Kylian Mbappe must wait to show why he was worth the bumper pay deal that kept him at Paris Saint-Germain, with the striker unexpectedly forced to miss the team's Ligue 1 opener.

The reigning French champions announced that Mbappe, who was pictured in training on Thursday, would miss Saturday's game away to Clermont due to an adductor injury.

That will surely be welcome news for minnows Clermont, who suffered at Mbappe's hands last season. The France star scored once in PSG's 4-0 home win over Clermont, and then hit a hat-trick in a 6-1 away trouncing in April.

Mbappe's absence came in a team news bulletin from PSG that said an update on the 23-year-old, who signed a new three-year contract in May, would come in 72 hours' time.

It means Christophe Galtier, the coach who replaced Mauricio Pochettino last month, will be unable to field Mbappe together with Neymar and Lionel Messi this weekend.

Galtier's first competitive match with the big three at his disposal must wait, perhaps for the home game against Montpellier on Saturday, August 13.

Mbappe also missed last weekend's Trophee des Champions match. He was absent due to suspension for a game that saw PSG thrash Nantes 4-0, with Messi scoring the opener, Neymar netting twice and Sergio Ramos also weighing in on an all-star demolition of last season's Coupe de France winners.

Reports have claimed Mbappe's new contract, which kept him out of the clutches of long-time admirers Real Madrid, is worth around €50million annually and came with an even heftier signing-on fee.

He was PSG's top scorer last season, netting 39 goals from 46 games across all competitions, playing no part in just three Ligue 1 matches.

Paris Saint-Germain have completed the signing of midfielder from Renato Sanches from Ligue 1 rivals Lille for an undisclosed fee.

The midfielder has been reunited with new PSG coach Christophe Galtier, signing a five-year contract with the French champions.

Sanches had been linked with Serie A champions Milan, but PSG emerged as the favourites to land the 24-year-old.

The Portugal international won the 2020-21 Ligue 1 title playing under Galtier at Lille, where he arrived from Bayern Munich in 2019.

Sanches told PSG's official website: "I'm really happy to have arrived here in Paris. These last few days have been really important for me and for my family.

"I'm sure that I've made the right choice by signing for the club. I chose Paris Saint-Germain because I think that it's the best project for me. Staying in France was important to me, as I know this league already."

The former Benfica man is relishing the opportunity to work again with Galtier, who replaced the sacked Mauricio Pochettino last month.

Sanches added: "I know him well. He's a good coach who helped me improve a lot after I came into Ligue 1. Together, we even managed to win the league with Lille.

"We worked well together, and I'm happy to be working with him again, as well as with his coaching staff. Working with a manager that you know always makes things easier. The communication between you is simpler."

The arrival of Sanches comes with Georginio Wijnaldum expected to join Roma and Idrissa Gueye a target for his former club Everton.

PSG start the defence of their Ligue 1 title with a trip to Clermont on Saturday.

Christophe Galtier has told Paris Saint-Germain's superstars that a team that defends together can win big together.

New head coach Galtier believes squad spirit is contagious, and that such togetherness holds the key to getting the best out of Kylian Mbappe, Neymar and Lionel Messi this season.

The man now at the helm at Parc des Princes watched the PSG trio from afar last term, while bossing Nice. They spluttered at times as a combination when they were widely expected to take French and European football by storm.

Rarely have such a starry trio belonged to the same club at the same time, and they will be expected to better last season's performance as PSG again go after their holy grail: Champions League glory.

In Ligue 1 last season, Mbappe rattled in 28 goals in 35 games, but Neymar again missed chunks of the campaign and finished with 13 goals in 22 outings in the competition, while former Barcelona captain Messi hit the back of the net just six times in 26 league appearances, despite having an expected goals (xG) tally of 11.4.

 

Mbappe was absent through suspension for the 4-0 Trophee des Champions thrashing of Nantes last weekend. Messi opened the scoring, Neymar added a double, and Sergio Ramos completed the rout as Galtier, who took over from the sacked Mauricio Pochettino in July, picked up early silverware.

When the Parisians head to Clermont for their league opener on Saturday, Mbappe will be available once more, and that means in all likelihood the front three will be reunited.

"It's a pleasure to have Kylian Mbappe back for the first league game," said Galtier. "He's been involved in our pre-season."

Galtier was asked directly about what the key would be to getting the best out of the front three, but the coach took a tangential path to offering his view, and in doing so indicated he perhaps expects extra effort from Mbappe, Messi and Neymar when it comes to contributing all over the pitch.

