Mauricio Pochettino accepts Paris Saint-Germain were not at their best in the 1-1 draw with Lens but believes a draw was a fair result.

Georginio Wijnaldum headed home in stoppage time to salvage a point after Keylor Navas had dropped Seko Fofana's long-range drive into his own net.

The result meant PSG have now picked up 16 points from losing positions in Ligue 1 this season – more than any other team in the big five European leagues.

PSG allowed a spirited Lens side 18 shots, and Pochettino acknowledged it was not an easy game for his side, who are now 13 points clear at the top of Ligue 1.

"You have to give credit to Lens, who are an aggressive team who played a very good game," he told a media conference.

"It wasn't our best night, but it's good that the team kept fighting. Lens is one of the teams that gives us the most difficulty.

"We lost a lot of balls, especially at the start of the match, which prevented us from putting ourselves in the right positions.

"The result is fair. We lacked a little precision and freshness due to our busy schedule."

Kylian Mbappe created Wijnaldum's goal with a superb cross after being introduced from the substitutes' bench in the 70th minute.

The France international has now been involved in 15 goals in Ligue 1 this season (seven goals, eight assists), with only Robert Lewandowski (17), Karim Benzema (19) and Mohamed Salah (22) doing better in Europe's big five leagues.

"I tried to give solutions to the players by making changes," Pochettino added. "Kylian has played a lot of matches in a row, he felt a little tired. We thought we had to give him a breather."

While PSG did manage to seal a late point, they have now gone two consecutive Ligue 1 games without a win for the first time since Pochettino took over in January.

Despite that, midfielder Marco Verratti was pleased with the result, praising his team-mates' character during a pulsating game.

"Lens are a team that plays in a very special way; it's a team that I like a lot, they have a lot of courage," the Italy international told Canal+.

"It feels good to play matches of this nature; you could say a little English style, with lots of chances on both sides. It was a very intense game, played until the end.

"We congratulate the Lens team, but we also showed a lot of character. We wanted to win today, but it was very hard."

PSG, whose place in the Champions League knockout stages has already been secured, take on Club Brugge in their final Group A game on Tuesday, before hosting Monaco in Ligue 1 next weekend.

Georginio Wijnaldum scored in stoppage time to salvage a 1-1 draw for a below-par Paris Saint-Germain against Lens at the Stade Bollaert-Delelis on Saturday.

After Lionel Messi hit the post, Mauricio Pochettino's side, who were held to a 0-0 draw by Nice on Wednesday, looked like they were on their way to a second Ligue 1 defeat of the season when Keylor Navas dropped Seko Fofana's effort into his own net after 62 minutes. 

Wijnaldum – introduced in the 70th minute for Leandro Paredes – headed home fellow substitute Kylian Mbappe's left-wing cross two minutes into added time to secure a point for the leaders, though.

The result meant PSG moved 13 points clear of second-placed Marseille, who have a game in hand, while Lens remain in fifth.

Sergio Ramos has been ruled out of Paris Saint-Germain's clash with Lens as the defender's injury-plagued start to life in the French capital goes on. 

The 35-year-old has endured a frustrating time of things since arriving at the Parc des Princes from Real Madrid, whom he had represented for the previous 16 seasons.

Ramos made his long-awaited debut in last weekend's 3-1 win over Saint-Etienne, but he was not included in the squad for the midweek stalemate against Nice.

Spain international Ramos will again be absent on Saturday when PSG travel to Lens as Mauricio Pochettino's side attempt to get back to winning ways in Ligue 1.

"Ramos' workload has been adapted for muscle fatigue following his return to play. He will resume training with the squad on Sunday," read an update on PSG's official website.

Madrid legend Ramos has played just six matches at club level this calendar year, totalling 485 minutes on the field, while his last appearance for Spain came in March.

The 15 LaLiga games Ramos started last season was the fewest he managed for the club and a big drop from the 35 games started in the season before.

 

As well as being without Ramos against Lens, Ander Herrera, Julian Draxler and Neymar are also absent for PSG, with the latter ruled out for the remainder of the year.

Pochettino confirmed at Friday's pre-match news conference that he intends to make changes following his side's 0-0 draw with Nice.

That was the third time PSG have failed to score in their last 11 games, with Lionel Messi again firing a blank to leave his tally at one goal in eight Ligue 1 appearances.

Indeed, Messi has the highest differential (2.95) between his goals scored (1) and his expected goals (xG) (3.95) in Ligue 1 this term.

However, Pochettino is confident his compatriot will soon find his scoring touch in front of goal.

"It's a question of efficiency," Pochettino said. "Leo is someone who has always scored goals. It's also a matter of time and he's going to score a lot of goals here."

With the January transfer window now less than a month away, Pochettino is not yet thinking about bringing in any new recruits to bolster his star-studded squad.

"I'm not waiting for signatures at the winter break. I didn't talk about that after the Nice match. This is not the time to talk about this at all," he added.

"When the time comes, we will talk to the club to see if there are any needs in the team, but we are far from that."

Arsenal could look to offload Nicolas Pepe in the January transfer window.

The 26-year-old has not lived up to his billing after being signed in 2019.

Pepe has scored once in nine appearances for the Gunners this season.

 

TOP STORY – MILAN SET FOR JANUARY PEPE SWOOP

Italian giants Milan are interested in signing Arsenal's Ivorian winger Nicolas Pepe, claims Il Milanista.

Pepe has more than two years to run on his Gunners deal, having joined on a five-year contract from Lille in 2019 for a club-record fee of £72 million (€79m).

Arsenal may be willing to let Pepe go for a little as £25m in January.

ROUND-UP 

- Chelsea's Spanish full-back Cesar Azpilicueta is on Barcelona's transfer radar, according to SPORT. The 32-year-old's contract expires at the end of this season.

- Tottenham have joined Inter in having an interest in signing Bayern Munich midfielder Corentin Tolisso, claims Kicker. Tolisso is out of contract at the end of this season.

