Neymar talk overshadows start of new French Ligue 1 season

first_img0Shares0000Monaco’s new signings, (from L) Terence Kongolo, Diego Benaglio, Souahilo Meite, Youri Tielemans and Jordi Mboulla, pose with the club’s Vice President Vadim Vasilyev (3rd R), during official presentation in Monaco, on July 26, 2017 © AFP/File / VALERY HACHEPARIS, France, Aug 2 – After a summer dominated by talk of Neymar’s possible arrival and the potential departure of Kylian Mbappe, the new French season begins this weekend with Monaco the defending champions but Paris Saint-Germain again favourites.Ligue 1 has long suffered in comparison with Europe’s other leading domestic leagues, while its clubs have often performed poorly in the Champions League. But a PSG swoop for Barcelona and Brazil superstar Neymar would be a game-changer for French football and its image.It would also cement the capital club’s status as the favourites to dominate at home after last season’s stutters allowed a thrilling young Monaco side to take the title to the Mediterranean principality.However, Neymar or not, Paris start 2017-18 as the team to beat.Their Qatari owners have kept faith in coach Unai Emery but have appointed the Portuguese Antero Henrique, once the transfer guru at Porto, as sporting director.Paris Saint-Germain’s players take part in a training session at the Grand Stade in Tangiers on July 28, 2017, on the eve of their French Trophy of Champions (Trophee des Champions) match against Monaco © AFP/File / FRANCK FIFEOn the field one Brazilian star has already joined, Dani Alves rejecting Pep Guardiola and Manchester City for the French capital.With Marco Verratti and Edinson Cavani among those still there, Emery believes PSG can sweep the board.“If we can add a collective strength to the individual talent we have and a winning mentality, then we can target winning everything, even the most difficult competitions like the Champions League,” he told sports daily L’Equipe last month.At first glance, Monaco’s longer-term prospects hinge on their chances of persuading 18-year-old gem Mbappe to stay amid reports of a 180 million-euro ($213 million) move to Real Madrid.The Russian-owned club scored 107 league goals last season but they have already sold Benjamin Mendy and Bernardo Silva to Manchester City, Tiemoue Bakayoko to Chelsea and Valere Germain to Marseille.Coach Leonardo Jardim and skipper Radamel Falcao are among those to have signed new contracts, and they have signed a pearl in Belgium midfielder Youri Tielemans from Anderlecht.They have rebuilt and thrived after selling their best players before, although Monaco’s Russian vice-president Vadim Vasilyev has been keen to play down expectations.“We need to target the top three. It will be very difficult to defend the title but we will do everything we can. You have to be ambitious,” he said.– Foreign investment –Nice have kept their star Italian striker Mario Balotelli © AFP/File / VALERY HACHEMost clubs still cannot come near competing with the unedifying wealth of the English Premier League, even if significant money is being injected into French clubs by outside investors.Marseille are preparing for their first full season under the ownership of American tycoon Frank McCourt.They have lost last season’s top scorer Bafetimbi Gomis but have France star Dimitri Payet as captain. A top-three finish and Champions League qualification is their aim.There are Chinese investors at Lyon, who boast a magnificent stadium and yet have lost their two best players, Alexandre Lacazette to Arsenal and Corentin Tolisso to Bayern Munich.Sales have seen over 100 million euros swell the coffers, but that will surely not help OL get into the top three or go all the way to the Europa League final, which they will host.“It is true that we have lost important players, but I think the recruitments we have made are of great quality and should help us achieve our objectives,” insists coach Bruno Genesio.Last season’s surprise package was Nice, helped by American and Chinese investors as they finished third.They have kept star striker Mario Balotelli and highly regarded coach Lucien Favre, although they may struggle to repeat that showing.There are exciting developments at Lille, whose owner from Luxembourg has enacted a revolution in the far north and has managed to attract the enigmatic Marcelo Bielsa as coach.The Argentine returns to France two years after walking out on Marseille and a horde of fascinating signings have followed him.Bielsa is a man of few words but with him in charge Lille are certain to be worth watching. And his first game in charge will see him come up against Claudio Ranieri, the Italian now at Nantes just a year after his heroics at Leicester City.0Shares0000(Visited 1 times, 1 visits today)last_img read more