"In terms of our defensive set-up we have a collective desire and responsibility. Also, as individuals. There can be periods in matches where it is very tight and the team hasn't yet got on top of the opposition in terms of the scoreline or finding spaces," Galtier said.

"We want to be very focused on not letting the opposition affect our style of play. We have a priority as a team and as individuals.

"When you have team-mates making a big effort, of course, that is contagious, and it means the players around them want to make the same effort. So we need to make sure this is what happens.

"There might be moments in games where it is not going so well. The midfield and defence might need to accept that there can be periods of the game where, for whatever reason, these attackers might find it hard to get back, or that could also go for the wing-backs.

"We have to accept that we all have to defend together, but sometimes the players who might be involved in the first stage of recovery with our pressing game might not be in the right position. So we have to do everything we can to create time for them to get back into the right position in our defensive block."

 

Galtier said he and PSG would benefit from the experience of former Real Madrid captain Ramos, who spent the majority of his first season with the club on the sidelines due to injury woes.

"It is always good to have players like him, and they can bring their experience," said Galtier. "Professionalism. That is what they bring to their team-mates, and to me they also have experiences that I haven't had, so I can learn from that, and they might also have answers to questions that I am asking myself."

In Clermont's debut Ligue 1 season last term, they were beaten 4-0 and 6-1 by PSG on the way to finishing 17th, just avoiding the drop.

PSG have won each of their past seven opening games in Ligue 1, a sequence which has only previously been surpassed by Marseille (10) and Bordeaux (9).

This will be PSG's 50th season in Ligue 1, and it brings them an opportunity to land an 11th league title, which would take them ahead of Saint-Etienne to become the outright most successful team in the competition's history. Anything less would be considered a failure.

Paris Saint-Germain are poised to complete the signing of Renato Sanches, with coach Christophe Galtier hailing the "explosive qualities" of the Lille midfielder.

Speaking in a news conference on Thursday, Galtier said Sanches would give him fresh options in midfield, believing the 24-year-old Portugal international will bring added dynamism.

Italian champions Milan were also keen on Sanches, but a deal with PSG appears to be all but over the line.

It will mean the former Benfica, Bayern Munich and Swansea City player comes in as PSG look set to offload Georginio Wijnaldum to Roma and Idrissa Gueye to Everton.

Head coach Galtier said: "Renato Sanches is a player with qualities that others do not have, particularly if I compare him with Marco Verratti and Vitinha. He is an explosive player who makes a difference on the pitch with his runs."

Galtier said PSG were pleased to have observed the availability of Sanches and "taken that opportunity" to go in for him. The PSG boss worked with Sanches at Lille previously, collaborating in the club's 2020-21 title-winning season.

"He is arriving quite late on. I don't think he has played much in his preparation games because he was expecting to move clubs, so he will be a bit behind the others," Galtier said.

"He is a completely different player in terms of his explosive qualities and his ability to break the lines in the midfield, and he can also make a big impact defensively."

Reigning French champions PSG travel to face Clermont in their Ligue 1 opener on Saturday, as they begin their pursuit of what would be a record 11th Ligue 1 title.

Another Ligue 1 campaign begins on Friday after a big window for French football, the highlight of which was Paris Saint-Germain retaining Kylian Mbappe.

New arrivals in the league include returns for Lyon duo Alexandre Lacazette and Corentin Tolisso, while high-profile departures have seen Aurelien Tchouameni, Sven Botman and Nayef Aguerd depart.

With PSG once again investing heavily in their squad, adding the likes of Vitinha, Hugo Ekitike and Nordi Mukiele, the capital club are widely expected to storm to another title – but can there be an upset?

The verdict, unsurprisingly, is probably not – as Stats Perform AI predicted the outcome of the coming campaign, estimating the likelihood of teams finishing in each position informed by their expected results in each match.

These are calculated using betting odds and Stats Perform's team rankings – based on historical and recent team performances – and, while the title race is not likely to get going, there are some big battles elsewhere in the division.

PSG PARTY ONCE AGAIN

With one of the most expensive squads ever assembled, including the devastating attack of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, PSG are unsurprisingly expected to romp to another Ligue 1 success.

Having won eight of the last nine titles, Stats Perform AI has given PSG a 76.01 per cent chance of retaining their crown.

Marseille, runners-up last season, are seen as the side most capable of mounting a challenge, though their 7.29 per cent chance is slim. Monaco, title winners in 2016-17, are given a 6.55 per cent chance.

Lyon, once the dominant force in French football, have just a 4.29 per cent chance, while Rennes clock in at 3.44 per cent and Lille, the last side to prevent PSG from winning the title having lifted the trophy in 2020-21, have only a 0.71 per cent chance.

