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UEFA Champions League Preview: Paris Saint-Germain opens knockout round at Bayer Leverkusen

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The current version of Paris Saint-Germain has never been coy about its ambitions, but playing in the relative shadows of French soccer, one of the wealthiest and most talented teams in the world escapes the European headlines that dwell on Spain’s big two, the chaos and commotion in England, and the region’s current juggernaut in Munich. It’s only during Champions League that we remember PSG has two of the world’s top strikers, it’s best defender, and a recently strengthened midfield that already proved its worth while pushing Barcelona to the limit in last year’s competition. Until they break through and knock one of Europe’s elite out of this tournament, Paris Saint-Germain will remain a dark horse, but they’re still a dark horse you don’t want to face. The Spanish champions were lucky to get by them last season.

Whether PSG can go one step further and derail one of UEFA’s elites this year will be answered in another round. Beginning the knockout round on the road against Bayer Leverkusen, Laurent Blanc’s team got one of the easiest draws possible. As a result, their Round of 16 will be less of a test of their continental mettle than a chance to show how much distance they’ve put between themselves as a median Champions League qualifier. Bayer may be second in the German Bundesliga, but they’ll be decidedly out-classed by the Parisians.

That is a harsh assessment, sure, but consider how Leverkusen performed in group stage, where being drawn in a group with Manchester United as its one-seed gave Sami Hyypia’s team a chance to challenge for top honors. Instead, against a Red Devils team that has rarely impressed under David Moyes, Bayer lost both games by a combined 9-2. Where United has spent the season looking incapable of getting production that matches their talent, they scored no fewer than four goals in their two games against Bayer.

[MORE: UEFA Champions League Preview: Barcelona, Manchester City meet in round’s marquee matchup]

Paris Saint-Germain is a much better team than Manchester United. While Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney can match the Parisians’ attacking duo of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Edinson Cavani, Blanc can also choose from Ezequiel Lavezzi, Lucas Moura, Javier Pastore, and Jeremy Menez in attack. With Cavani having missed the last three weeks, that depth will be put to good use. The winter addition of Yohan Cabaye complements Blaise Matuidi and Thiago Motta to form a midfield that can compete with the competition’s best, while a back line led by Thiago Silva has given up only 16 goals in 25 games this year in Ligue 1. If Bayer couldn’t compete with Manchester United, there’s little reason to think they’ll have better luck against PSG.

A devil’s advocate would look at Bayer’s attacking trio — Stefan Kießling, Sidney Sam, and Heung-Min Son — and break out the puncher’s change cliché. Unfortunately for Hyypia, an attack that can’t match PSG’s is the best thing his team has going for it, with a central defense of Emir Saphic and Philipp Wollscheid unlikely to slow down an in-form Ibrahimovic (33 goals in last 27 games for club and country). Having lost twice in the last six days, Bayer also enter Tuesday’s game in a slump.

So why bother with this game, particularly with the festivities in Manchester? Nobody’s saying you should, but given the inherent variability the the sport, everything written above may prove wrong. Luck may shine on Bayer, PSG’s goals may dry up, the Hyypia’s team might pull an upset in leg one. Despite the inevitability we’re cast on PSG winning this tie, a win by Leverkusen on Tuesday would make any lists of the greatest upsets in Champions League history.

More readily, however, you’ll watch this game to see if Paris Saint-Germain is ready. Even on the road, they have an opportunity to put this tie away early, and by doing so show they may be more than mere dark horses. Put in a convincing performance in Germany, and PSG will remind the field that they are one of the most talented teams in the world.

Joe Hart’s agent confirms loan move to Torino

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 28: Joe Hart of Manchester City warms up prior to the Premier League match between Manchester City and West Ham United at Etihad Stadium on August 28, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)
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Joe Hart‘s Manchester City departure seems all but complete.

According to a report in Italy, the goalkeeper’s agent has confirmed a loan move to Torino is complete pending a medical.

“Yes, Joe Hart will play for Toro,” agent Jonathan Barnett told Tuttosport. “It’s all done, the goalkeeper said yes to the Granata and now Manchester City have given the green light. It’s all true, it’s secured. Tomorrow Hart will have a medical in Turin.”

Earlier Monday, it was reported that Hart was considering the offer but had not decided yet if this was the right course of action. Reports over the last week have stated the 29-year-old has been looking to leave Manchester City after being benched by Pep Guardiola, but preferred a permanent move to a loan due to the uncertainty for his family that comes with the short-term nature of a loan.

To back this up, Sky Sports reporter Gemma Davis tweeted that Hart has been given permission leave the England squad to travel to Torino for a medical. This is unlikely to affect Hart’s place in the England team, given they do not play until Sunday.

