Mauricio Pochettino was made to rue Paris Saint-Germain's lack of creativity during their Coupe de France exit to Nice.

The holders crashed out of the competition as they lost 6-5 on penalties following a goalless draw at Parc des Princes.

PSG loanee Marcin Bulka was the hero during the shoot-out, saving penalties from Leandro Paredes and Xavi Simons to end his parent club's 14-match unbeaten streak in the competition.

Despite registering 10 attempts and 68.2 per cent of possession, Pochettino's side failed to score in the competition for the first time since defeat by Lille in the 2011 showpiece.

Pochettino urged his players to switch focus to their domestic and continental endeavours after a disappointing result.

"We were better than Nice overall," he said. "We didn't create enough chances to score goals and win this game before the penalties. 

"We should have been more efficient in the last few metres. Then, it's a lottery.

"Even though we were better, we didn't do what was necessary to win the game. 

"We must remain optimistic: we still have Ligue 1 and the Champions League as objectives."

Pochettino also defended his decision to start Kylian Mbappe on the bench, before introducing the France international in the 64th minute.

"Kylian Mbappe had physical discomfort in the last days few days," he added.

"With the advice of the medical staff, the agreement was that he would not start the match. If he needed to do 30 or 35 minutes in the game, he could do them."

Paris Saint-Germain crashed out of the Coupe de France as they were beaten 6-5 on penalties by Nice after a 0-0 draw at Parc des Princes.

Marcin Bulka was the hero as he denied Leandro Paredes and Xavi Simons in the shoot-out to send the visitors through to the quarter-finals.

The PSG loanee ended the holders' 14-match winning run in the competition, while halting their quest for a third straight triumph.

Mauricio Pochettino's side also failed to score in a Coupe de France tie for the first time since losing 1-0 to Lille in the 2011 final.

Unbeaten in their eight previous meetings with Nice in all competitions, PSG welcomed Lionel Messi back into the starting line-up for the first time in a month.

The Argentina skipper was involved in the hosts' best chance of the first half as he combined with Ander Herrera to tee up Marco Verratti, who swept a shot just wide of the far post.

At the other end, Amine Gouiri tried his luck with an ambitious effort from distance, but it flew straight into the arms of Gianluigi Donnarumma.

The Italy international was also called into action just after the restart, producing smart reflexes to deny Justin Kluivert from a tight angle.

Having watched his side register just a single shot on target, Pochettino introduced Kylian Mbappe in the 63rd minute for his 200th PSG appearance.

But it was the visitors who went close to snatching a dramatic winner, Danilo Pereira blocking Kluivert with five minutes remaining, while Jean-Clair Todibo got in the way of Messi's goalbound effort at the other end.

The first five kicks of the subsequent shoot-out were successful before Bulka kept out Paredes' tame effort, although Donnarumma immediately denied Andy Delort in return.

Dante's timely Panenka put Nice in control as it went into sudden death, before Simons' attempt was beaten away by Bulka.

What does it mean? More shoot-out woes for PSG

PSG's last Coupe de France disappointment also came after a penalty shoot-out, when they were beaten by Rennes in the 2019 final.

This reverse was also their first in 12 matches across all competitions since going down 2-1 against Manchester City in November.

Nice, who last won this title in 1997, will face Marseille in the last eight.

Bulka heroics

The PSG loanee came back to haunt his parent club as he produced brilliant saves to deny Paredes and Simons from 12 yards.

The goalkeeper only had two saves to make against the lacklustre hosts in 90 minutes. Nevertheless, he provided a calming presence between the sticks throughout the contest before stepping up when it mattered most.

Another quiet day for Icardi

Once again, Icardi failed to inspire PSG and was substituted just after the hour mark.

The former Inter forward did not register a single shot on goal, while his tally of six touches was the lowest for any PSG player to play at least 45 minutes of a match since Opta began collecting data across all competitions in 2014-15.

What's next?

PSG return to Ligue 1 action when they travel to Lille on Sunday, the same day that Nice welcome Clermont in the top flight.

