Sergio Ramos hopes his maiden Paris Saint-Germain goal will be the first of many after opening his account for the club.

The defender was on target in the second half at the Parc des Princes as the runaway Ligue 1 leaders enjoyed a commanding 4-0 victory over Reims.

Ramos was making only his second league start for PSG, with injury problems meaning he has endured a challenging start to life in the French capital since making the switch from Real Madrid.

The 35-year-old was thrilled to mark his return to the starting line-up with a goal and 90 minutes under his belt.

"I am very happy for this victory and for my first goal with this team," Ramos told Amazon Prime Video. "I'm glad I played 90 minutes. I like to have the support of the fans. It's good to have taken the three points.

"This is my first goal with PSG and I hope there will be many more. The important thing is to improve physically day after day and show the best version of myself to the team."

Mauricio Pochettino, whose side extended their unbeaten home run in Ligue 1 to 14 matches, also expressed his delight for Ramos.

"I'm happy for him. It's important for him to finish a game," the head coach said. "In addition, with his goal, he validated all this. We will still work on his physical form.

"We didn't play the way we wanted to do in the first half. Then we made a lot of mistakes.

"In the second [half], we played better – with more pressure and presence. We found spaces, we scored, and continue to move forward."

Mauricio Pochettino declared Paris Saint-Germain are ready to do business before the transfer window closes – but refused to discuss Tanguy Ndombele.

Tottenham midfielder Ndombele is thought to be a target for the Ligue 1 leaders, with reports that a loan deal is being discussed between the clubs.

Pochettino brought Ndombele to Spurs in 2019 and thinks highly of the former Lyon playmaker, but a move back to France is not yet a formality.

The Argentine head coach declined to explain PSG's apparent interest in the 25-year-old when his name was mentioned in a news conference on Saturday.

"I don't like speaking about rumours or players who are at other clubs," said Pochettino. "We have a squad with enormous quality. The club made a huge effort in the summer to put together the best possible squad with the right balance.

"The transfer window is open now. It also depends on the players who are not getting many chances here. Or for whatever reasons it is that they want to leave.

"The window is open, and the club is always open. Not just to listen but also to see what is happening in the transfer market. I am pleased with the squad that I have. We will deal with individual matters as they come up."

Lionel Messi is poised for his first appearance of the year as Pochettino's team tackle Reims on Sunday, with Kylian Mbappe also set to feature after recovering from an adductor problem.

Messi made his PSG debut as a substitute when PSG and Reims met in August, with a double from Mbappe earning a 2-0 away win amid a whirlwind of global interest in the game.

"It will definitely be a different match to the first one we played against them," Pochettino said.

Messi is fit after a brush with COVID-19, and Pochettino added: "Leo Messi has trained this week. We are pleased with how he is coming along. He is going to be in the squad tomorrow.

"It is always good news when players who have been out for a while are able to return and be back in the squad to help the team."

Mbappe scored in last weekend's 2-0 win against Brest, before a midweek medical bulletin pointed to an injury.

"We are happy to see the way that his problem has evolved," Pochettino said. "He trained with us in the last two sessions. He is going to be in the squad tomorrow. We will decide tomorrow if he starts or is on the bench."

Messi has not scored in his last five domestic matches for PSG and has just six goals across all competitions since arriving from Barcelona.

He has hit the woodwork more than anybody in the French top flight this season (six) – more times than the entire Reims squad (five).

PSG have won each of their last three meetings with Reims in Ligue 1 without conceding a goal, achieving as many clean sheets in this sequence as in the first 11 between the two clubs in the 21st century.

Reims will clearly do well to take anything from Sunday's game, having not scored in their last two Ligue 1 games and with PSG having won 12 and drawn one of their last 13 home games in the competition.

Mauricio Pochettino believes that Paris Saint-Germain's win over Brest can give them confidence for their Champions League tie with Real Madrid.

Runaway Ligue 1 leaders PSG sit 11 points clear at the summit after cruising to a 2-0 victory over Brest at Parc des Princes on Saturday.

Kylian Mbappe opened the scoring with his 10th Ligue 1 goal of the season, meaning he has now hit double figures in six straight league seasons – in that period, no other player has managed to do so more than three times – before Thilo Kehrer sealed the three points.

With Madrid to come in the Champions League last-16 in February, Pochettino insisted that his side can use the triumph as a base to build confidence.

