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While PSG has won the title, Areola’s playing for his future

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PARIS (AP) Although Paris Saint-Germain has easily won the French title, Alphonse Areola still has plenty to play for.

The next four games could be crucial in deciding whether PSG keeps the goalkeeper or tries to sign a big name in the transfer window, possibly Thibaut Courtois. The 25-year-old Areola is the same age as Courtois, but has nowhere near the international standing of the Chelsea keeper.

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It is hard for Areola to stand out, however, in a team noted almost singularly for its attacking prowess. While PSG has already scored more than 100 league goals, and remains on course to reach 100 points this season, Areola has rarely been talked about.

The common perception is that PSG will thrash teams in the French league, so letting in a goal or two is irrelevant.

However, Areola has been one of PSG’s most consistent players this season, and last Sunday he made a personal record of eight saves in a 1-0 win at Bordeaux.

He was also one of the few PSG players to come through the loss to Real Madrid in the last 16 of the Champions League with any credit. Without Areola’s shot-stopping, and particularly his bravery rushing off his line, the 5-2 aggregate loss would have been bigger.

With 104 goals, PSG’s attack is the best in the league by far and has netted 25 more than deposed champion Monaco.

But PSG’s defense is also the best and Areola has conceded only 21 goals in the 31 he has played. Although PSG has dominated most of those, losing only twice all season, he has still made on average four saves per game.

Having replaced Kevin Trapp as No. 1, Areola has missed only three league games all season. It represents a reversal for both.

When Trapp was signed by former coach Laurent Blanc in 2015-16, Areola went on loan to Spanish club Villarreal. He established himself as regular in Villarreal’s side and gained further experience in the Europa League. Spanish media were largely impressed by his consistency and his agility on the goal-line.

He returned to PSG and battled with Trapp for the starting position last season. But coach Unai Emery seemed unsure who he really preferred, with Trapp starting 24 games to Areola’s 14. PSG ended up losing the title to Monaco.

But the hierarchy is much clearer now and the error-prone Trapp, once hailed by Blanc for his passing out from goal, is the one expected to leave.

Areola has further incentive to do well with the World Cup coming up. He is challenging Marseille goalkeeper Steve Mandanda to be France’s No. 2 behind Hugo Lloris in Russia. For now, Areola is a squad member but has yet to make an international appearance under coach Didier Deschamps.

But he has done well at every level for France, starting with the under-16s a decade ago. He got his first taste of international success when he helped France win the Under-20 World Cup in 2013.

While Paul Pogba was one of the stars of the tournament, Areola’s crowning moment came in the final itself. France drew 0-0 with Uruguay and he saved two shots in the penalty shootout. Prior to the shootout he had a word with France’s designated penalty takers, confidently telling them “do your job and I’ll do mine.”

With Emery almost certain to be replaced next season, it promises to be a frenetic offseason of buying and selling at the club.

But whoever replaces Emery should perhaps think twice before letting Areola leave. The Parisian-born Areola came through the youth ranks at PSG, as did center half Presnel Kimpembe and midfielder Adrien Rabiot.

Star-studded sides like PSG often import their best players and fans are happy to see them arrive, because it shows ambition. But they nevertheless identify more closely with homegrown talents such as Areola.

More AP Ligue 1 coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/Ligue1

Jerome Pugmire on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/jeromepugmire

Does Paul Pogba to PSG make sense?

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Paul Pogba‘s time at Manchester United could be nearing an abrupt end for the second time in his professional career.

And now, a club that was previously tracking the France international appears to be expressing heavy interest in the midfielder once again.

[ MORE: The latest Premier League player power rankings ]

ESPN FC is reporting that Paris Saint-Germain and Mino Raiola — Pogba’s agent — have been in contact recently over a potential move to the French capital at the conclusion of the 2017/18 season.

The report suggests that Raiola has been in talks with several other big clubs in regards to the availability of Pogba in the near future, however, a move to his native country could sweeten the deal for the 25-year-old.

The Frenchman has scored 10 league goals for the Red Devils since he re-joined the side in 2016/17 from Juventus.

Pogba has had an up-and-down relationship at Old Trafford with manager Jose Mourinho, which nearly caused a move for the attacker during the January transfer window.

Cross-town rivals Manchester City were heavily linked to Pogba at the time, however, nothing came to fruition as the Citizens went on to claim the Premier League title with several matches remaining on their calendar.

While PSG seems like a logical fit given the club’s free-flowing attack and recent willingness to acquire massive talents, including Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, the Ligue 1 giants may not be able to financially support another big-time addition like Pogba.

UEFA’s Financial Fair Play laws have been tested by PSG, particularly during last summer’s transfer window when the club acquire both Neymar and Mbappe for over $400 million combined.

