relegation worries in the coming campaign.

European champions Chelsea have been in the market for a new striker this off-season.

The Blues chased Erling Haaland without success and have now set their sights on Romelu Lukaku.

Lukaku was on Chelsea's books from 2011 and 2014 but has since become one of the world's best forwards.

 

TOP STORY - CHELSEA TO TABLE NEW BUMPER LUKAKU BID

Chelsea  are preparing to table a new bid of between £100million and £110m (€120-130m) bid for Inter forward  Lukaku  claims Fabrizio Romano.

The Blues had an initial £85m (€100m) offer, including Marcos Alonso, for the Belgian striker rejected by Inter.

The Sun claim Lukaku is keen on a return to Chelsea, citing "unfinished business" from his previous stint in London.

 

ROUND-UP

- Paris Saint-Germain are not guaranteed to retain Real Madrid target  Kylian Mbappe , reports AS. The France superstar has already informed PSG that he will not extend his current contract, due to expire in 2022, and president Nasser Al-Khelaifi is set to take over talks.

- Aymeric Laporte has told Manchester City he wants to leave to return to Spain this off-season, reports 90min. Barcelona and Real Madrid are both interested in the Spain international, who is not first choice at City.

- Arsenal have proposed a player-plus-cash deal, believed to be worth £60m, for Leicester City's James Maddison according to Football.London, but negotiations are "very slow". 

- Tottenham will complete a £47m (€55m) deal for Atalanta defender  Cristian Romero imminently according to Romano. Atalanta will fill the void by signing Merih Demiral from Juventus.

Chelsea are in the market for a striker and are seemingly keen on one of their former players.

Romelu Lukaku helped Inter to the Serie A title last term and is seemingly in Chelsea's sights.

The Belgium international scored four goals at Euro 2020 after netting 24 times in Serie A.

TOP STORY - CHELSEA REBUFFED IN LUKAKU BID

Chelsea have had their initial bid worth approximately £86 million (€100m) for Lukaku rejected by Inter, reports The Sun.

The Blues made their transfer offer with defender Marcos Alonso also involved, but the Italian champions are demanding a £100m (€117m) fee.

Lukaku is said to be Chelsea's number one target after failing in their bid to lure Erling Haaland away from Borussia Dortmund.

 

ROUND-UP

Real Madrid are still expecting Kylian Mbappe to let his Paris Saint-Germain contract expire at the end of the 2021-22 season and join Los Blancos for free, according to AS.

- The Daily Star reports Manchester City and Tottenham are still unable to reach agreement in negotiations over Harry Kanewith £40m separating them currently.

- AS claims Barcelona remain in the box seat to sign highly sought-after Atletico Madrid star Saul Niguez despite their financial challenges. Saul has been chased by Premier League trio LiverpoolManchester United and Chelsea.

Atalanta are set to win the race to sign Juventus defender Merih Demiral, claims Sky Deutschland, with Cristian Romero looking likely to join Tottenham. Bundesliga pair Dortmund and Bayer Leverkusen were also interested in the Turkey international.

Roma head coach Jose Mourinho has switched his attention from Arsenal's Granit Xhaka to Dortmund's Thomas Delaney, according to Bild.

Mauricio Pochettino hailed Georginio Wijnaldum as a "complete player" ahead of the Trophee des Champions clash against Lille, while also commending Achraf Hakimi's versatility.

Paris Saint-Germain disappointed last season as they finished runners-up in Ligue 1 and were beaten home and away by Manchester City in the Champions League semi-finals.

However, the French giants have had a busy transfer window, bringing in Hakimi, Wijnaldum, Sergio Ramos and Gianluigi Donnarumma as they attempt to reassert their authority.

Speaking ahead of Sunday's final, Pochettino praised the former Liverpool man, who he feels will significantly strengthen their midfield.

"We are very pleased to have him here. I think Georginio Wijnaldum can contribute going forward and also defensively", the head coach said. "He has the aggression that we need as a team."

"His experience and quality make him a player who can help in the same way, going forward and defensively. He can win the ball back [and] be aggressive, so I think he is a complete player."

Indeed, Pochettino's men missed that aggression in midfield to drive them forward and regain possession as they limped to a second-place finish in 2020-21.

Last season, PSG ranked 11th in Ligue 1 in terms of the number of possession recoveries and Pochettino has previously explained this is an area for improvement.

While PSG recorded 2,250 recoveries across the previous campaign, champions Lille were the hardest working, recovering possession 2,460 times. The signing of Wijnaldum, who ranked fourth in terms of recoveries for Liverpool in 2020-21, will likely help their cause.

 

Hakimi contributed seven goals and nine assists last season for Inter, a total bettered by only four defenders across Europe's top-five leagues.

"He offers many options to the team, especially going forwards," Pochettino said.

"He has attributes that not many others have in terms of his physical strength, quality and crossing. He is brilliant at cutting in.

"He is adapting well and we hope that he will quickly show that he is a key part of the squad."

On Thursday, Mauro Icardi suggested a win over Lille would inflict revenge, with PSG having lost the Ligue 1 title to them last year.

But Pochettino insisted that the focus was on in-house improvement and any success would serve to make amends for their underwhelming campaign, not Lille's triumph.

"This game won't be about getting revenge against Lille but against ourselves," he added. "The loss of the league title and our Champions League exit left a bitter taste.

"We will do everything to change that, we want to win every competition. We are Paris Saint-Germain, we want to win. We'll do everything to win this trophy, but it's not about revenge because Lille deserved their title."

West Ham have completed the signing of goalkeeper Alphonse Areola on loan from Paris Saint-Germain.

Areola, who spent the 2019-20 campaign on loan at Real Madrid, was at Fulham last season but could not help prevent Scott Parker's team dropping down to the Championship.

The 28-year-old was nevertheless impressive during the campaign and West Ham have moved to keep him in the Premier League for at least another season.

Areola, who was part of France's 2018 World Cup squad but did not make an appearance in Russia for Les Bleus, has signed a one-year loan deal, which also sees the Hammers have the option to make the transfer permanent in 2022.

Lukasz Fabianski made 35 appearances as David Moyes' team went on to secure European football with a sixth-place finish, though Areola will now provide stern competition to the Poland international.

"Alphonse is an experienced and talented goalkeeper who has played at the highest level and performed very well in the Premier League last season," Moyes told West Ham's official website.

"As we prepare for a very busy schedule, he will provide fantastic competition for the goalkeepers already at the football club and we are going to need to use our squad to ensure compete to the best of our abilities across all competitions."

In 36 Premier League appearances last season, Areola conceded 48 goals, outperforming an expected goals against tally of 50.2, suggesting he pulled off saves which he would not have been expected to make.

Only Sam Johnstone, Aaron Ramsdale, Emiliano Martinez and Illan Meslier were forced into action more times than Areola, who made 116 saves in total and also tallied up 39 clearances (including punches), the fifth-most of any goalkeeper in the top flight.

His save percentage of 70.37 ranks him sixth out of goalkeepers to played at least 30 games, while he kept nine clean sheets – as many as Manchester United's David de Gea, though one fewer than Fabianski and 10 less than league-leader Ederson, who was of course helped by a stingy Manchester City defence.

One area where Areola presents an improvement is with his passing, his accuracy of 68.74 per cent some way better than Fabianski (54.91).

"For me it was the best opportunity to sign for this club, to sign for West Ham and to try my best to help the team," Areola said.

"We have really good squad. I watched games last season so I know the potential and the talent in this squad, so I can't wait to start."

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