The gulf in class within French football is highlighted by the fact that nine teams, almost half of the division, are seen as having no hope in mounting a title challenge.

 

SCRAMBLE FOR EUROPEAN FOOTBALL

Unlike the other top leagues in European football, France has a limited number of places for qualification for UEFA competitions with just two guaranteed Champions League spots, one qualifying spot, one spot in the Europa League group stage and one in the Europa Conference League play-offs.

With PSG expected to surge to the title and take the first of the two group stage spots in the Champions League, with a 90.93 per cent likelihood, the scrap for the other automatic qualification spot could be fierce.

Marseille are seen as the favourites in that battle with a 29.97 per cent chance, with Monaco following suit with a 29.97 per cent chance.

Elsewhere, Lyon have an 18.7 per cent chance, with Rennes at 15.53 per cent, though they may have to settle for a third-place finish or a spot in the Europa League.

In the battle for fifth, and a play-off spot in the Conference League, it's also expected to be tight – with five clubs, as well as those already mentioned above, given at least a five per cent chance of reaching that spot.

Nice, Lens, Lille, Nantes and Strasbourg are all in with an outside shot of gunning for a spot in European competition, which could set up a thrilling battle.

 

REGULATION CHANGES INCREASE RELEGATION FIGHT

With Ligue 1 reducing to 18 teams from the 2023-24 season, the fight to avoid the drop to the second-tier will be fiercer than ever with the bottom four all being relegated – and there will be no play-offs either.

The situation looks bleak for Ajaccio (57.64 per cent chance of relegation), Clermont (57.57), Troyes (56.72) and Lorient (53.92), all of which are seen as more likely to suffer relegation than they are to avoid the drop.

Auxerre (46.58) and Toulouse (34.02) could also find themselves looking over their shoulders during the course of the season, while PSG, Marseille and Monaco are the three sides given no chance leaving the league through the bottom.

Of the promoted trio, it is Toulouse who are given the best chance of maintaining their top-flight status for another season – with their most likely position being 15th, with a 10.59 per cent chance of securing that spot.

It felt like a landmark moment in European football.

In August 2017, Paris Saint-Germain forced Barcelona to hand over one of their prized assets when they triggered the €222million release clause of Neymar, apparently signalling a power shift from the more traditional European powerhouses to the French giants.

It has not quite been that simple in the five years that have followed, though.

Barca have not won a Champions League since Neymar left, but neither have PSG, and the Catalan club can probably point to wider issues as to why their trophy haul has dried up in recent times, like how poorly they spent all the money they received for him.

The Brazil international remains the most expensive footballer in history, even if his transfer did signal a general explosion in fees across the top level of the game, but has he been worth it for PSG?

Half a decade since he swapped Spain for France, Stats Perform has taken a look at Neymar's five years in Paris.

Bye-bye Barca

Neymar's name first came to prominence when he was called up to the Brazil squad for the 2010 World Cup at the age of just 18. Immediate comparisons were made to Ronaldo, who was taken to the 1994 World Cup by the Selecao at a young age, before latterly becoming one of the greatest strikers the game had ever seen.

The new kid on the block was clearly a different kind of player to the legendary forward, but Neymar's flicks and tricks at Santos excited onlookers enough that the whole of Europe was trying to sign him, with Barca winning the race in 2013.

Neymar went on to become part of a fabled front three at Camp Nou alongside Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi, winning two LaLiga titles, three Copa del Rey trophies and the Champions League in 2014-15.

During his four years at Barca, he was directly involved in 164 goals in 186 appearances (105 goals, 59 assists), and in his final season in Spain, Neymar was the only player in Europe's top five leagues to record 20 or more for both goals (20) and assists (21) in all competitions.

It was therefore quite a blow when PSG came along and took him in 2017.

 

Life in Paris

Despite having been in Paris for a year longer than he was in Barcelona, Neymar has so far played 42 fewer games for PSG than he did at Barca, with 156 goal involvements (102 goals, 54 assists) to his name in 144 appearances in all competitions. 

The Brazil international has been largely ruthless, converting 52.9 per cent of his big chances, bettering Mbappe (46.4 per cent) and Messi (26.1 per cent).

He made an impressive start, scoring 28 in 30 games in his first season, followed by 23 in 28 the next.

His lack of availability has often been an issue, though, seemingly unable to stay fit for long enough to truly dominate across a season.

That being said, Neymar currently sits fifth in the club's all-time leading scorers alongside, but well behind team-mate Kylian Mbappe (171), who has become the face of the current PSG side, particularly now he has committed his future to the club after penning a new deal in May.

