Kylian Mbappe scores a hat-trick as PSG win 8th Ligue 1 title and Champions League places are still up for grabs

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They say that things come in three’s but it took a 4th attempt for PSG to finally secure the league title in France, and in the end they didn’t even have to kick a ball.

The league was finally theirs, secured on the afternoon of Sunday when 2nd placed Lille could only draw 0-0 away against Toulouse. That draw meant that Lille could not catch PSG- not that they were ever going to anyway, but still it made it all mathematically impossible and PSG were the champions.

Whether PSG wanted it like that or not is open to debate but it was taken out of their hands given some of their surprising displays in weeks past which included folding against Lille 5-1, shocking misses in their 2-2 draw against Strasbourg and losing 3-2 to Nantes. As it was PSG played on Sunday evening and came out of their dressing rooms and onto the pitch to a party atmosphere to play Monaco, the only other team to have won a Ligue 1 title since 2013.

The game was a strange one in the fact that the PSG players really just wanted to party, they were now champions after all and Monaco seemed like the uninvited guest at a showpiece. In the end it was left to the outstanding Kylian Mbappe who scored a hat-trick to underline his greatness to the side. His 3rd goal marked his 30th in Ligue 1 and he easily tops the goal scorer charts and overall he has scored 36 goals this season which marks his finest ever.

Immediately after the game he had to predictably fend off questions that he was off to Real Madrid in the summer, denying that and confirming that he wanted to stay in Paris. Whether it’s true or not it was unfortunate he was asked such a question- if anyone deserved to be happy with a title win without distraction it was Mbappe. And there was to be more good news for PSG as Neymar and Edinson Cavani finally returned back to the squad and played some time in Paris.

Despite the league being over a race for the Champions League isn’t, and unlike, for example, the Premier League in England there is only 3 places up for grabs here. Lille in 2nd place could still in theory lose out but they won’t and at worst if a total collapse does happen they will get 3rd place and have to qualify. But with 5 games left and 15 points on the board they should finish as runners up as they are 6 points clear of Lyon.

The real excitement then is who will finish 3rd? Lyon are in pole position with 59 points but they have a genuine threat in the shape of Saint Etienne who have 56 points. The club went to Reims at the weekend and beat them 2-0 in an impressive result as Reims had not lost at home this year.

Lyon have five matches to play with only 2 at home and one of those games is a crunch match against 2nd place Lille in what should be a cracking game when the teams clash on May 5th- Lyon will be at home.

Marseille have not given up the chase for a Champions League spot as they beat Guingamp 3-1 away to put the side on 54 points and they have now won back to back games. The team remain outsiders but a Europa League spot should be secured, despite the absence of Mario Balotelli who has succumbed to injury.

Montpellier made light work of the inform Strasbourg and beat the team 3-1 to move up to 6th place. Strasbourg had just one shot on target which ended up being their goal in an otherwise disappointing game for the Coupe de la Ligue winners.

Reims poor form continued, and for a club that were in for a small chance of European football, that now looks like a distant dream after their 2-0 loss against a direct rival in Saint Etienne. Reims have now gone their last 4 games without a win and have fallen to 7th place and 8 points shy of a European finish. The famous club have recently unveiled a statue of former player Raymond Kopa- the Reims, Real Madrid and French legend is just what the club need right now.

Nice are in danger of losing their top 8 status to Nimes after Patrick Vieira’s club were shocked by 19th placed Caen as they lost 1-0 at home. It was a game that Nice dominated and Remi Walter missed a penalty early on which was clearly a sign of how the game would play out. Nimes are just 2 points behind Nice, who have to find their form, in a season that has ended prematurely for them.

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Choupo-Moting’s stunning miss denies PSG the league title

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PSG lost their 100% record at home when they could only draw 2-2 with Strasbourg at the weekend. But that is just one story- the other is Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting’s extraordinary miss when the match was poised at 1-1, which almost certainly would have sealed the game in their favour and given them the league title. Now PSG will have to wait.

Strasbourg have frustrated PSG in the past- a few seasons ago Strasbourg ended PSG’s unbeaten run in the league and now the new Coupe de la Ligue winners have ended PSG’s dominance at home by becoming the first team this season to take points from them in Paris. Before the game PSG had played 15 and won 15, a stunning record.