- Fabrizio Romano reports that talks between Gavi and Barcelona on a five-year contract extension are progressing amid interest in the Spanish teenager from Chelsea.

- Jose Mourinho's Roma are considering a move to sign Atletico Madrid's Mexico international midfielder Hector Herrera in January, claims Calciomercato. Atletico are willing to cash in on Herrera, who is out of contract in mid-2022.

- Manchester City target Theo Hernandez is close to completing a contract renewal with Milan, according to Rudy Galetti. The Rossoneri have reached an agreement with him until 2026.

- FotoMac claims Mohamed Elneny's agent has reached an agreement with Arsenal for the Egyptian to leave in January. He was previously linked with Galatasaray.

- Lens midfielder Seko Fofana has been added to Newcastle United's shortlist of transfer targets, claims Foot Mercato.

And so, the countdown begins…

The 2022 World Cup is just over a year away, with Qatar set to begin the tournament against a still-to-be-decided opponent on November 21, 2022.

Even writing it feels strange. A World Cup… starting in November. But that is the reality, with Qatar's controversial – to put it kindly – hosting of the competition effectively rendering a tournament in June/July impossible due to the conditions.

With only a year to go, 13 of the competing nations (including Qatar) have confirmed their qualification, including record five-time winners Brazil and defending champions France.

Of course, most countries will have a fairly settled group of players, but a year is a long time in football, and a few newcomers will make the breakthrough.

As such, Stats Perform has identified 11 uncapped players who could break into their respective national teams by this time in 2022, and those players' progress will be tracked over the next 12 months in follow-up features.

Without any further ado, here are the chosen players...

Luis Maximiano (Portugal) – 22, goalkeeper, Granada

Yes, yes, Maximiano's inclusion here already implies a massive assumption that Portugal will even make it to Qatar, given their 2-1 home defeat by Serbia left them needing to go through the play-offs.

Nevertheless, it's reasonable to expect them to make it, and if they do, Maximiano may fancy himself as being in with a shot, particularly after a strong start to 2021-22.

He replaced compatriot Rui Silva – who left for Real Betis – between the posts at Granada after falling out of favour at Sporting CP, and he's showing his quality.

 

According to Opta's xGOT (expected goals on target) conceded data, Maximiano has already prevented 3.7 goals in LaLiga this season, the second-most in the division.

Of course, such metrics are weighted in favour of goalkeepers in teams are that kept defensively busy, and Granada are 17th in LaLiga, but we can create a fairer comparison by standardising for the number of shots each keeper faced by looking at their 'goals prevented rate'.

Maximiano's goals prevented rate of 1.37 means he was expected to concede 1.37 goals for every goal actually conceded, and again this is the second best in the league this season.

His shot-stopping abilities have reportedly caught the attention of Barcelona, and given Portugal's lack of a standout goalkeeper (and that's including first-choice Rui Patricio), Maximiano certainly isn't out of the running for Qatar 2022.

Jonathan Clauss (France) – 29, right-back, Lens

Football loves a late bloomer; maybe it's because they convince some of us we can still make it as a professional player. Lens star Clauss is a fascinating embodiment of the phenomenon.

Now 29, Clauss did not make his top-flight debut until the start of 2020-21, but it's fair to say he's been a revelation in a Lens side who have truly captured the imagination since they were promoted back to Ligue 1 in 2019-20 – 13 games into the current campaign, they're second to PSG.

A year out from Qatar 2022, Clauss is being mentioned in France media conferences, with Didier Deschamps last week asked why he wasn't called up. Of course, the coach's decision to go with options he knows when qualification wasn't assured is fair enough, but the Lens man is seemingly now in contention.

He has already had a hand in eight Ligue 1 goals this season, with six assists the joint-most in the division. His positivity on the flank as a wing-back is proving a massive asset to Lens, for whom he also set up six goals last term.

Of course, his greater comfort as a wing-back rather than an orthodox full-back may in the long run count against him, but Clauss is demonstrably effective going forward – usual France right-back options Benjamin Pavard and Leo Dubois aren't, and that may be his 'in'.

 

Bremer (Brazil) – 24, centre-back, Torino

Playing in a generally poor team can go one of two ways for a centre-back: you're either considered a big part of the problem, or you thrive because you're given more opportunities to show your strengths.

For Bremer in a Torino team that have finished 16th and 17th in the past two seasons, it's definitely been the latter.

The 24-year-old has reportedly attracted the interest of numerous Premier League clubs, with Liverpool seemingly the team that are most keen.

While he's not a particularly great progressor of the ball, his 4.9 passes into the final third per 90 minutes since the start of last season being almost half the figures of the highest-ranking Serie A defenders, Bremer is a reliable centre-back first and foremost.

His four clearances per game is up there with the best (only one player averages more than 4.7), while Bremer's positional sense is highlighted by 2.6 interceptions every 90 minutes, a figure bettered by only five defenders (min. 1,000 minutes played since 2020-21 started).

Similarly, the centre-back wins 3.2 aerial duels per 90 minutes, which again is the sixth-highest among that group of defenders.

Brazil don't have outstanding depth at centre-back, all the more reason why Bremer is in with a shot – a move to Liverpool or another 'giant' would only help his cause.

Sven Botman (Netherlands) – 21, centre-back, Lille

Ball-playing centre-backs grow on trees in the Netherlands, or so you'd think. Botman is another off the very reliable production line, having come through the esteemed ranks at Ajax.

Lille signed him for roughly €9million in July 2020 after he enjoyed a promising loan spell with Heerenveen, and he went on to play in all but one Ligue 1 match as Les Dogues won the title.

Life's been a little tougher for Lille this term following the loss of coach Christophe Galtier to Nice, but Botman remains a key player and retains a fine reputation from 2020-21.

Since the start of last season, his 1,295 forward passes is the second most in the division and he ranks 11th for the most ball carries (635).

He's a progressive centre-back who offers plenty of forward-thinking but is also reliable when it comes to getting stuck in.

Over the same period, he's come out on top in 67.8 per cent of his duels, which is the second-best success rate among players to have engaged in at least 150.