On the surface, you would say those numbers suggest Neymar has been a relative success at the Parc des Princes, particularly as he has also won four Ligue 1 titles, three Coupe de France trophies and twice lifted the now defunct Coupe de la Ligue.

However, you cannot really mention Neymar or PSG without then discussing Champions League ambitions.

Having ironically been at the centre of PSG's embarrassing elimination at the hands of Barca just months before leaving the latter for the former in 2017, it was hoped that adding Neymar would tip the scales in the Ligue 1 side's favour as they looked to lift Europe's most prestigious prize for the first time.

As it is, they have reached just one final, losing 1-0 to Bayern Munich in 2020, and they once again suffered a humiliating collapse against Spanish opposition last season as they crashed out against eventual champions Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu, despite holding a 2-0 aggregate lead heading into the second half of the second leg.

Following that loss, PSG fans turned their ire on Neymar, believing the superstar to have not done enough to prevent their elimination, but he was not the only one receiving boos from his own supporters, with a well-regarded Argentine also being partly sneered at.

 

Friends reunited

Since Neymar left Barcelona, barely a transfer window has passed without him being linked with a move back to Camp Nou, with suggestions that Messi wanted to play with his former partner in crime again.

What many hadn't seen coming was that they would indeed be reunited, just not in LaLiga.

Barca's inability to give Messi a new contract after the league imposed financial restrictions on them in 2021 meant he had to leave, with PSG waiting with open arms to bring the Argentina legend to link up with Neymar once again.

It has not quite been the same, though, and while you can excuse Messi not setting the world alight in his first season having only played for Barcelona at senior level in his illustrious career, Neymar also failed to light up many games in which he featured.

He again missed several games through injury, making just 28 appearances in all competitions in 2021-22, scoring 13 goals, three of which were penalties.

 

Notably, he also failed to register a single goal in the Champions League, the competition he was essentially signed for such vast money to lead the club to winning.

There have been murmurs about PSG moving on from the Neymar experiment, with fans turning on him and club president Nasser Al-Khelaifi recently saying he wants to move on from the "bling bling" era and bring in more local players like Mbappe over the next few years.

Whether anyone is willing to take a gamble on a player who will still cost a lot of money remains to be seen, with Manchester City seemingly distancing themselves from a move in this transfer window.

It might not be too late for Neymar, though. The talent is undoubtedly there, and he has shown he is capable of putting up tremendous numbers, it's just a case of remaining available and turning up in the big games.

The arrival of Christophe Galtier as head coach appears to be a step in the direction Al-Khelaifi was alluding to, and the former Lille and Nice boss has said he would love for Neymar to stay and be a part of things next season.

As far as starts go, Neymar made a strong one to the new campaign, netting twice in Sunday's 4-0 rout of Nantes in the Trophee des Champions, a game that Mbappe missed.

With PSG looking set to play with a back three, there might be even more room for their attack to flourish, and Neymar could prove his doubters wrong.

The 2022-23 season is right around the corner, with plenty to keep an eye on across Europe.

Title battles in England, Spain and Italy could be too close to call, while France and Germany will see rivals trying to knock Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich off their respective perches – while there is even more set to occur in the fight for European qualification and to avoid the drop.

Central to these battles will be the players, both new signings and established members of the old guard, and here are 10 to watch in the year ahead.

 

Ousmane Dembele – Barcelona

Previously considered to be one of the biggest pieces of evidence on Barcelona's transfer failings in recent years, Dembele turned a corner in the second half of last season to finish the campaign as one of Xavi's most important players.

Dembele finished with 13 assists in LaLiga last term, the most in the competition, 11 of which came in the final 15 games of the season – with the tally being more in that run from February than he accumulated across all competitions combined in the previous two seasons.

Handed a fresh new contract, all eyes will be on Dembele to see whether he is back to his best or whether the former Borussia Dortmund winger, who now has Raphinha for competition, merely had a purple patch.

 

Matthijs de Ligt – Bayern Munich

It has now been three years since De Ligt shone with the Ajax side that reached the Champions League semi-finals, where his performances made him one of the most coveted players in world football.

Stability was never quite found at Juventus, however, with shoulder injuries hampering his progress and the defender himself admitting the style was a "bit different" in Turin to what he experienced with Ajax.

Now at Bayern, De Ligt will look to return to the heights he was once at and is expected to form an exciting partnership with Dayot Upamecano.

Rafael Leao – Milan

In Milan's title-winning campaign last term, Leao was the team's joint-leading scorer in Serie A with 11 goals, alongside Olivier Giroud, but that was way off the pace in the overall charts as 15 players found the net more times.