"Every game, every competition is different," he told reporters at his post-match news conference. "But this performance, especially in the second half, gives us confidence. 

"It reaffirms certain ideas and concepts that we must work on. It's true that the team was good and did what we expected.

"We started well but then we lost a few balls and we got into trouble. In the second half we made better decisions. 

"We saw good collective play, we controlled the match. I am happy with the involvement of all the players. We had better circulation by being aggressive. Yes, I am satisfied, because it was not an easy game.

"We would have liked to win more broadly so that it corresponds to the number of chances we created. But the most important thing is to get chances. 

"We know that we have players who have the goals in their legs. If they didn't score today it will be next time."

Pochettino also had time to introduce centre-back Sergio Ramos for his home debut after the hour mark.

And the former Tottenham head coach suggested that the Spain international could offer him a different dimension with his team, with the option of playing a three-man defence.

He responded to reporters when asked about deploying three defenders: "It is an option. Everything is possible in football. We can consider it. We have already done this during the match. 

"It's not just putting in players but yes, it's an option."

Kylian Mbappe and Thilo Kehrer were on target as Paris Saint-Germain cruised to a 2-0 Ligue 1 win over Brest at Parc des Princes.

Mauricio Pochettino's side headed into Saturday's meeting on an 11-game unbeaten league run, albeit with four draws in their last five, and were ahead when Mbappe struck in the 32nd minute.

That strike was the 23-year-old's 10th in Ligue 1 this term, meaning he has hit double figures in six straight seasons – in the same period, no other player has done so more than three times.

Kehrer extended PSG's advantage after the interval as the hosts coasted to three points to move 11 clear of second-placed Nice at the summit.

Irvin Cardona twice forced smart stops from Gianluigi Donnarumma in the opening stages, while Mbappe drilled narrowly wide at the other end.

But there was no stopping Mbappe after 32 minutes when he fired through Brendan Chardonnet's legs and into the bottom-left corner, before Mauro Icardi saw his header disallowed for an apparent foul on Marco Bizot.

Marco Verratti almost added a second immediately after the break, only to be denied by the post, though the hosts doubled their lead soon after.

Nuno Mendes danced past Ronael Pierre-Gabriel to find Kehrer, who applied a first-time finish into the top-right corner from near the penalty spot.

Bizot then denied Marquinhos with a fantastic reflex save before making two fine stops from Mbappe to keep the scoreline respectable for Brest.

Mikel Arteta may be confident that his side can still recruit any player in the world, but Arsenal may have to wait if they are to sign Dusan Vlahovic from Fiorentina.

The in-demand Serbia international is the joint-fourth highest scorer in Europe's top five leagues this term and is wanted by an array of clubs across the continent.

While a January move has been touted, however, Fiorentina appear to be playing hardball when it comes to the future of the 21-year-old striker.


TOP STORY – FIORENTINA DEMANDS PREVENTING ARSENAL'S VLAHOVIC PURSUIT

Arsenal are reportedly willing to match Fiorentina's €75million (£62.62m) asking price for Vlahovic, which would make him the second-most expensive player in their history.

However, The Independent reports that the Serie A side want the majority of that money paid upfront, whereas Arsenal intend to spread the cost over the next four years.

The Gunners may therefore have to wait until the end of the campaign, at which point Vlahovic will have a year to run on his contract, before renegotiating with Fiorentina.

 


ROUND-UP

– It is shaping up to be a busy conclusion to the January window for Arsenal as Goal reports that the Premier League side have made contact with Juventus over a loan move for midfielder Arthur Melo, while Leicester City's Youri Tielemans is another potential target.

– L'Equipe claims that Paul Pogba remains a target for Paris Saint-Germain as he nears the end of his Manchester United contract. The midfielder has not featured since November due to injury and is not expected to return until next month.

– According to The Mail, Man Utd are eyeing a move for Brighton and Hove Albion's Tariq Lamptey as an upgrade on Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Diogo Dalot. Interim boss Ralf Rangnick is said to be a big fan of the right-sided player's versatility.

– Sticking with Rangnick and United, the German coach has put Ajax boss Erik ten Hag's name forward as the best option to replace him when his interim spell at Old Trafford ends in June. That is according to Le Parisien, with the French outlet also suggesting PSG's Mauricio Pochettino still remains in the frame.