Granted, the Netherlands' centre-back options are deep, but Botman's been in the squad before and there's little doubt he would be a good fit for them stylistically.

Angelino (Spain) – 24, left-back, RB Leipzig

It may surprise a few people to learn Angelino has never played for Spain. In fact, he's never even received a call-up to the senior side.

Let's not forget, Spain are blessed with a lot of quality in left-back and wing-back roles. Currently, Jordi Alba, Marcos Alonso, Jose Gaya and Sergio Reguilon are the favoured options, but Angelino is arguably in better form than any of them.

All five players are probably at their best as wing-backs rather than full-backs, and Luis Enrique's current system does allow for such players, which is another reason for Angelino's suitability. Then it comes down to effectiveness on the pitch.

Since the start of last season, in league competition Angelino tops a host of attacking metrics among the aforementioned players. He creates 2.2 chances per 90 minutes on average, with Alonso and Alba next on 1.6.

While Angelino's 0.16 assists every 90 minutes is lower than Alba's 0.22, the Leipzig man is seemingly being let down by poor finishing as his expected assists each game is 0.31 – again, this is the highest.

On a per-90-minute basis, Angelino creates the most chances from open play (1.6), plays the most crosses (5.5) and passes into the box (9.9) most frequently among this group.

Of course, this is partly explained by him playing slightly further forward than his counterparts, but Spain spend most of the time on the ball anyway – having someone as effective as Angelino in attack must be a consideration for Luis Enrique.

 

Riqui Puig (Spain) – 22, midfielder, Barcelona

It feels like Puig has been around for a long time, because even before he was around the first-team squad, Barca fans were singing his praises.

He had been considered as potentially their next legendary midfielder, such was his blend of technical excellence and fine passing skills, two staples of Barca's La Masia academy.

But it's not quite worked out that way.

In the past three seasons, he's only played more than 300 minutes over the course of a LaLiga campaign once, under Quique Setien in 2019-20. While he did feature in 14 league games for Ronald Koeman last term, that amounted to 283 minutes at an average of 20.2 mins in each appearance, and that did not improve this term prior to the Dutchman's sacking.

So, why is he even on this list?

Well, as much as anything because his progress will be intriguing to watch once again now that Xavi is at the helm. If there's anyone who can appreciate Puig's qualities, it'll surely be him.

Christopher Nkunku (France) – 24, midfielder, RB Leipzig

While Nkunku has generally been considered a versatile central midfielder for much of his career, he's excelled in a slightly different role since Jesse Marsch's introduction as Leipzig coach.

He's operated more from the flanks and is getting into the opposition's penalty area with greater frequency, his touches in the box up from 5.2 per 90 minutes to 7.7 this season.

As such, he's getting more shots away in the area (2.2 every 90 minutes, up from 1.7) and that's unsurprisingly led to an increased xG average of 0.45 each game.

He's already got 11 goals across all competitions, four more than he managed in 2020-21, suggesting the change in role is paying dividends, though he remains an able option in the middle such is his quality on the ball and ability to break forward.

In each of the past two seasons, Nkunku didn't manage to start more than 21 league games, but he's already on 11 this term. He's maturing and seemingly found his niche – now all he needs is that elusive first call-up.

 

Alan Velasco (Argentina) – 19, winger, Independiente

Lionel Scaloni has restored a significant amount of respect for Argentina's national team, guiding them to Copa America success earlier this year – that was their first international title at senior level in 28 years.

During his three years in charge, Scaloni has used 75 different players in matches, which shows both the wealth of options he has but also how willing he is to give individuals a chance.

In attack is arguably where Argentina's depth is greatest, but Independiente talent Velasco is surely one of the likeliest to earn a first cap over the next 12 months.

A positive and direct left-winger who likes to cut inside onto his right foot, Velasco has been enjoying something of a breakthrough season in Argentina's Primera Division, particularly during the second stage.

 

He has five goal involvements (one goal, four assists) since mid-July, with no one in the division managing to set up more than five in the entire year, and he has unsurprisingly become a bit of a target for opponents, as highlighted by his 2.9 fouls suffered every 90 minutes being the third-most among players with at least five appearances.

But that doesn't deter him. His 41 chances created is the third highest in the division, and the most among under-21 players, while his 91 dribbles completed and 4.8 per 90 minutes are both league highs.

Velasco also works hard off the ball, making 47 recoveries in the opposition's half, which is fifth among all players. The teenager is a big talent who also boasts strong work ethic – Scaloni will surely have him earmarked as one to watch.

Cade Cowell (United States) – 18, forward, San Jose Earthquakes

There aren't many countries in the world producing more exciting young talent than the United States at the moment, with their squads for the next few World Cups shaping up to be very promising.

While 2022 will probably come too soon for Cowell – arguably the wildcard of this list – he certainly shouldn't be written off, given he has already spent time training with the senior squad before.

A dynamic, quick and strong attacker who play out wide as well, Cowell is the third-youngest player in MLS history to reach 50 appearances, having reached that landmark at 18 years and 16 days old. Only Freddy Adu (16y, 2m, 25d) and Alphonso Davies (17y, 7m) got there quicker.

 

This season, despite only starting for 14 of his 33 MLS appearances, Cowell has amassed 11 goal involvements (five goals, six assists), which only Jesus Ferreira (17 – 8g, 9a) and Ricardo Pepi (16 – 13g, 3a) can better among under-21 players.

There's no mistaking Cowell is very much a rough diamond. He doesn't create a huge amount of chances (1.3 per 90 mins), his duels (32.2 per cent) and dribble (47.6 per cent) success rates aren't great, but he's young and raw. Improvements here should come naturally, and a big 2022 might just propel him into a national side that's not afraid to give youngsters a chance.

 

Amine Gouiri (France) – 21, forward, Nice

If there's one team in international football that would be the toughest to break into as a forward, it's probably France, but Gouiri looks special.

It now looks utterly astonishing that Nice managed to get him for as little as an initial €7million from Lyon in 2020, and the versatile forward – who is comfortable on the left or through the middle – is enjoying the kind of consistency not always associated with young players.