Man United to sign their next great midfielder or Fellaini Mark II?

first_img 6 Click the arrows for some of Manchester United’s possible midfield options this summer.With the pursuit of Arturo Vidal seemingly no closer to ending in his arrival at Old Trafford, and transfer deadline day approaching, can the Red Devils avoid ending up with Fellaini Mark II?Which midfielder would you like United to sign this summer? Comment below… Man United need to sign a top class midfielder – Click through the slideshow to see the midfield targets Van Gaal might sign – Manchester United’s defeat to Swansea has led to claims the club will spend big in the coming weeks in an attempt to address their deficiencies – and in particular, a light midfield – but the Red Devils should be wary. The Manchester side have made a habit of ‘panic buys’ in the recent past, over-spending on the wrong player, and a hastily bought new midfielder in particular could quite easily end up being another Marouane Fellaini. One buy that wouldn’t have came in a panic was Arturo Vidal, who the club had been looking at for some time, but just as David Moyes’ interest in Thiago Alcantara cooled last summer, so it seems the pursuit of Vidal may be scuppered by his age (27), injury history and low sell-in value in relation to a possible £40m fee. United need to look to alternatives, but can they avoid a Fellaini mark two? Click through the gallery above to see the midfielders United can target. 6 Luiz Gustavo – signed by Van Gaal before – click the arrow for more possible midfield signings – One slightly different option could be Wolfsburg’s Luiz Gustavo, who Van Gaal brought to Bayern Munich back in 2011. Gustavo is a pure defensive midfielder with the energy necessary to cover the entirety of the pitch, and would free up Ander Herrera and Juan Mata to focus entirely on creating goals. As a bonus, he can also fill in at centre back. Kevin Strootman – Van Gaal’s Dutch linchpin – click the arrow for more possible midfield signings – The injury that ruled Kevin Strootman out of the 2014 World Cup means his importance to Louis van Gaal’s Netherlands outfit has been somewhat forgotten in recent months, but the Roma man was the heart of the Oranje prior to his physical troubles. The playmaker is exactly what United need, happy either creating or scoring goals and, above all, capable of controlling a game. The Italians won’t let him go without a fight. 6 6 6 Jordy Clasie – the ‘Dutch Xavi’ – click the arrow for more possible midfield signings – Given Van Gaal’s faith in young players, one wildcard suggestion could be Jordy Clasie, another of his Netherlands World Cup batch. The Feyenoord man has somewhat exaggeratedly been hailed as the ‘Dutch Xavi’, but what is certain is that Van Gaal used him five times in World Cup qualifying, as well as twice at the tournament proper. Likely to be more easily available than Strootman, United may need to act quickly nonetheless, as Porto are also keen. 6 Miralem Pjanic – Strootman’s team-mate – click the arrow for more possible midfield signings – If Van Gaal can’t bring in someone he knows first hand, then an alternative could be Kevin Strootman’s Roma team mate Miralem Pjanic. The United manager will likely have had a chance to watch him first hand at the World Cup, and the Bosnian’s quality on the ball would certainly be an asset for the Red Devils. Axel Witsel – the acceptable Fellaini Mark II? – While there is a scarcity of quality midfielders available at the highest level, one man who could perhaps be tempted to move is Zenit’s Axel Witsel. At 25 the Belgian is approaching his peak years, so a chance to test himself at a higher level could be too much to ignore. Witsel marries all the qualities United need, with strengths both on and off the ball, and as a bonus, his understanding with Marouane Fellaine could even revive the other Belgian’s career.last_img read more