Aston Villa have announced the signing of Boubacar Kamara from Marseille on a five-year contract.

The 22-year-old midfielder had been linked with a move to Villa Park, with manager Steven Gerrard reportedly present at a recent game at the Stade Velodrome.

Kamara will join the Premier League club on a free transfer at the end of his contract, which expires at the end of next month.

The Frenchman primarily plays as a defensive midfielder, but can also fill in at centre-back and was a big part of Marseille's strong 2021-22 campaign, which saw them finish second in Ligue 1 and reach the semi-finals of the Europa Conference League.

Of midfielders in the French top division this season, only Johan Gastien and Jordan Ferri made more than Kamara's 2,383 passes, while of those who made over 1,000 passes, only five players had better accuracy than his 90.68 per cent.

After the signing was confirmed, Gerrard told Villa's official website: "I am delighted that we have been able to attract one of the most promising young talents in European football.

"We have a very clear plan to make our team stronger and Bouba is an important part of that."

The former France Under-21 international also explained that a meeting with Gerrard and other Villa representatives convinced him to join the Midlands club.

"When I met with Steven, Christian [Purslow, chief executive] and Johan [Lange, sporting director], I knew Aston Villa was for me," Kamara said.

"Their ambition and determination to succeed matches my own. I cannot wait for pre-season to get going."

Speculation over Declan Rice's future has long centred on an apparently inevitable departure from West Ham United.

The Hammers run to the Europa League semi-final has amplified talk around the England international midfielder, with Chelsea and Manchester United linked.

According to reports, though, the 23-year-old appears content at London Stadium with a World Cup on the horizon.

 

TOP STORY – DECLAN RICE TO STICK WITH WEST HAM    

Declan Rice will not leave West Ham despite interest from Manchester United and Chelsea, according to The Mirror.

The 23-year-old has been reticent to sign a new deal at the club, but he is reportedly in no hurry to leave yet either, seemingly wanted to stay settled ahead of November's World Cup in Qatar.

United have looked to Rice as one of their primary transfer targets as Erik ten Hag looks to overhaul the squad, but Rice appears set for one more season at West Ham following their run to the Europa League semi-final this term.

Hammers management had previously advised that Rice is not for sale, and strong performances at the World Cup with England would likely only increase his already lofty market value.

ROUND-UP

Real Madrid are showing interest in Milan's Rafael Leao after Kylian Mbappe opted to stay at Paris Saint-Germain, according to Marca.

– Los Blancos are also looking to scupper Liverpool's move for Aurelien Tchouameni, despite the player having already agreed terms with the Reds so say The Mirror.

Barcelona are discussing personal terms with Marcos Alonso, who is set to leave Chelsea, Fabrizio Romano reports.

– Arsenal defender William Saliba wants to stay at Marseille, where he has been on loan, per Goal.

Feyenoord clung on to a first-leg Europa Conference League semi-final lead to progress to the final after holding Marseille to a 0-0 draw at Stade Velodrome for a 3-2 aggregate victory.

The Eredivisie outfit weathered an everything-but-the-kitchen sink performance in attack from their hosts amid a frequently raucous atmosphere in Provence to make history.

It takes the Dutch side to a first major European final appearance since 2002, when they defeated Borussia Dortmund to claim what was then the UEFA Cup.

But for Jorge Sampaoli, it will be a draw that tastes like defeat as Les Olympiens missed the chance for a shot at their first bit of continental silverware since the 2005 Intertoto Cup.

With Marseille coming into the match needing a victory to at the very least enforce a run into extra time and penalties, it was a lively opening half and hour from the hosts.

Backed by an army of flare-wielding fans – to the point that visibility was seriously reduced by smoke over the first quarter-hour – they pressed hard for an early advantage.

Yet Arne Slot's charges held firm, and the Ligue 1 side were handed a hefty creative blow when Dmitri Payet was forced off with an innocuous issue in the 33rd minute.

Luis Sinisterra subsequently missed a chance to craft a two-goal aggregate cushion for Feyenoord straight after the break when he pushed his header into Steve Mandanda's gloves.