– Ambitious Newcastle United have already brought in Kieran Trippier this month and more players look set to follow. Tuttomercato suggests that Roma's Chris Smalling could be lured to St James' Park as the Magpies desperately attempt to strengthen at centre-back.

Freiburg's Nico Schlotterbeck is attracting plenty of interest this month, with Bayern Munich and Real Madrid among those being linked. Bayern appear to be leading that particular race if reports from Spain are anything to go by, with the defender supposedly keen to stay in the Bundesliga.

Paris Saint-Germain boss Mauricio Pochettino defended his selection after fielding Georginio Wijnaldum in Lionel Messi's usual role – as the former Liverpool star toiled in the 1-1 draw at Lyon.

Wijnaldum was deployed in an attacking right-sided role, with Messi ruled out after his recent COVID-19 positive test.

The runaway Ligue 1 leaders managed just three shots on target in a frustrating game, having 68.4 per cent of possession but struggling to make their dominance count, and Pochettino lamented their slow start after the final whistle.

PSG required a late strike from substitute Thilo Kehrer to take a point, having trailed for over an hour after Lucas Paqueta's early goal.

Wijnaldum had only one shot, which did not hit the target, while on the opposite flank Kylian Mbappe failed with five shots, although two hit the goal frame.

Netherlands international Wijnaldum, who signed for PSG last June, had a 95.6 per cent passing accuracy rate, but he struggled to pose a substantial attacking threat to mid-table Lyon.

Asked after the game to assess Wijnaldum's struggles, Pochettino defended his decision to field the midfielder in such an advanced role, and in a variety of positions during his short PSG career.

Pochettino, quoted in L'Equipe, said: "It is also a question of balance, of players available. I don't think it's a question of position but of states of form.

"Wijnaldum has a lot of experience, he has been at great clubs. He is used to playing in different positions."

 

PSG mounted their recovery after substituting central midfielders Leandro Paredes and Ander Herrera on the 69-minute mark, with Wijnaldum following them off the pitch late in the game.

"When we changed, we were looking for freshness. The introductions of Thilo Kehrer, Xavi Simons and Edouard Michut brought energy and enthusiasm," Pochettino said.

"They played part in the equaliser and they carried the team, so I'm happy."

PSG remain 11 points clear at the top of the Ligue 1 table, but have now drawn four of their last five league games.

Paris Saint-Germain will be without Lionel Messi for Sunday's Ligue 1 trip to Lyon.

Messi tested positive for COVID-19 while back home in Argentina and subsequently missed PSG’s 4-0 victory over Vannes in the Coupe de France on Monday.

However, the seven-time Ballon d'Or winner returned a negative test on Wednesday and was set to be available to face Lyon.

Yet Ligue 1 leaders confirmed on Saturday that the 34-year-old will "continue his post-COVID individual recovery protocol for the next few days."

 

PSG also revealed that Angel Di Maria, Julian Draxler, Danilo Pereira, Layvin Kurzawa and Gianluigi Donnarumma remain in isolation after recently returning positive tests.

Meanwhile, Neymar is resuming his rehabilitation and is scheduled to return to training in three weeks' time.

Head coach Mauricio Pochettino acknowledges that PSG must adapt in the absence of players, but insists that every team is in the same boat.

During his pre-match press conference, he said: "All teams have absent players; so do we. We have to adapt to everyday life. Sometimes, we have to change our plans.

"It's the same every game, we always have to make choices. We have to put the players in the best conditions."

On the prospect of facing Peter Bosz's Lyon side, he added: "They are one of the best teams in France. 

"There is a very great coach. In the end, they will be fighting for the first places.

"It will be difficult, but we are optimistic."

Mauricio Pochettino saluted the respect and professionalism demonstrated by Paris Saint-Germain during their Coupe de France win over Vannes.

The reigning champions resumed their latest title defence with a comfortable 4-0 victory over the fourth-tier outfit at Stade de la Rabine.

Kylian Mbappe scored a second-half hat-trick – including his 150th goal for the club in all competitions – after Presnel Kimpembe broke the deadlock in the 28th minute.

PSG have now scored seven times without reply in their opening two matches of this season's competition.

Mbappe and Kimpembe were among only a handful of senior players to feature for the visitors as Pochettino handed youth an opportunity to impress.

