Posts tagged Neymar
Man U/PSG, Roma/Porto square off as the Champions League knockout rounds begin

After a month of no Champions League football, get ready to hear the famous chorus blast over some of football’s greatest stadiums. We have arrived at the knockout stages of the competition and there are some really fun match-ups in store for us over the next two weeks. High profile match-ups highlight the first leg of the knockout rounds; a resurgent Manchester United meets a banged up PSG squad, Spurs will try and hold on against a dangerous Dortmund team, while Roma and Porto provide some intrigue as well.

Let’s take a look at the four games which will be taking place midweek along with predictions for yours truly and my Counter Press co-host Josh.

Source: Getty Images

Source: Getty Images

Paris Saint-Germain vs. Manchester United

The biggest match-up of the week features two of Europe’s highest spending clubs. Both Paris-Saint Germain and Manchester United have spent a lot of money in the past two seasons and last summer was no exception. PSG splashed the cash, as expected, spending over 217 million Euros in transfer fees this summer, most notably signing Monaco starlet Kylian Mbappe as he made his loan to the Parc De Princes permanent. PSG also spent 40M Euros on Zenit midfielder Leonardo Paredes and 35M Euros on center back Thilo Kehrer from Schalke. Manchester United weren’t very active last summer but still did spend around 82M Euros, with most of it going towards acquiring midfielder Fred from Shakhtar Donetsk.

It’s been mostly smooth sailing domestically for PSG but they have run into some trouble as of late. They lost their first Ligue 1 game of the entire season last week when they fell to third place Lyon 2-1 on the road. The loss doesn’t affect the league title race that much as Paris sits 10 points ahead of second place Lille and with defeats seeming few and far in between; it will take an epic collapse for them to give up first place.

However, they have been hit with the injury bug as of late and it has led to some worries heading into their match against Manchester United. Along with Marco Verratti and Tomas Muneier picking up knocks, PSG will likely be without two of their key attackers. Both Neymar and Edison Cavani, who combined for seven goals in the group stage and 30 tallies in Ligue 1, are expected to miss the first leg at Old Trafford, leaving a huge hole at the top of PSG’s starting XI. With most of the Manchester United defense now focused on Mbappe, it’s going to be tough sledding for the French giants to generate chances. PSG have had to adapt to different formations without Neymar and led manager Tomas Tuchel to employ two strikers up top with a block right behind them to cover the space behind against Bordeaux. They could also go 3-5-2 as they did against Lyon with a trio of two attacking midfielders and Marquinhos in between them to cover the midfield. Without three of his best players in Cavani, Neymar, and Verratti, Tuchel is going to have to get creative. According to French newspaper L’Equipe, PSG is likely to employ a 4-2-3-1 with Mbappe playing as the primary striker. This sets him up in a position where he excelled back at Monaco. Although this time he will be alone at the top of the formation.

Things have gotten better for Manchester United after the firing of Jose Mourinho. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been brought in as the caretaker manager and things have been going well so far. The team has looked much more potent in attack, and many of the Red Devils’ top players are performing well. They have climbed their way into the Premier League top four as they continue to battle with Arsenal and Chelsea for the final spot. Being nine points off Tottenham, they are still going to have a lot of work to do to move up. United haven’t lost a game with OGS in charge, but this first leg against Paris is the beginning of a gauntlet of games for the squad from Old Trafford; they meet Chelsea in the fifth Round of the FA Cup before hosting Liverpool on February 24th. It’s safe to say this is Manchester United’s biggest stretch of fixtures so far this season, and it could be the time where OGS can prove why he should be the manager for this side moving into next season.

In terms of how they will lineup, OGS likes to mix things up as United deploys many different formations based on the opponent. He’s lined up the Red Devils three different times in the past three games. Outside of the obvious shoe-ins such as Paul Pogba and Nemanja Matic, Solsjaer has a lot of options to choose from. Romelu Lukaku, Marcus Rashford or even Alexis Sanchez at times can be deployed at striker. Anthony Martial would be a very solid choice down the left wing and Jesse Lingard can be deployed on the right. The backline has been had its share of struggles as Phil Jones, Eric Bailey, Victor Lindelof, and Chris Smalling all have gone through stretches of poor form. If Cavani and Neymar were playing, it would be a lot more troubling for United to handle.