The 2020-21 season was his first as a regular starter in top-flight football and he went on to score a highly respectable 12 goals. While that failed to match his 14.6 expected goals (xG), perhaps showing a degree of inexperience, he did also lay on seven assists.

 

Once again, Gouiri's goals haul of six is a little behind his xG (8.1), suggesting a hint of wastefulness, but only three players are providing greater service than him, with his 3.3 expected assists (xA) ranking high.

Technically, Gouiri is exceptional and explosive, and this undoubtedly helps him create openings and space in the final third, with his combined average of 0.97 expected goals and assists every 90 minutes this season the second-highest in Ligue 1.

Gouiri is too good to never play for France – it's only a matter of time until he gets the call-up, and if he carries on his current trajectory for the next 12 months, Qatar will beckon.

 

Matias Arezo (Uruguay) – 18, forward, River Plate (URU)

Uruguay has produced some truly great strikers down the years. After more of a barren spell in that regard since Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez came through, there is once again a cause for optimism with Darwin Nunez, Agustin Alvarez and, arguably chief among them, Arezo.

The teenager turns 19 this November, so he's still got lots to learn and much room for growth, but the early signs are hugely promising – his stocky appearance, powerful style of play and feistiness (13 yellow cards over 2020 and 2021) have earned him the nickname 'Buffalo', and he's already a reliable source of goals despite his youth.

Arezo scored 13 times in 35 Uruguayan Primera appearances last term – he's matched that haul from 26 outings this year. For comparison's sake, Suarez got 10 in 27 in his first full season in the division with Nacional, while Cavani recorded nine in 25 appearances for Danubio before moving to Europe.

Qatar 2022 will almost certainly be the last World Cup for Suarez and Cavani if Uruguay make it, so they are likely to be involved – but otherwise, La Celeste's forward options are up in the air.

Arezo has been coping well in the physical competitiveness of South America's domestic football and must be in with a great shout of forcing his way into contention for the mission to Qatar.

France boss Didier Deschamps insists he will continue to select players on merit and not in response to "buzz" ahead of his team's final two World Cup qualifiers.

The world champions sit top of Group D and will qualify for Qatar 2022 if they win either of their upcoming matches against Kazakhstan and Finland.

At a press conference ahead of the two games, Deschamps was asked why he has not yet selected Lens right-back Jonathan Clauss, despite the player making a "buzz" in Ligue 1 this season.

"A buzz? But who is making the buzz?" Deschamps asked with a smile. "I watch the matches, so a lot of players, including this Lens player, of course. Buzz or no buzz, that's not what will lead me to select a player or not.

"Of course, [Clauss] is one of the players we follow. With the characteristics that are his, after it is also a question of competition in the position. I know you're waiting for something new at every selection, but I'm not here for that."

It was put to Deschamps that perhaps the 29-year-old's age or lack of experience in the Champions League or Europa League had put the coach off selecting him.

"I have always incorporated new ones, and to draw a parallel to the age of the player, Jordan Veretout is more or less the same age," he said.

"He arrived late, he plays in Rome, in European competition of course, but that does not prevent [Clauss from being picked. [It's the same for] those of 18 years, I select [them] when I think it is the [right] moment. The 'buzz' is closed."

Does Clauss deserve a place with Les Bleus?

Deschamps has named a 23-man squad for the upcoming games, including Bayern Munich's Benjamin Pavard and Lyon's Leo Dubois, both of whom can play in Clauss’s usual position of right back.

The manager has decided to stick with what he knows for now, given the importance of getting over the line in World Cup qualifying, but is Clauss’s form at Lens more than just "buzz"?

It is difficult to compare him to Pavard as the Bayern defender only returned to action in September after an ankle injury and has only played nine games, less than half of which were in the Bundesliga.

If Clauss is going to force his way into the France squad, a likelier route may be to do so at the expense of his fellow Ligue 1 competitor, Dubois.

The obvious reason for the public clamour for Clauss is his two goals and six assists from 13 league games this season – three of those (one goal, two assists) came in his team's 4-0 thrashing of Troyes on Friday, whereas Dubois is yet to register his first goal involvement in 11 appearances.

 

However, it must be noted that Clauss primarily plays as a right wing-back, and sometimes even as a right midfielder for Lens, while Dubois predominantly plays as an orthodox full-back.

That goes someway to explaining how Clauss has created 28 chances, compared to just six from Dubois.

The Lyon man has the upper hand in terms of passing and defensive play, with superior percentages in passing accuracy (85.4 to 77.3), dribble success (58.3 to 47.1), duel success (60.6 to 56) and tackle success (60.7 to 50), though some of these may be down to Dubois operating in less-congested areas of the pitch.

Clauss comes out on top when it comes to interceptions though, making 27 so far, more than twice as many as Dubois (12).

Either way, Deschamps has an embarrassment of riches at his disposal, and it cannot be a massive surprise to see him stick with the players he knows well at the end of a qualifying campaign that has not always been comfortable.  

But if Clauss can maintain his high standards, he might just get the opportunity many feel he deserves next year when Deschamps turns his attention towards World Cup preparation friendlies.

Manchester United, Manchester City, Real Madrid and Barcelona all pursued Erling Haaland in the recent transfer window.

The 21-year-old Norway forward opted to stay with Borussia Dortmund.

But the race will heat up again at the end of the season.

 

TOP STORY – BARCA INTERESTED IN STERLING

Manchester United still want to sign Borussia Dortmund striker Erling Haaland and will make a move next European summer, reports the Express.

United made a major transfer splash when they landed Cristiano Ronaldo last month but remain in the Haaland race.

The Red Devils are looking to end their trophy drought and added Raphael Varane and Jadon Sancho along with Ronaldo for this season.

 

ROUND-UP

- United are leading the way in the chase to sign Jude Bellingham from Borussia Dortmund, according to The Sun. The 18-year-old is being pursued by Chelsea and Manchester City too.