Paris Saint-Germain crashed out of the Coupe de France as they were beaten 6-5 on penalties by Nice after a 0-0 draw at Parc des Princes.

Marcin Bulka was the hero as he denied Leandro Paredes and Xavi Simons in the shoot-out to send the visitors through to the quarter-finals.

The PSG loanee ended the holders' 14-match winning run in the competition, while halting their quest for a third straight triumph.

Mauricio Pochettino's side also failed to score in a Coupe de France tie for the first time since losing 1-0 to Lille in the 2011 final.

Unbeaten in their eight previous meetings with Nice in all competitions, PSG welcomed Lionel Messi back into the starting line-up for the first time in a month.

The Argentina skipper was involved in the hosts' best chance of the first half as he combined with Ander Herrera to tee up Marco Verratti, who swept a shot just wide of the far post.

At the other end, Amine Gouiri tried his luck with an ambitious effort from distance, but it flew straight into the arms of Gianluigi Donnarumma.

The Italy international was also called into action just after the restart, producing smart reflexes to deny Justin Kluivert from a tight angle.

Having watched his side register just a single shot on target, Pochettino introduced Kylian Mbappe in the 63rd minute for his 200th PSG appearance.

But it was the visitors who went close to snatching a dramatic winner, Danilo Pereira blocking Kluivert with five minutes remaining, while Jean-Clair Todibo got in the way of Messi's goalbound effort at the other end.

The first five kicks of the subsequent shoot-out were successful before Bulka kept out Paredes' tame effort, although Donnarumma immediately denied Andy Delort in return.

Dante's timely Panenka put Nice in control as it went into sudden death, before Simons' attempt was beaten away by Bulka.

Sergio Ramos has sustained another calf injury that casts early doubt on the Paris Saint-Germain centre-back being fit to face his former side Real Madrid in the Champions League.

The 35-year-old has been hampered by a series of niggling issues since arriving at PSG from Madrid, where he had spent the previous 16 seasons.

He played a part in PSG's last two matches, but a low-grade muscle problem suffered in training on Thursday could see the defender facing another spell on the sidelines.

PSG confirmed the news on their website on Sunday, with further tests planned for the middle of next week, and Mauricio Pochettino is unsure how long Ramos will miss.

"You never know with an injury. You have to follow the evolution. We don't know the duration of his unavailability," Pochettino said at a news conference.

Ligue 1 leaders PSG are set to host Madrid in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie on February 15, before travelling to the Spanish capital three weeks later.

Ramos has played just five times for Pochettino's side in all competitions since arriving in July, totalling 284 minutes of action on the field.

The 15 LaLiga games Ramos started in 2020-21 was the fewest he managed in a campaign for Madrid and a big drop from the 35 games started the season before.

Indeed, he played just eight matches in all competitions at club level in 2021, while his last appearance for Spain was against Kosovo last March.

 

PSG will also be without forward Neymar and midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum for Monday's Coupe de France last-16 tie with Nice.

Wijnaldum is expected to return from an ankle sprain at the end of next week, while Neymar – who has not played since November – will be further assessed on Monday.

However, Pochettino can still call upon superstars Kylian Mbappe and Lionel Messi for the cup match.

Messi has had a chance to work on his fitness this week, having not been included in Argentina's latest squad after recently being struck down by coronavirus.

And ahead of the Nice match, Pochettino has been encouraged by what he has seen from compatriot Messi.

"We are very happy with what Leo has done in training this week," Pochettino said. "He has trained well. He is in good condition to start.

"For Kylian, it's a question of complicity. Their connection is starting to see each other. They are two very great footballers.

"It's been a good week of work. I'm happy because we were able to work on the tactics, not just the physical side. We hope that this work will be seen by the end of the season."

The race for Erling Haaland's signature will be a huge story in 2022.

The 21-year-old sensation has interest from some of Europe's biggest clubs.

Haaland has netted 63 goals in the past 18 months for Borussia Dortmund.