Roma vs. Porto

While this won’t be the main tie on Tuesday, Roma vs. Porto does offer some intrigue. Both teams have had some success in Europe over the last couple of years and the winner will certainly cause some problems for whoever they face in the next round.

This won’t be the first time these two teams have faced off; they met back in the play-off round in 2016 with the winner advancing to the group stage. It was a emphatic 4-1 aggregate win for Porto, capping it off with a 3-0 victory in Rome. The two red cards in eleven minutes of play didn’t help Roma either.

Porto has been a staple in the Champions League for much of the decade, making the competition eight years running. Domestically they have been decent as they are currently on top of the Primera Liga, Portugal’s top domestic league. Porto is currently a point ahead of rivals Benfica and hasn’t lost in the league since the end of October. This is the third straight year they have made the Round of 16 and they will be looking to be more competitive than the last two; last year finalists Liverpool demolished them 5-0 on aggregate, while 2017 runner-up Juventus knocked them out of the tournament 3-0.

The Portuguese side had a very easy time in the group stage, going undefeated and breezing through with 16 points. While there weren’t any big European giants in their group, it shouldn’t take away from how impressive Porto was - four of their five wins came by two goals or more and they finished with a goal differential of +9, tied for second-highest of any team in the group stage.

But like Paris Saint-Germain, Porto will be heavily shorthanded in attacking power when they travel to the Stadio Olimpico. Porto is going to be missing both Moussa Marega and fellow forward Jesus Corona in this one. With eight goals scored between the two, Sergio Conceicao is going to have to rely on some substitutes to be vigilant in front of goal. Luckily they have the home leg in March but grabbing an away goal would be a great result for Porto.

Last year, Roma had a great run in the Champions League, making it all the way to the semi-final before being beaten by Liverpool 7-6 despite an valiant comeback effort in the home leg. In fact, home legs in Champions League knockout ties were Roma’s greatest advantage last year. After losing the away leg in both the round of 16 and the quarterfinal, Roma stormed back to win both ties, completing a historic comeback against FC Barcelona in the latter.

Despite not having the greatest of results, AS Roma matches have been a thrilling ride this season. In the past few weeks alone they had a 3-3 draw with Atalanta and then turned around and got crushed by Fiorentina 7-1. This was followed by a 1-1 draw with AC Milan and then a 3-0 win against Chievo. It’s really hard to get a read on Roma at the moment. They’ve scored 44 goals in Serie A, third most in Italy, and are currently sixth domestically, trailing fourth-place Milan by a point while being tied on points with Atalanta and Lazio. Missing out on the top four would be a disappointment for Roma but they have a chance to garner some momentum by getting a good first leg result.

The danger man for Roma continues to be the Bosnian striker Eden Dzeko. He’s been fantastic for Eusebio Di Francesco’s men in Europe. Dzeko scored five goals in the group stage and finished with eight goals last season. The Porto backline is going to have to make sure they mark Dzeko at all times when the ball is on the wings. He’s great in the air, towering over most center backs, leading to being a target man in set pieces and crosses. If there is a player to watch for on Roma, it’s him.

Predictions:
Vijay (@VJVemu): Manchester United 2 - 0 PSG, Porto 2 -2 Roma
Josh (@@HighBiscuits): Manchester United 2 -1 PSG, Porto 2 - 1 Roma



The Counter Press - You Hate to See It

The Counter Press Boys are joined by Spurs fan @ryne_jones to talk about all things Premier League including Tottenham's list of transfers. We also dive into Champions League matchups along with some Serie A talk.