After two games in Serie A play, Torino sits seventh in the league table with a win and a loss so far. 30-year-old Daniele Padelli has started both games in goal, playing the full 90 minutes. Padelli has been the main man for Torino since his arrival in 2013, missing just a chunk of games two seasons ago when benched early in the year.

Reports: Nigel de Jong preparing to leave LA Galaxy for Galatasaray

Los Angeles Galaxy's Nigel de Jong, right, strikes the ball in front of San Jose Earthquakes' Quincy Amarikwa during the first half of a MLS soccer game Saturday, March 19, 2016, in Carson, Calif. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)
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Multiple reports across both the United States and the Netherlands have claimed Nigel de Jong is close to a move to Turkish giants Galatasaray.

A report by AD writer Maarten Wijffles states that De Jong is currently in the country for talks. However, while L.A. Times writer Keith Baxter confirms that a deal is in progress, he claims the player is still currently situated in the United States and has not left for Turkey yet.

According to reports in Turkey, Galatasaray began its interest in De Jong only recently, when Newcastle enforcer Cheick Tiote apparently failed a medical. Other reports citing sources with Newcastle and the player have disputed this, saying talks instead broke down over personal terms.

De Jong had only joined Los Angeles at the end of the January transfer window, moving from A.C. Milan after the termination of his contract. The 31-year-old Dutchman made 18 appearances for the Galaxy and did not score a goal.

Between Tiote and De Jong, the Turkish club is clearly targeting a certain style of player. De Jong has been known throughout his career as a midfield enforcer, sometimes on the border of dirty play, and that did not change during his short time in Major League Soccer. He made several cringe-worthy tackles, including one in April on Darlington Nagbe that caused many to fear for Nagbe’s career until it was revealed he suffered just a sprained knee. Another in early July earned De Jong a straight red card against Vancouver in early July.

The Dutchman was thought to be taking over Steven Gerrard‘s Designated Player spot next year after his retirement at the end of the current season, but De Jong’s departure means the Galaxy could have an open DP slot next season.

Lionel Messi picks up hamstring injury, will travel with Argentina anyways

BARCELONA, SPAIN - AUGUST 20: Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona looks on during the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and Real Betis Balompie at Camp Nou on August 20, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)
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Lionel Messi’s “return” to the Argentinian national team may have to wait.

Barcelona has revealed their superstar picked up a left hamstring injury at an unspecified time, and discovered them during tests earlier on Monday. The statement said he would still travel to Argentina to link up with the national team for the international break, and will have more tests there.

Argentina, sitting in the third spot in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying and just two points above elimination, have vital matches against Uruguay and Venezuela over the next week. “His presence in those matches will depend on how the injury develops,” the statement from Barcelona read.

It is unclear when Messi developed this injury. He has played the full 90 minutes in all four of Barcelona’s matches this season, including the 1-0 win over Athletic Bilbao on Sunday, the first of the four matches in which he did not score or assist a goal.

This also could be a bit of gamesmanship from Barcelona. Obviously, it benefits clubs for their players to rest during international breaks instead of play international matches, and for them to suddenly announce an injury to Lionel Messi would put pressure on Argentina to consider sitting their superstar. Of course, in attempts to dispel this idea, Barcelona included in their statement that the injury report was “approved by the FC Barcelona Medical Services and the Argentinian Football Association.”

A legitimate injury to Messi would be a devastating blow to Argentina considering Sergio Aguero has already withdrawn from the squad following an injury picked up against West Ham this weekend. Aguero was substituted in the 88th minute of Manchester City’s 3-1 win over the Hammers.

Messi was expected to make his first appearance to the national team setup after his brief “retirement” following the loss in the Copa America finals.

VIDEO: What will Southampton’s new star Boufal provide?

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Sofiane Boufal is a name many will be familiar with.

After his $21 million move to Southampton on Monday for a club-record fee, plenty of people are getting excited about seeing Boufal in the Premier League.

The Moroccan international is the type of player who has already become a cult figure due to the “Football Manager” video game, as his potential to become a star of European soccer has been well documented with huge teams interested in signing him over the past six months.

[ MORE: Fabregas wants Chelsea stay ]

That’s because Boufal, 22, shone for Lille last season, scoring 12 goals and his trickery, pace, set pieces and direct running saw him named as the best African player in Ligue 1.

He chose Southampton and it seems like a very wise choice after they helped turn the likes of Sadio Mane, Adam Lallana and Luke Shaw, plus many more, into top international players.

So, what have Southampton got in Boufal?

Take a look at the video above which gives a great overview of Boufal from his time at Lille after making the step up from Angers in Ligue 2 in January 2015.

That’s right, those comparisons with Riyad Mahrez seem pretty legit.