PSG to start Ligue 1 title defence at home to Metz

By Sports Desk July 09, 2020

Paris Saint-Germain will begin their Ligue 1 title defence at home to Metz after the French Professional Football League (LFP) announced its 2020-21 top-flight schedule.

The first round of matches will take place on the weekend of August 22-23, with the season set to conclude on May 23 next year.

PSG were awarded their seventh top-flight title in eight seasons after the 2019-20 campaign was abandoned and decided on a point-per-game basis due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The abandonment move has since been questioned amid other elite divisions in Europe successfully resuming their seasons behind closed doors.

An LFP vote sealed Amiens and Toulouse's relegation, with Lorient and Lens promoted from Ligue 2 in their place.

Lorient host Strasbourg on the opening weekend, while Lens are on the road at Nice.

The first Classique of the season comes in the third round of fixtures, with PSG welcoming Marseille to the Parc des Princes in mid-September. The return is billed for February 7.

Marseille start at home to Saint-Etienne, with Bordeaux and Lille hosting Nantes and Rennes respectively.

Lyon begin on the road at Montpellier, with the first of their always feisty clashes against Marseille coming at Groupama Stadium on October 4. The rivalry is then scheduled to resume at the Stade Velodrome on February 28.

Ligue 1 2020-21 – Opening weekend fixtures in full:

Lorient v Strasbourg
Nimes v Brest
Dijon v Angers
Bordeaux v Nantes
Monaco v Reims
Montpellier v Lyon
Nice v Lens
Lille v Rennes
Marseille v Saint-Etienne
PSG v Metz

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  • Pele at 80: How the 1970 World Cup propelled Brazil into the global conscience Pele at 80: How the 1970 World Cup propelled Brazil into the global conscience

    Pele's career goals tally may be open to debate but there is no questioning his greatness. 

    The Brazilian legend starred for Santos and changed the game during his spell with the New York Cosmos. However, he is perhaps best remembered for his achievements in international football, helping the Selecao win the World Cup on three occasions. 

    The first – in 1958 – saw Pele score twice in the final when aged 17 years and 249 days. Four years later, injury curtailed his involvement, but Brazil still retained the Jules Rimet Trophy. 

    In 1970, the national hero helped leave an indelible mark on the history of the sport. Pele, having said he would not play another World Cup after 1966, was awarded the Golden Ball, given to the best player at the tournament. 

    His legacy as one of the best players to ever grace a pitch still remains strong as he celebrates turning 80 on Friday.

    To mark the Pele's personal milestone, Rob Bateman recalls the 1970 tournament and a team that lives long in the memory...

     

    Growing up in England with football in the 1960s and 1970s was very different from today.

    The foreign superstars playing in English football were from the rest of Great Britain and Ireland, not from mainland Europe or South America.

    The best teams and players in the world were not on TV every week. There was no live football on television apart from the FA Cup final, the Home Internationals and World Cups.

    Great Britain was an island, both geographically and in terms of football.

    It was not too different across Europe. Live games were not regularly shown, in domestic or UEFA competitions.

    As a result, there was no homogenised football where teams played roughly the same style. There was no internet, no YouTube, no sports channels to catch glimpses of football outside your own country. When a World Cup came around you saw players you had only read about in books or newspapers.  

    You saw genuinely new things that delighted, enthralled and shocked the viewing audience, such as the famous Cruyff turn, the ticker tape at Estadio Monumental in Buenos Aires and fouls in the opposition half by a "rush goalie" like Ramon Quiroga of Peru.

    But nothing stands out in that era as much as the Brazil side of 1970. Still vaunted as the best team ever in some quarters, it is hard to argue against the fact that they, and their talisman Pele, had the greatest impact on world football.

    From the iconic yellow shirts, blue shorts and white stockings in the first competition to be broadcast live in colour, to their beautiful and effective style of play. Kenneth Wolstenholme's famous description of their "sheer, delightful football" summed up how Brazil in 1970 captured the hearts of all fans and encapsulated everything great about the world's favourite sport.

    Mario Zagallo became the first man to win the trophy as a player and then a coach. His team was the first since the 1930s to win all their World Cup matches en route to the trophy.

    Six games, six wins in qualifying. Then six games and six wins at the finals, scoring at a rate of 3.2 goals per game in Mexico. Only one team has averaged more goals per game since 1958 than this brilliant Brazil side and that was Hungary in 1982 whose average was boosted by a freak 10-1 win over El Salvador.

    This 1970 Brazil squad scored three or more goals in five of their six matches; a feat only matched in World Cup history by the West German side of 1954.