 

TOP STORY – MAN UTD GIVE UP ON HAALAND

Manchester United have pulled out of the race to sign Dortmund's Haaland, according to ESPN.

The Red Devils will focus on alternative attacking options with uncertainty around Edinson Cavani and Cristiano Ronaldo's futures at the club while Haaland is favouring a move to Real Madrid.

United have had a long-standing interest in the Norwegian, who has a €75 million (£62m) release clause on his Dortmund contract.

 

ROUND-UP

- Manchester City are closing in on a deal for River Plate's 21-year-old Argentina international Julian Alvarez, claims The Telegraph. As part of the imminent deal, Alvarez – who has interest from Milan, Inter and Juventus – will remain with River until June. The fee is expected to be no less than £20m.

- Liverpool have joined the race to sign Borussia Monchengladbach's Denis Zakaria, according to ESPN. The Reds will rival Dortmund and Bayern Munich who are both keen on the Swiss midfielder.

- Ajax's Mexico international Edson Alvarez is attracting interest from Premier League trio Chelsea, Leicester City and Crystal Palace, reports Football Insider.

- Leeds United have opened contract talks with Brazilian superstar Raphinha,  according to the Daily Star, amid interest from Chelsea and Liverpool .

- French club Nice are set to offer Tottenham's Bryan Gil a loan deal, according to L'Equipe. The Spaniard has struggled for impact since his move to England.

- Diario AS claims that Valencia are working on a January deal for Athletic Bilbao defender Unai Nunez .

Paris Saint-Germain head coach Mauricio Pochettino defended Lionel Messi after the seven-time Ballon d'Or winner fired a blank in Wednesday's 0-0 Ligue 1 draw at home to Nice.

Messi was honoured pre-game in front of the Parc des Princes crowd following his record-extending Ballon d'Or title, but the superstar was unable to fire PSG to glory in the French capital midweek.

Entering the contest having found the net three times in as many home games for runaway Ligue 1 leaders PSG, Messi attempted six shots, though only one was on target against Nice.

It was Messi's highest tally without scoring in the league since April 2021 – seven with Barcelona against Real Madrid in LaLiga prior to his blockbuster Paris switch.

"It must be my fault because with my football eye I always see Leo well, for something he has won seven Ballons d'Or, there is nothing more to say," Pochettino told reporters.

"It is a pleasure and an honour to have him on our team."

PSG registered 22 shots on goal – their highest tally without scoring in Ligue 1 since March 2016, with Angel Di Maria and Kylian Mbappe going closest to finding the back of the net, but were unable to break down their stubborn opponents.

French powerhouse PSG conceded their first 0-0 home draw in Ligue 1 since February 2017 (against Toulouse). This was their first home draw in the top flight since November 2020 (2-2 against Bordeaux), ending a run of 20 games at home without sharing points (W16 L4).

PSG, however, remain 12 points clear atop the table, though second-placed Marseille have played one game less.

"When goals are not scored, what is lacking is to hit the mark, you shoot many times and the ball does not go in and other times it does," added Pochettino, who has been heavily linked with Premier League side Manchester United.

"We have not been able to take advantage of the opportunities we had, but these things happen once or twice a season when you play well and the goalkeeper or the stick or it goes an inch out. You have to accept this kind of thing."

Paris Saint-Germain head coach Mauricio Pochettino insisted the Ligue 1 leaders deserved to win as he was left to rue missed opportunities after his side were held to a goalless draw by Nice.

Runaway Ligue 1 pacesetters PSG were denied victory at Parc des Princes for the first time this season in all competitions following Wednesday's stalemate.

PSG registered 22 shots on goal – their highest tally without scoring in Ligue 1 since March 2016, with Angel Di Maria and Kylian Mbappe going closest to finding the back of the net, but were unable to break down their stubborn opponents.

Indeed, it was the first time in 18 Ligue 1 meetings that Nice had prevented PSG from finding the net.

But Pochettino – who has been heavily linked with Manchester United – felt PSG's performance was worthy of more than a share of the spoils as Lionel Messi fired a blank after claiming a record-extending seventh Ballon d'Or.