Follow Vijay on Twitter: @VJVemu
Follow Josh on Twitter: @highbiscuits

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The Counter Press EP 24
2018-19 Ligue 1 power rankings: PSG vs. everyone else

With the European football leagues getting underway this week, The Barber's Chair is taking a look at each of the major soccer leagues across the pond to see how each club stacks up this season.

Ligue 1 Power Rankings

With Ligue 1 set to begin on August 10, we will have one of Europe’s top leagues back in action. The French league will receive more attention as the national team recently won the FIFA World Cup, and with it came the attention of casual fans to less established French stars. Let’s rank which teams have the best chance to be crowned champions this season.

Class 1: Title Contenders

PSG (Paris Saint-Germain)

Source: AFP

Source: AFP

The champions are in a class of their own, winning the league for the fifth time in the last six seasons. Since 2011, the Paris-based squad has been trying to become one of the biggest teams in Europe, and has been relentless in acquiring the best players by paying large transfer fees. Last season’s purchase of Neymar put them in conversation as a destination for top-tier players, and he didn't disappoint, scoring 19 goals in 20 Ligue 1 appearances before his debut season was cut short due to injury.

The World Cup gave further attention to PSG, and it also brought Kylian Mbappe to superstardom. He's only 19 years-old, and his improvement is what can bring PSG closer to competing with Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, and Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League. PSG were able to acquire his rights from Monaco and were also to get a hold of Gianluigi Buffon after the legendary goalkeeper departed with Juventus.

This could be a breakout season for the squad with several players like Mbappe and Presnel Kimpembe now a year older. However, several defenders are aging, so look for PSG to monitor the minutes of Dani Alves and Thiago Silva as they prepare for what they hope to be a long season.

Falcao Moncao 2018 AFP.jpg

Class 2: European qualification spots

Monaco
Lyon
Marsielle

Monaco, Lyon and Marseille are strong enough to challenge PSG for the Ligue 1 crown, but in the end they'll most likely be playing for second place.

Monaco has been the most consistent of the bunch, and the only team to win Ligue 1 in the last six years of PSG dominance. They've been focused on getting younger, acquiring players like Aleksandr Golovin, the Russian star of the World Cup who will be making his debut in a top European league. Other transfer signings like Willem Geubbels, who has plenty of potential at 16, is too young to have a major impact this season. However, Monaco still has Radamel Falcao, one of league’s top strikers.

Lyon and Marsielle are two teams that also made few changes from the previous season. Both made signings that were influenced by focusing on the future. The signings of Duje Caleta-Car for Marsielle and Tanguy Ndombele for Lyon are great for their team's long-term futures, but ultimately leave both squads a bit behind Monaco and a significant gap from PSG this year. Lyon will need Memphis Depay to have another great season to hold off Marsielle, and his development will have them at equal level with Monaco. Marsielle missed out on qualification for the UEFA Champions Leauge this past season, finishing a point behind Lyon. Look for that to be the major focus for Rudi Garcia's squad.

Class 3: Mid table

Rennes
Bordeaux
Nice
Saint-Etienne
Montepellier
Nantes
Dijon
Amiens
Guingamp
Angers

Nice will receive the most attention of the mid-table tier, as former French star Patrick Vieira makes his Ligue 1 managerial debut after managing New York City in MLS. NYCFC made improvements in Vieira's two and a half seasons in the Bronx. In his time there, they were an aggressive and entertaining club to watch as defenders pressed high, similar to Vieira's own style of play.

Source: Getty

Source: Getty

Nantes is another team that made a managerial change with the Portuguese Miguel Cardoso looking to push the squad to a top-five finish. Theosan-Jordan Siebatcheu is a player to watch for Rennes, as he helped Reims receive promotion to Ligue 1 last season. The American-born Frenchman may push to join the United States national team, as he has not made the debut with the senior French squad.

The rest of the teams in this class will need players who are under the radar to have career seasons to catapult themselves to the top. Dijon is the team who has the best chance to improve as they jumped from 16th to 11th in the past two seasons since returning to Ligue 1. They finalized the purchase of Naim Sliti, and will look for Wesley Said to take the next step.

