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PSG seek sparkling start to endorse champion status

07 August 2014, 21:51

Paris - Favourites Paris Saint-Germain will hope to make a sparkling start on Friday as they bid to complete a hat-trick of Ligue 1 title successes this season and endorse their status as heavyweights of European soccer.

The defending champions travel to Reims in the knowledge that coach Laurent Blanc has a largely unchanged squad except for the estimated 50 million euros ($67 million)addition of the world's most expensive defender, Brazilian David Luiz from Chelsea.

While most of their major rivals have changed their coach, PSG have gone for stability and should enjoy their Champagne opener despite the absence of a quartet of leading players still recovering from their World Cup exploits.

Importantly, Sweden striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, whose nation failed to qualify for Brazil - has returned impatient to carry on where he left off as the league's top scorer in the last two triumphant seasons.

"When I joined Paris, I said we'd write history," he said. "I've been here for two seasons, just starting the third, and we've already won five trophies.

"So, we've written history and we're going to keep doing it."

Blanc will hope Brazilian defensive trio David Luiz, Thiago Silva and Maxwell have fully recovered from their traumatic World Cup exit and suffer no hangovers.

He has also added Serge Aurier from Toulouse to bolster the back line and needs to accommodate the wishes of French creator Yohan Cabaye and Uruguayan striker Edinson Cavani for more adventurous roles in his 4-3-3 system.

PSG's main challengers are likely to again be Monaco despite the departure of Colombian playmaker James Rodriguez to Real Madrid and last season's club leading scorer Emmanuel Riviere to Newcastle United.

One of seven clubs with new coaches, Monaco are under the control of Portuguese Leonardo Jardim, 40, who succeeded Claudio Ranieri, despite the Italian guiding them to a record points total as runners-up last season.

Jardim, known for putting the accent on youth, will depend heavily on a return to fitness and form by Colombian striker Radamel Falcao, who missed half of last season with a knee injury. He has been linked in the media with a move away.


Unlike their extravagance in 2013, Monaco have done little spending this year and will hope Jardim's approach pays off as they bid for a first title since 2000.

Only if necessary, it seems, will they turn to Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev's backing before the transfer window closes at the end of the month.

Arguably the most interesting appointment was Marseille's signing of colourful Argentine Marcelo Bielsa, a battle-hardened coach known as 'El Loco' for his methods and reclusiveness in a career that has seen him take charge of Argentina, Chile and Athletic Bilbao, the 2012 Europa League runners-up under his guidance.

He has talked little, but paid much attention to detail since taking over, requiring strict routines and all training pitches to be identical in size to that at the Velodrome.

Having added Stade Rennais forward Romain Alessandrini and Standard Liege striker Michy Batshuayi to compete with Andre-Pierre Gignac and Florian Thauvin, at a cost of more than 10 million euros, Bielsa has great attacking potential to mould into his expected 3-1-3-3 system.

Bielsa's first fixture takes him to Corsica and a visit to Bastia, under the new management of former France, Real Madrid and Chelsea midfielder Claude Makelele, 41, who was Blanc's assistant at PSG last season.

The Kinshasa-born coach said: "The foundations are very strong here. There is enormous possibility at Bastia but give me a little time. I may need three months"

Seven-time champions Olympique Lyonnais and Girondins Bordeaux also changed bosses, ex-Reims coach Hubert Fournier, a former Lyon defender, succeeding Remi Garde at Gerland and Willy Sagnol taking over from Francis Gillot, after Zinedine Zidane had rebuffed Bordeaux's overtures.

Lyon, fifth last season, seek a first title since 2008 while ex-France right back Sagnol, a champion with Monaco in 2000 and five-time title-winner at Bayern Munich, aims to lift Bordeaux up from seventh with a fusion of the German and French approaches to football.

- Reuters

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