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Neymar says he’s staying at PSG; rumors “invented by the press”

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Neymar insists he is going nowhere this summer, that he’ll spend (at least) one more season at Paris Saint-Germain, and he intends to bring another handful of trophies back to the French capital in doing so.

[ MORE: PSG in “advanced negotiations” for N’Golo Kante, but must sell first ]

Speaking during a press conference on Friday, his first media availability session since Brazil were eliminated in the 2018 World Cup quarterfinals, the 26-year-old superstar went so far as to say that reports linking him with a move to other European mega-clubs (most notably, Real Madrid) were “invented by the press” — quotes from ESPN:

“Yes, I will stay in Paris. I have a contract with PSG. The speculation? The majority of it is invented by the press.

“I have a contract and people know the objective, the reason why I went to PSG. I want to win with this club and I hope this season will be wonderful.”

While it seems a no-brainer that PSG would want Neymar to stay, there’s unquestionably a case to be made that selling him would give them the financial flexibility needed to address needs elsewhere in the squad. N'Golo Kante, for instance, is reportedly transfer target no. 1 at the Parc des Princes, but sales will have to be made before a fee of that size can be paid, due to financial regulations.

Report: PSG in “advanced negotiations” for Kante, but must sell first

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N'Golo Kante might just be the best midfielder in the world, and he might just be leaving Chelsea for Paris Saint-Germain in the coming days or weeks, as French newspaper Le Parisien has reported that the defending Ligue 1 champions are in “advanced negotiations” over a mega-bucks contract with the World Cup winner.

[ MORE: Neymar says he’s staying at PSG; rumors “invented by the press” ]

The report goes so far as to say that a “provisional contract” has already been agreed. “Provisional,” in this instance, means there has likely been little — if any — contact between the two clubs thus far.

One major sticking point remains: following last summer’s outlandish spending spree, in which they shelled out nearly $500 million to sign Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, PSG are in serious danger of failing to comply with financial regulations set forth by UEFA and could/would be banned from European competition should they fail to achieve compliance.

The likes of Angel Di Maria, Goncalo Guedes, Grzegorz Krychowiak, Jese Rodriguez and Alphonse Areola have had their names floated as possible departures to recoup the necessary funds before paying another fee of (presumably) over $100 million.

[ MORE: Conte to sue Chelsea over how firing was handled ]

After helping the Blues to the Premier League title two seasons ago (and doing the same with Leicester City three campaigns gone by), Kante was powerless in saving Chelsea from themselves in 2017-18. They finished fifth in the PL and failed to qualify for this season’s Champions League.

Given his age — 27 — it’s wholly understandable that Kante would prioritize playing in club soccer’s top competition (while also making even more money) every season going forward. Throw in the fact that uncertainty is the only certainty at Stamford Bridge these days, and trading west London for Paris — where Kante was born — starts to sounds pretty good, pretty quickly.

Why 2018 World Cup Final was one of the weirdest soccer games ever

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More often than not, in the modern game, high-stakes tournament soccer games are played in a cagey, cautious manner with teams afraid to risk elimination, believing that the negative pitfalls of conceding goals often outweigh the reward of creating chances on the offensive end.

The 2018 World Cup final was not that. Mostly. I think.

Croatia and France matched up in Moscow, Russia to determine who would be engraved into soccer immortality on Sunday, and fans were treated to undoubtedly one of the weirdest games ever played on such a grand scale. We’ve had 72 hours to digest the final result, and it seems to make less sense the longer one chews. Six total goals were scored over the 90 minutes, and France scored four of them. Yet, every piece of postgame analysis and every statistical scan of the match tells us just how wildly absurd that is.

[ MORE: Schedule for PL teams on US tours ]

First, Croatia dominated France in every attacking statistical category. Croatia out-passed France 440-198 and out-possessed them 65.5-34.5. They out-passed France in the attacking third 99-28 and in the penalty area 14-5. They created 11 chances to France’s 4. They attempted 14 shots to France’s seven. Six Croatians completed more passes than anyone on the French team.

Farther than any one particular number the statistical review could bring you, here is one image that speaks louder than any words or numbers can:

The top passing combinations in the 2018 World Cup final (via StatsZone mobile app)

Not only did the Croatians wipe the French off the passing leaderboard, but only one French combination appears on the list – goalkeeper Hugo Lloris to striker Olivier Giroud. In one word: HOOF.