Milan's total tally for goals in 2021-22 was 69, less than three of their rivals in the top five, and pressure is on Stefano Pioli's side to improve that return – with the signing of Divock Origi showing the desire to improve their return in the final third, with rivals Inter having strengthened by bringing Romelu Lukaku back to San Siro on loan.

It may all fall upon Leao, however, with the 23-year-old needing to show consistency in order to prove a significant venture into the market next year to replace veterans Giroud and Zlatan Ibrahimovic is not required.

 

Djed Spence – Tottenham

Middlesbrough will likely wonder what might had been if they retained Spence's services, having loaned him to Championship rivals Nottingham Forest and seeing him play a key part in their promotion back to the big time.

From September, the only two games Spence missed during Forest's league campaign were the two clashes with his parent club and his displays, including those in the FA Cup against the likes of Arsenal, made him hot property.

Spurs ultimately signed the England U21 international, who could be a contender to break into Gareth Southgate's World Cup squad if he quickly finds his feet in north London. He is a right-back, after all...

Darwin Nunez – Liverpool

Liverpool's prowess in the transfer market is facing its biggest test under Jurgen Klopp, who is looking to rejuvenate what has been a brilliant attacking trio with Sadio Mane moving on and Roberto Firmino's future uncertain.

Having signed Luis Diaz in January, the Reds raided a Portuguese giant again – this time Benfica – for Nunez.

Nunez scored six Champions League goals in the 2021-22 season and plundered a further 26 in the league, averaging a goal every 76 minutes. Nunez certainly has the capability to fill Klopp's Mane-shaped void, even if his style is slightly different to the Senegal attacker.

 

Matteo Guendouzi – Marseille

Swiftly breaking onto the scene at Arsenal but just as quickly earning himself a bad-boy reputation, Guendouzi flourished in his loan spell with Marseille last season and has now made the switch permanent.

The France international featured in every game for Marseille in the 2021-22 season, starting in 35 of his 38 Ligue 1 appearances, and forced his way back into contention to make Didier Deschamps' squad on a regular basis ahead of Les Bleus' World Cup defence in Qatar.

Guendouzi's growing maturity saw him captain Marseille in a 2-0 defeat against Lille last season and the forthcoming campaign may continue his redemption arc.

Adam Hlozek – Bayer Leverkusen

A name that will be familiar to Football Manager enthusiasts, Hlozek has earned his big move to one of Europe's top leagues after leaving Sparta Prague in his homeland for Bayer Leverkusen and the challenges of the Bundesliga.

Capable of playing across the front line, Hlozek heads to Germany with a stellar record of 29 goals and 30 assists in 91 league appearances in the top-tier in the Czech Republic.

Add in the 24 goals that compatriot Patrik Schick netted for Leverkusen last season along with the creativity of Florian Wirtz from midfield and the result is one that could be extremely exciting.

Vinicius Junior – Real Madrid

A formidable season for Vinicius saw the Brazilian net 17 goals and contribute 10 assists during Real Madrid's La Liga title-winning campaign, only being outscored by team-mate Karim Benzema in the league.

Benzema, who was one of only two players to get more assists than Vinicius last season, is now in the twilight years of his career and will soon surely hand the mantle to the next star forward at the Santiago Bernabeu – with Vinicius near-certain to be that man now Kylian Mbappe has decided to remain in Paris for the time being.

In a World Cup year, Vinicius could enjoy a campaign that sees him take the leading man tag for both club and country come the end of the season.

 

Hugo Ekitike – Paris Saint-Germain

Arriving into an attacking that already boasts Mbappe, Neymar and Lionel Messi, it remains to be seen just how much football 20-year-old Hugo Ekitike will manage to play for Christophe Galtier's side.

Moving initially on loan, Ekitike, who was also a target for Newcastle United, is certainly one for the future.

With 10 goals and four assists for Reims last term, Ekitike has shown his prowess in the final third and could be a valuable asset in the hunt to end the elusive wait for a Champions League crown.

Samuele Ricci – Torino

Long touted as the next star in Italy's midfield, Samuele Ricci has moved on from Empoli but, to the surprise of some, did not take the leap to one of Serie A's big guns and instead continued his development by joining Torino in January.

Ricci featured 13 times for Torino, including nine starts in what was a stellar breakout year in Italy's top tier, with the 20-year-old having previously been crowned Serie B's best player in the 2020-21 season.

Breaking into Italy's squad in 2022, Ricci's meteoric rise should continue, and he may find himself coveted by some of the biggest clubs across Europe.

