Champions League preview: Sharp rise has taken Paris Saint-Germain to Barcelona

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Paris Saint-Germain’s project is as much about brand as it is their soccer, and in both respects, Qatari Investment Authority’s plans seem to be ahead of schedule. After disappointingly giving up last season’s Ligue 1 title to Montpellier, PSG’s running away from France’s top division, while in Champions League, the team’s made it as far as anybody could reasonably expect: A quarterfinal matchup with Barcelona, currently the world’s marqueé club, where the teams sit tied at two after 90 minutes.

Before we pull over the changes of PSG pulling off an upset Wednesday at the Nou Camp, consider how far the club has come since QIA took over in June 2011. Of course they’ve had nearly unlimited cash to fund their progress, but money hasn’t been enough for Manchester City to make a dent in Europe. Málaga’s economic might turned out to be a rouse, while clubs like Anzhi Makhachkala and Zenit St. Petersburg have yet to see their European impact parallel their expenditures. PSG’s rise is more reminiscent of Chelsea’s, a club that’s firmly established themselves as one of the world’s premier brands while winning almost every trophy imaginable.

Yet there’s a star power PSG’s already established that Chelsea has never been able to achieve, a quality that’s sure to create a celebrity-fueled buzz as the Parisians descent on Camp Nou. Only Real Madrid has stars to rival the likes of David Beckham and Zlatan Ibrahimovic – players whose gravities are comparable to the Blaugrana’s own Lionel Messi. And of course there’s Thiago Silva, Javier Pastore, Ezequiel Lavezzi – players whose celebrity doesn’t match their talent, no matter how dangerous they are on the field. Paris Saint-Germain may not be seen as top-level contenders for this year’s title, but when Cataluyna hums with the arrival of their star-laden squad, there’ll be little doubting the power of what’s destined to be one of the world’s sexiest soccer brands.

In that vein, PSG’s already accomplished what it set out to do when it began this year’s competition. Now that they’re here, of course they want to beat Barcelona, but at the onset of the tournament, nobody expected them to challenge for the title. Carlo Ancelotti and squad may have given lip service to their potential, but nobody at the Parc de Princes was reserving seats at Wembley. This first year back in Champions League was as much about establishing a presence as it was challenging for a trophy. Now with a chance to eliminate Barcelona at the halfway point of their quarterfinal, PSG’s established their European credibility – one of the things QIA set out to do two years ago.

Whether they can transcend those modest goals and stay alive in Champions League will depend in large part on Messi’s health. The Barcelona focal point left last week’s game at halftime with a right thigh injury, an ailment that kept him out of Saturday’s win over Mallorca. With interim coach Jordi Roura describing him as akin to a game time decision, there’s a chance Messi won’t play in Wednesday’s match. Same does for Pedro Rodríguez and Adriano, while Javier Mascherano and Carles Puyol are definitely out.

Roura’s team is set to be a makeshift one. If that includes the absence of Lionel Messi, a PSG team that was already competing with Barcelona could become favorites to claim an unlikely semifinal spot.

As much of a long-shot as it seemed a week ago, there’s a decent chance Paris Saint-Germain can pull and upset that would allow their results to keep pace with their brand. Regardless, both are far ahead of schedule.

Notes

  • Without Messi this weekend, Barcelona beat Mallorca 5-0 thanks to a hat trick from Cesc Fábregas and two goals from Alexis Sanchez.
  • Get past Paris Saint-Germain, and Barcelona will qualify for their sixth straight Champions League semifinal.
  • Barcelona sought recourse with UEFA after a sequence of disputed calls led to PSG’s first goal last Tuesday. Not surprisingly, UEFA’s stayed quiet.
  • Eric Abidal, who underwent a liver transplant last year, made his return on Saturday, playing the last 20 minutes against Mallorca.
  • Despite his comeback, Abidal’s unlikely to get the start in Mascherano’s spot. Roura will choose between natural midfielder Alex Song and 22-year-old Marc Bartra.
  • For PSG, midfielder Blaise Matuidi, scorer of last Tuesday’s stoppage time equalizer, will be suspended for yellow card accumulation.
  • If Thiago Motta isn’t healthy enough to return, Ancelotti will be scrambling to replace Matuidi. Clement Chantome is a possibility, but so is Thiago Silva, with the defender used in midfield earlier this season.
  • Silva, however, has a knee problem which may keep him out. He’ll need to pass a late fitness test, as will central defense partner Alex, who was able to train with the full team on Tuesday.
  • With a team that only kept four starters from last week’s Champions League match, PSG won at Rennes on Saturday, getting goals from Jeremy Menez and Zlatan Ibrahimovic on their way to a 2-0 result.