"We got chances, but we didn't score. We deserved to win," Pochettino said. "It happens sometimes; the ball doesn't go in, sometimes there's a good goalkeeper. 

"These are things that you have to accept throughout the season. I am satisfied with the defensive performance of the team. 

"We are improving little by little. We are first in Ligue 1 and qualified for the knockout stages of the Champions League. 

"We must continue to improve to be ready for the decisive moments."

Messi attempted six shots (one on target) against Nice, his highest tally without scoring in the league since April 2021 (seven with Barcelona against Real Madrid).

PSG conceded their first 0-0 home draw in Ligue 1 since February 2017 (against Toulouse). This is their first home draw in the top flight since November 2020 (2-2 against Bordeaux), ending a run of 20 games at home without sharing points (W16 L4).

Paris Saint-Germain saw their 10-match winning home run in Ligue 1 halted as they were held to a goalless draw by Nice at Parc des Princes.

The runaway leaders in the French top flight had found the net three times in each of their past three league games, but drew a blank on Wednesday.

Angel Di Maria and Kylian Mbappe went closest to scoring for Mauricio Pochettino's side, who proved wasteful in front of goal.

Despite 20 shots on goal, the hosts were unable to break down Nice, who held out for their first clean sheet in this fixture in 18 attempts.

Nice were seeking only a second win over PSG in 17 matches and Kasper Dolberg tested Gianluigi Donnarumma from long distance early on, while Presnel Kimpembe produced a wonderful last-ditch intervention to deny Andy Delort.

It then took brilliant reflexes by Donnarumma to keep out Delort's header from point-blank range just after the half-hour mark.

At the other end, Lionel Messi shot straight at Walter Benitez, while Achraf Hakimi blazed a good opportunity wide when the ball broke kindly for him just before half-time.

Di Maria was played in behind the defence six minutes after the break, but Benitez was out quickly to block him.

Dolberg then saw a glorious opportunity go begging in the 59th minute, as he somehow headed onto the post from two yards out with the goal gaping.

A clever ball by Messi released Mbappe at the other end, but the France international could only shoot wide with just the goalkeeper to beat.

PSG pressed for a dramatic winner as the clock ticked down, but were forced to settle for a share of the spoils.

Lionel Messi "completely deserved" his record-extending seventh Ballon d'Or, according to Paris Saint-Germain head coach Mauricio Pochettino.

The PSG star has endured something of a slow start to the Ligue 1 season, scoring just once in seven games, but his prior exploits with Barcelona and Argentina were enough to secure another accolade.

The 34-year-old's performances for Argentina at the Copa America, helping his country to a first major trophy in 28 years, were likely what gave him the edge over Robert Lewandowski.

Bayern Munich striker Lewandowski, who Messi claimed should have been awarded the cancelled 2020 Ballon d'Or, was once again in the running after breaking Gerd Muller's long-standing record of 40 goals in a single Bundesliga season.

But Pochettino insists his Argentinian compatriot was the most deserving of the award for yet another outstanding year in which he has also managed 32 goals and 12 assists across 40 club appearances.

"Firstly, I want to publicly congratulate Leo and his family," Pochettino told reporters at Tuesday's pre-match news conference ahead of the visit of Nice. 

"Winning seven Ballons d'Or is an extraordinary achievement. I hope he takes advantage of it and that it's the first day to work on getting the eighth.

"To have players with six and seven Ballon d'Or is something extraordinary and we are delighted to have him here every day. 

"We hope at the end of the year to also have collective trophies beyond the individual trophies."

Asked about the criticism of the Argentina international's victory, Pochettino responded: "Messi completely deserved it and there is no debate. 

"Of course, in other countries there may be criticism, but he completely deserved it."

Ahead of Wednesday's clash with Nice, PSG lead Ligue 1 by 12 points after winning 13 of their opening 15 games, a total surpassed only once at this stage in the competition by PSG themselves in 2018-19 (14/15).