Mauricio Pochettino does not believe Kylian Mbappe had a big say in his sacking and maintains he did a good job at Paris Saint-Germain.

PSG parted company with the Argentine coach in July, just 18 months after appointing him as head coach, naming Christophe Galtier as his replacement.

The former Tottenham boss won the Ligue 1 title last season, the Coupe de France in 2021 and the Trophee des Champions during his short reign.

Pochettino was unable to mastermind a first Champions League triumph for the Parisian giants, though, as they were knocked out by Real Madrid after squandering a two-goal lead in the last-16 stage.

There has been talk of Mbappe perhaps having increased power at PSG after he snubbed Madrid to sign a new contract, but Pochettino does not think the France forward pushed for him to be fired.

Pochettino said in a long interview with Infobae: "What I think is that PSG have done everything possible to retain Kylian and I also agree with that.

"He is one of the best players in world football today and I think that PSG, having all the resources to do it, have convinced him to stay.

"But I don't think Kylian is the one who designed the new project either. Those who rule, in this case the president [Nasser Al-Khelaifi], are those who would have thought that the most convenient thing was a new project in the club."

 

Pochettino feels there is too great an obsession with winning the Champions League at PSG, with anything but lifting the trophy deemed to be a failure.

"The only thing that has changed a bit now [from when he played for PSG] is the expectation, which is the Champions League, the Champions League and the Champions League," he said.

"The obsession is the Champions League and everything that is not winning the Champions League is synonymous with failure, but not for us. I believe that.

"We have done a job in which we have been honest, we have worked as hard as we could, and we had that misfortune in the last minutes against Madrid.

"We reached a semi-final last year when Mbappe was injured in the first leg against Manchester City, and with him in Manchester we could have reached the final after knocking out Barcelona and Bayern Munich. In other words, I think we have done a good job, perhaps not recognised externally because the expectation was to win the Champions League."

Christophe Galtier praised Paris Saint-Germain's "desire" after they won the Trophee des Champions with a resounding 4-0 victory over Nantes on Sunday.

Lionel Messi opened the scoring at Bloomfield Stadium in Tel Aviv, before Neymar doubled their advantage with a fine free-kick.

Sergio Ramos added a third, with Neymar grabbing his second from the penalty spot late on after an incident that saw Jean-Charles Castelletto dismissed.

PSG reclaimed the Trophee des Champions after their streak of eight consecutive wins was ended by Lille last season, and Galtier was delighted with his side's application in his first competitive game at the helm.

"We played a very serious match and I like the fact that we approached with great desire and determination," he told Amazon Prime Video. 

"We created some good chances at the start of the match and they had one or two of their own. 

"We were consistent and I saw players making a lot of effort; that's important to me. It's a great victory. It's good to bring the trophy back to Paris."

PSG cruised to the Ligue 1 title last season, yet they came under heavy criticism after throwing away a two-goal aggregate lead to crash out of the Champions League at the hands of Real Madrid at the last 16 stage.

That ultimately led to Mauricio Pochettino losing his job at the end of the campaign, and Galtier says he has seen enough during his brief tenure at the club to suggest the players are ready to right last season's wrongs.

"I think PSG were criticised last season when they were champions," he added. 

"These are players that I have observed a lot, with whom I discuss things. There must be a group dynamic, a team. What we have done over the past four or five weeks has gone very well.

"You have to be focused; the slightest word that derails goes around the world. 

"We have frank, direct exchanges with the players. We talk a lot about world stars but they are above all players, who like to play, who want to win trophies. We must help them without compromise."

PSG start their Ligue 1 defence away at Clermont on Saturday. 

Lionel Messi and Neymar were on target as Paris Saint-Germain thumped Nantes 4-0 to win the Trophee des Champions on Sunday.

Kylian Mbappe did not travel to Israel for the clash at Bloomfield Stadium in Tel Aviv, but his absence was not felt as Christophe Galtier started his reign as PSG boss in style. 

Messi set the Ligue 1 champions on their way in the 22nd minute with a cool finish, before Neymar doubled their advantage with a superb whipped free-kick from 25 yards on the stroke of half-time.

Sergio Ramos made it 3-0 shortly before the hour mark with an improvised finish, then Neymar claimed a second late on from the penalty spot after an incident that saw Jean-Charles Castelletto dismissed.

Achraf Hakimi and Pablo Sarabia went close for PSG inside the opening 10 minutes, while at the other end Ludovic Blas was superbly denied by Gianluigi Donnarumma.

PSG went ahead in the 22nd minute when Messi rounded Alban Lafont and slotted home after latching onto Neymar's deflected throughball.