With time running out to find an answer, tempers began to flare across the final quarter too, with Gerson and Lutsharel Geertruida physically squaring off at one point.

Another fracas between both sets of players set the tone for a tempestuous final few minutes – but with Marseille unable to ultimately crack the Dutch defence, it was their visitors who held on to set up a trip to Tirana, where they will face Roma.

Cyriel Dessers scored twice as Feyenoord edged an absorbing Europa Conference League semi-final against Marseille, claiming a 3-2 first-leg success at De Kuip.

Dessers and Luis Sinisterra netted within three frantic first-half minutes, but Bamba Dieng and Gerson led a rapid Marseille comeback as a terrific first half ended level.   

But a dire back-pass from Duje Caleta-Car allowed Dessers to grab his brace immediately after the break as the hosts re-established their advantage. 

Arne Slot's men will now take a slender lead to Southern France for next week's second leg as they aim for a first European final appearance since 2002.

Dieng missed two glorious one-on-one chances for Marseille early on, side-footing straight at Ofir Marciano after eight minutes, before dragging another poor finish wide after 13 minutes.

Marseille were punished when Dessers poked the hosts into the lead after latching onto Sinisterra's flick in the 18th minute, and went two down when Sinisterra swept Reiss Nelson's cut-back beyond Steve Mandanda via a fortuitous deflection just three minutes later.

But the visitors halved the arrears when Dieng stuck a fierce long-range effort into the bottom-right corner after 28 minutes, and found themselves level when Gerson stabbed home after Marciano spilled a cross shortly before the break.

Marseille fell behind once again just nine seconds into the second half when Dessers intercepted Caleta-Car's dreadful back-pass before rounding Mandanda and tapping home.

Caleta-Car almost gifted the hosts a fourth when he passed straight to Byran Linssen after an hour, only for the substitute to drag his right-footed shot wide.

Mandanda denied Dessers his hat-trick after 75 minutes, before Dieng shot straight at Marciano when left unmarked late on, as Feyenoord put one foot in the final.

What does it mean? Feyenoord edge thriller to move closer to final

Feyenoord's thrilling victory moved them one step closer towards adding to their storied history in European competitions, and preserved their unbeaten record in the Conference League (eight wins, three draws this season).

The Dutch outfit, who have one European Cup and two UEFA Cups to their name, will simply need to maintain that record in France to make the final. 

Marseille get just Dessers after poor display

A calamitous defensive showing from Marseille was exploited ruthlessly by Dessers, who opened the scoring before putting Feyenoord back in front just seconds after the break. Dessers has now scored 10 goals in the Conference League this season, more than any other player in the competition. 

Meanwhile, he has set a new record for goals scored by a Feyenoord player in a European campaign (previously nine, scored by Lex Schoenmaker in 1973-74 and Pierre van Hooijdonk in 2001-02).

Marseille fail to make history

Sampaoli's team came into this contest as favourites after winning seven consecutive games in the Conference League, and could have become the first French team to record eight successive European wins (excluding qualifiers).

However, the visitors' poor defensive performance was summed up by Caleta-Car's costly error, and saw them fall short of that landmark achievement.

What's next? 

Feyenoord face an Eredivisie trip to Fortuna Sittard on Sunday ahead of next week's second leg, while Marseille host Lyon in Ligue 1 on the same day.

Mauricio Pochettino declared himself 'satisfied' with PSG's win over Angers despite victory for Marseille delaying their coronation as Ligue 1 champions.

The Paris club needed to better their title rivals' result on Wednesday to clinch a 10th championship, and held up their end of the bargain as goals from Kylian Mbappe, Sergio Ramos and Marquinhos secured a 3-0 win.

However, Marseille twice overturned Nantes leads in their game to secure three points and take the title race into the weekend.

Not that Pochettino was too disappointed, the Argentine saying: "Winning the championship as soon as possible is the best possible [outcome].

"It's not possible at the moment, but we had a good game and took the three points. That is most important. 

"It's never easy, but I think it's a good performance from us. I am very satisfied with my players and these three points.

"I hope we can do it all together on Saturday at the Parc des Princes."