Class 4: Relegation dangers

Lille
Strasbourg
Caen
Nimes
Reims

Lille was once a top-level team in France, but they've suffered a drop in play in recent years. The focus is now on them to avoid relegatio after a large amount of managerial changes. A top-five finish this upcoming season is unlikely, but they will hope for a top-ten finish for the sanity of their fans.

2018 FIFA World Cup Preview: Group E
Pedro Vilela / Getty Images

Pedro Vilela / Getty Images

Group A preview
Group B preview

Group C preview
Group D preview
Group F preview
Group G preview
Group H preview

We now move on to Group E. Again we find similar traits to groups A and C. There is one clear favorite to finish first in Brazil but after them, second place is up for grabs. Mainly between Switzerland and Serbia.

Brazil

There wasn’t a more dominant team in World Cup qualifying than Brazil. They breezed through CONMEBOL qualifying, finishing first with 41 points, 10 ahead of second place Uruguay. Brazil only lost once during qualifying and it was in the opening matchday against Chile. Since then, Brazil has been on fire. They are one of the deepest squads in the tournament and have more than enough talent to be called legitimate title contenders.

It all starts up top for Brazil and as we saw in the last World Cup, everything will be functioning through Neymar. The PSG winger scored 6 goals in qualifying and will be healthy to suit up when they play their first match against Switzerland. He’s not often used on the wings when playing for Brazil but this time around Neymar will get some much-needed help when it comes to the attack up front.

Manchester City’s Gabriel Jesus had a breakout year for the Citizens and when you combine it with his 7 goals in qualifying, you can see why he would be the first choice striker. Behind Jesus’s pace and crafty moves, Brazil has two guys up top who can beat defenders one on one and slot it into the back of the net. Roberto Firmino and Willian will also be attacking options as well. Douglas Costa, who had a great season with Juventus in Serie A, should get a look too.

The midfield also has many options for Tite to choose from. Casemiro can sit back in front of the back four and be a destroyer in the same role he has with Real Madrid. Fernandinho can also provide defense solidarity as well as veteran leadership.

In terms of attacking options from the midfield, it’s the Barcelona duo of Philippe Coutinho and Paulinho. For Coutinho, Brazil can play him on the left wing if they want to or even centrally in a CAM role. He is expected to be another playmaker and can certainly score too. Paulinho is an aerial threat along with having a big work rate. He can get up and down the pitch, working sort of as a box to box midfielder at times. At Barcelona, Paulinho was always known for coming in late on attacks to provide another man and scoring threat. Expect him to do the same with Brazil if subbed on.

Defensively, Brazil is decent overall. Allison is expected to be the starting goalie despite his backup Ederson having a brilliant season for Man City. Miranda and Thiago Silva will be there as the center backs while Marcelo will be running up and down the left flank, providing offensive support at times. With Dani Alves not selected to the 23-man roster, Danilo will likely be starting at right back in his place. Only question about the defense are the fullbacks and if being too attack-minded will leave them exposed.

Brazil is clearly head and shoulders the best team in this group. They are certainly one of the top four teams in this tournament and should breeze through Group E.

Switzerland

The Swiss had a much tougher time qualifying for the World Cup. They finished second in Group B, losing on goal difference despite being tied on points with Portugal. If it wasn’t for a 2-0 loss to Portugal on the final matchday, they could have finished first but they had to settle for second place. It took a Ricardo Rodriguez penalty to win a tense two-legged playoff with Northern Ireland to advance to Russia, where they'll bring an interesting squad to this tournament.