PSG coach Thomas Tuchel was still without Brazilian Neymar which was expected what wasn’t expected was that he did not start star player Kylian Mbappe, instead choosing to rest the player from the bench. That meant a rare start for once Stoke City striker Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting.

Everything was going so well for the player who opened the scoring in the 13 minute with a neat finish. At that point PSG were simply expected to stroll to victory, but Strasbourg who have been in superb form after winning the Coupe de la Ligue and then beating Reims 4-0 had not read the script.

Da Costa equalised on 26 minutes and then shock of shocks Goncalves put Strasbourg ahead just before half time. But before Goncalves got the goal to put the visitors ahead, PSG somehow were not ahead themselves.

Choupo-Moting found himself virtually on the opposition goal line, the ball crossed in perfectly and with good weight and pass he simply had to notch the ball in with the deftest of touches. Instead he somehow kicked the ball in a way that ended up looking like a nonchalant brilliant piece of defending- and fans in the stadium sat their stunned. Mbappe on the bench could not believe what he was seeing, and the opportunity was gone. In England commentators reporting on the game suggested it was the greatest miss of all time- that’s for another day and another list but it was certainly up there with the biggest controversial moments stemming from such a clear cut chance in front of goal- a real head scratcher.

Choupo-Moting has played 18 times for PSG and scored 3 goals and it is unfortunate for him that the night turned sour given that he had opened the scoring. It was of course not a reflection on the player and was just a shocking miss, a freak and it happens.

The problem for the 30 year old is such misses for the biggest clubs can be the downfall moment and it would be a surprise if Choupo-Moting is a PSG player next season given his age and the fact that he joined the club this season on a free transfer anyway. Football has shown us on countless occasions how ruthless the big clubs can be when needed.

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Five players that Zinedine Zidane will want to buy in the summer for Real Madrid

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With Zinedine Zidane back at Real Madrid his hands will be tied for the next two months with the transfer window shut and there will be players in the squad that will be playing for their futures. A clear out will happen at the club as Zidane will try and return Madrid back to the pinnacle of European football and win another Champions League and try to topple Barcelona’s dominance in the Spanish La Liga.

So who will be on Zidane’s wish list? It has been reported that he could have up to 500m euros to spend, that is of course hear say, but at the end of the day we all know that Madrid President Florentino Perez has been holding out and that the club will be spending big money this summer.

We name five players below that should be topping his list.

Kylian Mbappe

Mbappe is the best centre forward in Europe, once we consider his rate of goals and his age. Still only 20 the French international and World Cup winner is having another superb season for PSG and is simply a devastating goal machine. He is the genuine article and would fit into Madrid no problem. The problem is that he cost PSG around £150m, and so could cost Madrid over £200m.

Neymar

Sticking with PSG, Neymar’s name has been mentioned on more than one occasion. The world’s most expensive player at £197m may be available on a loan deal to buy given that for the second consecutive season he has picked up a long term injury. The sticking point is that he is an ex Barcelona player, which could provide some tensions- Madrid would surely love this to rile up their enemies though.

Paul Pogba

Paul Pogba is a new link but it does make sense. Zidane would have watched the French national team last summer and saw just how potentially great Pogba is. His surging runs were fantastic and he could imagine that at Madrid. If Pogba is happy he plays great football. Again a transfer would easily topple the £100m mark.

Sadio Mane

Mane has arguably been Liverpool’s best player this season. He has stepped up this season when at times Mohamed Salah has gone quiet and has scored 17 goals so far. Don’t be fooled into thinking he would come cheap. Liverpool do not sell their players cheap- just look at Phillipe Coutinho for that. Mane would provide that bit of quality when all guns aren’t firing.

Eden Hazard

Last but not least there is Eden Hazard who has been linked to Madrid for over a year. It would actually feel like a shock if this deal was to fall through- but it could given that Zidane is back at the club. If he’s not an admirer then Hazard won’t be coming. Still the Chelsea player could add a lot of pace and depth to the team and would be a great buy for them, and Chelsea could do with the transfer fee.