PSG's win was somewhat soured by the controversial late dismissal of young substitute Edouard Michut following a VAR review.

Replays appeared to show that the 19-year-old had only caught Romain Thomas with a high challenge as a direct result of a foul on him from Enzo Ebosse.

Of the decision, Pochettino added: "Edouard didn't do it on purpose. I do not understand the red card even if the action was of course dangerous. 

"It really wasn't [his fault]. I am very disappointed with this and hope they can review the images and remove the card." 

Paris Saint-Germain coach Mauricio Pochettino and centre back Marquinhos have criticised the home fans at Parc des Princes for their lack of support in Sunday's 2-1 Classique victory against Marseille.

All three goals came in an action-packed first half, with Neymar breaking the deadlock in the 12th minute, before Duje Caleta-Car equalised when he forced home a corner from Dimitri Payet nearly 20 minutes later.

On the stroke of half-time, PSG were awarded a questionable penalty after a hopeful Neymar ball was deflected into the elbow of a Marseille defender, with VAR awarding Kylian Mbappe the penalty to head into the sheds leading 2-1.

The second half was largely controlled by Marseille, with over 60 per cent possession, and they thought they had equalised in the 85th minute when William Saliba got on the end of a Payet free kick, but VAR ruled it out for offside.

With the win, PSG are now 15 points clear of second-placed Marseille with six games remaining, but Pochettino said the support from the crowd did not feel like they were a team cruising to a league title.

"We are still waiting for the supporters to be able to expend the energy to support us," he said.

"They show their disappointment – and as I always say, there is freedom of expression, it is their way of expressing themselves, and we have to respect it. But we would like to always have the support of the supporters.

"Winning a 10th title in the history of the club is not trivial, and we would like to [enjoy the] experience with them."

It is reported that the club's main supporter group, Virage Auteuil, are continuing to protest the lack of changes at a boardroom and management level after a disappointing Champions League exit against Real Madrid, but Marquinhos said it still caught him by surprise.

"I wasn’t expecting it. It wasn’t the right time to do that," he said.

"I understand if they haven’t gotten a response, [but] they should have put their pride to one side. As a player, I don’t agree with it."

A Classique by name but certainly not by nature, Paris Saint-Germain took a step closer to the inevitable eighth Ligue 1 title of the QSI era thanks to goals from Neymar and Kylian Mbappe.

Predictably, Lionel Messi's name did not feature on the scoresheet. Predictably, Neymar's name found its way into the referee's book after a foul followed by a tantrum.

These games are not always predictable of course. Few saw the five stoppage-time red cards coming when these teams last met at the Parc des Princes in Ligue 1, back in September 2020.

All hell broke loose on that occasion when the game's simmering tension reached boiling point. Accusations were flung this way and that, with the red-carded Neymar at the centre of many of them. Marseille won that game 1-0, doling out another painful blow to a PSG side who had lost the Champions League final to Bayern Munich just three weeks earlier.

PSG ridiculously failed to win Ligue 1 last season, an embarrassment considering the riches of their talent pool, but the trophy – L'Hexagoal – is heading back to the capital, and Sunday's 2-1 win over Marseille put the Parisian club 15 points clear with six rounds of games to play.

They could wrap up the title in midweek, but what would it really mean? Will it save Mauricio Pochettino's job? Probably not. Will it be the determining factor in whether Mbappe signs a new deal or heads to Madrid? Probably not. Will the PSG fans celebrate it with any great gusto? No, probably not, given many are apparently pig-sick of the club's leadership.

The Ligue 1 title has been reduced to a matter of interest only when PSG do not win it, given it should be a formality each season. And so on they plod, this gaggle of megastars and their various chums.

 

It is not quite the 'Zidanes and Pavons' policy of Real Madrid's Galacticos late period, but PSG are similarly top-heavy. While that Madrid side struggled at times in the league, they could put it together in the Champions League, the competition that remains out of reach for this PSG incarnation.

Was this Pochettino's final Classique? There are no assurances forthcoming over his future. If it is, he has nudged PSG ahead of Marseille on the all-time record between the teams in Ligue 1. This was a 33rd victory in the series, with Marseille having won 32 times and 20 of the league games having been drawn.

