Paris Saint-Germain's poor start to their Ligue 1 campaign continued as they fell to a 1-0 home defeat against Marseille in a foul-tempered Classique in which five players, including Neymar, were sent off late on.

Having been without seven first-team stars for Thursday's loss to Lens, Thomas Tuchel was able to welcome four of his regulars back into the fold on Sunday, yet it was Andre Villas-Boas' side – who lost 4-0 in the corresponding fixture last season – that claimed the points at Parc des Princes, where a limited number of fans were allowed in attendance.

Florian Thauvin's 31st-minute volley settled the encounter, which ended in ridiculous scenes as referee Jerome Brisard dished out red cards like confetti following a stoppage-time brawl.

Neymar, who earlier missed a golden chance, was among them, with the forward receiving his marching orders for hitting Alvaro, who he seemingly accused of racism when speaking to the fourth official as he left the field.

Leandro Paredes reacted violently to a foul from countryman Dario Benedetto, with both Argentinians dismissed along with Layvin Kurzawa and Jordan Amavi for their parts in the ensuing fracas.

 

Neymar, Angel Di Maria, Leandro Paredes and Keylor Navas have been included in Paris Saint-Germain's squad for Sunday's Ligue 1 clash with Marseille after a period of quarantine.

The quartet missed PSG's 1-0 loss to Lens in their opening game of the 2020-21 campaign last Thursday after contracting COVID-19 during the close season.

However, all four players have since returned negative tests and Thomas Tuchel revealed at his pre-match news conference that the quartet would be considered for selection if they came through training unscathed.

It has now been confirmed that attacking duo Neymar and Di Maria, plus midfielder Paredes and first-choice goalkeeper Navas, are part of PSG's 21-man squad for Le Classique.

Kylian Mbappe, Mauro Icardi and Marquinhos also returned positive tests last week and remain absent for the clash at the Parc des Princes.

Speaking on the eve of the match, Tuchel questioned why one of the standout fixtures in the Ligue 1 calendar was being staged so early in the campaign.

"I am surprised that such an important game is scheduled for the third match day," he told reporters.

"I think such a game should be scheduled for October or November when both teams have got into a rhythm.

"Everybody wants to win at their best level but it's not possible if it's only the second game in Ligue 1. Personally I don't understand the decision."

Neymar is poised to return to action for Paris Saint-Germain against Marseille in a Classique that Thomas Tuchel thinks has come too early in the Ligue 1 season.

After recovering from coronavirus, Brazilian forward Neymar is back in training with PSG and appears likely to be involved in Sunday's big match at the Parc des Princes.

He missed the 1-0 defeat to Lens as the Champions League runners-up made a disappointing start to their domestic campaign.

Neymar was one of a host of star names to be ruled out of that match after COVID-19 positive tests, but he, along with goalkeeper Keylor Navas, playmaker Angel Di Maria and midfielder Leandro Paredes have now returned negative results.

They, along with new signing Alessandro Florenzi, are in line to play some part, with Tuchel waiting until a light training session on Sunday before settling on his line-up plans.

"We won't be taking risks," Tuchel said. "That is not what we are going to do. After two days of training, if the players are ready and there are no medical risks we will make the decisions.

"I don't need to ask them if they want to play, but I'll have to decide [on Sunday]. It will be a question of whether they start on the pitch or on the bench."

The German head coach cannot understand why French league chiefs decided such a headline fixture should come so soon this season.

"I am surprised that such an important game is scheduled for the third match day," Tuchel said in a news conference.

"I think such a game should be scheduled for October or November when both teams have got into a rhythm.

"Everybody wants to win at their best level but it's not possible if it's only the second game in Ligue 1. Personally I don't understand the decision."

Yet PSG are determined to take a positive attitude into their home fixture, seeing the opportunity to relaunch their campaign after the false start.

"We're not afraid. We're ready to play every match," Tuchel said. "We know our fans love it when we win matches like this. It's not easy for us. We have to adapt and prepare to overcome the obstacles in matches like this."

Tuchel confirmed Marquinhos, Mauro Icardi and Kylian Mbappe, who also tested positive for COVID-19, will miss the Marseille match.

But the overall picture is looking increasingly positive, as PSG target their first points of the campaign.

"We want to show we want to win again, that we wanted to keep winning after a loss," Tuchel said.