On the wings, Switzerland will have two dynamic players in Xherdan Shaqiri and Breel Embolo. Both are capable of creating offensive chances on their own and like we saw from Shaqiri in the 2014 WC and the Euro’s, he’s not afraid of cutting inside and blasting a shot into the corner. The real question will be for Embolo, who is getting his first real World Cup action. Only 21 years old, expectations are going to be high for the Schalke forward and it will be interesting to see how much he can produce for this Swiss side. Benfica’s Haris Seferovic and Josip Drmic are solid striking options up top. Seferovic might get the nod due to him leading Switzerland in scoring in qualifying with 4 goals.

In the midfield, Switzerland also have some quality as well with Granit Xhaka being a solid link between the defense and the midfield. Hopefully, for the midfielder, he will be looking to play much better in this World Cup than he did for his club team Arsenal this past season. For the Swiss, Xhaka can string passes all over the field while also coming in as a solid attacking option from time to time. Valon Behrami, Blerim Dzemaili, and Gelson Fernandes are also experienced players in the midfield, but expect the first two to be put in the starting XI in Russia.

Like the midfield, the defense has some World Cup experience and most of the same guys who played in Brazil will be playing in Russia. For the fullback spots, captain Stephan Lichtsteiner showed this past season that even at age 34, he can still contribute offensively and defensively. Ricardo Rodriguez had a lackluster year at AC Milan but still can be a dangerous threat moving forward in attack as well as a solid set-piece taker for his country. John Djourou is expected to be one of the starting center backs and is the third member of this defense to have more than 50 caps to his name (73). Questions will be asked about who will start next to him as manager Vladimir Petkovic has some options to choose from. One name to look for will be Fabian Schar. Yon Sommer is expected to start in goal.

Switzerland will be fighting for second place in this group and it will all come down to their match against Serbia. They have some talent in different areas of the pitch but will rely on the experienced guys to take them to the knockout stages once again.  

Costa Rica

Costa Rica made a shock run to the quarterfinals in the 2014 World Cup and will look to play spoilers again. They finished second in the CONCACAF hex stage with a +6 goal difference. It was a great qualifying run for them, which included two victories over the United States with one of them being a 4-0 beatdown in November 2016. Just like Switzerland, Costa Rica will be bringing a lot of the same squad as well as the same tactics.

In Brazil, we raved about Costa Rica’s defensive structure despite playing a 3-man back line, and they're expected to stick with the same strategy this time around. With players such as Oscar Duarte, Cristian Gamboa, Johnny Acosta, and Giancarlo Gonzalez all coming with them in their 23-man squad, Costa Rica will have options to choose from. Sunderland and former Everton fullback Bryan Oviedo can play at wingback if need be. But playing at the back 3 comes with its risk and given how much Costa Rica will be sitting back in this game, you can expect a lot of teams to be trying to exploit the space given. Especially in the case that one of the three center backs get beaten.

That’s where Keylor Navas comes in. He had a breakout year in Brazil and has played ok at Real Madrid ever since. Navas will be a huge part of Costa Rica’s success and if they want to pull off another upset. But one has to wonder just how many shots he can save against the teams in this group.

For attack, Costa Rica still relies a lot on their captain Bryan Ruiz to be the link which holds this team together. Christian Bolanos will provide support in the middle of the park as well. But questions will be asked about which of their two solid striking options they'll choose from. Joel Campbell showed out at the '14 WC and Marco Urena had the key goal against Uruguay last year to gain their first upset win of the tournament. Both are good options to choose from and it could be possible for Costa Rica to play them both with Campbell on the left wing.

Costa Rica has a tall task getting out of this group, but this isn’t the first time we have doubted Los Ticos. It’s hard to forget that they got out of a group with England, Uruguay, and Italy last time around. If there is a team which knows how to pull off a stunner, it’s this team. They are well drilled defensively and their structure will be tested. Costa Rica is going to have to soak up a bunch of pressure defensively hit gold on the counter and on set pieces as well.

Serbia

Serbia had a good qualifying campaign in Europe, losing only once in UEFA’s group D while beating the likes of Wales, topping the group and earning automatic qualification for Russia. They have a solid squad which will rely on some talent who are coming off remarkable seasons for their clubs.

