Is Laurent Blanc the right choice for Paris Saint-Germain?

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Laurent Blanc is a highly respected figure around French football, an accomplished World Cup winner who did things the right way. Later, he was nothing short of sensational in his first managerial appointment at Bordeaux in France’s Ligue 1.

Upon his appointment to the national team post, there was big hope that Blanc could corral the raging egos inside the talented French team – one that had so thoroughly embarrassed itself with sorry infighting and even a one-day player strike in South Africa in 2010.

Blanc did make quite a first impression, putting his foot on the situation by initially suspending all 23 players who appeared on the French roster in 2010. The bold call paid off as results began turning, seeing the team safely into the 2012 European Championship.

But some of the old demons resurfaced last summer during the tournament, suggesting that Blanc had not totally tamed the French proclivity of late for selfish action, an apparent inability to handle pressure and locker room discord.

And that brings us to PSG, the current French Ligue 1 champions, where Blanc will apparently soon take over.

Blanc certainly knows Ligue 1. Clearly, he knows what it takes to win, having so expertly guided Bordeaux. But the ambition and expectation at Bordeaux is night-and-day compared to PSG, where the team’s fabulously rich Qatari ownership will expect titles, plural. A Ligue 1 crown will be mere “starting point” in terms of expectation; how far the team advances in Champions League will define Blanc’s success around Parc des Prince.

And how PSG does in Champions League will revolve around the Blanc’s ability to manage the locker room, to keep all the fabulous pieces spinning in the same direction the way Jose Mourinho generally did at Real Madrid, the way Sir Alex Ferguson always did at Manchester United, the way Jupp Heynckes did en route to Bayern’s recent Champions League crown.

Former French international Christophe Dugarry says Blanc is the right man for the job, but the 1998 World Cup winner also admits that he’s friends with “Lolo,” so his opinion is clearly going to be affected.

PSG certainly does not have the pedigree of its current European contemporaries, but it does have the payroll. That apparently bottomless transfer budget – last year’s jaw-dropping shopping spree saw Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva, Ezequiel Lavezzi, Lucas Moura, Marco Verratti and Gregory van der Weil imported – certainly comes with its own prickly set of personnel management hassles.

And think about this: As the parade of established managers apparently rejected PSG’s advances – reports had linked Andre Villas-Boas, Fabio Capello, Guus Hiddink, Michael Laudrup and Frank Rijkaard to the position – was the potential for disharmony in the player ranks a factor for some of these respected figures?

Gressel ties it in Atlanta United’s 1-1 draw with Timbers

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ATLANTA (AP) Julian Gressel tied it in the 56th minute and Atlanta United held on for a 1-1 draw with the Portland Timbers on Sunday.

A loose ball deflection off defender Larrys Mabiala bounced into Gressel’s path and he pounced on it with a right-footed volley. Atlanta (10-3-4) stayed atop the MLS standings and extended its unbeaten streak to five games.

Mabiala opened the scoring in the 32nd minute. Samuel Armenteros was the first to get a touch with a left-footed stab on Diego Valeri’s free kick. Goalkeeper Brad Guzan blocked it out, but Mabiala headed home the rebound and Portland took the early lead.

The Timbers (6-3-5) extended their unbeaten run to nine.

MLS: NYCFC beat TFC in new coach Torrent’s debut

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NEW YORK (AP) — Jo Inge Berget scored twice and coach Domenec Torrent celebrated his New York City FC debut with a 2-1 victory over Toronto FC on Sunday.

Berget made it 2-1 in the 68th minute, following Maximiliano Moralez’s direct pass up the right channel and slotting it home.

NYCFC (9-3-4) tied it at 1 in the 51st minute on Berget’s back heel from the top of the 6-yard box.

Víctor Vazquez opened the scoring for Toronto (4-8-3) in the 37th minute. Vasquez outran his defender on Auro’s long ball up the right side and sent a chip shot over the onrushing goalkeeper.

NYCFC’s David Villa left the game in the 28th minute with a non-contact injury.

Torrent replaced Patrick Vieira in New York shortly after Vieira’s departure for OGC Nice was officially confirmed. Torrent had been the right-hand man to Pep Guardiola for the last 11 years, most recently at Manchester City.

WATCH: World Cup, Day 12 — Time to settle Groups A & B

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Day 12 of the 2018 World Cup is up next, on Monday, and with it begins the final round of group games to decide the 16 teams headed to the knockout rounds. For the next four days, we’ll be treated to four games each day.

Also, the end of 8 a.m. ET kickoffs. Hooray for sleeping in.

[ SCENARIOS: Who needs what, to finish where, in final round of group games ]

First up, the conclusion of Group A, where both the hosts, Russia, and Uruguay have already advanced with wins in their first two games. Now, the two meet in the southwestern city of Samara to determine who’ll go through to the round of 16 as the group winners, and who’ll be the runners-up. Most likely awaiting either of them will be Spain and Portugal, pending the order in which they finish in Group B.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ]

Speaking of Group B, Spain will finish group play against fourth-place and points-less Morocco, while Portugal have a tricky meeting with third-place Iran, who sit just a point behind the reigning European champions. The winner of Group B will face the runners-up of Group A, and vice versa.

Below is Monday’s schedule in full.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.


2018 World Cup schedule – Monday, June 25

Group A
Uruguay vs. Russia: Samara, 10 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Saudi Arabia vs. Egypt: Volgograd, 10 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group B
Spain vs. Morocco: Kaliningrad, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Iran vs. Portugal: Saransk, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Transfer rumor roundup: Emery raiding Sevilla; Wilshere’s suitor(s)

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Unai Emery has reportedly been in contact with at least one former player, Ever Banega, in an attempt to convince the Argentine midfielder to join him at Arsenal.

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Banega, who’ll turn 30 on Friday, played two seasons under Emery at Sevilla — where they won back-to-back Europa League titles (Banega was only at the club for the second and third of three straight from 2013-2016).

With Banega reportedly on the fence about whether or not to leave Sevilla again — he only just returned last summer after one season at Inter Milan — Emery is said to have made a personal call after Arsenal’s bid of roughly $23 million triggered the release clause in Banega’s contract. Sevilla will join Arsenal in the Europa League next season after finishing seventh in La Liga.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Jack Wilshere announced last week that he will leave Arsenal this summer — thus opening up the handful of games for which he was healthy and fit to play each season, perhaps for Banega — which leads us nicely to the final bit of transfer talk for Sunday: West Ham are interested in the 26-year-old, but are reportedly only willing to offer him a one-year contract.

The Hammers’ hesitancy is, of course, a response to his years-long battle with injuries — he’s made just 66 appearances over the last four PL seasons (three with Arsenal, one on loan to Bournemouth).

Two other clubs to keep an eye on, as they’ve reportedly indicated interest in Wilshere and/or been in contact already: Everton and Juventus.