- The Sun reports that United are planning a clear-out at the end of this season, including Donny van de Beek , Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial to free up funds.

- Calciomercato reports that Juventus have identified Real Madrid forward Luka Jovic as a transfer target in the January window on loan.

- Ligue 1 club Lens could make a bid for Liverpool's Belgium international forward Divock Origi , claims Fichajes.

- Crystal Palace are interested in signing US international forward Daryl Dike from Orlando City, reports The Sun. Dike is set to command a £18m fee.

- Transfer expert Ekrem Konur claims that Flamengo have tabled an offer to sign Brazilian veteran Dani Alves.

French football authorities will demand answers from Lens after home fans invaded the pitch and confronted rival supporters at half-time in their Ligue 1 derby against Lille. 

Lens general manager Arnaud Pouille is certain the Ligue de Football Professionnel (LFP) will begin disciplinary proceedings against his club, following the ugly scenes at their Stade Bollaert-Delelis home. 

Lille may also be summoned as league chiefs unpick the unsavoury scenes that saw fans from each club contribute to a volatile atmosphere. 

Tension spilled over at the interval as scores of Lens supporters raced across the pitch towards those who had travelled to support Lille. 

Pouille said the north-east derby trouble was bad news for the clubs because it would be "the image of the region that is affected". 

"I have a clear idea of what happened," he said, according to L'Equipe. "But I don't want to influence anyone by speaking out. It is not under our authority. 

"There were a few actions that ignited the powder and a reaction that is damaging. But in these cases, speaking out is complicated because whatever you say, you make it feel like you want to influence. 

"We condemn any act of violence. There are proceedings that are ongoing. At the level of the LFP, at the level of justice, there will be complaints filed by the club, and by the opposing club also from what I understood." 

Lille announced on Twitter at half-time that the game was under threat, stating: "Following a pitch invasion from the home end of the stadium, an emergency meeting is taking place to decide whether the match will be continued or abandoned." 

Pouille said he had spoken to Lille president Olivier Letang at half-time, as the trouble occurred. 

The recent abandonment of the match between Nice and Marseille due to supporter violence was followed by Nice receiving a two-point penalty, one of which was suspended. 

According to Pouille, the trouble at Saturday's match could not be compared to the mayhem in that fixture. 

"It is not at all the same circumstances," Pouille said. "No players in the [Lens-Lille] game were affected, the main events took place at half-time. 

"Yes, there will certainly be a summons from the disciplinary committee, we will discuss with them at that time." 

Lens went on to win 1-0 against last season's champions, who have made a rocky start to their title defence. 

Lille head coach Jocelyn Gourvennec said he had been unaware of the precise circumstances behind the trouble. The game was held up, with 40 minutes between the end of the first half and the beginning of the second. 

"Half-time incidents? We had already returned to the locker room. I don't really know what happened," Gourvennec said. "We were informed by the delegates and Mr Millot [referee Benoit Millot] who spoke to the coaches and captains. 

"It was just a bit long, it lengthened the half-time, we had to do a warm-up again, it was not ideal. I do not know more. I hope there were no injuries."

When we look ahead to the Olympics, we usually think about track & field sports, swimming, cycling, maybe even wrestling and boxing.

Given it dominates so much of the sporting agenda for the rest of the year, football may not be among those sports we initially associate with the Olympics, but it has offered numerous stars the opportunity to show their talents to a global audience and to potentially take home a coveted medal.

Of course, the Olympic football tournament is geared more towards lesser-established players, given the age-restriction rules in place.

While teams are usually allowed no more than three players over the age of 23, that age limit has been increased to 24 so not to penalise those around the cut-off who may well have missed out as a result of the 12-month delay caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Superstars such as Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Lionel Messi may be missing, but there are still plenty of familiar faces. Barcelona's Pedri will be involved after starring for Spain at Euro 2020; Brazil great Dani Alves is joined by Arsenal and Everton forwards Gabriel Martinelli and Richarlison; and dynamic Milan midfielder Franck Kessie will be the Ivory Coast's go-to man.

But there are plenty of other relatively unheralded talents ready to make you sit up and take note. Below, Stats Perform takes a look at 10 of them.

Facundo Medina, 22, centre-back – Argentina

It's fair to say Lens defender Medina has enjoyed a rapid rise to prominence. The French side brought him in from Club Atletico Talleres just last July and he's already being mentioned as a potential target for clubs like Manchester United.

While he may not be the most physically imposing central defender, he's a good technician, which is demonstrated by his ease on the ball – only three Ligue 1 centre-backs (more than 1,000 minutes played) embarked on more ball carries per 90 minutes (20) than Medina, while his average of 56 successful passes per game was more than any of his team-mates.

Bryan Gil, 20, winger – Spain

La Roja's squad is packed with familiar names – as many as six were at Euro 2020, and that doesn't include the likes of Marco Asensio, Carlos Soler and Dani Ceballos. But of the players with less global recognition, old-fashioned left-winger Bryan is arguably the most exciting.

He just completed a very encouraging loan spell away from Sevilla with Eibar, where his direct and brave style of play was frequently on display, with only Lionel Messi, Javi Galan and Yannick Carrasco attempting more dribbles than him (132). In January he became only the second player born this century to score a LaLiga brace, and he won his first senior Spain caps this year.

 

Diego Lainez, 21, winger – Mexico

It feels like Lainez has been tipped for a big future for a long time now – after all, he first burst on to the scene with Club America four years ago. Two-and-a-half years into his time in LaLiga with Real Betis, he's yet to really establish himself with only 13 of his 48 league appearances coming as a starter. He's still not scored a goal.

But there's no doubting he's a talent. In 2020-21, he attempted a dribble every 17 minutes, which was a record among Betis players and ahead of even Nabil Fekir (21 mins). Lainez is an entertainer and clearly gifted, but perhaps lacking consistency in his end product. Who knows, as one of the more talented players in the Mexico squad, being seen as a go-to player may aid his quest for maturity.