"I can understand that some teams think it is the only time and the only moment to really face us and beat us, so maybe, yes, it is a good time to play against us, but we still have our features and qualities and we will show them that tomorrow."

Marseille coach Andre Villas-Boas is hoping his side can capitalise on Paris Saint-Germain's "moment of weakness" in Sunday's Classique.

PSG started their Ligue 1 season in disappointing fashion on Thursday, as the champions slumped to a 1-0 defeat at newly promoted Lens.

The Champions League finalists were without seven first-team stars, however, with Neymar, Kylian Mbappe, Angel Di Maria, Leandro Paredes, Mauro Icardi, Marquinhos and Keylor Navas having all been in isolation after testing positive for coronavirus.

Thomas Tuchel was not overly concerned by the defeat, acknowledging after the game that he was unsure when his key players would be able to return – though Neymar subsequently confirmed on Friday that he had returned to training.

PSG thrashed Marseille 4-0 at Parc des Princes in the corresponding fixture last season, but Villas-Boas – whose side finished second in the shortened Ligue 1 campaign before resuming with a 3-2 win over Brest – is hoping to make the most of coming up against a possibly weakened side.

"I still have ambition. We lost 4-0, but we finished second, closer to first than third. Each match is worth three points, even if a Classique is special," Villas-Boas told a news conference.

"What I said last year still applies. Unfortunately for them, they are in a moment of weakness. We have the ambition to play and to win.

"It's an important game. We want to take advantage of the absences and lack of training of those who will return. It might be a chance. We saw that against Lens. It's a good time to give this joy to the supporters."

However, Villas-Boas conceded the uncertainty over just who will be available for PSG on Sunday also poses problems for Marseille.

"What is annoying is the lack of information and the timing. There is uncertainty over how many players Tuchel can pick back up," he said. 

"But it is clear that they cannot be 100 per cent. We had players in this situation and it's tough. But I think after Thursday's loss they will come back strong.

"They want to get players back. I am preparing the team to play against PSG with all their strength."

Neymar confirmed he has tested negative for coronavirus and has been given the all-clear to resume training with Paris Saint-Germain ahead of Sunday's Ligue 1 clash with Marseille.

The Brazil international was one of seven players ruled out of PSG's 1-0 loss to Lens in their opening game of the season on Thursday after contracting COVID-19.

However, head coach Thomas Tuchel was hopeful of welcoming back at least a few of his quarantined players for this weekend's Classique with Marseille.

Former Barcelona forward Neymar is among those now back in contention after completing a period of self-isolation and being given the go-ahead to link up with his team-mates.

"I went back to training, super happy #CORONAOUT," Neymar posted on Twitter on Friday, accompanied by a 'zany face' emoji.

An error from third-choice goalkeeper Marcin Bulka gifted what proved to be the winning goal to Ignatius Ganago in PSG's loss to Lens at Stade Bollaert-Delelis.

The reigning champions were also without Kylian Mbappe, Angel Di Maria, Leandro Paredes, Mauro Icardi, Marquinhos and Keylor Navas for the match.

Asked about the possibility of welcoming back those players against Marseille, Tuchel said: "If possible, a few players could play.

"But if they play, they would only have a leg work-out before then. If Neymar, Di Maria play, yes, but they would play after two weeks without training too.

"Physically, I can't wait for them to be the decisive guys. It's always risky. We have to talk with the players, the doctors too."

Neymar and Angel Di Maria remain doubtful to return for Paris Saint-Germain in Sunday's Classique against Marseille, head coach Thomas Tuchel said.

The superstar duo were among a large contingent of players to miss the Ligue 1 champions' opening-game loss to new boys Lens on Thursday after contracting coronavirus.

With Mauro Icardi and Kylian Mbappe also among those to miss out, PSG slipped to a 1-0 defeat with Tuchel later saying a draw was about the best his side – whose campaign was also delayed because they reached the Champions League final – could have hoped for.

Following the game, Tuchel was asked if PSG may have more options for the clash with fierce rivals Marseille but says the limited training Neymar or Di Maria would have makes their availability unclear.

"I do not know exactly. If possible, a few players could play. But if they play, they would only have a leg work out," Tuchel said. 

"What are we going to do? We can give a few minutes. If Neymar, Di Maria play, yes, but they would play after two weeks without training too. 

"Physically, I can't wait for them to be the decisive guys. It's always risky. We have to talk with the players, the doctors too."

Steve Mandanda has left the France squad after testing positive for coronavirus.