The league leaders may be without Messi for the clash at Parc des Princes, though, after the former Barcelona forward, along with Leandro Paredes, did not train on Tuesday due to a stomach bug.

PSG will decide on the fitness of the pair on the morning of the Nice game, while they will definitely be without Neymar, who is expected to be out for six to eight weeks due to an ankle injury sustained against Saint-Etienne.

And so, the countdown begins…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luis Maximiano (Portugal) – 22, goalkeeper, Granada

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Riqui Puig (Spain) – 22, midfielder, Barcelona

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

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

But it's not quite worked out that way.

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

So, why is he even on this list?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Alan Velasco (Argentina) – 19, winger, Independiente

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

Amine Gouiri (France) – 21, forward, Nice

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Ligue de Football Professionnel (LFP) docked Nice two Ligue 1 points, one of which was suspended, due to their involvement in the chaotic scenes with Marseille last month.

The August 22 clash was suspended and then abandoned after home fans stormed the Allianz Riviera pitch in response to Marseille's Dimitri Payet, who was hit on the back of the neck, throwing a bottle back into the Nice crowd.

The LFP had summoned the two teams to a disciplinary hearing on August 25 to explain the unsavoury scenes, which saw a melee break out on the pitch and subsequently in the dugout.

On Wednesday, the LFP announced its decision to punish Nice with a one-point deduction, while also subjecting the French club to three games behind closed doors.

For inciting the crowd, Marseille star Payet received a one-game suspension while team-mate Alvaro Gonzalez faces a two-match ban for also provoking the home fans.

The fixture with rivals Marseille, which failed to be completed as the visitors refused to come back onto the pitch, will also be rearranged and played on a neutral ground without supporters in attendance.

"After reading the investigation report in the presence of the two clubs, the Commission decided to replay the match on a relocated field," the LFP said in a statement midweek.

"In addition, two penalty points were imposed on OGC Nice, including one suspended point."

Marseille physio Pablo Fernandez was caught on camera punching a Nice fan and, after already being suspended indefinitely by the LFP, he will not return to the touchline until June 30th 2022.

Of Payet and Gonzalez, France football's governing body added: "Regarding the players, defender Alvaro Gonzalez received two games of suspension.

"As for his team-mate Dimitri Payet, he was sanctioned with a suspended match."

Nice have won two of their opening three league matches following an unbeaten start to the season, while Marseille also boast the same record.

Former France and Paris Saint-Germain defender Jean-Pierre Adams has died aged 73 after spending 39 years in a coma.

Adams, who appeared 22 times for France, was left in a coma from the age of 34 after undergoing what should have been a routine knee operation.

But Adams never awoke from surgery, anaesthetic-related errors by hospital staff in Lyon led to his brain being starved of oxygen and causing him to slip into a coma.

Adams died at the Nimes University Hospital on Monday.

Tributes have followed from his former clubs Nimes, Nice and PSG, as they all pay respects to a pioneer who paved the way for French-African footballers.

Nimes, who Adams made 84 appearances for, expressed their "most sincere condolences to his loved ones and his family", and Nice promised a tribute before their next home game against Monaco on September 19.

PSG, too, released a statement echoing similar sentiments, adding that Adams' "joie de vivre, charisma and experience commanded respect".

The Senegal-born footballer returned home to Nimes the year after the botched operation and was cared for by his wife Bernadette up to his passing.

The Ligue de Football Professionnel (LFP) have summoned Nice and Marseille to explain the chaotic scenes that marred their Ligue 1 fixture.

Sunday's contest was suspended and then abandoned after Marseille's Dimitri Payet threw a bottle back into the stands at Nice's Allianz Riviera, prompting home fans to storm the pitch.

A statement from LFP said: "Following the serious incidents of the meeting between Nice and Marseille, the disciplinary commission of the LFP summons the two clubs for the session of Wednesday, 25 August 2021."

Marseille plan to take action to reverse the LFP decision to award Nice a 3-0 victory after OM's players refused to come back out to complete the match.

Captain Steve Mandanda justified his team's refusal to return to the field after supporters had been ushered back into the stands.

