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Klopp backs ‘fantastic, outstanding’ Neymar ahead of Champions League match

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Jurgen Klopp isn’t having any of the criticism of Brazilian superstar Neymar.

Ahead of Liverpool’s Champions League match against Paris Saint-Germain at Anfield, Klopp sang Neymar’s praises and said the team will do its best to cope with “Neymar, the full football package.”

“I don’t think he’s a person who wants to act or something like that, because if you are like that you can’t play the football he plays,” Klopp said in his pre-match press conference on Monday. “So I don’t think about these kind of things, to be honest. He got rested over the weekend so he will be 100% fresh for us, he’s not injured anymore, so we will see the full package, Neymar the football package, so we have to cope with that, and that’s what we’ll try.”

Neymar was criticized throughout the World Cup for his acting, diving and rolling to earn fouls. The Brazilian was the most-fouled player at the tournament at the time of Brazil’s elimination in the Round of 16, and their early departure added more fuel to the fire. Klopp says that while teams in Russia this summer looked to hack Neymar as a purposeful tactic, his side will avoid that strategy during Tuesday’s match.

“We play football. We want to win the ball and we don’t try to act in these kind of things. We try to avoid passes to him, we try to avoid him winning challenges and all that stuff which is a big job to do, to be honest. I’m not sure if it’s even possible to avoid his quality 100%…I’m pretty sure it’s not, so that’s all. He’s a fantastic footballer, an outstanding player.”

Klopp even backed Neymar’s behavior on the pitch, saying, “When I saw a few games at the World Cup…I know what a few people were talking about when it looked like he made a bit more of the situation than it was. That’s, for me, a completely normal reaction because players are really going for him, that’s the truth, and he wants to protect himself and I understand that as well.”

The Liverpool boss said that Neymar was also injured during the World Cup, and claimed that Brazil would have beaten Belgium in the Round of 16 had its superstar been fully fit.

Neymar is just the start of the PSG attacking presence Liverpool will be forced to deal with. Kylian Mbappe and Edinson Cavani also pose serious threats, with the trio combining for 11 goals so far this season. Angel Di Maria also looks on his game, with four goals himself this campaign. PSG was without Neymar and Mbappe this weekend, with the Brazilian rested and his French teammate suspended, and the defending champions still defeated St. Etienne 4-0 with Cavani and Di Maria on the scoresheet plus a goal from Julian Draxler and late substitute Moussa Diaby.

Di Maria, Weah guide PSG to French Super Cup win over Monaco

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Even without a host of their stars, Paris Saint-Germain made easy work of their Ligue 1 rivals Monaco on Saturday in the Trophee des Champions.

[ MORE: Lampard wins Derby managerial debut with last-minute goal ]

Although Neymar made a late appearance for PSG, who went on to win the match 4-0, ahead of the start of the 2018/19 Ligue 1 season, all eyes were on a younger host of players for Thomas Tuchel’s side.

Angel di Maria’s brace helped pace the Parisians on the day, particularly a brilliant first-half free kick that beat goalkeeper Diego Benaglio in the 33rd minute.

Already up 2-0 at halftime, U.S. Men’s National Team attacker Tim Weah gave PSG a third goal after the hour mark when he slotted home between the legs of the Monaco shot-stopper.

The Ligue 1 season kicks off next weekend, as PSG hosts Caen on Sunday, while Monaco visits Nantes the day prior.

Video: Di Maria smashes Argentina level before halftime

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Angel di Maria has given Argentina life heading into halftime after blasting a scorcher from distance against France.

The two sides are level at 1-1 at the break, following the Paris Saint-Germain attacker’s strike in the 41st minute.

Following a throw-in, Nicolas Tagliafico centered the ball for Di Maria nearly 30 yards out, before smashing a long-distance shot into the side netting past France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris.

Report: PSG told to sell millions worth of players by end of June

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According to multiple reports, UEFA has informed Ligue 1 giants Paris Saint-Germain that the club must raise a significant amount of money through player transfer sales by the end of June, or else they will face the wrath of Financial Fair Play sanctions.

The amount of money in the ultimatum has varied between reports, with both French publication L’Equipe and The Financial Times reporting the club is required to raise $70 million, while Loic Tanzi of RMC in France is reporting that number to be $47 million.

[ MORE: France World Cup preview ]

UEFA released a statement on Wednesday to declare its investigation into PSG “closed” but also said, “The financial impact of transfer activities as from the 2017 summer – up to and including the upcoming transfer window – and compliance with the break-even requirement for the 2018 financial year will remain under close scrutiny and will be thoroughly looked at in the coming weeks.”