Teji Savanier, 29, central midfielder – France

Savanier is the odd one out in this list, given he's the only one who actually counts towards an over-age quota, though it could be argued that it's to players like him that playing at the Olympics may matter the most. Savanier's never even played for France's youth teams, let alone the senior side, and he only made his top-flight bow as recently as 2018, but he's one of those central midfielders that's a joy to watch with his wonderful ability on the ball.

He has completed 58.4 per cent of his 279 dribbles in Ligue 1 since July 2018, which is bettered by only three players (more than 150 attempts) in the same period. For greater context, Neymar's completion rate in that time is 52.5 per cent. Savanier should also provide France with a threat at set-pieces, as only Benjamin Bourigeaud created more chances (40) from such situations than the Montpellier star (37) in 2020-21.

 

Thiago Almada, 20, attacking midfielder – Argentina

La Albiceleste's squad boasts numerous talented young attacking players – Ezequiel Barco, Pedro de la Vega, Ezequiel Ponce, but Almada's arguably rated highest of the lot.

A diminutive attacking midfielder from Carlos Tevez's old neighbourhood in Buenos Aires, Fuerte Apache, Almada is skilful, explosive and creative. Among players born this century, Almada boasts the best chances created per game frequency (two) in the Copa Libertadores (at least two games played) this season, as well as being the youngest player to have netted at least twice in the competition in 2021.

Claudinho, 24, forward – Brazil

All roads point to Europe for Claudinho, who looks poised to be the first major export of Red Bull Bragantino, the energy drink giant's Brazilian club. While no move has been confirmed yet, it seems only a matter of time before RB Leipzig look to bring him over to Germany.

 

After all, he was the joint-top scorer in the 2020 Brasileirao (18 goals), with his finishing abilities highlighted by the fact a league-high seven of those were scored from outside the box. Claudinho also created 25 more chances than anyone else in the division, and scooped both the Young Player of the Year and MVP awards.

 

Nathanael Mbuku, 19, winger – France

He may not necessarily be a starter for Les Bleus, given they've plenty of attacking talent in the squad, but at the very least left-winger Mbuku could be an interesting option from the bench. Reims are reported to already value him at €15million, and he has previous when it comes to excelling in national team colours – he netted five goals in six games as France finished third at the 2019 Under-17 World Cup.

Mbuku enjoyed a smattering of Ligue 1 appearances that season, though it was in 2020-21 that he truly established himself, making 28 starts – that was tied with Eduardo Camavinga for the most by a player born in 2002 or after. He caught the eye with his ability to beat a man, completing a highly respectable 58.1 per cent of his 74 dribbles last term, a completion rate bettered by only 10 players who attempted at least 70.

Felix Uduokhai, 23, centre-back – Germany

Wolfsburg plucked Uduokhai from 1860 Munich in 2017 with much expected of him. He fell well out of favour in his second season before moving on loan to Augsburg, who triggered their purchase option on him last year. Since moving to Bavaria, he's hardly looked back.

He earned his first senior call-up to the Germany team in November and now there is chatter that some of the Bundesliga's biggest clubs are circling for him again. Whoever gets Uduokhai will land an imposing centre-back whose 102 aerial wins was the fourth-highest in the league last term, while only Amos Pieper (160) bettered his 157 clearances.

 

Brenno, 22, goalkeeper – Brazil

For years, goalkeeper was considered the only position where Brazil struggled to develop world-class players, though Alisson and Ederson have firmly disproved that notion and Brenno could be another to keep an eye on.

In the 2021 Brasileirao, Brenno is averaging the fourth-most amount of saves per 90 minutes (3.5) among those to have played at least four times, and is reportedly interesting Portuguese clubs. A solid showing in Japan might see a potential transfer sped up.

Amad Diallo, 19, winger – Ivory Coast

Manchester United fans will be eager to get a good look at Amad during the Olympics, given they only got glimpses of him in 2020-21 after joining from Atalanta. Amid those eight appearances, he certainly showed flashes of his exciting ability and silky footwork, but they will hope to see some performances of a little more substance.

As much as anything, it could be an opportunity for Amad to earn himself a loan move or prove to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer he's worth keeping around. Jadon Sancho's arrival will likely further impact his exposure to first-team football, but impressing in Japan might encourage his manager to use him as a regular back up to the England international, with Mason Greenwood moved into a central position.

Europe's top five leagues all conclude this week and there are still plenty of matters to be resolved – not least who will be crowned champions in Spain and France.

Every division has something riding on the final days of the season, whether it be top spot, European qualification, or relegation.

Ahead of what is set to be a dramatic conclusion to the Premier League, LaLiga, Ligue 1, Serie A and the Bundesliga campaigns, we look at the state of play in each league.

 

PREMIER LEAGUE

Manchester City wrapped up the Premier League title with three games to spare, making them the first team in the competition's history to win the title despite being as low as eighth on Christmas Day.

All three relegation places were also decided with three games remaining – a Premier League record – with Fulham joining Sheffield United and West Brom in dropping down a division.

That leaves just the European spots to fight for, and it is shaping up to be an entertaining end to the English top-flight season in that regard. Manchester United are guaranteed a top-four finish, but five other teams – Leicester City, Chelsea, Liverpool, Tottenham and West Ham – are in the mix for the two other Champions League berths with two rounds of games to go.

There is also the small matter of the Europa League places for the teams finishing in fifth and sixth, as well as a spot in the inaugural Europa Conference League, which goes to the team in seventh, meaning everyone from 10th-placed Leeds United to Leicester in third have something to play for. That includes Arsenal, who have not missed out on European football of some sort in 25 years.

LALIGA 

The Spanish title race appeared to take a dramatic twist on Sunday as Real Madrid leapfrogged Atletico Madrid at the summit for around 20 minutes. However, Atleti scored two late goals to beat Osasuna, meaning they are two points ahead of their city rivals heading into the final round of games.

Atleti, who have led the way at the top for 29 matchdays, now need to match Madrid's result against Villarreal when they travel to relegation-threatened Real Valladolid on the final day of the season. It is worth noting that Los Blancos have the superior head-to-head record, so a draw would not be enough for Atleti if Madrid win.