Lafont got down well to deny Messi a second shortly before the interval, yet Galtier's men did go in at the break with a two-goal lead courtesy of Neymar's sumptuous free-kick.

Ramos added a third in the 57th minute, the former Real Madrid defender superbly backheeling into the net after Lafont had kept out Sarabia's initial effort. 

Neymar scored his second in the 82nd minute with a calm penalty after he had been brought down in the area by Castelletto, who was shown a red card by referee Orel Grinfeeld.

Xavi has given a strong indication Barcelona will make a sensational move to sign Lionel Messi next year.

Barca boss Xavi stated earlier this week that it would be "impossible" for the Catalan giants to bring club legend Messi back to Camp Nou during this transfer window, given he is under contract with Paris Saint-Germain.

The Argentina captain joined PSG on a two-year deal last year after sensationally ending his 21-year stay with the Blaugrana, who could not afford to keep him.

Barca president Joan Laporta on Thursday declared that he thinks the LaLiga giants "will make this aspiration a reality" when asked about the prospect of signing Messi.

Xavi wants his former team-mate to return to Barcelona, but says it will not happen while he is contracted to the Ligue 1 champions.

He said: "Now he has a contract, it's a utopia, we're going to focus on this year. Obviously, I would like Leo's time at Barca not to end the way he did and for him to have one last chance to say goodbye as the best in history.

"Of course I would like to, yes, I would like it to happen, but he has a contract."

Xavi has been given great backing in the transfer market ahead of the 2022-23 season, with Barca splashing out on Robert Lewandowski, Raphinha and Jules Kounde

Franck Kessie and Andreas Christensen have also arrived on free transfers and Xavi wants further additions.

He said: "Everything that is reinforced is good. I already said that there should be two players per position, more this year with the World Cup.

"We need footballers to compete and to be better. Yes, we want to reinforce ourselves more, the more the better."

Hugo Ekitike says he would have joined Newcastle United if he had departed Ligue 1, but that he was unable to refuse the chance of a move to Paris Saint-Germain.

The Reims striker signed a loan deal with the French champions, which includes an obligation to buy, earlier this month.

It brought to an end an unsuccessful pursuit from the Magpies, who heavily courted the forward in an attempt to persuade him to come to St James' Park as far back as the January transfer window.

Now, Ekitike has revealed he remains grateful for the efforts Newcastle made to sign him, but he could not turn down the chance to go to the premier club in his home country when it arose.

"I had an appointment with Luis [Campos, PSG sporting director] which meant a lot to me," Ekitike told Le Parisien.

"It was not so long ago. We talked a lot, he is someone I value a lot. I wanted to come to PSG before this exchange, but he convinced me even more

"I’m not setting aside everything Newcastle did for me to come. If I had to go abroad, I would have gone there. But when PSG wants you and you're French, you can't refuse."

While Newcastle have made several signings ahead of the new season, Eddie Howe's side have failed to bring on board a major forward target, potentially leaving them light ahead of the manager's first full season in charge.

Barcelona's infatuation with Lionel Messi has been underlined after president Joan Laporta raised the tantalising idea that the Argentina great could return to end his career with the club.

It is coming up to 12 months since Messi tearfully departed and joined Paris Saint-Germain, breaking a 21-year association with a struggling Barca who could not afford to keep him.

The forward won every trophy available with the Catalan giants and departed as the club's all-time record scorer with 672 goals from 778 appearances. To give that some context, next on the goalscoring list is Cesar Rodriguez, who scored 232 goals for Barcelona.

Laporta spoke in New York on Thursday evening, as Barcelona's US tour neared its end, and addressed the prospect of Messi one day resuming his career with the Blaugrana.

"Leo's phase did not end as we all wanted. It ended up very conditioned by economic issues," said Laporta. "We owe him a moral debt in this regard. We would like the end of his career to be with the Barca shirt and being applauded in all stadiums.

"This is an aspiration. There is nothing spoken. I feel jointly responsible for this ending. I think it is a provisional end, I think we will make this aspiration a reality."

Barca's financial situation in August 2021 meant they could not agree fresh terms that adhered to LaLiga's salary cap rules.

Messi has another year to run on his PSG deal, which will take him through to the age of 36, though that contract also contains the option of a third season in Paris.

Laporta might be pushing the right buttons for those who dream of a Messi comeback in LaLiga, but whether his ambitions are realistic remains to be seen.

Barcelona have sold off a proportion of future TV rights revenue in order to bolster their financial resources, allowing them to embark on a signing spree ahead of the new LaLiga season. They are suddenly moving in a positive direction again, and Laporta will look to make it sustainable.