 

From Hazard to Dybala and possibly Neymar Real Madrid need to buy big next season

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By their incredible standards Real Madrid have looked their most fragile and normal for the first time in a good decade. It has been a season of transition for the club who came into this season without Ronaldo and with Zinedine Zidane resigning. It has felt a little empty for a side who have won the last 3 Champions League trophies.

Let’s be honest something has felt off about the club, where was the mega signings? Because look around and you will see that Florentino Perez is still around, he who invented the original galacticos and made sure that Madrid kept signing the very best players- sometimes it worked sometimes it didn’t- yes we all remember Thomas Gravesen.

This season was clearly a breather- so much had happened in such a short space of time at Madrid then everyone needed it. And yet the club find themselves just 6 points behind league leaders Barcelona, are in the semi finals of the Copa del Rey, have won the World Club Cup and have one foot in the quarter finals of the Champions League- things really are not that bad at the club, are they?

Madrid though will be having a summer of upheaval, there is no secret about that. Coach Santiago Solari is only staying if he is able to win a trophy and the Copa del Rey may not be enough for  a side who are used to winning bigger trophies. But it is the players that the club will be bringing in which is raising the most eyebrows.

Chelsea’s Eden Hazard and Madrid have been flirting with each other ever since the World Cup ended last summer and Hazard has made no secret of where he would like to play next season. With his current club Chelsea looking like they might hit a meltdown under current coach Maurizio Sarri, Hazard may just be able to find the perfect excuse to leave. He is very much expected to leave what ever happens at Chelsea.

Paulo Dybala is another leading candidate to join Los Blancos, it what would be seen as more of a shock move after his successful career at Juventus, but Dybala the class player that he is should be able to fit into Madrid with few problems.

Then there is the real shock move which could happen this summer- the transfer of Neymar from PSG- could it really happen? Neymar would be gold for Madrid and a big loss for PSG. But what about the Barcelona fans? Last time a big name player switched clubs- Luis Figo from Barcelona to Real Madrid fans started a riot ending with a pigs head on the pitch.

Neymar would be the key for Madrid going forward, although Hazard may see Neymar as a threat as he wants to be the shining light at the club- One thing is for certain, this summer will be an incredibly interesting one at the circus that is Real Madrid.

 

PSG lose first league game of the season- could this be the meltdown?

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There was just that feeling going into this weekend that Lyon had the players to beat PSG on Sunday night. And they did just that by coming back from a goal down to win 2-1 to inflict PSG’s first defeat of the league season.

PSG are going to win the league regardless, that just seems a given where they are 10 points clear and have a game in hand, but this defeat feels like a bitter blow to Thomas Tuchel and his team.

It is clear that when a club get to February unbeaten they are thinking about going the whole season that way, and it would have been the icing on the cake together with breaking numerous French Ligue 1 records, but it isn’t going to happen and after this defeat one could expect more will follow.

PSG haven’t been helped with the recent injury to Neymar where he could miss up to 2 months of the season. But is it all going wrong for the team at the wrong time of the season? It does seem so, a defeat here will feel like such a body blow to the players and Tuchel will need to pick them up given that the Champions League is just around the corner and they will be playing Manchester United and not just any United, a brilliant looking side since the arrival of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

The hierarchy at PSG are happy to win the league of course and it would have to take the mother of all meltdowns to let in Lyon or Lille, it shouldn’t happen. But at the same time now that PSG are feeling that they can lose big games it could well have a psychological effect on them for the Champions League. It is no secret that the team that really need it most are PSG and possibly Manchester City. But PSG have been called chokers in the past for not winning it, considering the amount of money they have spent trying too. This could be another frustrating season in that department.

PSG lost out in bringing in some quality in January to replace Neymar with his injury but even if they did they would have most likely been cup tied. They tried for Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil but that deal fell through. One wonders if all of this will count against Tuchel and how long he will keep his job.

Of course Tuchel has lost just 1 game in the league this season and fully deserves to keep his job, but in football questions arise very quickly and a lot of people will be keeping an eye on how the club performs over the next month.

 

Neymar could be back for PSG sooner than expected after injury blow

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Just like this time last season Neymar PSG’s Brazilian forward has been ruled out for a chunk of the season when all of the competitions are reaching their business end and reports have suggested that the player will miss the next 10 weeks with a return date pencilled in for the beginning of April.

