Lionel Messi is set to return to Paris Saint-Germain after testing negative for COVID-19.

The Ligue 1 leaders announced on Sunday that the seven-time Ballon d'Or winner had returned a positive test while back home in Argentina.

Messi subsequently missed the commanding 4-0 win over Vannes in the Coupe de France on Monday, with Kylian Mbappe scoring a hat-trick at Stade de la Rabine.

But the club has revealed the Argentina international tested negative on Wednesday and could be available for this weekend’s trip to Lyon.

 

Mauricio Pochettino will be without Layvin Kurzawa, who returned a positive test and has been placed in isolation.

Messi has struggled to find his feet in Ligue 1 since making his sensational switch from Barcelona in August.

While he has been directly involved in 10 goals (six goals, four assists) from 16 appearances across all competitions, the 34-year-old has only found the net once in 11 games in the French top flight. 

Carlo Ancelotti insisted Real Madrid's planning for next season was "already done" but did not reveal whether the club have made a fresh bid for Kylian Mbappe.

Paris Saint-Germain frontman Mbappe has entered the final six months of his contract at the Parc des Princes and it is no secret that Madrid want to bring him to Spain.

The 23-year-old was a target for Los Blancos during the last transfer window but recently ruled out leaving PSG in mid-season.

However, Italian agent Giovanni Branchini claimed LaLiga leaders Madrid have offered €50million to sign Mbappe now, less than six months after they reportedly offered up to €200m.

They could hire him as a free agent at the end of the campaign should Mbappe refuse new terms in Paris, but getting the France international through the door now would also be a major coup.

Ancelotti was asked about Branchini's comments in Madrid's news conference on Tuesday, but elected to sidestep the issue.

"Talking about players who are not here does not seem fair to me," said Ancelotti.

"I have a good relationship with Branchini. I prefer not to comment on this."

Mbappe scored a hat-trick in PSG's 4-0 Coupe de France win over Vannes on Monday and has indicated he wants to fight for trophies with Mauricio Pochettino's side this season.

Madrid are looking both short term and long term, and Ancelotti said: "The planning for next season is already done. I would find it unprofessional if a club like Madrid hadn't planned already."

On Wednesday, Madrid face Alcoyano at the Copa del Rey last-32 stage, a year on from being humiliated by the minnows at the tiny Estadio El Collao in Alcoy.

Madrid's then-coach Zinedine Zidane and his players had to swallow a 2-1 defeat last January against the third-tier team, who snatched an extra-time winner while down to 10 men.

Ancelotti said his preparation for the rematch had not involved watching a video nasty of last year's upset.

"I haven't seen last year's game," Ancelotti said. "I know what happened because the players have told me about it. It's still an open wound.

"The players know better than I what happened and what doesn't have to happen tomorrow."

A 1-0 defeat to Getafe on Sunday was a jolt to start the new year for Madrid, and Ancelotti quipped afterwards that it was as though he and his players had taken an extra day of holiday. But it will be down to business for the cup game.

"We are going to take it seriously. We know the difficulties we may have, and I will put the best team possible together," Ancelotti added.

Gareth Bale will be absent, unwell rather than injured, but Ancelotti said the Wales forward could come into the equation for the LaLiga tussle with Valencia on Saturday.

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."

January 1 ushers the start of a new year and, for many, a chance for a fresh start. That is particularly true in the world of football as it signals the day the transfer window opens and some of Europe's top talents can plot a lucrative move elsewhere.

A number of the sport's top talents, including Paris Saint-Germain superstar Kylian Mbappe and Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba, are due to be out of contract at the end of 2021-22 and can therefore open talks with teams abroad in January.

While the futures of Mbappe and Pogba will be heavily discussed in the coming weeks, other big names across the continent will also become that little more attractive to buyers given their availability on a free (notwithstanding their lucrative salaries, of course!).

Stats Perform looks at the best players soon to be out of contract and therefore available to sign pre-contract agreements elsewhere from January 1.

 

Hugo Lloris (Tottenham)

Where better place to start than with a goalkeeper potentially seeking a new destination. Lloris has spent 10 seasons with Tottenham and has captained the side for the past six years, while also skippering the France national team since 2012.