Up top, Fulham striker Aleksandar Mitrovic expects to start and there is no reason why he shouldn’t. He had a great second half of the season, helping Fulham get promoted to the Premier League in addition to leading the Serbian team in scoring during qualification. Right behind him will likely be Lazio’s Sergej Milinkovic-Savic. The 23-year-old midfielder will have all eyes on him as he will be expected to be the main playmaker for his country. He showed capabilities of being a solid box-to-box midfielder in Serie A and at 6’3, he certainly has the physical traits to dominate the midfield. But expect things to be a bit bumpy for him as he hasn’t had that many caps for his country. He will be the future of Serbia and if he has a solid World Cup, this may be the summer where he gets signed by a big club.

Dusan Tadic will also help out in attack after a solid season at Southampton, also scoring 4 goals in qualifying. Adem Ljajic is be a name to look out for as well. Nemanja Matic will be a solid defensive midfield and will help break up opposing attacks. He can sit in front of the back four and provide much-needed cover for them.

On defense, Serbia is going to rely on experience, but it also sees an aging group in its last go-around. There are 4 defenders over the age of 31 on this Serbian team, with captain Alexander Kolarov being the youngest at 32. He and former Chelsea right-back Branislav Ivanovic will be manning the left and right sides of the pitch respectively. Kolarov is still a decent offensive option going forward and has shown his left foot can still produce some rockets. He’ll be Serbia’s go to on free kicks and a set-piece specialist. Ivanovic isn’t any younger and could get exposed on that right-hand side. He may not even offer any threat moving forward but only time will tell with him.

Past them on the flanks, there will be even more questions and it doesn’t help that a lot of their younger players don’t have a lot of experience. Matic will have to do a lot of covering for them but overall as a unit they still work well together. Like I said, this a defense going through it’s last World Cup and they will still be stingy to some degree.

Serbia still has the quality to get past this group but it will come down to if Mitrovic and Milinkovic-Savic can shine like they did this season. Youth isn’t on their side but Serbia do have the experience to go off of. This is a core which has played a lot together and should be a challenge to play for any team in this group.

Prediction

Brazil will run this group and it will be a toss-up between Switzerland and Serbia. Costa Rica could make some noise but there is too much offensive quality for them to keep out. Ultimately, Switzerland will edge out Serbia but it will be a very close match. It will come down to whose playmakers can stand out the most.

Brazil, Switzerland, Serbia, Costa Rica

Times could be changing for PSG
FRANCK FIFE/AFP

FRANCK FIFE/AFP

This was supposed to be the year for Paris Saint Germain. This was supposed to be the season where the French giants firmly asserted themselves into the class of Europe’s elite. Along with desperately trying to erase the memories of their historic collapse against Barcelona in the Nou Camp last season, PSG showed even more financial ambition than they have in years past. The plan, from that end, worked. In what was one of the more shocking moves in the history of soccer, PSG landed Brazilian starlet Neymar, convincing him to move from being Leo Messi’s heir to creating his own legend in the Parc de Princes. It was an ambitious move and shattered the world record for transfer fees.

Along with Neymar came his former Barcelona teammate Dani Alves, having made a pit stop at Juventus after ending his long run with the Catalans two seasons ago. Then came an even bigger shocker, they landed one of the best young players in the world on a loan deal in Monaco’s Kylian Mbappe. The young French striker took the world by storm last season, showing out in the Champions League while displaying a deadly combination of blistering pace and smart runs behind the defense to create chances for himself. Mbappe also showed willingness to play on the wing, completing the trio of him, Neymar, and Edinson Cavani. It was a deadly strike force and along with support of players like Angel Di Maria, Marco Verratti, Julian Draxler, Adrien Rabiot, and Javier Pastore PSG looked like they could be on the verge of European glory.