Possible Lineups

Barcelona (4-3-3): Víctor Valdes; Jordi Alba, Alex Song, Gerard Pique, Dani Alves; Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets, Xavi Hernández; David Villa, Lionel Messi, Alexis Sanchez

Paris Saint-Germain (4-4-2): Salvatore Sirigu; Maxwell, Thiago Silva, Alex, Christophe Jallet; Javier Pastore, David Beckham, Thiago Motta, Lucas Moura; Ezequiel Lavezzi, Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

FIFA considering four bids to host 2023 Women’s World Cup

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FIFA has received bids from Brazil, Japan, Colombia and a joint bid from Australia and New Zealand to host the 2023 Women’s World Cup.

[ MORE: Gerrard extends contract amid strong start as Rangers boss ]

Soccer’s international governing body will now assess the bids, which will include visiting each country. Evaluations will be submitted to the FIFA Council and a vote on the host will be held at the organization’s meeting in Ethiopia next June.

Anticipated bids from South Korea and South Africa were withdrawn before Friday’s deadline.

The 2023 World Cup will feature 32 teams, up from the 24 that competed this summer at the tournament in France. The United States won its second straight World Cup title and fourth overall this year, and the event enjoyed unprecedented television viewership of 1.12 billion worldwide.

“France 2019 was certainly a watershed moment for women’s football, and now it is FIFA’s responsibility to take concrete measures to keep fostering the game’s incredible growth,” FIFA President Gianni Infantino said in a statement. “With the FIFA Women’s World Cup generating an unprecedented interest across member associations, we are ensuring that the process to select the hosts is seamless, objective, ethical and transparent. By the time the FIFA Council announces the hosts, there should be no doubt whatsoever as to why that choice was made.”

[ MORE: Ljungberg wants quick appointment of new Arsenal manager ]

The Japan Football Association has already launched a website hyping its bid, which encourages supporters to submit “My Dream of 2023” hopes for the event. Japan’s association proposes using eight stadiums, including the new National Stadium.

Japan is hosting the Olympics next summer.

Football Federation Australia and New Zealand Football announced the co-confederation bid Friday in Melbourne, just hours before the official bid book was submitted to FIFA.

“There is so much untapped potential, not just in Australia but right across Asia and the Pacific region, that I really do believe we would offer something incredibly special,” said Sam Kerr, a striker for the Matildas, Australia’s national team.

[ MORE: Lampard: Chelsea youngsters can’t worry about January transfers ]

Brazil hosted the men’s 2014 World Cup as well as the 2016 Olympics.

The Korean Football Association had initially pushed to jointly host the games with North Korea at the urging of Infantino but strained inter-Korean relations failed to realize a unified bid. South Korea, which hosted the 2002 men’s World Cup with Japan, announced its withdrawal shortly before Friday’s deadline.

South Africa, which hosted the men’s World Cup in 2014, also withdrew an expected bid.

Gerrard extends contract amid strong start as Rangers boss

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Steven Gerrard is quite keen to stick around as Rangers boss following a strong start to his managerial career, leading the 39-year-old first-time manager to sign a two-year contract extension on Friday.

[ MORE: Ljungberg wants quick appointment of new Arsenal manager ]

With his current contract previously set to run through the 2021-22 season, Gerrard’s services have been secured until the summer of 2024.

Gerrard has been largely successful since taking over the Scottish Premiership side last summer, guiding Rangers to their highest points total (78) since returning to the first division in 2016, and a second-place finish (also for the first time) behind rivals Celtic. Rangers reached the Europa League’s round of 32 on Thursday, marking their first trip to the knockout round of European competition since 2011.

That much success so quickly will undoubtedly lead to Gerrard’s name being linked with increasingly large jobs in England, likely prompting Rangers to act preemptively.