Neymar has injured his fifth metatarsal and received the injury in PSG’s French Cup win over Strasbourg. This latest injury just highlighted the unfair treatment that Neymar has had to put up with his supposed diving antics and fooling around. Truth is most of the time he is getting chopped down. This time it was because he was showboating, and it feels quite sad that Neymar has been cut down like this especially at a time when his club really need him.

Neymar’s injury shouldn’t affect the team in the league given that they are 13 points clear at the top and have games in hand. Ligue 1 in theory has been wrapped up since before Christmas and it seems that it is just a matter of when and not if PSG win the league title for the 2nd time in a row.

But the focus will be more on the Champions League, a trophy that PSG desperately want to win and keep failing at against the more elite and historic teams when it really matters, it was the major reason that the club brought in coach Thomas Tuchel.

But Neymar will certainly miss the teams first leg against Manchester United at Old Trafford, which is a massive bonus for the Premier League side. The second leg in Paris is on March 6th and that might be the game that PSG are secretly targeting Neymar’s return.

For example if the game is still open by then and PSG need that extra piece of magic Neymar would be key to the side’s chances of progression. However the 2nd leg date is only in five weeks time, so will it really be possible?

Players in the past have been able to recover from such injuries in 4-6 weeks at the very least if they have been able to fully rest properly. Also in Neymar’s advantage is that he hasn’t required surgery on the injury. So in theory he could be back much sooner than expected.

Of course the problem is would he be match fit? The answer is no, and Neymar returning so early could be seen as a desperate move and a last roll of the dice for Tuchel. The correct method to take would be for Neymar to return for the quarter finals in PSG were able to make it past United.

In any sense Neymar’s injury and especially the timing of it is hard luck on Tuchel who will most probably be judged more by the owners on how PSG perform in the Champions League compared to the league.

Can PSG go the whole season in Ligue 1 unbeaten?

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More or less PSG have been absolutely dominant in the French Ligue 1 since 2012 and their massive takeover which has seen the club win 6 out of the last 7 titles in France. Millions have been spent on some of the greatest players to have graced the game in recent years. The likes of Zlatan Ibramhimovic, Neymar, Edinson Cavani and a new starlet in Kylian Mbappe have passed through their doors.

However it is this season that just feels different under new coach Thomas Tuchel. The reason is evident when you glance at the league tables. Yes it is no surprise to see PSG in 1st position, but they have played 14 games so far and won 14. It’s like a PlayStation game that went very wrong in a kind of excellent way. 42 points means that their nearest challengers Lyon are 15 points behind and the league in effect looks over before December.

We should also be reminded that their nearest rival Lyon were soundly beaten 5-0 last month by the Parisians. They are just that good that no team in France seems to be able to touch them. And yet of course in previous seasons it felt the same way until they would lose a surprise game away from home. This past weekend that almost happened. Not so much that the team would lose but even drop their 100% win rate. The team was Toulouse and with an important Champions League game coming up against Liverpool, both Mbappe and Neymar did not play and PSG edged to a 1-0 nervous victory.

PSG certainly have it within them to not only go unbeaten the whole season but to win every game, it would be a massive achievement even if some critics would point and suggest that the French league is not strong. Well tell that to Premier League champions Manchester City who in 2 games against Lyon both home and away failed to beat the team and conceded 4 goals along the way.

Ligue 1 is not the strongest league in Europe of course but it is far from weak, all it is missing is some wealthy owners to give PSG a run for their money (pardon the pun).

PSG’s real tests will come as the season progresses. How will they react if they are knocked out of a cup competition, especially the Champions League? The league is theirs that is basically assured now, but it is a question of how long they can continue their dominance this season which is most fascinating. Europe will be looking on in anticipation that is for sure.

Time to stop talk of a Neymar return to Barca

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Not too long ago, Barcelona’s Pep Segura made a simple statement that could be easily understood and with no room for misinterpretation.

Any player that leaves the club is not welcome back.

It was almost as if he was saying ‘if we weren’t good enough for you then, you’re not good enough for us now.’