So one-sided has this rivalry become, however, that PSG have only lost one of the last 20 such league tussles between the sides (W15 D4).

That's a rivalry, only in the sense that Serena Williams versus Maria Sharapova was a rivalry on the tennis court. Williams lost two of their first three matches, then won the next 19 before Sharapova retired, barring one walk-over.

Sunday's encounter was certainly not a walk-over for PSG, as Marseille made a match of this Classique at times, recovering from Neymar's early strike to draw level through Duje Caleta-Car, with Gianluigi Donnarumma adding to his bloopers file as he failed to gather Dimitri Payet's corner. 

Neymar had a free-kick well saved by Pau Lopez, Messi had a couple of goals ruled out for offside calls, Mbappe smashed home a penalty after Neymar's shot was handled. William Saliba was denied a late Marseille equaliser after a VAR review showed he was narrowly offside. PSG actually finished this game having seen just 42 per cent of the ball, their lowest total in a Ligue 1 game since February 2013, also against Marseille.

And of course Neymar flapped indignantly after being booked for fouling Matteo Guendouzi. Just for a moment the combustible Brazilian looked to be risking a second yellow with his protests.

PSG can be fun to watch when they lose the plot, or when they attempt defending, but the joy that should be gleaned from seeing Neymar, Messi and Mbappe together is tempered by the sense of formality about all of this.

 

Almost 30 years have passed since it was Marseille's ownership that had critics up in arms, during the scandal-hit Bernard Tapie era, when it was OM who had the biggest stars.

In 1993, the year Marseille won the Champions League, Alen Boksic, Rudi Voller and Abedi Pele complemented a rich French contingent that included Basile Boli, Fabien Barthez, Marcel Desailly and Didier Deschamps.

The PSG of that era had stars too – David Ginola, George Weah and Valdo among them – and the great rivalry was ostensibly born, but the modern-day Marseille are no competition on a man-for-man basis with the current Parisian legion of luminaries.

Tycoon Tapie's substantial wealth and Marseille's financial clout had nothing on the Qatar Sports Investments money muscle behind PSG, though.

French football has been dealt the derogatory tag of a "farmer's league", a title bestowed due to a perceived lack of competition. And when the joie de vivre has been sucked out of even Le Classique, where does the game go from here?

Paris Saint-Germain came out on top 2-1 in a tight tussle with Marseille in Sunday's Classique, with Neymar and Kylian Mbappe securing the bragging rights.

All three goals were scored before half-time in a match that was far from classic between Ligue 1's top two teams.

Duje Caleta-Car had cancelled out Neymar's opener, before Mbappe struck from the penalty spot to restore parity, with Marseille having what they thought was an equaliser disallowed by VAR late on.

The win maintains PSG's strong form after Mauricio Pochettino’s side won their previous two fixtures 5-1 and 6-1, and moves them closer to putting the finishing touches on regaining the Ligue 1 title.

Kylian Mbappe is "far above" any Marseille player, meaning Paris Saint-Germain's Classique rivals must work together to stop the "almost unstoppable" forward, Jorge Sampaoli says.

France superstar Mbappe is enjoying another outstanding season in Ligue 1, leading the way in terms of both goals (20) and assists (14).

Marseille managed to keep the 23-year-old in check in a goalless draw at the Stade Velodrome back in October, but still only Zlatan Ibrahimovic has more Classique goals (seven) than Mbappe (six) in Ligue 1.

And Marseille coach Sampaoli's previous experience of Mbappe was painful, too. He scored twice to knock Sampaoli's Argentina out of the 2018 World Cup, inspiring France's 4-3 last-16 win in Russia.

The Marseille boss knows exactly what to expect at the Parc des Princes on Sunday then.

"I had the opportunity to face him at the World Cup and here when Paris came," Sampaoli said ahead of the match.

"And each time, he makes the difference: in space, with the ball, in his finish. With the players he has around him, he is almost unstoppable.

"We must be a great collective team, because individually he is far above."

Paris Saint-Germain boss Mauricio Pochettino has told his stars to treat Sunday's Ligue 1 Classique against Marseille as a cup final.