“I’m delighted to be extending my stay at this fantastic football club. When the chairman approached me about the possibility of extending my contract with Rangers, it was a very easy decision to make because I’m very happy and feel that we are building something special together at the club.

“I’d like to thank the board for the backing they have given me already in my time at the club and also most importantly, the Rangers fans who have given me and the team such tremendous backing both this season and last.”

Ljungberg wants quick appointment of new Arsenal manager

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Freddie Ljungberg is honored to serve as Arsenal’s interim manager following Unai Emery’s dismissal, but the Swede is also hoping for a speedy conclusion to the club’s search for a permanent replacement.

[ MORE: Lampard: Chelsea youngsters can’t worry about January transfers ]

In theory, taking over the most famous club for which Ljungberg played was a no-brainer. In practice, though, he openly admits it’s been not only a difficult time for everyone emotionally, but also in terms of the staff members available to assist him during the day-to-day grind. Throw in the fact he has no idea whether or not he’ll still have a role at the club when the new manager arrives, and it’s beginning to sound like a no-win situation. Perhaps he’s being considered to remain in the job permanently, but Ljungberg says he’s been given no indication of any such thing — quotes from the Guardian:

“The club have said I have to wait until they make a decision, so I can’t do anything at the moment. I have Per [Mertesacker] but at the same time he is academy manager. He is helping me with the coaching. The club has said when they make a decision then that’s it — or I’m leaving, obviously — and maybe then we can do something with the staff. But it’s up to the club.

“If you look at the person who was here before, he had a lot of staff and maybe I don’t have so many. So if you keep on going like that for months and months, it’s not so easy. But that’s totally up to the club.”

“I haven’t got any indication of if I’m here or not. What I’ve said to the bosses and the club is I will do everything in my power to do as well as I can for this club and the players. Then obviously it is up to them to make a decision. I try not to put any emotions into that.”

Arsenal came back from a goal down (twice) to draw Norwich City in Ljungberg’s first game in charge, then the Gunners were comprehensively beaten (at home) by Brighton & Hove Albion. The bounced back with a win over West Ham United on Monday, but could only draw Standard Liege (albeit with a weakened team) in the Europa League on Thursday.

Lampard: Chelsea youngsters can’t worry about January transfers

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Frank Lampard knows it’s only natural that some of Chelsea’s youngsters will have worries about the January transfer window and the Blues’ newfound ability to sign players, considering they were only afforded a first-team opportunity by the club’s transfer ban.

[ PL Preview: Chelsea v. Bournemouth ]

He doesn’t, however, want those thoughts and fears to dominate their thoughts for the next three weeks, until the window opens and Chelsea can sign players for the first time since January of this year. As Lampard sees it, the fact he has roughly $200 million to inject into the squad doesn’t necessarily mean they promising teenagers and early-20-somethings will immediately be cast aside. It does, however, mean he has to navigate this very unique set of circumstances extra carefully — quotes from the Guardian:

“I haven’t banned the talk [about the January window], but I am not going to set out to engage in it. If players want to come and see me and talk then I will happily have a conversation with them individually, but that hasn’t happened.

“I speak to them regularly. I can be, not hard on them, but I push them because I think they need that. I think they feel the trust I have in them because they know I’m prepared to give them the opportunities if they train well and they come in the team and play well. I think they should naturally feel a little bit of tension all the time so that’s not the worst thing.

“They just need to work and believe in their own talents because their talent is there for all to see. We also have to be patient with that because it may take different periods of time for them to fully blossom as players. They might have a period in and out of the team, have a run of the games and then not. I am prepared to stick with them through that because I really believe in them.”

22-year-old Tammy Abraham currently sits second in the race for the Premier League Golden Boot with 11 goals in 15 appearances. 21-year-old Christian Pulisic, while not an academy product, has shone brightly of late with a half-dozen goals and nearly as many assists to his name in the last two months. 20-year-old Mason Mount was a surprising revelation in the season’s opening weeks. 21-year-old defender Fikayo Tomori has been a regular starter for the last three months. 20-year-old Reece James has made the starting job at right back his own.

While the temptation to sign high-priced replacements for these budding stars will be hard to resist, perhaps Chelsea would be wiser to sign players in other positions and ride the wave of what could turn out to be a golden generation of homegrown products.