And the head coach underlined the importance of giving his younger players exposure at a senior level.

During his post-match interview on Eurosport, he said: "Respect is always the most important thing, that's what I told the players. 

"We were very professional, I am very happy with this performance of the team. 

"The goal was to qualify for the next round, it's done.

"We have an incredible academy, it's important that they are on the pitch and that they can participate in this adventure of the first team. 

"We have very, very good players, it's important for the club to have this pool. 

"We will try to believe in them, to give them the opportunity to play."

Kylian Mbappe has convinced Mauricio Pochettino he will not be affected by transfer speculation as Paris Saint-Germain battle to keep the striker from Real Madrid's clutches.

France frontman Mbappe was targeted by Madrid in August and the Spanish giants are expected to attempt to sign the 23-year-old once more, with his contract less than six months away from expiring.

So far, Mbappe has given little indication about his plans, and it is an enviable choice that awaits the former Monaco player.

PSG head coach Pochettino will keep his focus on matters on the pitch, with contract negotiations not part of his remit. Mbappe could leave on a free transfer, but PSG hope he will agree to lucrative terms on a long-term extension.

Pochettino has been assured by Mbappe's words and deeds that the player who has 15 goals in 24 games this season will not be distracted by the question of where he will be playing next term.

"I think the contract situations in football only affects you if you are not mature enough," Pochettino said in a news conference on Sunday.

"Kylian Mbappe is mature and we know what the conditions are here. We do not think it is a problem. We all hope Kylian Mbappe can stay at the club for many years, but there are two sides to making this decision.

"We hope that Kylian Mbappe continues performing as he has been doing and that there is a positive solution for everyone."

Mbappe has said he has no intention of jumping ship in mid-season, meaning PSG can plan around him for the rest of this campaign.

They lead Ligue 1 and are through to the last 16 of the Champions League, where Madrid of all teams will be their opponents, which will inevitably trigger a new wave of speculation.

Speaking to CNN, Mbappe said in December: "No, I'm not joining Real Madrid in January. In January it's not happening.

"I'm in Paris Saint-Germain, I'm really happy, and I will 100 per cent finish the season as a PSG player. I'll give everything to win with Paris all titles this year."

PSG will hope to win the Coupe de France again, after taking that title in six of the last seven seasons, and begin their campaign against fourth-tier outfit Vannes on Monday.

"I like the Coupe de France," said Pochettino. "It's the oldest competition in France, we love this competition and playing against teams like Vannes. That's real football, it's a football that speaks to everyone and we can’t wait to be there."

Lionel Messi has tested positive for COVID-19, Paris Saint-Germain have announced.

The Argentine forward and seven-time Ballon d'Or winner will miss the Coupe de France game against Vannes on Monday as a result.

French giants PSG said Juan Bernat, Sergio Rico and Nathan Bitumazala had also tested positive.

"They are currently in isolation and are subject to the appropriate health protocol," the Ligue 1 leaders announced on their website.

Head coach Mauricio Pochettino is expected to field a young side in the domestic cup game, with Neymar also unavailable as he continues to recover from an ankle injury.

PSG said Neymar would continue to be treated in Brazil for another week. "His return to training is still expected to be in about three weeks," the club said.

Pochettino said in a news conference: "We have been living with the virus for two years now, and I think we all know we need to avoid it.

"But it is a virus we have been living with for a long time and there is still a lot that we do not know about how it works.

"Leo Messi has been in regular contact with our medical team and when he has a negative test he will travel to France, and we do not know any more than that."

PSG play their first Ligue 1 game of 2022 against Lyon next Sunday, but with former Barcelona captain Messi currently in Argentina he appears to be a significant doubt for that fixture.

"I do not know if he will be involved against Lyon," Pochettino said. "Until Leo Messi gets a negative test in Argentina, he will not be able to travel to France.

"It is all down to the test in terms of when he can travel. When he does, we will assess when he is ready to play."

Louis Saha dreams of Manchester United appointing Zinedine Zidane but insisted the club's players must respect whichever manager is in place if they are to succeed.

United have underwhelmed in the first half of the Premier League season, sitting in seventh under the interim management of Ralf Rangnick after the dismissal of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

Former RB Leipzig coach Rangnick has overseen three wins and a draw in his opening four league games, but is only in temporary charge until the end of the season when the potential for a two-year consultancy role will come into play.