An understandable point of view, particularly when it relates to one of the biggest names in world football. Continue reading

Liverpool or PSG set to be knocked out of Champions League at the group stage

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Liverpool and PSG were amongst the favourites to win this seasons Champions League but it looks more and more like one of them will not even qualify for the knock out rounds after a topsy turvy group stage.

When the two European giants were announced to be in the same group, there was obvious excitement but most pundits believed they would get through in a group also containing Italians Napoli and Red Star. But some surprise results have left that chance really open ended with just 2 games left to play each for the super clubs.

Liverpool who got to the final last season have already lost 2 of their 4 games. These defeats both came away from home against Napoli and then this week to Red Star in a 2-0 loss. However for now they are still in 2nd place on 6 points.

As for PSG they started their campaign off with a loss away to Liverpool which ended 3-2 and then they drew two times against Napoli but slaughtered Red Star at home, they are, at this moment going into the Europa League with 5 points so far.

Napoli have been the real surprise and the problem for Liverpool and PSG. But Napoli who are in 1st place are not safe yet as they have drawn 3 of their 4 games but they do remain unbeaten. So the key to qualification will be in the next two matchday fixtures.

Napoli will play Red Star at home and given how poor they have been on the road we would expect a win for the Italians. But then they have to play Liverpool away and what would be a packed out and atmospheric Anfield and that could well end in a loss, so Napoli has the chance to finish with 9 points.

Liverpool have a massive crunch test with PSG in Paris on November 28th and it will in effect feel like a knockout game. All eyes will be on this match, let’s be conservative and say this game ends in a draw. It would mean that even if PSG beat Red Star away from home as long as Liverpool win they would go through. The key game seems to be Napoli’s match against Red Star, win that and one of Liverpool or PSG are going to go out. It would be a massive blow for either club.

Arguably one could say the blow is bigger for PSG given the new coach in Thomas Tuchel and the fact they have Neymar and Kylian Mbappe in order to win the competition. By the end of this month we should know which one of these teams will be playing Europa League football next year.

Is a Barcelona return for Neymar realistic?

It was the move which threatened to fracture Barcelona as a club. The Catalans never truly expected to lose Neymar. He was, after all, their next king in waiting and the Camp Nou was to be his kingdom. Speculation surfaced, but there was a complacency at boardroom level that Neymar would stay. And then he didn’t.

Indeed, it’s still to this day the most momentous transfer of the past 10 years. By making the move to Paris Saint-Germain for around £200 million in the summer of 2017 Neymar became the most expensive player in the history of the game, shifting the balance of footballing power away from Barcelona and towards the French capital.

Neymar

Since then, though, Neymar has suffered a fall in his stock. There is no longer so much certainty around his rise to the top, with some questioning the forward’s mentality and commitment to the cause at PSG. He remains a global superstar, but increasingly because of his off the field clout rather than anything he has done on it. PSG want to become the coolest brand in football and Neymar helps them do that.

But do PSG help Neymar become the next best player in world football? If they win the Champions League with the Brazilian as their driving force, perhaps. But as things stand, PSG are as far from winning Europe’s premier club competition as they have ever been, and what’s more Neymar is being superseded as their face by Kylian Mbappe.

Now, there is speculation that Neymar could leave PSG at the end of the season, with a return to Spain supposedly on the cards. Of course, Real Madrid were linked with a blockbuster move for the Brazilian in the summer, but now, on top of that, Barcelona are reportedly interested in luring Neymar back to the club.

This might be unrealistic. Barcelona are one of the richest clubs in the world, but they can’t compete with the wages PSG hand to stars like Neymar. To make the move back to the Camp Nou it’s most likely that the Brazilian would have to take a cut in his wages. Real Madrid still have a Cristiano Ronaldo-sized void in their wage bill to fill, so it’s much more feasible that Neymar could end up there. Barca, on the other hand, still have a certain Lionel Messi on the books, and he’s not cheap. Since Neymar’s exit they have also added Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele to their wage bill too.

From a footballing point of view, a return to Barcelona would certainly be the best thing for Neymar. Things were made for him there. Messi is now 31 years old and entering the twilight of his career. Neymar would have been at the point of taking over the mantel had he stayed. But he didn’t and the Brazilian has blown that opportunity. It seems unlikely that it will ever arise again.

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