To reinforce this point, the French attempted 55 long balls to Croatia’s 33. Upon closer inspection, we find an even bigger discrepancy. Of the French long balls attempted, only four of them were square across the pitch. Almost all of them were vertical. Meanwhile, over half the Croatian long balls were attempted square across the pitch, meaning they were used to switch flanks and shift possession, not to launch forward and bypass the midfield. Visual evidence:

The discrepancy in tactics between France and Croatia is further visualized in the map of long-balls attempted (via StatsZone mobile app)

When you really think about it, this tactic is not terribly surprising. France knew that Croatia possessed one of the best – if not the best – midfield in the entire World Cup field with Luka Modric spearheading the more box-to-box style of Ivan Rakitic and defensive cover Marcelo Brozovic. Bypassing that trio was a relatively straightforward tactic, and it allowed France to utilize their strength of pace and aerial prowess more effectively. Still, it’s striking to see a team loaded with such sheer talent utilize a tactic more often reserved for less talented underdogs taking on the Goliaths of the world.

Still, it worked. Or did it?

Maybe the most jarring statistic from this game:

Expected goals isn’t the greatest tool to summarize a single 90-minute outcome, since it is a statistic far better deployed over a much larger sample size than a single match, but it remains stunning that France generated just 0.3 xG in this contest. They created almost nothing up front. Their two open-play goals both came on speculative shots from outside the box that slid by a hapless Danijel Subasic who failed to even challenge the attempts. Pogba’s shot generated a 0.07 xG, while Mbappe’s carried just a 0.03 xG. Still, France put six of its seven shots on target and didn’t miss the frame once, and that persistence paid off as Subasic was uninspired.

Croatia high-pressed France early, and that early turbo produced one of the more stunning results of the entire tournament: it neutralized the world’s best defensive midfielder and potentially most valuable formational cornerstone N'Golo Kante. The 27-year-old rock completed just eight passes – two of them were forward, while just one landed in the attacking half of the pitch – it went square. He was 1/3 tackling, including a failed tackle through the middle and one in France’s own penalty area. He had just four ball recoveries, his second-lowest mark of the tournament. He committed three fouls, drawing a yellow card (that, in fairness, was extremely harsh). With Kante now timid playing on a yellow, he was yanked before the hour mark, and France finished with a 63% pass completion rate, by far their lowest of the tournament.

Kylian Mbappe, meanwhile, was unquestionably France’s best outlet as he has proven all tournament. His bursts of energy continually troubled the Croatians, nearly punishing them for their forward-thinking mindset on a host of occasions. The Young Player of the Tournament was the best player on the pitch, despite Croatia’s perceived dominance on the ball. He was aided by Paul Pogba‘s brilliance, with the Manchester United midfielder feeding Mbappe continually with deliciously weighted through-balls.

And yet, the difference in this match came down to defending and, quite frankly, luck. As Caley implies in the tweet above, simply put, Samuel Umtiti and Raphael Varane outplayed Domagoj Vida, who had been one of the best center-backs in the tournament prior to the final. While Croatia passed France out of possession, their only good chance was the Mandzukic goal on the Lloris howler, which carried a huge 0.54 xG value. Take that goalkeeping mistake out, and Croatia generated just 0.7 xG throughout the entire match.

[ MORE: Every PL kit for 2018/19 season ]

In short: the best chance on either end came on a goalkeeping mistake from a Golden Glove contender.

The luck factor played a huge role as well. France’s first goal was entirely generated via luck, with Griezmann drawing a phantom foul leading to a Mario Mandzukic own-goal with Pogba offside, carrying an extremely unfortunate deflection past a wrong-footed Subasic. That left Croatia chasing the game, although they seldom looked truly rattled. Still, France was able to defend in numbers with the lead, and that helped alleviate some pressure brought on by the high Croatian press.

None of this is to diminish France’s achievement and accomplishment, which ranks among the best in history. In the end, France manager Didier Deschamps favored pragmatism over flair, and he delivered the goods. He molded his team to his players rather than the other way around, a rare approach in today’s game of tactical nuances. It is almost better that France prevailed despite the adversity it faced, rather than prevailing with such dominance that it avoided facing adversity at all. Still, the duality of the statistical analysis juxtaposed with the actual result presents us with one of the more wild and nonsensical soccer games ever played in such a high-stakes environment, and the fans are the real winners.

Transfer rumor roundup: Bale’s future in Madrid; Chelsea’s makeover

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The 2018 World Cup is complete, which means we now fully turn our attention back to the club game, which means it’s time for (an abbreviated) transfer season to begin…

[ VIDEO: What do Liverpool, Spurs need this summer? ]

With Cristiano Ronaldo out of the way — and the likes of Kylian Mbappe, Neymar and/or Eden Hazard signed to replace him (yet) — Gareth Bale is expected to remain at Real Madrid and fill the “main man” void left by Ronaldo’s move for Juventus. The 29-year-old Welshman will meet with new Madrid manager Julen Lopetegui prior to the start of preseason friendlies in the United States. Bale has repeatedly been linked with a move to Premier League side Manchester United.