PSG is set to meet with UEFA on Friday though, which could give an indication one way or another as to how the front office can approach its spending habits in the months to come.

Could PSG, Manchester United solve each other’s problems?

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It’s late on a Wednesday night without the UEFA Champions League, so let’s dance on a theoretical floor, shall we?

One of the more widely-praised transfers of the year came when Manchester United and Arsenal decided to swap problematic players with Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Alexis Sanchez.

While neither has been perfect in their new homes, both have had starring performances and could (should?) fit in neatly come a full offseason worth of preparation.

More swaps like these should happen more often given the glut of managerial changes across major European leagues, with square pegs sometimes finding round holes when the boss arrives in town.

And have we got a sensational swap lined up for you. And no, it’s not Jose Mourinho for Unai Emery (though should it be? Nah, forget it).

If Paul Pogba is to leave Old Trafford this summer, there are scant few teams who could afford his transfer fee. Likewise, Paris Saint-Germain has Financial Fair Play all over its case and cannot simply make moves to better build its team for the Champions League by splashing cash all over the place.

PSG bought the two most expensive players of all-time last summer in Neymar ($281m) and Kylian Mbappe ($181m). The latter is going nowhere unless FIFA intervenes, 19 years old and becoming a more complete playmaker since heading to PSG from Monaco.

The former, well, that’s a bit trickier.

Neymar has been hurt, and while there’s no doubt his absence is the primary reason PSG was eliminated by Real Madrid, his time at the Parc Des Princes has hit more than a few speed bumps, with the Edinson Cavani PK drama and more.

So if Neymar is “worth” $281 million, could he head to United in exchange for a pair of Frenchmen in Pogba and Anthony Martial?

Areola

Alves — Silva– Marquinhos — Berchiche

Verratti — Rabiot

Pogba

Mbappe — Cavani — Martial

It’s imperfect given Alexis Sanchez’s preference to also play left wing, but going to a 4-3-3 like this for Jose Mourinho would allow a certain amount of freelancing for his trident.

De Gea

Valencia — Smalling — Bailly — Young/new LB

Matic — Herrera — McTominay

Sanchez — Lukaku — Neymar

Mixing in Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard and Juan Mata off the bench and for Cup games is not a bad luxury, plus we know United is going to splash a lot more cash to improve the center midfield and fullback depth.

There could also be a 3-4-3 of excellent repute here:

De Gea

Smalling — Jones — Bailly

Valencia — Herrera — Matic — Lingard

Alexis — Lukaku — Neymar

Neymar says he’ll be well rested when World Cup starts

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SAO PAULO (AP) Brazilian star Neymar expects to be in better shape at the World Cup in Russia than he was before his foot injury.

The Brazilian forward said on Tuesday that while it has been hard to miss a crucial part of the season because his first major surgery, the bright side is that he will be well rested when soccer’s showcase tournament begins on June 14.

[ REPORTS: Pogba to be sold ]

“I will have enough time to get to the World Cup in good shape and prepare myself,” Neymar told journalists during an event for one of his sponsors in Sao Paulo. He arrived using crutches and asked to be seated as quickly as possible when he was on stage.

“I expect to get there better than I was,” he said. “There are doubts, of course. I feel that too. But that is normal for someone who got injured. It has been hard not to play and practice.”

Neymar also said he will have his last post-surgery medical exam on May 17, and could be available for Brazil’s training sessions that start May 21 near Rio de Janeiro.

The Paris Saint-Germain striker had surgery in March on a cracked fifth metatarsal in his right foot.

The Brazilian also said it was hard not to be with his PSG teammates to celebrate their French league title on Sunday.

“It is very bad to see my team score, win a title and I am not able to be there. But my health is above this,” he said.

Asked about players who could have a great World Cup – aside from himself, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo – Neymar did not single out any of his PSG teammates.

“Phillipe Coutinho and Gabriel Jesus will make a difference (for Brazil), I hope. Mohammed Salah doesn’t play for a famous team, but could have a good World Cup. Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne, Luis Suarez too,” he said. “I am glad to be part of a team that is the strongest, that has the skills to win.”

French league expanding in China with TV deal

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PARIS (AP) The French football league is continuing its expansion in China after signing a four-year deal with the China Central Television group.

The LFP said in a statement its top-flight matches will be accessible to more than one billion people following the agreement with beIN Sports and CCTV. BeIN Sport has a partnership for the international media rights to French league games.

[ MORE: Tuesday UCL preview, including Man City’s road back against Liverpool ]

The deal covers four seasons, until 2021. From next season, two games will be broadcast live each match day on CCTV channels. Magazines produced by beIN Sports will also be aired, as well as match summaries.

Financial details were not disclosed.

Didier Quillot, the LFP executive director, said “one year after the opening of our Beijing office, this major breakthrough demonstrates the new-found attractiveness of our league internationally.”