Spurs have historically been reluctant to offer long-term deals to players in their 30s and that policy could see them lose one of European football's finest goalkeepers from the past decade. He has racked up 392 appearances for Tottenham, keeping 131 clean sheets in the process.

Anthony Martial (Manchester United)

Martial did not quite transform into the superstar forward many were expecting upon joining United from Monaco six years ago, but neither has the France international been as big a flop as some would suggest.

Indeed, since making his Premier League debut in September 2015, only Marcus Rashford (57) has scored more goals for United than Martial's 56. Those goals have come from an expected goals (xG) return of 43, with that xG differential of 13 the largest of any player at the club in that timeframe.

 

Antonio Rudiger (Chelsea)

Chelsea face the prospect of losing four defenders without receiving a fee of any sort at the end of the campaign, with Andreas Christensen, Thiago Silva, Cesar Azpilicueta and Rudiger all nearing the end of their respective contracts.

Tying down Rudiger to fresh terms should be the priority, given there has arguably been no better defender in the Premier League since Thomas Tuchel first took charge of Chelsea on January 27, backed up by the centre-back's Premier League-leading 17 clean sheets over that period.

Paul Pogba (Manchester United)

No player has quite dominated the transfer column inches in the same manner as Pogba in recent years and, with no sign of a new contract being signed anytime soon, it now looks certain the 28-year-old will depart United for a second time.

Pogba may have struggled for consistency at Old Trafford, not helped by niggling injury issues, but he has averaged one assist per 90 minutes in the Premier League this season – a tally not matched by any player to have played more than once.

Kylian Mbappe (Paris Saint-Germain)

PSG rejected multiple offers from Real Madrid in 2020, but as it stands they are powerless to stop one of the game's leading lights departing at the end of the season.

As well as breaking a number of goalscoring records, Mbappe's 215 direct goal involvements in all competitions since making his PSG debut in September 2017 – 147 goals of his own and 68 assists – is a tally bettered by only Robert Lewandowski (242) and Lionel Messi (246).

 

Marcelo Brozovic (Inter)

Inter have so far been able to persuade Nicola Barella and Lautaro Martinez to extend their stays at San Siro, but Brozovic's future remains unclear heading into the new year.

Brozovic was a key part of Inter's Scudetto-winning side last term, featuring in 33 of their 38 games, and has started all 19 of their matches this campaign. Only Ruben Dias (1,713), Joao Cancelo (1,803) and William Saliba (1,840) have played more successful passes than the Croatia international (1,681) among players from Europe's top five leagues in 2021-22.

Luka Modric (Real Madrid)

Gareth Bale and Isco are two high-profile Madrid players set to move on either in January or at the end of the season, but as well as trying to seal Mbappe's signing, Madrid's other priority might be ensuring Modric does not bring an end to his decade-long spell at the Santiago Bernabeu in 2022.

Proving that age is just a number, 36-year-old Modric has been as good as ever for LaLiga leaders Madrid this season. The six big chances created by the midfielder in 2020-21, leading to four assists, has been bettered by only four others in the division.

 

Ousmane Dembele (Barcelona)

Dembele has struggled to come close to justifying his hefty transfer fee, reported to be an initial €105million, but he was recently described as having the potential to be the best attacking player in the world by head coach Xavi.

Barca president Joan Laporta is also eager to keep hold of Dembele, who has managed 30 goals and 22 assists in 126 appearances since his debut in September 2017, meaning he has been directly involved in 0.6 goals per 90 minutes. For comparison, that is an identical number to Antoine Griezmann during his short-lived stint at Camp Nou.

Denis Zakaria (Borussia Monchengladbach)

Strongly touted as a target for the likes of Barcelona and Bayern Munich, Zakaria will depart Borussia Monchengladbach in 2022 after confirming to the German club that he intends to run down his contract.

The defensive midfielder averages 52.3 passes every 90 minutes and 47.1 successful ones, the latter being the ninth-most this season among Bundesliga midfielders with at least 500 minutes played. Among the same group of players, only seven average more than his two successful dribbles every 90 minutes – all of those being more attack-minded players.