Financial Fair Play requires all clubs to balance income with expenditures and attempts to keep clubs from expending extraordinary – and therefore theoretically unfair – amounts of money on player transfers. PSG spent a massive $260 million on the purchase of Brazilian superstar Neymar last summer, a transfer that was muddied by the involvement of the Qatari royalty. They also have an obligation to complete the permanent transfer of Kylian Mbappe after this past campaign’s season-long loan, which could potentially cost the club up to a reported $210 million.

UEFA punishments for an FFP breach could include a fine, salary restrictions, squad restrictions, or worst of all a ban from European play. PSG has qualified for next season’s Champions League group stage via their first-place finish in the Ligue 1 table. They could still be handed down a punishment should they fail to comply with the reported ultimatum.

Players who could be sold include aging and expensive attackers Edinson Cavani, Angel Di Maria, and Javier Pastore, as well as midfielder Adrian Rabiot after his heated public response to being assigned reserve status for the French World Cup squad.

Months after possible exit, Di Maria is back in favor at PSG

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PARIS (AP) Five months after he seemed destined to be sold off, Angel di Maria has become one of the first names on Paris Saint-Germain’s team sheet.

He has arguably been PSG’s best player in recent weeks, scoring six goals in his past seven games and showing the flair that once made him one of soccer’s most sought-after wingers.

As January’s winter transfer window shut at midnight on Wednesday, Di Maria was preparing for Saturday’s French league game away to Lille. Some contrast from the final days of the summer transfer window when it seemed PSG’s priority was selling him.

Qatari-owned PSG needed to sell to raise cash to balance the books, after being placed under investigation by UEFA for potential breaches of Financial Fair Play rules over the signings of Neymar for 222 million euros ($260 million) and teen star Kylian Mbappe for 180 million euros ($216 million).

However, a reported third offer of some 45 million euros ($56 million) from Barcelona – trying to unite Di Maria with his Argentina teammate Lionel Messi – was rebuffed.

PSG coach Unai Emery has been repaid for holding firm by Di Maria’s sparking form since the turn of the year. Di Maria, who has scored 100 goals in 503 career games, is still in his peak years. He will be 30 on Feb. 14 – the day PSG is at Real Madrid in the Champions League in their round-of-16 match.

“I’m especially happy for him, he’s shown great commitment to PSG,” said Emery, who took charge in 2016-17 after Laurent Blanc was fired. “I’ve known Angel for one-and-a-half years and he’s had some difficult times. I’ve spoken with him to help him regain his confidence and his best level.”

Di Maria, who helped create two of PSG’s goals in a 3-2 win away to Rennes in the League Cup semifinal on Tuesday, will hope to have done enough to start the first leg against his former club Madrid.

But Emery faces a very difficult decision.

Barring injury, Neymar and striker Edinson Cavani – PSG’s all-time leading scorer – appear certain to start that game.

This leaves one place up for grabs in PSG’s biggest match of the season, and one which could shape Emery’s future. He was hired by Qatari owners QSI to take PSG into at least the last four of the Champions League, something PSG has not managed to do since QSI took over the club in June, 2011.

After PSG’s humiliating exit to Barcelona at the same stage last season – losing 6-1 in Barcelona after winning 4-0 at home – all eyes will be on Emery for this game.

If he picks Di Maria on the right flank, it means dropping Mbappe, who has formed a lethal understanding with Neymar.

But Di Maria’s slumps this season and last have been as a direct result of him being a substitute. His fragile confidence impacted both times, and it took him many weeks to regain top form.

Emery’s decision likely rests on how he approaches the Madrid game and, crucially, how he expects Zinedine Zidane’s under-performing side to play on the night.

If PSG takes the game to Madrid, then Mbappe’s pace and direct running seem the better option.

But if PSG sits back and tries to hit Madrid on the break, then it will mean long periods of soaking up play and waiting for the right moment to push forward.

This scenario better suits Di Maria’s greater experience and ability to track back more than Mbappe, whose defensive work-rate is sometimes lacking.

Questions have been raised this season, too, about Mbappe’s temperament.

He demonstrated a volatile streak on Tuesday against Rennes, getting sent off after raking his studs on the back of a Rennes player’s leg. A similar gesture of indiscipline might prove costly for Mbappe – and Emery – at this stage of the Champions League.

With Mbappe suspended for Saturday’s game at Lille, Di Maria will get another chance to stake his claim.