    Jairzinho scored in all six matches, becoming the only player to net in every single round at the World Cup finals, although they needed to be prolific as they only kept one clean sheet in the six matches they played.

    Of course, Brazil are famed for their long-range shooting. Stats Perform have analysed all the World Cup finals matches back to and including 1966. During that time, the Selecao have scored 37 times from outside the box – 11 more than closest rivals Germany and over double any other side.

    It's not just quantity though, it is about the quality of a shot – only South Korea (6 per cent) have scored with a higher percentage of their long-distance attempts than Brazil, who have netted one in every 23 attempts (4.4 per cent).

    Team

    Goals (outside box)

    Brazil

    37

    Germany

    26

    Netherlands

    16

    Korea Republic

    14

    Argentina

    13

    And they have netted 13 from direct free-kicks, more than double any other team at the World Cup in that same period.

    Team

    Direct Free Kick Goals

    Brazil

    13

    Germany

    6

    Korea Republic

    5

    Argentina

    5

    Between 1966 and 2018, only nine teams have scored two direct free-kicks at a World Cup finals. Four of those teams were Brazilian squads including the 1970 vintage.

    There are so many iconic moments that the 1970 tournament lingers stronger in the memory than any other. And Brazil and Pele were at the heart of most of those.

    Bobby Moore's tackle on Jairzinho, Pele leaping to power home a header for Brazil's 100th goal at the World Cup finals and another header by the world's greatest footballer to force arguably the best save of all time by Gordon Banks.

    There was Pele's audacious shot from his own half (59 yards) against Czechoslovakia which narrowly missed. That was not even his longest attempt either, as he failed with a shot from 75 yards against Uruguay!

    The Uruguayans were also on the end of one of the most outrageous dummies ever seen as Pele ran toward a pass with the goalkeeper advancing and then let the ball run between them, confounding the goalkeeper by running straight past, retrieving the ball, only to screw his shot wide and deny us one of the most outrageous goals of all time.

    And, of course, one of the most iconic goals in football history was scored when Brazil netted their fourth in the final against Italy, courtesy of Carlos Alberto. That goal was the epitome of the style that team oozed. A patient build-up, then devastating speed and clinical efficiency in front of goal.

    That goal saw nine passes, but was typical of Brazil's measured build-up. They averaged far more moves of 10 passes or more than any other team at the 1970 finals.

    Team

    Sequences per game of 10+ open play passes

    Brazil

    5.2

    England

    3.5

    Czechoslovakia

    2.7

    Peru

    2.5

    Romania

    2.3

     

     

    Tournament average

    1.9

    And as you can see below they were prepared to hang on to the ball to find the right moment to strike, performing with the grace and rhythm of a slow, quick, quick of the Samba.

    Team

    Ave passes/sequence

    Ave Sequence time (secs)

    Brazil

    3.6

    11.5

    Germany

    3.1

    10.6

    England

    3.2

    10.5

    Romania

    3.0

    10.2

    Czechoslovakia

    3.0

    10.0

    That fourth and final goal against Italy was inevitably set up by Pele. That assist was his sixth of the tournament and remains a record tally for a single World Cup tournament that Stats Perform have analysed.

    He created 28 chances in total, 27 from open play. Only Johan Cruyff (29) in 1974 has created more in a single tournament since 1970, having played a game more. 

    Player

    Team

    Assists

    Pele

    Brazil 1970

    6

    Maradona

    Argentina 1986

    5

    Littbarski

    Germany 1982

    5

    Gadocha

    Poland 1974

    5

    Häßler

    Germany 1994

    5

    Pele was the second most prolific player in relation to attacking contribution at the 1970 World Cup when combining Expected Goals and Expected Assists per 90 minutes, scoring four goals and registering six assists. He was narrowly behind Gerd Muller who netted 10 goals, but those two are way out ahead of anyone else in the tournament.

    It was not all grace and guile from the three-time World Cup winner.

    Having been fouled repeatedly and injured in both the 1962 and 1966 editions, Pele certainly showed he knew how to look after himself in 1970. Only five players since 1966 have committed more fouls in a single tournament than the 23 the playmaker was penalised for in 1970.

    Pele retired from international football in 1971 and Brazil have spent many years since trying to emulate that 1970 team's iconic achievement, with limited success.

    Although they won the World Cup in 1994 and again in 2002, there were criticisms of those teams' styles of play, while the beautiful attacking flair of the squads of 1982 and 1986 ultimately went unrewarded as they were knocked out of the tournament early.

    Perhaps Andy Warhol was right when he said: "Pele is one of the few who contradicted my theory: instead of 15 minutes of fame, he will have 15 centuries."