United have already confirmed they will seek out a long-term replacement at the end of the season, which could still end up being the German manager, with the likes of Zidane and Mauricio Pochettino being proposed by many as the leading candidates.

Saha placed his backing in fellow Frenchman Zidane, who has been without a club since leaving Real Madrid last May, as the former United striker outlined the sort of appointment he believes the club requires.

He told Stats Perform: "I feel like anyone who has proved in some way in some capacity, I think Pochettino is one of them.

"But anyone who has proved that you can build a team and make them improve in a way to win the Premier League as [Jurgen] Klopp has done, I think will have the job.

"We need to have the right manager who is able to really give that boost. We've seen this with Ralf on the touchline, that kind of energy, those guys, especially when you have three-quarters of the squad that is quite young – you need to have someone with that kind of energy. 

"I don't want to put Pochettino above anyone. In my dream, I think about Zidane. There are definitely good names that I've heard in the last few weeks. 

"But yes, those are names and the most important is the fit where there is a project. Whoever is coming is not coming for two years because you want to attach his name to a big club."

Saha knows what it takes to win at Old Trafford, given he collected two Premier League titles and a Champions League triumph during his time in Manchester under Alex Ferguson between 2004 and 2008.

Bruno Fernandes and Cristiano Ronaldo are two of United's key figures this campaign, but the pair were labelled as "whingebags" negatively influencing their team by Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville following a 1-1 draw with Newcastle United.

Ronaldo's agent Jorge Mendes quashed any talk of discontent within the Red Devils dressing room as he stated his client's happiness on Friday and Saha believes United's managerial success will be built on respect.

"The formula I've seen that works is because you show respect and you have a very strong man-management," he added. "Ferguson at the time when I've seen that he had so many challenges because you get so much ego in the team. 

"People with a lot of trophies like Roy Keane, like Gary Neville, [Paul] Scholes or [Ruud] van Nistelrooy and you have the youth come in and have that sense of urgency, they want to win, they want to play and all those things. 

"You have to really show as much respect as strength and at the same time, humility. It's a very odd combination, but it's very important you have to really show that you are confident, strong.

"You need the support of everybody because the project is a team thing. So those are the ways to manage because everyone will give them respect. If you miss this thing. You're in trouble."

Asked whether Saha thought that was United's current problem with leadership, he responded: "Yeah, definitely. That's not a problem about talent. That's not a problem about not winning. 

"They want to win, but they don't have the formula, the people around who give them the right indication."

Lionel Messi remains the best player in the world in Ander Herrera's eyes and the midfielder expects Kylian Mbappe to dominate world football "for many years to come".

Messi ended a glorious 21-year association with Barcelona amid well-documented financial difficulties for the Catalan club as he moved to the Parc des Princes on a free transfer in August.

The Argentina international reunited with Neymar to form a formidable frontline with Kylian Mbappe, while Mauricio Pochettino also brought in Sergio Ramos, Achraf Hakimi, Gianluigi Donnarumma and Georginio Wijnaldum.

Paris Saint-Germain, buoyed by their new array of attacking talent, sit 13 points clear at the top of Ligue 1, although Messi is yet to fully fire as he continues to settle into life in France.

Messi netted 672 times in 778 appearances for his former club, but he has only found the net on six occasions for PSG across all competitions – averaging a goal every 219 minutes.

However, Herrera still believes Messi is comfortably the best player in the world and insisted Pochettino's side are learning to adapt around the forward, such is the 34-year-old's quality.

"Players of Messi's level shorten the acclimatisation time," Herrera told Mundo Deportivo. "He will play the same way in France, in Spain, in Japan or in Madagascar.

"He has won his seventh Ballon d'Or and trains and enjoys as if he were only starting to play now. No training action is taken as a joke.

"At times we have already seen the best version of Leo, as against [Manchester] City at home, but I think it is also the responsibility of all those around him. We have to put ourselves at his service to get the best out of him. Normally, regular players have to adapt to a new context. 

"Now it is the other way around because we are talking about the best footballer in history."

Mbappe has outshone Messi thus far, the France international managing 15 goals – scoring every 134 minutes – and 12 assists across all competitions this term.

Indeed, since the 23-year-old scored on his PSG debut on September 8, 2017, against Metz, only three players – Robert Lewandowski (208), Messi (168) and Cristiano Ronaldo (157) – have managed more goals across Europe's top-five leagues in all competitions than Mbappe (147).