But now, those hopes have been dashed. PSG have been eliminated at the hands of the mighty Real Madrid and now all the dreams of this being the year where they compete for a trophy have been dashed. PSG didn’t even reach a semi-final this season, let alone a final. Ever since they were bought by Oryx Qatar Sports Investment back in 2011, PSG have only gone as far as the quarter-finals in the Champions League. It’s been a major disappointment for a club which has spent so much in the name of lifting the trophy in early summer. Now along with having to swallow another bitter pill of a disappointing UCL run, PSG face much uncertainty this summer.

The main problem with the future of the Paris project is if their star will even be playing for them in a couple of years. No matter where he has gone, there always has been controversy surrounding Neymar. From the time he left Brazil to Barcelona to when he moved to Paris. Controversy and scrutiny following the logistics of his transfers have always been talked about. On top of that, his transition to life in Paris hasn’t helped. He has clashed with Cavani on multiple occasions, fighting with the striker over a penalty early in the season. Neymar was also booed by his own fans when taking a penalty against Dijon. It was a 7-0 game in favor of the Parisians and there was a chance they could go up 8-0 with a penalty. The clear choice in the situation was Cavani, who had just tied the club record for most goals in PSG history. Instead of giving the ball to the Uruguayan, Neymar took the penalty and slotted it into the Djion net. The decision was not treated with a warm reception by the PSG fans, who understood the situation clearly. If there ever was an incident which had captured Neymar’s tenure in Paris so far it was the penalty against Dijon. He got the result and the job done but it came with its own set of problems. There are also rumors swirling around about another move on the way for the Brazilian. Rumors of a possible transfer to Real Madrid have made its way all the way to Spain and is raising eyebrows across the world. While it’s certainly a dream move for Los Blancos and one which could be labeled off as far fetched, nobody is ruling it out completely. Because that is exactly what people did with Neymar’s possible move to PSG when he was in Barcelona and we all know how that ended.

Along with the Neymar saga, PSG have also found themselves on the wrong side of youth. In their ambitions to win now, they have looked away from their academy and youth players. Players such as Kingsley Coman and Jean-Kevin Augustin have left for other clubs in hopes of finding more playing time. Sooner or later, it will be time for PSG’s next crop of players to be faced with a tough reality: stay and fight for playing time or go elsewhere. Yes, PSG have found some success from their youth players and parts of their starting XI are from their academy but it’s been few and far between. It’s gotten better over this past year with the insertion of Presnel Kimpembe and Alphonse Areola but PSG still need more youth in the squad. Cavani, Silva, Alves, and Thiago Motta are all over 30, Di Maria just hit that age mark. There are some really aging players on this squad and it’s risky for PSG to keep relying on them for tougher fixtures in the future. Some of these players showed their age against Real Madrid and they were punished over two legs.

You could feel another shakeup in the cards for France’s top club. Players like Silva, Alves, and Motta will surely be phased out in favor of new players. There are questions about the future of guys like Di Maria, Draxler, and Pastore also hang in the balance. This is all without the cloud of Neymar’s future as well. PSG somehow hung on to much of their squad last summer, only selling Blaise Matuidi to make room for Neymar. But it seems like this year will be the one where more than one player leaves. How they plan to prepare for a scenario like this remains to be scene.

This PSG squad was bought to compete in the Champions League. Well at least this was the mantra which has been repeated again and again every season. There is no doubt the QSI have high ambitions for their club and it’s completely justified. They have spent a ton of money in this project and the only real way they achieve relative success is either by winning or reaching the final. It’s all about growing PSG into a big club. But the fruits of the project have not flourished and the pressure is ramping. Again having spent a fortune, PSG are a semi aging squad with a star player who hasn’t fit in 100% to the club. Now they walk into a summer having more questions than answers at the moment.