The Marseille goalkeeper will play no further part in preparations for the Nations League matches against Sweden and Croatia after returning two positive results.

The world champions, who face Sweden in Solna on Saturday, confirmed Mandanda will leave Clairefontaine early on Friday.

Lyon midfielder Houssem Aouar was also forced to withdraw from the squad after a positive test last week.

France's preparations for this month's matches had been affected by coronavirus even before the squad met up, with Manchester United's Paul Pogba returning a positive test shortly before Didier Deschamps' squad was announced.

Tottenham's Tanguy Ndombele, who was not named in the squad, also reportedly tested positive for the virus.

France did not confirm any other positive results following Wednesday's round of testing at their training base.

Mandanda, 35, has won 32 senior caps for France and was part of the 2018 World Cup-winning squad.

It appears that, if Lionel Messi has his way, he will be playing for a new club before long.

The Barcelona captain and talisman has told his employers that he wants to leave and, although the club seem determined to keep him, they may be fighting a losing battle.

Of course, prising Messi away from Barca is by no means straightforward. His basic salary is said to be roughly €71million and, when you add in bonuses and other possible commitments, that represents a huge outlay on a 33-year-old player.

That's before you consider the prospect of a nine-figure transfer fee, assuming he cannot successfully argue that the clause allowing him to walk away from Barca for nothing is still valid. Only a tiny handful of clubs are even capable of pulling off such a deal, particularly in a financial landscape changed by COVID-19.

But what if, just for a minute, we imagine money is no object and Messi could play for anyone he chooses? What if the thrill of the game were more important to him than winning a fifth Champions League? What if he threw caution to the wind and went somewhere just for fun?

We've imagined such a scenario, and these are the teams we'd love to see him play for...

 

AJAX

The link between Ajax and Barca goes beyond the basics of football: it's a shared ideology, a philosophical connection, a spiritual understanding.

From Johan Cruyff to Ronald Koeman, plenty of players and coaches have shared the love of both clubs, but Messi moving to Amsterdam would turn the romance up to 11.

Messi as the focal point of an Ajax side - who are beautiful to watch as it is - is a wonderful idea, and there is even the faint prospect of Luis Suarez going back to his old club to join him.

Plus, given the players they have signed from Ajax in the past - Frenkie de Jong the latest - Barca probably owe the Eredivisie club a transfer favour in return.

ATALANTA

Gian Piero Gasperini's side captured the hearts of the football world in 2019-20, threatening a title challenge in Serie A and coming close to reaching the Champions League semi-finals.

They did all this on a modest budget, playing vibrant, attacking football, and all during a global pandemic that struck Bergamo and the Lombardy region harder than almost anywhere else in Europe.

The way Argentine Alejandro Gomez pulls the strings for Atalanta is a joy to watch, but imagine if Messi were doing it alongside him. Imagine them facing Cristiano Ronaldo and Juventus. Imagine Marten de Roon's Twitter feed.

Glorious, isn't it?

COLOGNE

The GOAT and the Billy Goats - what could be better?

Cologne have gone through some tricky times but Markus Gisdol has done a brilliant job in steadying the ship in the Bundesliga and was rewarded with a new contract until June 2023.

They might not have won the title since 1978, but they are among Germany's most esteemed clubs, with an ardent fan base and a beautiful home city. If Messi could lead them to challenge the might of Bayern Munich, it would be an unforgettable story.

If not... well, they have a goat as a mascot, for goodness' sake. It's too perfect.

LEEDS UNITED

It might be too early for Messi to return to Newell's Old Boys, but what if he joined up with Rosario's other most famous footballing export in Yorkshire?

Leeds United are back in the Premier League at last, having swept all before them in the Championship in 2019-20 under the stewardship of Marcelo Bielsa and his big blue bucket.

The chance to help awaken a sleeping giant of the English game while playing for the man who inspired Pep Guardiola sounds like an opportunity that's too good to miss.

Plus, if he wanted to visit Sergio Aguero, Manchester is less than an hour away by train.

MARSEILLE

If he's not ready to give up the Mediterranean lifestyle, Marseille is parfait for Messi.

OM remain the only French men's team to be champions of Europe - something of which they've been keen to remind fans of Paris Saint-Germain in recent days - and their supporters are possibly the loudest outside South America. Messi's Marseille beating Neymar's PSG would probably cause a year-long street party.