However, given Bale’s troubling history of injuries since moving to Madrid in the summer of 2013, it would be unwise — and unlikely — that Florentino Perez doesn’t make at least one massive signing this summer to replace Ronaldo’s otherworldly production. It makes all the sense in the world on the field, and fits Perez’s m.o., off of it.

[ MORE: Hazard hints at Chelsea exit, has “preferred destination” in mind ]

The next month could see the Chelsea squad undergo a total and complete rebuild, and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, one of the breakout stars of the 2018 World Cup for Serbia, is said to top the wishlist of owner Roman Abramovich and new manager Maurizio Sarri. Man United have also been heavily linked with Milinkovic-Savic, dating back to pre-World Cup rumors.

The 23-year-old box-to-box dynamo will likely cost the Blues well over $100 million — if Lazio get their way — but in return they’ll be getting a player who, alongside N'Golo Kante, will re-establish Chelsea as one of the best midfields in club soccer, and arguably the toughest to play against.

Quick hits

  • Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Mousa Dembele has reportedly rejected a potential move to Inter Milan
  • Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has said that forward Daniel Sturridge could still have a future at Anfield
  • West Ham United forward Andy Carroll has reportedly been offered, on loan, to Turkish side Besiktas
  • Crystal Palace and Bournemouth are reportedly both working toward signing forward Ollie Watkins from Championship side Brentford
  • Everton and Bournemouth are reportedly expected to make bids for Genoa and Uruguay defender Diego Laxalt

France win World Cup after classic final

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  • France win their second World Cup trophy
  • Highest-scoring World Cup final since 1958
  • Didier Deschamps becomes third man to win the World Cup as a player and head coach
  • France trailed for just nine minutes and 12 seconds at this World Cup
  • Mbappe second teenager in history to score in World Cup final

France beat Croatia 4-2 in a wild 2018 World Cup final in Moscow on Sunday. This game encapsulated what has been an incredible tournament in Russia as we had superb goals, VAR controversy and intriguing tactical battles.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

Les Bleus took the lead via Mario Mandzukic’s own goal but Croatia equalized when Ivan Perisic drilled home a beauty. Before half time huge drama arrived as Perisic gave away a penalty kick for handball after referee Nista Pitana used VAR, then Antoine Griezmann made it 2-1 from the spot.

[ MORE: Player ratings | Celebrations

France threatened to pull away in the second half as Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappe each scored to make it 4-1 but even a catastrophic error from Hugo Lloris to allow Mandzukic to make it 4-2 didn’t stop France who celebrated wildly at the final whistle.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ]  

Didier Deschamps is now just the third man on the planet to win the World Cup as both a manager and player as the man who captained France to the first World Cup title in 1998 has now led them to their second. France are now just the sixth team in history to win multiple World Cup trophies.

After France lost the 2016 European Championship final on home soil in agonizing fashion, largely the same team has bounced back to secure World Cup glory.

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

Croatia started well with crosses from out wide causing France problems as the underdogs settled well.

France eventually got going and they took the lead from their first big chance. Griezmann went down easily to win a free kick and he whipped the ball in and Mandzukic flicked the ball into his own goal to put France 1-0 up.

But Les Bleus led for just 10 minutes as a free kick was only half cleared and Perisic took a fine touch with his right foot and then drilled home with his left to make it 1-1.

Perisic went from hero to villain 10 minutes later as France whipped in a corner and Perisic clearly handled in the box.

Referee Nista Pitana missed the handball but VAR instructed him to look at a pitch-side TV monitor and he made the correct call, awarding a penalty to France which Griezmann slotted home to make it 2-1.

Before half time Perisic put in a dangerous cross into the box but Ante Rebic couldn’t quite get his shot right as they pushed for an equalizer and went close from two more set pieces before the break.

[ MORE: World Cup stats ] 

After the break Croatia started well and Ante Rebic smashed a shot in on goal which Hugo Lloris tipped over, then Lloris rushed out to stop a chance and he was then clattered by Mandzukic.

Deschamps then brought off N'Golo Kante and he was replaced by Steven Nzonzi as France tried to regain the midfield from Croatia.

Pogba then scored the crucial third goal for France as he started a flowing move with a wonderful drilled pass, then finished off, at the second attempt, as he curled past Danijel Subasic.

France then looked to have clinched the game as Mbappe drilled home a fourth from distance with the 19-year-old becoming just the second teenager in history to score in a World Cup final.

What. A. Strike.

But no sooner had they started to believe the game was over than Lloris made a huge mistake to hand the ball right to Mandzukic who tapped home to make it 4-2.

Croatia pushed hard late on to try and pull another back as Rakitic dragged wide and they sent in plenty of crosses but France held on to win their second World Cup trophy.