Early contenders to win the World Cup

100 Days. The wait for the next FIFA World Cup is ending. While the United States failed to make the tournament for the first time since the Reagan administration, the sports’ popularity in the country continues to grow. Although the tournament offers one game elimination matches in the knockout phase, we know which teams are considered the favorites for the tournament. Let’s take a look at how each contender fares. (Alphabetical Order)

  Fernando Vergara/AP

 Fernando Vergara/AP

Argentina

They were viewed as one of the two favorites heading into the tournament in 2014, according to Skybet, and are listed at fifth by the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook for the 2018 tournament at 8-1 odds. Headed by Lionel Messi, still at the peak of his powers, and surrounded by Sergio Aguero, who is rejuvenated under Pep Guardiola at Manchester City, the rising Mauro Icardi, veterans Angel Di Maria and Javier Mascherano, the country should have belief in their squad. However, they have only won two games in their qualifying matches since 2017, and recently suffered a loss to Nigeria. Coach Jorge Sampaoli will be on the hot seat, and Messi’s National Team legacy will also be on the line as he looks to capture his first major trophy with Argentina.

  Pedro Vilela/Getty

 Pedro Vilela/Getty

Brazil

The Selecao are listed at second in the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook to win it all and deservedly so. They are looking to add to their already record-leading 5 World Cup titles. Led by Neymar, the team looks to rebound from a disastrous exit from the 2014 tournament as they were trashed 7-1 by the eventual champions, Germany. The midfield of Brazil has changed dramatically since the last tournament with the addition of La Liga stars Casemiro and Coutinho to the starting line-up and the maturation of players like Paulinho and Willian. Having easily qualified to the tournament, Brazil will wish for the health of their star players as the club seasons begin their last months of action.

France

Manager Didier Deschamps seeks to bring the World Cup trophy to France for the first time since 1998 when he captained the French National Team to victory. Les Bleus will boast one of the youngest rosters coming into the tournament as they are led by a combination of stars including Paul Pogba, Antoine Griezmann, Corentin Tolisso, Kylian Mbappe, Thomas Lemar, and Raphael Varane. Griezmann, the oldest of that group, is one of the best players in all of Europe, and if the team seeks to go far in the tournament, they will have to rely on his production heading the attack, along with Pogba leading the midfield, and Varane commanding the defense. This roster will be competitive in this 2018’s tournament and the 2022 tournament led by this young core.

AFP

AFP

Germany

Still the favorites and looking to become the first country to repeat since the 1930’s Italy teams. Germany is arguably the most successful country in World Cup history with eight finals reached, and they appear to be the team to beat in 2018 as well. The 2014 World Cup Champions are the deepest team in the tournament, and have not suffered a defeat since the 2016 Euro semi-final to France. The won the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup with a roster largely consisting of youth players. The 2018 Germany team will maintain many of its players from its previous World Cup campaign with Thomas Muller, Toni Kroos, Mesut Ozil, and Mat Hummels likely maintaining prominent positions in this year’s team. Muller will seek to continue his way up the ladder to becoming the tournament’s all-time top goal scorer, as he has scored 10 goals in only 13 appearances. The German squad  will likely include several young stand-out players such as, Joshua Kimmich, Leroy Sane, and Timo Werner. The previous World Cup roster had to casualties due to injury in Ilkay Gundogan, who is beginning to play some of his best football since the nagging injuries he suffered over the previous years, and Marco Reus, who is a dangerous player on the wing. Germany will face several challenges in the tournament, but this team is best equipped to handle the rigors of the tournament as the deepest team of 2018.

Spain

Following the retirement of Vicente Del Bosque, the tiki-taka style Spain played the past 10 years has officially ended. The team still maintains several players from that era including Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets in the midfield. Spain’s starting XI and the majority of the roster who will travel to Russia will be of Barcelona and Real Madrid. The 2010 Champions failed to qualify to the knockout phase of the 2014 tournament in disappointing fashion. They will seek to bounce back relying on the creativity of Isco and the veteran leadership of Sergio Ramos and David Silva. The tournament will be interesting for Spain as the country’s politics has divided several players on the roster who seek independence for Catalonia. Regardless, this is a roster consisting of players who are tremendous with the ball, and will likely be the farewell tournament for the remaining players from the 2010 Championship roster.