Head coach Andre Villas-Boas has compared Dimitri Payet to Messi, so you can only imagine he'd be thrilled to have them both. As for getting him there, sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta knows him only too well from his time at Barca.

In fact, Zubizarreta was another to be forced out by Josep Maria Bartomeu's operations. He'd probably like nothing better than to share a quiet cassis on the Cote d'Azur, reminiscing about those Camp Nou troubles.

Steve Mandanda has extended his Marseille contract until 2024.

The OM captain and goalkeeper had been set to leave the club at the end of the 2020-21 season.

A three-year extension will, a Marseille statement said, allow Mandanda to "add even more to the legend".

The 35-year-old, who will be 39 when his new deal expires, has made a club-record 549 appearances for OM.

Mandanda - initially signed from Le Havre in 2007 - had a short, unsuccessful stint with Crystal Palace in the Premier League in 2016-17 before returning to Marseille.

The France international remained Marseille's first-choice keeper last term before the Ligue 1 season was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Their new campaign is belatedly set to get under way at Brest on Sunday after positive COVID-19 tests prompted the postponement of the first scheduled match.

 

Paris Saint-Germain have been granted an extended break before starting their 2020-21 Ligue 1 campaign after their trip to Lens was postponed.

The reigning champions had been due to begin their title defence at Stade Bollaert-Delelis on Saturday, six days after their 1-0 Champions League final defeat to Bayern Munich in Lisbon.

Thomas Tuchel's men played three Champions League games in 12 days in Portugal - where the competition was concluded having been halted in March due to the coronavirus pandemic - and PSG wanted to give their players more time to recover before beginning the new season.

The Ligue de Football Professionnel (LFP) confirmed that PSG's request has been approved by both Lens and local broadcaster Canal +, with the fixture rearranged to Thursday, September 10.

In addition, this weekend's clash between Strasbourg and Nice has been brought forward a day, to the Saturday evening timeslot originally occupied by Lens' home game against PSG.

The Lens fixture, which now comes after the international break, will still be PSG's first match of the new season and they are due to host rivals Marseille three days later.

Marseille had been set to begin their campaign last Friday but their trip to Saint-Etienne was postponed after OM confirmed they had four positive COVID-19 cases in their squad.

On Tuesday, Marseille revealed "three new suspected cases of COVID-19 were detected" and said the LFP had been informed.

Given the LFP's directive that more than three positive cases would likely lead to a postponement, Marseille's trip to Brest this weekend would also appear to now be in doubt.

The first match of the new Ligue 1 season has been postponed after Marseille confirmed they had reached four positive coronavirus cases.

Marseille were due to host Saint-Etienne on Friday in the opening game of the 2020-21 Ligue 1 campaign.

But the new French top-flight season will instead start with a match between Bordeaux and Nantes on Saturday.

Prior to the LFP announcement on Tuesday, Marseille said a trio of "suspected" coronavirus cases had been confirmed just three days before the start of the new season.

The Ligue 1 club previously revealed on Sunday that three individuals within their "professional workforce" had been detected as potentially having COVID-19.

Their communication at the time indicated the club was seeking confirmation regarding these cases and follow-up tests on Monday all came back positive.

Those results took the club's positive cases up to four in the space of four days.

A statement from Ligue de Football Professionnel (LFP) read: "In view of the medical results communicated by Marseille on Tuesday, the national COVID commission has indicated to the LFP's Competitions Commission that the virus is circulating within the Marseille club and proposed the postponement of the match.

"According to the protocol for the organisation of matches, the LFP's Competitions Commission has decided to postpone the match to Wednesday 16 or Thursday 17 September 2020, subject to the evolution of health conditions at Marseille. 

"The final date will be determined in agreement with the match broadcaster."

Marseille announced a trio of "suspected" coronavirus cases have been confirmed just three days before the start of the new season.

The Ligue 1 club revealed on Sunday that three individuals within their "professional workforce" had been detected as potentially having COVID-19.

Their communication at the time indicated the club was seeking confirmation regarding these cases and follow-up tests on Monday all came back positive.

These take the club's positive cases up to four in the past week.

Marseille are due to kick off the 2020-21 Ligue 1 campaign this Friday at home to Saint-Etienne – it is unclear how these new positive tests will impact on that scheduled fixture.

Friday's match will be the first Ligue 1 contest since early March, when French authorities suspended action due to the coronavirus – the competition was then officially ended prematurely on April 28.