  • Premier League Fantasy Picks: Kane and Sterling are your strong bets for goals Premier League Fantasy Picks: Kane and Sterling are your strong bets for goals

    This most peculiar of Premier League seasons resumes this weekend with leaders Everton facing Southampton – and a notable nemesis.

    Champions Liverpool tackle an out-of-sorts Sheffield United and last season's runners-up Manchester City meet West Ham, who produced that utterly amazing comeback against Tottenham last week.

    Spurs are good value to bounce back against Burnley, particularly given Harry Kane's recent record, and Hugo Lloris might fancy a first clean sheet of the season.

    There's also the small matter of Manchester United versus Chelsea, where Bruno Fernandes will hope to keep racking up those fantasy points. He's just one of our Opta-powered tips for you this week.

    HUGO LLORIS

    Spurs will want to get that collapse against West Ham out of their system swiftly, and a trip to Burnley might just be exactly what they need.

    The Clarets have only beaten Spurs twice in 12 Premier League meetings and Jose Mourinho has never lost to them in nine games as a manager.

    Lloris will hope this is the moment for a first shutout of the season. He's certainly earned one: of Premier League keepers to play at least 10 games since August 2018, only Emiliano Martinez (81 per cent) has a better save percentage than Lloris (75.4 per cent). Lloris has saved 193 of the 252 most recent shots on target he has faced.

     

    AARON CRESSWELL

    If you're looking for full-back value, look no further than Aaron Cresswell.

    Okay, West Ham are likely to concede at least one goal against Manchester City, but Cresswell has more assists (three) and more chances created (12) than any other Premier League defender in 2020-21.

    And City are not exactly impregnable at the back – they have already conceded seven times this term.

     

    ANDY ROBERTSON

    Andy Robertson is probably the safest swap for those having to take Virgil van Dijk out of their defences.

    Liverpool's left-back has more assists (three) and more overall goal involvements (he's also scored twice) since the restart in June than any other Premier League defender.

    The Reds face Sheffield United, who have looked decidedly shaky of late.

     

    BRUNO FERNANDES

    It might be a stretch to predict another 4-0 win for United at home to Chelsea as it was at Old Trafford last season, but few would bet against Bruno Fernandes being involved in the thick of it.

    Since his debut in the Premier League, Fernandes has scored 11 and assisted nine goals, and no other player has reached 20 goal involvements in the competition in that time.

    Chelsea have also conceded three goals in two of their past three league matches.

    RAHEEM STERLING

    Simply put, Raheem Sterling loves playing against West Ham.

    The City forward has six goals and five assists in his past six league starts against the Hammers, a run that includes a hat-trick in a 5-0 win at London Stadium last season.

    In fact, Pep Guardiola has won all nine games against West Ham as a manager, his joint-best record against a single opponent alongside Watford and Bournemouth.

     

    DANNY INGS

    Everton are tough opponents for anyone right now, but that does not change the fact that Danny Ings has always rather enjoyed facing them.

    The Southampton striker has scored in four of his five appearances against the Toffees in all competitions, including in both games last season.

    Only against Spurs (five) has he scored more goals for Saints.

     

    HARRY KANE

    Harry Kane has been flying this season and there is every chance his form continues against Burnley on Monday.

    Kane has managed six goals and two assists in his past four Premier League games against the Clarets and hit a hat-trick at Turf Moor three years ago.

    Spurs have also scored 11 in just two away games in the league this term.

  • El Clasico: Messi's long goodbye to the world's greatest club match El Clasico: Messi's long goodbye to the world's greatest club match

    A Clasico showdown against Real Madrid, or West Ham away?

    Before Lionel Messi steps out onto the Camp Nou pitch on Saturday, remember this: he had made up his mind, and he had chosen West Ham away.

    Playing for Manchester City was Messi's plan for 2020-21, it is believed, and if that meant sacrificing leading Barcelona against their greatest rivals, shucks to it.

    Messi must have thought he had nothing left to prove in this fixture, being already the top scorer in Clasico history with 26 goals across all competitions, way ahead of names such as Alfredo di Stefano, Cristiano Ronaldo, Raul and Cesar Rodriguez.

    Eighteen of those goals have come in LaLiga, from 27 appearances, and he has averaged one goal involvement per game in the league thanks to nine assists.

    However, he has failed to score in his last five Clasico games - three in the league and two in the Copa del Rey.

    This weekend, with the world watching, Barcelona need the real Messi to stand up.


    Still the same player?

    Before the king of the Clasico faces Los Blancos one more time, team-mate Ansu Fati was moved to comment this week that "Messi is still Messi".