 

Messi was directly involved in 937 goals for Barcelona, with his most prolific season coming in 2011-12 when he scored 73 in all competitions and assisted a further 28.

That is in stark contrast to the 11 goals and 14 assists managed in 34 games during his first season with PSG.

Diminishing returns are setting in, as would only be expected of a player who reached staggering heights at the peak of his career.

Yet Laporta is determined to have Messi back on board, surely mindful of the commercial opportunities it could bring, and how such a coup would reflect on his presidency.

The more Laporta says it, the more he will be held to his word by a fanbase that was left stunned by the departure of the club's greatest player.

Tottenham have reportedly entered the race for 23-year-old Roma attacking midfielder Nicolo Zaniolo, with Juventus also heavily linked to the Italy international.

Zaniolo missed the entire 2020-21 season after suffering the second torn ACL of his career, but he made a successful return this past campaign, totalling 42 club appearances, including five goals and four assists in 10 Conference League fixtures.

The man with nine senior international caps has been linked with Juventus for some time now, but with the club yet to make any breakthrough, they could face competition from the Premier League.

TOP STORY – TOTTENHAM LOOK TO SWOOP IN FOR JUVENTUS TARGET

According to Tuttosport, Juventus and Roma have been holding discussions about different constructions of a deal for Zaniolo, including an iteration that would make it a loan this season with an option to buy after. The report mentions his price tag is believed to be between £30million and £40million.

With Tottenham set to play Roma in a friendly on Saturday, it is said to be an opportunity for the two clubs to sit down and discuss the possibility of a move.

Reports have claimed Spurs are willing to include Giovani Lo Celso in their bid, with the English club said to value the Argentinian at £17million.


ROUND-UP

– L'Equipe is reporting that Marseille are investigating a potential move for Inter's Alexis Sanchez.

– Fabrizio Romano says Chelsea have yet to receive an acceptable offer for 20-year-old striker Armando Broja after turning down a £30million bid from West Ham, and that he may be competing for first-team minutes this season.

– Fabrizio Romano is also reporting that Everton have approached Paris Saint-Germain about bringing 32-year-old Idrissa Gueye back to the club after he left in 2019.

– According to 90min, West Ham are in talks with Eintracht Frankfurt about 29-year-old wing-back Filip Kostic after having their first bid turned down.

Ajax, Newcastle United and Bayer Leverkusen are tracking 18-year-old forward Giovani, playing for Palmeiras in the Brazilian top division, according to ESPN Brasil.

Juventus have been targeting a deal for Liverpool forward Roberto Firmino, hoping he can be acquired for around £20million.

Firmino, 30, has spent the past seven seasons with Liverpool, playing a major role in winning the 2019-20 Premier League and 2018-19 Champions League, but in the past season a series of injuries limited him to his fewest league appearances (20) and league goals (five) since arriving at Anfield.

Corriere dello Sport claims the Brazilian was not Juventus' first choice when weighing up the striker market, but interest grew as it became increasingly unlikely they would be able to bring Alvaro Morata back to the club from Atletico Madrid.


TOP STORY – WITH MORATA UNLIKELY TO RETURN, JUVENTUS PIVOT TO FIRMINO

Darwin Nunez's arrival has given Liverpool an abundance of options up front, and instead of letting Firmino operate as a back-up as his value continues to diminish, the club could elect to cash in, if the price is right.

The report from Italy claims Juventus have also been investigating the possibility of acquiring Chelsea's Timo Werner or Manchester United's Anthony Martial, but securing Firmino would put an end to those pursuits.

Reports from England have indicated Liverpool are not interested in selling for the fee Juventus have so far proposed.

Meanwhile, Marca is reporting that Juventus are also in the hunt for Benfica left-back Alejandro Grimaldo, with Manchester City and Newcastle United their main competition.


ROUND-UP

– Spanish publication Cadena Ser claims Frenkie de Jong has told team-mates he has no plans to leave Barcelona in the current transfer period, despite strong interest from Manchester United.

– Cadena Ser is also reporting that Barcelona will look to sell highly paid goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen for financial relief if they can not convince De Jong to leave.

– According to The Athletic, Bournemouth are set to sign 23-year-old Middlesbrough winger Marcus Tavernier for £10million.

Roma are reportedly in the final stages of securing Georginio Wijnaldum on a loan deal from Paris Saint-Germain, with negotiations said to be continuing about the percentage of salary the French club will cover during his stay in Italy.

– The Daily Mail is reporting that Ajax have raised their asking price for Manchester United target Antony to £84million, likely indicating they have no intention of parting ways with the 22-year-old Brazil international.

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