Paulo Dybala (Juventus)

Dybala has indicated that he wants to remain a Juventus player beyond this season but the longer talks over a new deal drag on, the more unlikely it appears he will still be in Turin six months from now – and that would be a major blow for the Bianconeri during an already difficult period.

The Argentina international has eight goals and four assists in 17 appearances this term, without being at what many would consider his best form – at least three more direct goal involvements than Juve's next most threatening player Alvaro Morata and double that of Federico Bernardeschi in third.

Rafinha is excited to be given the chance to get his career back on track at Real Sociedad after completing a loan move from Paris Saint-Germain for the remainder of the season.

The 28-year-old has featured just five times for PSG in all competitions this season and was not included in the club's Champions League squad for the group phase.

Rafinha will spend the next six months with Sociedad, who are sixth in the Spanish top flight and already have the likes of David Silva and Alexander Isak in their squad.

The twice-capped Brazil international has played 39 times for PSG since arriving from Barca in October 2020 on a three-year deal, with 21 of those being starts.

His most recent appearance for PSG came in the 2-1 win over Angers on October 15, the Barca academy product having been an unused substitute on five occasions since then.

He has previous experience of playing in LaLiga, a division in which he has previously made 172 appearances during his time with Barcelona and on loan with Celta Vigo.

And after a frustrating 14-month spell at the Parc des Princes, the versatile midfielder is hoping to kickstart his career back in Spain.

"I am very happy to have arrived at a great club like this," he said at a news conference on Tuesday. 

"A few months ago my representatives told me about Real's interest, which I found exciting because of the great things going on here and the club's ambition.

"That's what attracted me to the club and now I'm very excited to link up with my team-mates.

"I feel good and have been preparing for this opportunity, knowing that it could come, whether at Paris or another club. Now it is a matter of adapting."

The loan deal does not include the option of a permanent transfer at the end of the season, at which point Rafinha will have 12 months remaining on his PSG contract.

"Maybe in six months Real will not want me!" Rafinha joked. "It's not known what will happen in the future, so I will just take it game by game."

Kylian Mbappe and Robert Lewandowski have expressed concerns about the lack of rest players will get if plans for a biennial World Cup come to fruition.

FIFA's proposal to host the tournament every two years instead of four has largely been met with scepticism.

Both Paris Saint-Germain forward Mbappe and Bayern Munich striker Lewandowski are not in favour of the change, with the former suggesting that the quality of the spectacle would suffer if the health of players is not taken into account. 

"We like to play but it's too much," Mbappe said in Dubai, where he was named men's player of the year at the Globe Soccer Awards. "If people want to see quality, we have to take a break.

"Playing the World Cup every two years would make this competition 'normal' and that shouldn't be the case. The World Cup, the Nations League... we love to play but it's too much.

"If people want to see quality, I think we have to take a break."

Lewandowski echoed the France international's sentiments, stating that the schedule is already congested even without the added burden of an increased number of World Cups.

"We have a lot of games in the year, very dense weeks," Lewandowski said at the same event. "If you want to give the fans something different, you need a break.

"We have to look into the future, if we want to play a World Cup every two years, the level will drop. It's impossible for the body and the mind to perform at the same level."

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."

Sergio Ramos was sent off as 10-man Paris Saint-Germain scrapped to a 1-1 draw against struggling Lorient at Stade du Moustoir.

On as a half-time substitute, the former Real Madrid defender was making only his third appearance for Mauricio Pochettino's side since making the switch from Santiago Bernabeu.

However, his involvement lasted just 40 minutes as he was dismissed for two bookable offences, while it took a stoppage-time Mauro Icardi header to spare his team-mates' blushes.

Thomas Monconduit's thumping strike just before half-time had looked like it would be enough for the hosts, who at least ended their worst ever run of seven successive defeats.

Seeking a 12th win in 14 league meetings with Lorient, PSG began brightly and almost took the lead in the second minute when Icardi steered Nuno Mendes' cross wide.

At the other end, the hosts squandered a glorious opportunity as Terem Moffi raced clear and sold Keylor Navas the dummy, only to chip the ball straight at the grounded goalkeeper.