The league leaders host their second-placed rivals at Parc des Princes, looking to extend their 12-point gap at the summit on Jorge Sampaoli's side.

Victory would effectively confirm the league title for PSG, with just six games left to play after this weekend.

Speaking on Saturday, Pochettino stressed there are no bigger games in France, adding that he expects his side to be prepared to fight for their win.

"It's clear that it's an important and different game for both sides," the Argentinian told a pre-match news conference.

"It's the most important game in France. For us, it's a final, we have to get on the pitch and be ready."

Pochettino also addressed the combative relationship PSG have experienced with their fanbase throughout a campaign that, despite their league position, has been seen as underwhelming.

Neymar and Lionel Messi were roundly booed following the club's Champions League exit last month, in the most high profile of several incidents.

"We are stronger with the fans, they give us extra strength," Pochettino said. "We know we are stronger when they are on our side.

"I would like them to support the team during the matches and leave differences for before or after the game."

The Argentine head coach further touched on his relationship with Kylian Mbappe, amid reports suggesting the France international could snub an anticipated move to Real Madrid

"I have a good relationship with him, as with all the players," Pochettino said. "With him, the relationship was built over time.

"He is someone we have seen grow up. We are happy to see how he is developing. He let himself be trained, that's where he shows his great humility and his desire to be better every day."

Manchester United's search for a new manager continues after axing Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in November.

The Red Devils are taking their time with the appointment, with Ralf Rangnick in an interim role until the end of the season.

United hope the next man in can turn their fortunes around, having struggled to be Premier League contenders since Alex Ferguson's retirement in 2013.

TOP STORY – UNITED SHORTLIST HASENHUTTL

Manchester United have added Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhuttl to their shortlist, according to The Mirror.

PSG boss Mauricio Pochettino and Ajax’s Erik ten Hag remain the front-runners, but United face a battle to persuade either to head to Old Trafford.

Current United interim manager Ralf Rangnick worked with Hasenhuttl at RB Leipzig and the club are admirers of the Austrian.

ROUND-UP

- Atletico Madrid are considering making a move for Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum, reports Mundo Deportivo. Wijnaldum is weighing up his future at PSG despite moving to France only last year.

- Fabrizio Romano claims Chelsea's Andreas Christensen has turned down offers from other Premier League clubs and is on the verge of agreeing to a deal with Barcelona.

Lazio could make a loan move for Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga, with manager Maurizio Sarri keen to be reunited with the Spain international, reports Corriere dello Sport.

- The Sun claims West Ham are plotting a move for Lille's 20-year-old midfielder Amadou Onana, who is valued at £20m by the French club.

Crystal Palace have joined the pursuit for Marseille's out-of-contract midfielder Boubacar Kamara, alongside Newcastle United and West Ham, according to the Sun.

Sead Kolasinac has joined Marseille on a free transfer after the defender was released by Arsenal.

The Bosnia and Herzegovina international left the Gunners on Tuesday, having reached an agreement to terminate his contract.

Kolasinac had fallen out of favour at the Premier League club and returned to Schalke on loan last season.

The 28-year-old is on the move again, joining Ligue 1 side Marseille on a deal until the end of the next campaign.

Kolasinac made 118 appearances for Arsenal following his switch from Schalke in June 2017, but only played for Mikel Arteta's men five times this season.

He becomes Marseille's second signing of the January transfer window following the arrival of striker Cedric Bakambu from Beijing Guoan.

Kylian Mbappe is widely expected to join Real Madrid at the end of this season.

The 23-year-old attacker has stalled on a new contract offer at Paris Saint-Germain.

Madrid have been circling for Mbappe's signature for a long time and had multiple bids rejected in 2021.

 

TOP STORY – MBAPPE COULD STILL RE-SIGN WITH PSG

Mbappe could spring a surprise and renew his current PSG deal prior to the end of this season, claims Le Parisien.

The 2018 World Cup winner had been expected to become a free agent when his contract expires on June 30 and join Madrid .

Le Parisien claims that PSG have hope that Mbappe may pen an extension to force a transfer fee from Los Blancos, should they pursue a move. Mbappe is still undecided on his future, according to the report.