Marseille have confirmed the appointment of Pablo Longoria as their new chief football officer.

Longoria replaces fellow Spaniard Andoni Zubizarreta, who left the Ligue 1 club in May amid uncertainty over the future of head coach Andre Villas-Boas.

It has since been confirmed that Villas-Boas will remain at Stade Velodrome and he will be joined by the 33-year-old Longoria.

Marseille revealed the former Valencia sporting director will oversee the "the entire sports sector", from the team to the training centre, be responsible for transfers, and "will accelerate the development of the use of data in sports decision-making".

Longoria, who starts work on August 3, said: "Football is inconceivable without passion. My last choices were based on passion and the history of the clubs I worked for.

"I am proud to have this great opportunity to put my skills at the service of one of the most historic clubs in Europe and in French football.

"I want to bring as much as possible to this great club and look forward to living the passion of the fans, the stadium and the city."

Juventus are also among Longoria's previous employers and owner Frank McCourt believes he can take help take Marseille to another level.

He said: "Over the last four years, and after a huge enhancement of the club's resources, we have completed phase one of our project as demonstrated by our qualifying for Champions League play.

"Now we begin phase two of our journey together. With Jacque-Henri's [Marseille president Eyraud] continued leadership, the additions of Pablo and Hugues [head of business Ouvrard], and Andre's commitment; the pieces are in place for us to start climbing the next mountain together."

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is still waiting for Barcelona, while Manchester City could be set to sign an attacker.

Aubameyang's future at Arsenal is uncertain, with the star forward out of contract next year.

And the Gabon international seems to be biding his time.

 

TOP STORY – AUBAMEYANG WAITS FOR BARCELONA OFFER

Aubameyang is prepared to wait for an offer from Barcelona amid their apparent interest in Arsenal's top scorer, according to Sky Sport and Sport.

Meanwhile, Mundo Deportivo reports the 31-year-old is considered an alternative if Barca cannot land Inter star Lautaro Martinez.

Aubameyang has scored 25 goals in 42 games for Arsenal this season.

 

ROUND-UP

- Valencia attacker Ferran Torres looks like he has decided on his next move. Sport Bild reports the 20-year-old has agreed to join Manchester City over Borussia Dortmund. The report says the Bundesliga club considered Torres as a potential replacement for Jadon Sancho, who is linked with a move away.

- Following some less-than-convincing performances from Kepa Arrizabalaga, Chelsea are apparently eyeing a goalkeeper this close season. The Manchester Evening News reports Chelsea are prepared to more than double Dean Henderson's Manchester United wages, with the shot-stopper having impressed on loan at Sheffield United this season. The Daily Mail says Henderson is set for talks with Manchester United next week.

- Atalanta star Duvan Zapata could be set for a move. CalcioMercato reports Juventus are interested in the striker, who it says was the subject of a €50million offer from a foreign club.

- Liverpool and Manchester City are reportedly interested in Sevilla defender Diego Carlos. Goal reports the LaLiga club have received two offers from England for the 27-year-old, although from which clubs remains unknown.

- Loris Karius seems set to make a permanent exit from Liverpool. Goal says the Premier League champions want €6.6m (£6m) for the goalkeeper amid interest from Marseille.

- Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg is on track for a move from Southampton. The Telegraph reports Everton's bid of around £25m for the midfielder has been accepted, but Tottenham have also submitted an offer.

Bayern Munich will prepare for the latter stages of the Champions League by hosting Marseille in a friendly on July 31.

Bayern are aiming to complete a stunning treble following their post-shutdown romp to the Bundesliga and DFB-Pokal titles.

The German champions are well placed to reach the final eight-team mini-tournament in Lisbon as they lead Chelsea 3-0 heading into the home leg of their last-16 tie.

But Bayern have not played since the Pokal final against Bayer Leverkusen on July 4 and so have organised an exhibition match against Marseille at the FC Bayern Campus. They then face Chelsea on August 8.

Head coach Hansi Flick said: "The 'Audi Football Summit' against Olympique Marseille comes at an optimal time in our preparations for the second leg of the Champions League round of 16 against Chelsea.

"The team and our coaching staff will be working with great focus and high quality to make sure we pick up where we left off with our performances in the Bundesliga and the DFB-Pokal final in this game."

Marseille are preparing for the 2020-21 Ligue 1 season after the previous campaign was curtailed due to coronavirus.

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