But Herrera believes Messi still holds the edge over Mbappe, who the Spain international thinks will dominate football for years to come.

"Kylian will be the best player in the world for many years to come, but we all agree that Leo is number one," Herrera added. "No doubt. Mbappe has an immense humility and desire to learn from Leo."

A new contract for Mbappe has also been at the forefront of most discussions, with Real Madrid plotting a move for the former Monaco man, whose current contract expires at the end of the season.

Madrid had multiple advances turned down for Mbappe in the last transfer window, though they can open contract negotiations with the PSG forward in January should a new deal with his current club not be agreed.

But Herrera remains confident Mbappe will stay with Pochettino's side.

"There is scope to try to renew Mbappe," he said. "We have many examples of footballers who have done it in February, March or April. There's still time.

"He is an open, friendly, funny guy. We do not pressure each other at all about our futures. I'm not kidding you, we don't talk about anyone's contractual issues in the dressing room."

Former Clasico foes but now team-mates, Ramos also followed Messi as he ended a long-standing association with Madrid to move to Paris.

However, the centre-back has been hampered by injuries and received a red card in just his third outing for his new side against Lorient on Wednesday, but Herrera expects his compatriot to become a key figure.

"Of course [It has not been easy for him]," he said of Ramos. "He's used to feeling important, playing and leading. But he has now been training for two or three weeks at a fantastic level and we are optimistic.

"It shows in his character and in the happiness he radiates."

With Ramos and Messi among a depth of talent on PSG's books, Herrera understands there is more pressure on PSG now to win the Champions League, though he feels Madrid are favourites for their Champions League last-16 tie in early 2022.

"We want to win the Champions League and we are going to try," he added. "There's no doubt. But just because we have Messi doesn't mean we're entitled to more than everyone else.

"We understand that people expect the best from us, but in Europe there are eight or ten other teams with the same chances of winning.

"A club that has 13 Champions League titles, against one that has not yet been European champions, has to be a slight favourite."

Mauricio Pochettino denied that Paris Saint-Germain pulled off "a miracle" after their late equaliser rescued a point against struggling Lorient. 

The runaway Ligue 1 leaders only managed to scrap a share of the spoils at Stade du Moustoir thanks to Mauro Icardi's stoppage-time header. 

PSG had trailed to Thomas Monconduit's wonderful first-half strike for the 19th-placed hosts, who were on their worst ever run having lost each of their previous seven top-flight matches. 

The visitors were also reduced to 10 men when half-time substitute Sergio Ramos was sent off for two bookable offences but dug deep to narrowly avert a first Ligue 1 defeat in 10 games. 

Although Pochettino acknowledged his players could have performed better, he insisted that they were worthy of at least a point. 

Addressing suggestions his side had pulled off a miracle, the head coach told Canal+: "A miracle? Why a miracle? We scored a very nice goal that I think we deserved earlier. We had a lot of chances in the second half. I think you have to respect Lorient, they are a Ligue 1 team. 

"We started well with Mauro's opportunity and then we didn't have the right placements and every time we lost the ball, we allowed Lorient to have quick transitions.  

"We didn't have a good first half. Sergio [Ramos] entered the second half because we wanted to build with three central defenders and have more rhythm on the wings.  

"We were better in the second half, we had more chances and we could have scored more. The results are consistent for now. But we can still do better." 

Meanwhile, captain Marquinhos paid tribute to PSG's opponents, who produced a spirited display to end their lengthy losing run. 

"Teams are very motivated against PSG," he said. "They put us in trouble by all getting behind the ball. They defended well.  

"Any team that plays against them like that is going to have difficulties too."

Paris Saint-Germain will improve in 2022, says Mauricio Pochettino, who is satisfied with the progress he has made at the club so far.

PSG head into their final Ligue 1 game of the year, against Lorient, 13 points clear at the top of the table.

It has been a mixed bag for Pochettino since he took over in January, replacing Thomas Tuchel.

He took PSG to the Champions League semi-finals, where they were eliminated by Manchester City, who would go on to lose to Tuchel's Chelsea in the final.

Pochettino celebrated his first trophy as a coach, winning the delayed 2020 Trophee des Champions, and won the Coupe de France last season, but PSG finished second in Ligue 1 behind Lille.