Barcelona are officially out of the title race, meanwhile, but they are assured of a top-four finish along with Sevilla. Real Sociedad and Real Betis occupy the Europa League spots, while Villarreal are in a Europa Conference League berth, though just one point separates the three teams so that could all yet change.

To complicate matters, Villarreal could still qualify for the Champions League by winning the Europa League final against Manchester United.

At the bottom end of the division, Eibar are already relegated and they will be joined by two of Valladolid, Elche or Huesca. Valladolid must beat Atletico in their final game to have a chance of staying up, while the onus is on Elche to better Huesca's result as they are level on points but have an inferior head-to-head record.

LIGUE 1

The Ligue 1 title battle is also going right down to the wire in a three-way dogfight. After a thrilling race that has lasted the course of the season, underdogs Lille lead heavyweights Paris Saint-Germain by one point with one matchday left.

Monaco have won seven of their previous eight games and are three points off leaders Lille, though they require both Les Dogues and PSG to slip up on the final day, as well as beating Lens. Should it come down to goal difference, PSG hold a big lead over their two title rivals.

Incredibly, PSG are still not yet technically assured of a Champions League place as Lyon in fourth are only three points worse off, although it would take a defeat for the reigning champions and victory for Lyon, plus a goal swing of 16, for them to miss out.

Monaco's opponents Lens, incidentally, also have plenty to play for at the weekend as they are sixth – enough for Europa Conference League qualification – but can still be caught by Rennes in seventh, while they could yet overtake Marseille in fifth if results go their way.

At the opposite end of the table, there may only be one spot left to be settled in the bottom three – Dijon and Nimes are both already down – but six teams are still very much in danger of the drop. Nantes occupy the relegation play-off spot, with Lorient, Brest and Strasbourg just a point better off, and Bordeaux and Reims only two points clear.

SERIE A

With Inter being crowned Scudetto winners for the first time in 11 years at the start of the month, the biggest storyline in Serie A regards Juventus' top-four fate. The dethroned champions, who had finished top nine years running before this season, are currently down in fifth.

Juve are one point behind Napoli and Milan in the two spots directly above them, while Atalanta are three points better off in second and have the better head-to-head record against the Bianconeri.

Andrea Pirlo's side are therefore in need of favours on the final day in what is poised to be a nail-biting finale in terms of those Champions League places. Lazio will finish sixth, so they are assured of Europa League football next term, while Roma hold a two-point advantage over Sassuolo in the Europa Conference League position.

Parma and Crotone are both down already and one of Benevento or Torino will join them, the latter currently three points outside of the relegation zone and with a game in hand to play on Benevento.

BUNDESLIGA

RB Leipzig provided Bayern Munich with some stern competition for a while, but the Bavarian giants' quality eventually told and they are Bundesliga champions for a ninth year running.

It's not only the title race that's done and dusted in Germany, in fact, as RB Leipzig are certain of second place, and both Borussia Dortmund and Wolfsburg will join them in the Champions League next season.

Eintracht Frankfurt and Bayer Leverkusen, meanwhile, will finish in fifth and sixth respectively regardless of events later this week.

However, Union Berlin have work to do if they are to finish seventh for a place in the Europa Conference League play-offs as Borussia Monchengladbach are a point further back, while Stuttgart and Freiburg are two behind with a game to go.

Seven-time German champions Schalke will be competing in the second tier of German football next season, but Cologne and Werder Bremen are hanging on in there, sitting two and one point behind Arminia Bielefeld respectively in 15th place.

Lille took a significant stride towards the Ligue 1 title with a resounding 3-0 derby win at Lens on Friday. 

The result – a fifth win in their last six league games – moved them four points clear of second-place Paris Saint-Germain, although Mauricio Pochettino's side can restore the one-point deficit with victory over Rennes on Sunday. 

Should the reigning Ligue 1 champions lose, Christophe Galtier's side can seal a first league triumph since the 2010-11 season against Saint-Etienne in their penultimate game of the campaign on May 16. 

Burak Yilmaz got them on their way in the fourth minute, slotting home from the penalty spot after Jonathan Bamba had been fouled in the area by Seko Fofana. 

Clement Michelin received a second yellow card for the hosts in the 35th minute, with Yilmaz scoring his second five minutes later courtesy of a stunning 25-yard strike into the top-left corner. 

Jonathan David added a third on the hour mark as Lille cranked up the pressure on PSG, whose run of three straight league titles is in grave danger of coming to an end.

Kylian Mbappe should be fit to face Manchester City in the Champions League semi-final second leg, Paris Saint-Germain boss Mauricio Pochettino says.

The France star sat out the 2-1 Ligue 1 win over Lens on Saturday after sustaining a calf injury in the first-leg loss to Pep Guardiola's side this week.

In his absence, Neymar and Marquinhos secured a narrow win for the champions to put pressure back on title rivals Lille and give PSG a morale boost ahead of game against City on Tuesday.

Pochettino could offer no guarantees over Mbappe's availability after the match, but he hopes to have the forward at his disposal.

"I'm optimistic for Kylian," Pochettino told reporters. "We assess him day by day. I think he'll be able to play."

The win moved PSG two points clear at the top of the table, with three games remaining, ahead of Lille's clash with Nice.

Pochettino admired his players' battling qualities as they held off European-chasing Lens, who got a goal back through Ignatius Ganago with half an hour remaining.

"It was a very difficult match. Lens play really good football. I really like their game – we suffered," Pochettino said.

"We deserved to win. We had to work hard to get the victory.

"We'll see tomorrow the state of the players' condition. The calendar is crazy, especially in these circumstances. We'll wait until the last moment to make the best decision."

Pochettino admitted it had been tough to recover from their defeat to City, particularly after an impressive first-half performance.

They had nine shots to City's four in the opening 45 minutes and deservedly led through Marquinhos' header, but second-half goals from Kevin De Bruyne and Riyad Mahrez put the visitors in the driving seat.