 

ROUND-UP

- Manchester United 's superstar forward Cristiano Ronaldo has held crisis talks with his agent Jorge Mendes as he considers his future with the Red Devils, according to The Sun. Ronaldo reportedly may leave United depending on their choice of a new permanent manager.

- El Nacional claims that Liverpool are ready to offer Barcelona teenager Gavi a deal worth £80,000 (€96k) per week to secure his signature, while Manchester City are also interested. Barca have a £42m (€50m) release cause in the 17-year-old's contract.

- Arsenal want to sign a new midfielder in January with Lyon's Bruno Guimaraes on their radar while a loan deal for Arthur Melo was discussed but has not advanced to talks with Juventus yet, claims Fabrizio Romano.

- Argentinean forward Dario Benedetto is set to return to his homeland to join Boca Juniors from Marseille although the deal may take several days to complete, reports Cesar Luis Merlo.

- Nicolo Schira claims that Newcastle United have opened discussions with Sevilla on a four-year deal to sign Brazilian defender Diego Carlos .

- West Ham United and Newcastle may be priced out of their pursuit for Marseille's Boubacar Kamara,  who wants a £150,000-per-week (€180k) deal according to The Sun.

Fiorentina's Serbian striker Dusan Vlahovic is attracting a long list of suitors.

Vlahovic is under contract at the Stadio Artemio Franchi until June 2023.

Fiorentina are hoping to convince him to extend amid increasing interest in him.

 

TOP STORY – FIORENTINA SET €100M VLAHOVIC PRICE TAG

Fiorentina have set a whopping €100million (£85m) price tag for Vlahovic according to Gazzetta dello Sport.

Arsenal, Tottenham, Juventus and Manchester City are all keen on the Serbian striker.

Vlahovic netted 21 Serie A goals last season and has already got 15 to his name this term, making him hot property.  

ROUND-UP

- Marseille defensive midfielder Boubacar Kamara is on Manchester United's radar with a view to sign him as a free agent, reports The Athletic.  Wolverhampton and Newcastle are also believed to be interested in Kamara.

- Real Madrid are in the box seat to sign Chelsea's Antonio Rudiger following positive discussions, according to The Guardian. Rudiger is set to exit Chelsea as a free agent at the end of this season.

- Tottenham are set to allow Dele Alli to exit the club in January, claims The Athletic. England international Alli has made eight league appearances for Spurs this season and is understood to not be in new manager Antonio Conte's plans.

- Fichajes claims that Manchester United will join Liverpool and Manchester City in the race for Porto winger Luis Diaz.

- Newcastle wants to sign Lille's 21-year-old defender Sven Botman in January, reports The Guardian.

Tottenham could face Rapid Vienna in the Europa Conference League knockout round play-off with the result of their postponed final group match with Rennes still to be decided.

Spurs' Group G finale, which was due to take place last Thursday, was postponed due to a coronavirus outbreak at the club.

They sit third in the group behind Dutch club Vitesse and it is UEFA's Control, Ethics and Disciplinary Body that will decide which team progresses after the governing body ruled the match with Rennes would not be rescheduled after failing to find a pre-December 31 date that works for both sides.

Vitesse will progress to face the Austrian club if the game is ruled a Rennes win or a draw.

Meanwhile, Tottenham's Premier League rivals Leicester City, who crashed out of the Europa League, were pitted against Randers of Denmark.

Celtic suffered the same fate as the Foxes and the Glasgow giants will take on Bodo/Glimt for a place in the last 16.

They are not the only former European champions in the draw, with Ligue 1 side Marseille drawn against Qarabag and PSV set to face Maccabi Tel-Aviv.

The first legs will take place on February 17 and the return legs a week later.

Conference League knockout round play-off draw in full:

Marseille v Qarabag
PSV v Maccabi Tel-Aviv
Fenerbahce v Slavia Prague
Midtjylland v PAOK
Leicester City v Randers
Celtic v Bodo/Glimt
Sparta Prague v Partizan Belgrade
Rapid Vienna v Vitesse or Tottenham

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