The woodwork then came to Lorient's rescue as a fierce Lionel Messi volley rattled the post from Icardi's lay-off.

But the hosts got their just rewards for a positive first-half performance that yielded 11 attempts, Enzo Le Fee teeing up Monconduit, who beat Navas with a thumping 20-yard strike off the underside of the crossbar.

PSG turned up the pressure after the break and Angel Di Maria somehow fired over from 10 yards out with the goal at his mercy, before Paul Nardi produced brilliant reflexes to deny Messi from what was a first shot on target for the visitors.

The league leaders were reduced to 10 men as Ramos was shown a second yellow card for a body check on Moffi, yet they snatched a last-gasp equaliser with Icardi heading in from Achraf Hakimi's cross.

Sergio Ramos was sent off as 10-man Paris Saint-Germain scrapped to a 1-1 draw against struggling Lorient at Stade du Moustoir.

On as a half-time substitute, the former Real Madrid defender was making only his third appearance for Mauricio Pochettino's side since making the switch from Santiago Bernabeu.

However, his involvement lasted just 40 minutes as he was dismissed for two bookable offences, while it took a stoppage-time Mauro Icardi header to spare his team-mates' blushes.

Thomas Monconduit's thumping strike just before half-time had looked like it would be enough for the hosts, who at least ended their worst ever run of seven successive defeats.

 

Paris Saint-Germain forward Kylian Mbappe is capable of continuing his goalscoring form long into his career similarly to Cristiano Ronaldo, regardless of where he is plying his trade from next season.

That is according to Louis Saha, who also told Stats Perform that he expects Lionel Messi to blow Ligue 1 opponents away once he regains full fitness in the new year.

Mbappe is into the final six months of his existing contract at the Parc des Princes and is free to sign a pre-contract agreement with clubs outside of Ligue 1 from January.

Real Madrid had two bids turned down for the France international in the previous transfer window and remain the strong favourites to land the superstar in 2022.

Mbappe has scored 15 goals and assisted 12 more in 24 outings in all competitions this term in a star-studded attack that also contains Messi and the currently injured Neymar.

Only Mohamed Salah (31) and Robert Lewandowski (33) have been directly involved in more goals than Mbappe this campaign among players from Europe's top five leagues.

And while glad to see Mbappe remain in Ligue 1 for the 2021-22 campaign, Saha understands that his compatriot has a big decision to make on his future in the coming weeks.

"The main thing for me was for him to stay at PSG this year," Saha said. "Whatever he does next year, for me, that was logical for football in general throughout the world. 

"We wanted to see this trio of Mbappe, Messi and Neymar. It's incredible to see and today he has his destiny in his hands. He's a player who is exploding and he's reaching more milestones."

 

Mbappe recently became the youngest player in Ligue 1 history to score 100 goals for a single team with his second of the game for PSG against former club Monaco.

Since making his debut for PSG in September 2017, the 23-year-old has averaged a goal every 104.63 minutes in all competitions.

That ranks Mbappe behind only four others among Europe's elite attackers over that period and marginally ahead of Ronaldo, who averages a goal every 105.8 minutes at club level.

With Ronaldo still scoring regularly as he approaches his 37th birthday, Saha has challenged Mbappe to hit similar heights.

"If he can match Ronaldo's 40 goals a year average from the age of 20, that's something we want to keep seeing from Kylian," Saha said.

"That is not to put pressure on him. Kylian quite simply has the potential to do that."

Mbappe's 27 direct goal involvements this season is substantially more than PSG's next biggest attacking threat, with Messi second on the list with six goals and four assists.

The record seven-time Ballon d'Or winner has scored just once in 10 Ligue 1 appearances from an expected goals (xG) return of 4.7.

To put that in some context, Mbappe's nine goals in the competition this term have come from an xG of 10.9.

 

But while Messi's PSG career has yet to truly take off, Saha can see that changing once the Barcelona legend gets some regular starts under his belt.

"You can already see players who are not necessarily in great shape like Messi – imagine when he starts to find his form again!" Saha said. "I don't know how teams will cope. 