    The 17-year-old spoke after Messi's early penalty helped Barcelona to a 5-1 Champions League win over Ferencvaros.

    Yet heading into that game, Barcelona's new head coach Ronald Koeman said Messi's form "could be better", cosseting that in sufficient pleasantries to avoid any blowback.

    As for who is right - Fati or Koeman - it is hard to dispute the experienced Dutchman's verdict.

    Doubtless Fati loves playing with 33-year-old Messi, because what teenager wouldn't relish every minute playing with an all-time great?

    But Messi's numbers are down in the early weeks of this LaLiga season, with his average attempted dribbles per game down from 8.58 in 2019-20 to just 4.75, and his shots on target per game at a relatively meagre 1.75 when he has averaged 2.15 or higher in each campaign over the past decade.

    One goal in four LaLiga matches in 2020-21 equates to his slowest start to a season since 2005-06, when the teenage Messi failed to score in his first four games.

    The Clasico drought

    Those five goalless games in Spain's biggest match have consisted of four starts and one appearance off the bench, amounting to 425 minutes of football without a goal, his second longest run without netting in the Clasico - behind a six-game sequence from April 2014 to December 2016.

    He has failed to score with his last 16 shots in the fixture and has not been on the winning side in a LaLiga Clasico at Camp Nou since Barcelona's 2-1 victory in March 2015, having missed the 5-1 success in October 2018 because of a fractured arm.

    He has not had a goal involvement - scoring or assisting - in the last three Clasico league games, putting him one away from what from that statistical perspective would be the worst run of his career.

    And the goal return from Messi in Barcelona's biggest home league match of the season has been modest - albeit only by his extraordinary standards - for some time.

    He scored twice in a 2-2 draw in October 2012 and netted once when the team played out the same result in May 2018, but those are the only goals he has scored in this LaLiga game since a late strike sealed a 2-0 win in 2008.

    Nobody has scored more Clasico league goals at Camp Nou than Messi's haul of seven, which he launched with a hat-trick in a 3-3 draw back in March 2007.

    But the big-game returns are diminishing with time, or at least that is how it seems.

    Has Messi become a flat-track bully?

    The instinctive response is to challenge the use of such a reductive term to describe a footballer so eminent.

    The transition happens time and again though, from sport to sport. The ageing superstars who once routinely tormented elite rivals serve up reminders of their most glorious days in flashes, often against more limited opposition than before. Case in point: Messi looked sublime at times against Ferencvaros.

    In tennis, Roger Federer can still toy with low-ranked tennis players to the point of doling out early-round humiliations, but will he win another grand slam title, having recently turned 39? No, probably not. Will Messi win another Champions League? No, probably not. It is hard to see it happening at a crisis-hit Barcelona, anyway.

    Messi's haul of 25 LaLiga goals last season was his lowest since he scored 23 in the 2008-09 treble-winning campaign, when Samuel Eto'o and Thierry Henry were also scavenging for chances.

    But if he is not scoring consistently against Real Madrid, and if he was powerless to prevent Bayern Munich's rout of Barcelona in the Champions League back in August, then where is Messi making his big difference heading into his mid-thirties?

    Since the start of August 2018, in LaLiga he has scored eight goals against Eibar, five each against Real Betis, Levante, Alaves and Sevilla, and four apiece against Real Mallorca, Celta Vigo and Espanyol.

    Real Madrid and Athletic Bilbao are the two teams who have defied him throughout that time.

    A leaving present

    If this is to be Messi's sign-off stretch with Barcelona - and given his recent state of vexation that seems highly possible - then it is to be assumed he wants to depart with a swagger rather than a shrug of a season.

    Had Barcelona's board acquiesced to Messi's departure at the end of last term, this weekend's kick-off in El Clasico would have coincided with the Argentinian winding down at the London Stadium after a lunchtime outing for Pep Guardiola's City against David Moyes' Hammers.

    Perhaps Messi would have tuned in for El Clasico on the team coach; perhaps not.

    Messi was prepared to sacrifice the Clasico - the hysteria and the history that surrounds it - and that summed up the schism that had developed between him and the club's leadership.

    He has since lost good friends Luis Suarez and Arturo Vidal, offloaded to Atletico Madrid and Inter, and lost some of his sparkle at the same time.

    Suarez and Vidal won't be coming back, but the sparkle still might. There were flashes against Ferencvaros - again, take the opposition into account - but a Clasico against a wobbling Madrid side seems as good an occasion as any for Messi to serve up a reminder of his greatness.

    If he can lift himself for any game, it must be this one.

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