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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

Higuain “rejuvenated” by Gattuso after Juve “kicked me out”

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Gonzalo Higuain is off and running at AC Milan, even if the club hasn’t been finding the wins it needs to contend in Serie A.

The 30-year-old forward has six goals in seven games for Milan after his surprising summer move from Juventus, which came after Cristiano Ronaldo arrived from Real Madrid.

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Rather than feel slighted just two seasons after a $106 million move from Napoli to Juve, though, Higuain is feeling reborn.

Apparently, you can’t feel disillusioned about soccer when Gennaro Gattuso gives you those football eyes.

“I feel rejuvenated,” Higuain said. “I love Gattuso. He looks at you and sends you his love for football.”

Higuain admitted he had no desires to leave Juve, saying the club didn’t give him an option and he still is fond of The Old Lady.

“Mine is a feeling of affection because they treated me very well; team-mates and supporters have given me huge affection,” he said in the interview with Gazzetta dello Sport (Italian link). “But I did not ask to leave. Basically, everyone says it, they kicked me out. At Milan I immediately had a great love and so they convinced me.”

Higuain scored 55 goals in 105 appearances for Juventus, adding 12 assists in winning two scudetto and matching Coppa Italia crowns.

Spurs issue injury update ahead of wild month

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Tottenham Hotspur has weathered an injury crisis to stay in the thick of the Premier League title race, and is getting some of its men back in the fold.

Christian Eriksen and Mousa Dembele have been boosted by the international break, Mauricio Pochettino revealed on Thursday.

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Dele Alli, Danny Rose, and Jan Vertonghen are going to require a bit more healing, though, via the BBC:

“Still maybe 10 days more for Dele Alli and Danny Rose is the same, one week more. Jan Vertonghen is a little bit longer. But the most important thing is that we start to recover players. It will be a tough month of competition for us.”

Spurs are two points back of the trio leading the Premier League ahead of a tricky month for all contenders.

Tottenham visits improving West Ham United on Saturday before heading to PSV Eindhoven and hosting Manchester City. A League Cup date with West Ham follows before a visit to Wolves and a return date with PSV. Then Palace, and another international break.

Get well soon, right?

Reports: Shaw agrees new rich deal with Manchester United

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Luke Shaw‘s tumultuous run at Manchester United is back on the up, and now his contract is, too.

Multiple reports say the 23-year-old left back has agreed a new five-year deal at Old Trafford, worth an eye-popping $200,000 per week. The club has not yet announced the deal.

[ MLS: New 2nd youngest goal scorer ]

Shaw has gone 90 minutes in seven of eighth Manchester United league matches this year, missing the eighth with a concussion. He scored in United’s opener against Leicester City.

In a harbinger of things to come, Shaw missed the first five matches of his Manchester United career after arriving from Southampton for about $35 million in 2014.

Ankle, tibia, and even facial injuries limited him to 18 Premier League matches that season, and another broken leg cost him all but five matches the next season. Long-term groin and foot injuries followed in subsequent seasons.

Once healthy, there was the criticism from manager Jose Mourinho regarding his diet and fitness. But Shaw has sorted that out and impressed his boss to earn the new deal.

Next time you wonder if the weekly criticism heaped on players is worth the trouble, remember that Shaw is now getting at least 200k this week… and next week… and the week after that! But also remember what he went through to get there.

MLS gets new 2nd youngest goal scorer in hilarious fashion (video)

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Gianluca Busio is going to score a lot of goals in his professional career, but the new second-youngest goal scorer in MLS history will find few as memorable as his first MLS goal.

Definitely in terms of hilarity.

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The center midfielder, 16, ran onto a Johnny Russell pass and had a gaping goal in front of him during stoppage time of Sporting KC’s 4-1 defeat of Vancouver on Wednesday.

Busio, who recorded assists in both his USL and MLS debuts, just had to tap it into the goal. He did that, just.

Only Freddy Adu (14 years, 320 days) was younger than Busio when he scored his first MLS goal.

“Johnny was working and he outran the dude, worked it, and right when he turned that corner,” Busio said in a post-match interview on Fox Sports Kansas City. “It was him against one defender. I was so happy I almost missed it. I was just so excited, I didn’t know what to do.”

Busio now has a goal and an assist in 153 minutes spread over seven appearances. And Sporting KC moves into second out West with two matches to play.