"PSG are an extraordinary team. I prayed for Mbappe to stay at PSG to see these three exceptional players. Neymar's injury has delayed that, but they have an incredible team. 

"Don't be surprised to see them win the league by 20 or 25 points come the end of the season."

Real Madrid saw Raphael Varane and Sergio Ramos leave in the off-season.

The Spanish champions have fared well without them, leading LaLiga comfortably.

But Madrid head coach Carlo Ancelotti wants to add to their backline.

 

TOP STORY – MADRID CONSIDER GOMEZ MOVE

Madrid are lining up a potential move for Liverpool defender Joe Gomez, according to the Daily Mail.

Madrid will monitor the England international defender who has recently returned to fitness ahead of an off-season move.

Los Blancos' priority after 2021-22 is their attack and landing Paris Saint-Germain's Kylian Mbappe, but they do want to bolster their defensive options.

 

ROUND-UP

- Liverpool are genuine contenders to sign Borussia Dortmund forward Erling Haaland according to Sky Germany. Madrid, Manchester CityManchester United and PSG have been heavily linked with the Norwegian, but the Reds are in the race.

- Mundo Deportivo claims that Manchester UnitedBarcelona and Madrid are all keeping tabs on Bayern Munich's Kingsley Coman.

- United forward Anthony Martial wants to join Sevilla on loan in January and will hold talks with the club, claims Sky Sports.

- Hoffenheim midfielder Florian Grillitsch is drawing interest from both Tottenham and Roma who will jostle for his services, reports Sky Germany.

- Everton will look to sign Rangers right-back Nathan Patterson again but will need to pay £10m, reports the Daily Mail.

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."

Kylian Mbappe scored twice as Paris Saint-Germain cruised to a 3-0 win over minnows Feignies-Aulnoye in Sunday's Coupe de France round-of-64 clash

PSG never looked in danger of suffering an upset against their fifth-tier opponents, and they went 2-0 up after 30 minutes through penalties from Mbappe and Mauro Icardi.

Former Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos was withdrawn at the interval on just his second appearance for the Parisians, perhaps not the best sign as he continues his recovery from injury, before Mbappe added a third goal early in the second period.

The Ligue 1 leaders, who have lifted the trophy in six of the last seven seasons, continued to create chances but ultimately fell short of adding gloss to the scoreline.

PSG went ahead in the 16th minute through Mbappe's penalty after the France international had been brought down inside the area by Ibrahima Diedhiou.

Icardi, who had earlier seen an effort ruled out for offside, inexplicably struck the post from close range midway through the first half, although he made amends on the half-hour mark, stroking home from the spot after Mbappe had been fouled by Gary Gerard Marigard.

Mbappe blazed wide when clean through as PSG failed to add to their tally before the interval, despite taking a whopping 20 shots in the first half.

The 22-year-old grabbed his second in the 51st minute, slotting home Colin Dagba's cut-back from the right.

PSG teenager Ismael Gharbi was denied a first professional goal by substitute goalkeeper Jordan Fernand inside the final 20 minutes as PSG booked their place in the next round with the minimum of fuss.


What does it mean? No complacency from Pochettino's men

By naming the likes of Mbappe, Icardi and Marco Verratti in his starting XI, Mauricio Pochettino made it clear he was not taking PSG's significantly less illustrious opponents lightly.

The one concern from an otherwise routine affair was the withdrawal of Ramos at the interval. It has been a hugely disrupted start to life in France for the former Los Blancos star, and it will be hoped any new setback does not keep him out for long.

Mbappe's constant threat

Unsurprisingly, Mbappe was too hot to handle for Feignies-Aulnoye's defence. The World Cup winner won both penalties, the first of which he converted, and he scored a second goal in a display brimming with his usual blend of electric pace and skill.

Ebimbe squanders chance to shine

Eric Ebimbe rarely looked like opening his account for PSG during a disappointing showing. The 21-year-old, who was replaced in the 64th minute by Gharbi, had just a single shot on target and failed to play a key pass in a display that will surely be considered a missed opportunity.

What's next?

Runaway Ligue 1 leaders PSG play their last game of 2021 on Wednesday when they travel to Lorient.

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