Given that disappointment, Pochettino was thrilled with the level of fitness and attitude displayed against Lens.

"I liked my team's character," he said. "I didn't see my team tired in the second half. They looked good physically.

"The night after City was difficult. Against [City], we played our best 45 minutes of the past four months. It wasn't easy."

Paris Saint-Germain moved back to the top of Ligue 1 thanks to a battling 2-1 win over Lens at Parc des Princes on Saturday.

Neymar scored the opener and crossed for Marquinhos to head in the champions' second as they responded well to their 2-1 home loss to Manchester City in the Champions League this week.

With Kylian Mbappe missing through injury and Marco Verratti, Angel Di Maria and Ander Herrera starting on the bench, PSG were made to work hard for a result that lifted them back above Lille at the summit, at the very least for a few hours.

Ignatius Ganago pulled a goal back for European hopefuls Lens, but Mauricio Pochettino's men held firm for a morale-boosting win ahead of their second-leg clash with City in England next Tuesday.

PSG, who lost right-back Colin Dagba to injury before the 20-minute mark, had few early chances despite their dominance, although Danilo Pereira tested Wuilker Farinez with a powerful header that was well saved by the Lens keeper.

Lens had done well to keep Neymar quiet but gifted him the opener 32 minutes in, the Brazil star slotting home confidently after Julian Draxler had pinched possession from Facundo Medina on the edge of the box.

Pablo Sarabia should have scored a second after Neymar's header from a fine Marquinhos pass, but Farinez produced a superb one-handed stop, and Lens could have snatched an equaliser before half-time had Jonathan Clauss and Clement Michelin shown more composure inside the box.

Lens began the second half well but PSG doubled their lead just before the hour mark, Marquinhos rising unchallenged to head in Neymar's corner from the right.

However, the visitors halved the deficit barely two minutes later, Ganago hooking the ball through Navas' legs after Arnaud Kalimuendo sliced an attempted overhead kick.

Neymar curled a free-kick off the right post, seemingly via the fingertips of Farinez, and Mauro Icardi saw a goal disallowed for a Marco Verratti offside, but Lens could not capitalise on those moments of fortune.

Kylian Mbappe will miss Paris Saint-Germain's game against Lens on Saturday due to a calf injury that could also rule him out of the Champions League trip to Manchester City.

Mbappe played the full game as PSG lost 2-1 to the Premier League leaders in the first leg of the semi-final on Wednesday.

However, the France international – who did not have a shot against City, though he did create four chances – is not fit to feature against Lens in Ligue 1, denying him the chance to add to his tally of 25 goals in the competition this season.

PSG boss Mauricio Pochettino was vague in his response when asked about the chances of Mbappe returning in time to play at the Etihad Stadium on Tuesday.

"Kylian has a problem with his right calf," Pochettino told the media. "We hope it is not serious and that he can be back with us as soon as possible.

"He is an important player for us and when you don’t have a key player, it always has an impact. But we have players in the squad who can do well and fill in for him.

"This will get us close to the victory that we want, which is the most important thing."

PSG led 1-0 at half-time against City, captain Marquinhos heading them in front in the 15th minute at Parc des Princes. However, Pep Guardiola's side hit back impressively after the break, turning the game around thanks to goals from Kevin De Bruyne and Riyad Mahrez.

Despite the disappointing result, Pochettino insists the mood within the squad remains positive - and made clear the immediate focus is on the Ligue 1 title race, rather than the return meeting with City.

"After losing in the Champions League, the players want to be competing again to get over that bad feeling," Pochettino said.

"The players are doing well. We lost the first leg but are motivated and convinced that we can turn it around.

"With all respect to Manchester City, we will go there to play the game. The mood is good; we are motivated for the game tomorrow, which is the most important one."

Asked about the tactical approach for the second leg, he replied: "We want to reaffirm the positive things that we did in the first leg – and there were many of them. I think we have to analyse that.

"We did very well in the first half and were superior to City. We were in the second half as well, but after conceding two goals, which were tough blows for us to take, plus the sending off [of Idrissa Gueye], meant that we played with less players.

"The team remained mentally strong against a very good Manchester City team. In terms of tactics, we will be ready for a battle."

Could Barcelona be about to make a splash in the free-agent market?

Strapped for cash amid the coronavirus pandemic, Barca are believed to have set their sights on two stars.

David Alaba and Sergio Aguero are on the agenda at Camp Nou…

 

TOP STORY – BARCA EYEING OUT-OF-CONTRACT DUO

Barcelona are set to target Bayern Munich star David Alaba and Manchester City's Sergio Aguero , according to Mundo Deportivo.

Alaba and Aguero are both out of contract at the end of the season, prompting interest from embattled LaLiga giants Barca.

Bayern's Alaba has been tipped to join Real Madrid , while the likes of Manchester United , Liverpool and Paris Saint-Germain have also been linked.

Aguero, meanwhile, is no certainty to renew in Manchester, where Pep Guardiola is reportedly eyeing Borussia Dortmund sensation Erling Haaland and Inter's Romelu Lukaku .

 

ROUND-UP

-   Sport reports Raphael Varane wants to leave LaLiga champions Madrid . The French defender has previously been linked to United .

- Madrid cannot afford to sign the likes of PSG star Kylian Mbappe and Haaland due to their current financial situation amid the coronavirus pandemic, claims Marca.

- The Guardian says West Ham have lowered their asking price for Declan Rice , who has been linked to Chelsea and United .

- Martin Odegaard is close to swapping Madrid for Arsenal on loan, reports journalist Fabrizio Romano.

- Romano also says United have not opened talks with Lens to sign Argentine centre-back Facundo Medina . The Red Devils are eyeing a new centre-back amid links with in-demand RB Leipzig star Dayot Upamecano .

Napoli want to sign either Sporting CP full-back Nuno Mendes or Benfica's Nuno Tavares , reports Calciomercato.

- There are serious doubts over Edin Dzeko's future at Roma, with Calciomercato claiming Juventus and Inter are monitoring the situation.

Page 1 of 2
© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.