They are firmly on course to regain that crown this season, with superstar Lionel Messi having arrived to form a formidable attacking trident with Neymar and Kylian Mbappe. Sergio Ramos, Gianluigi Donnarumma, Georginio Wijnaldum, Achraf Hakimi and Nuno Mendes also signed in a sensational transfer window.

However, doubts linger over Mbappe's future, with PSG rejecting Real Madrid's advances, but the 23-year-old is out of contract at the end of the season. Pochettino's future is also up in the air, with links to Manchester United not going away.

Asked for his thoughts on his first year in the job, Pochettino told a news conference: "You could compare the first six months and the last six months.

"I think it has been positive, because in the first few months you have to settle in, although I already knew the club, it was still new and the start of a project.

"Joining a club that I wanted to be at, where I played, with incredible supporters, I think that is my best memory. We have also achieved some of the success we wanted but I feel the best is to come next year.

"There aren't many bad memories. The most important thing is health, a key topic at the moment during this pandemic, so bad things in sport don't affect us in the day-to-day.

"The bad things are this pandemic made us live in a different way and has caused so much harm to loved ones, in many cases."

PSG have played 62 games in all competitions under Pochettino in 2021, with only two sides in Europe's top five leagues – Chelsea (62) and Man City (65) – playing more.

Only City (51) and Bayern Munich (42) have managed more wins than PSG's tally of 41, with Pochettino's side also ranking third for goals scored (128), while they have lost 10 times in total.

Mbappe has played the most games under Pochettino, tallying 53 appearances, five more than second-ranked Danilo Pereira.

 

The forward's 43 goals, at an average of one strike every 104 minutes, is way out in front of any other player, with Mauro Icardi next on 15.

Mbappe also leads the way for assists (16), but while Messi has gradually worked his way into consistency since signing from Barcelona, it has been a poor year for Neymar by his own standards.

The Brazil star came 16th in the Ballon d'Or voting and has played just 33 times, directly contributing to 19 goals (11 scored – six were penalties – and eight assists).

Neymar, who is injured, and the rest of PSG's South American contingent will be given freedom to return home over Christmas, with Pochettino happy to give his squad a break.

"It has been a year of a pandemic and there have been very high levels of competition," he said.

"Due to the competitiveness and the fact we are pleased with how we are doing, we are going to be back on January 1 to work hard.

"As for the South American players who are going to spend time with their families, they should be back on the 31st, so they have seven or eight days to recover with a specific plan. They will be ready to play at Vannes on January 3."

Mauricio Pochettino said Sergio Ramos' withdrawal at half-time in the 3-0 Coupe de France win over minnows Feignies-Aulnoye was planned as part of his return from injury. 

Sunday's clash against the fifth-tier side – won thanks to a brace from Kylian Mbappe and a Mauro Icardi penalty – was just the 35-year-old's second appearance for PSG, who he joined on a free transfer ahead of the 2021-22 campaign after leaving Real Madrid.

His substitution at the interval suggested he had suffered a further setback in his bid to return to full fitness, but Pochettino insisted there is nothing to be concerned about.

"He's been with us for six months and he had a very difficult start to his adventure," the PSG boss told Eurosport.

"He wants to play. Today was very good. We resume little by little with these 45 minutes. 

"It was important for him and he needs to be in good shape to be able to help us. He still has to work a lot."

The involvement of the likes of Mbappe, Icardi and Marco Verratti was proof that Pochettino did not take PSG's opposition lightly, and the former Tottenham boss said he was pleased with his side's "professional" approach.

"I think they were very professional," he added. "It's never easy in these kinds of matches because these kinds of teams are completely different. You have to be serious and approach the match in the best possible conditions. 

"But I think our game was very professional. It was what we wanted. We have qualified for the next round."

 

Highly-rated teenager Xavi Simons made his first start for the club, impressing on the right-hand side of a front three.

He had five shots and made five key passes – a total bettered only by Verratti on the pitch.

Pochettino was pleased with his display and is confident the club's youngsters will continue to benefit from playing alongside such established stars.

"We have incredible players at PSG, and in particular talented young people who have the opportunity to train with the first team and to play sometimes," he said. 

"We can give them that opportunity. PSG are a special, different club, and they need to play, to learn, but I am very satisfied with what I saw tonight, especially from the young people."

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