"Quite simply, for us players, our safety was no longer guaranteed," the goalkeeper told Marseille's official website.

"We are very clearly shocked by what happened. It is for us something unacceptable that the supporters can come on to the field like that.

"We found each other in danger. A lot of our players have been targeted or affected."

France's minister for sport, Roxana Maracineanu, has called on football's authorities to take action against Nice for the "intolerable" behaviour of their supporters.

"The fight should never have taken place, people should never have been able to enter a field," she told BFM.

"There must be penalties for the club in question so that it affects the fans of the team.

"It's intolerable because the first condition for a match taking place is that the safety of the players on the pitch is assured.

"I hope that the investigation, whether disciplinary or criminal, will make it possible to identify the culprits and to punish them as necessary."

Olympique Marseille intend to take action to reverse the Ligue de Football Professionnel's (LFP) decision to award Nice a 3-0 victory from Sunday's abandoned Ligue 1 game.

Play was suspended between Nice and Marseille at Venue Allianz Riviera with the hosts 1-0 up in the 76th minute when home fans flooded on to the pitch after OM's Dimitri Payet reacted to being hit by a bottle projectile thrown from the crowd by sending it back.

The situation spilled over as Nice ultras spilled on to the pitch and skirmishes broke out among fans, officials and players from both sides. The players eventually left the field of play.

Marseille head coach Jorge Sampaoli was demonstrative in the tunnel and insistent his players should not return given the situation, along with OM president Pablo Longoria.

The match was set to resume but Marseille refused to return due to safety fears, meaning the decision was made by the LFP that it was abandoned and Nice handed a 3-0 win.

According to Amazon, Marseille will take action to have that decision reversed.

"The league has decided to resume. We have decided, for the safety of our players, who have been attacked, not to resume the match," Longoria said.

"It is already the second time, we have experienced this in Montpellier. We had decided what happened today is completely unacceptable. We must set a precedent for French football by taking a stand.

"The referee agreed with us. He confirmed to us that safety was not guaranteed, he did not want to resume the game.

"But the LFP, for a matter of public order, wanted to resume. This is why we decided not to resume and to go back to Marseille this evening."

Three OM players Luan Peres, Matteo Guendouzi and Dimitri Payet were injured in the melees, while Nice claimed according to RMC that players Jean-Claire Todibo and Justin Kluivert were subjected to physical violence by Marseille's security staff during the on-field melee.

"It is disappointing that it ends like this," Nice president Jean-Pierre Rivere said. "Things are quite clear... We had water bottles being thrown unfortunately but it is the reaction of the Marseille players to throw bottles back into the stands.

"Marseille's security should not have come onto the pitch and hit our players."

Rivere added: "What catalysed things was the reaction of two Marseille players… I don’t really understand why Marseille didn’t restart."

The Ligue 1 match between Nice and Marseille was suspended and then abandoned after Dimitri Payet threw a bottle back into the stands, causing home fans to storm the pitch.

Footage showed Payet was struck on the back by the missile near the corner flag during the second half, with Nice leading through Kasper Dolberg's 49th-minute goal.

Marseille star Payet then appeared to hurl a bottle back into the crowd, then a second lying on the turf, as his team-mates reacted furiously towards the terraces.

Fans then surged to the sidelines and forced their way past stewards and onto the pitch, where a melee broke out.

The referee suspended the match as security staff attempted to restore order, but fans continued to get onto the field of play and there were further skirmishes in the dugouts as players were led towards the tunnel.

Both sides were eventually taken to the dressing rooms for nearly an hour before Nice players returned to the pitch to warm up, with the game apparently set to resume.

The match officials set up play to continue from Marseille's corner but, as the visitors had not come back onto the pitch and were apparently refusing to do so, the referee ended the game.

Marseille president Pablo Longoria told RMC Sport: "We decided not to resume the match for the safety of our players.

"The league decided as a matter of public order to resume the match. This isn't acceptable for us. It's why we decided not to resume."

 

 

 

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