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Strengthened PSG begins bid to wrestle back French title

August 5, 2021 GMT
Real Madrid's Sergio Ramos celebrates after scoring during the Champions League, round of 16, second leg soccer match between Atalanta and Real Madrid at the Alfredo di Stefano stadium in Madrid, Spain, Tuesday, March 16, 2021. Obsessed with winning the Champions League, Paris Saint-Germain added precious experience to its squad by recruiting former Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos on Thursday July 8, 2021. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
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Real Madrid's Sergio Ramos celebrates after scoring during the Champions League, round of 16, second leg soccer match between Atalanta and Real Madrid at the Alfredo di Stefano stadium in Madrid, Spain, Tuesday, March 16, 2021. Obsessed with winning the Champions League, Paris Saint-Germain added precious experience to its squad by recruiting former Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos on Thursday July 8, 2021. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
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Real Madrid's Sergio Ramos celebrates after scoring during the Champions League, round of 16, second leg soccer match between Atalanta and Real Madrid at the Alfredo di Stefano stadium in Madrid, Spain, Tuesday, March 16, 2021. Obsessed with winning the Champions League, Paris Saint-Germain added precious experience to its squad by recruiting former Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos on Thursday July 8, 2021. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

PARIS (AP) — Paris Saint-Germain has recruited strongly as it bids to wrestle back the league title it lost to Lille in one of the biggest upsets in French soccer history.

Cash-rich PSG didn’t even need to spend big this time, since it acquired Italy’s star goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, veteran Spanish defender Sergio Ramos and former Liverpool midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum on free transfers.

The major outlay was the 60 million euros ($71 million) it spent on Achraf Hakimi from Italian champion Inter Milan. He is one of Europe’s best attacking fullbacks — although attacking isn’t the problem in a side containing Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Argentina’s Angel Di Maria.

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Poor defending cost PSG badly last season when it lost eight times in the league, an unusually high number for such a star-studded squad.

PSG opens its league campaign at promoted Troyes on Saturday, while Lille plays at Metz on Sunday.

Having taken over midway through the last campaign, after Thomas Tuchel was fired, coach Mauricio Pochettino can have no excuses now.

He has identified areas that need improving.

Pochettino wants his players much fitter and less complacent than they were last season. Perhaps that’s why he has brought players in to increase competition for places.

Ramos is a four-time Champions League winner with Real Madrid and won three major tournaments with Spain. While his aggressive style has irked many opponents, he’s also a proven fighter.

He will challenge Presnel Kimpembe for a starting spot in central defense alongside captain Marqunhos. A partnership between Marquinhos and Ramos would bring plenty of goals, too, with both players excellent in the air.

Donnarumma will compete for the No. 1 jersey with Keylor Navas, who was one of the best goalies in Europe last season. Although that may seem unfair on Navas, it sends a clear message that no player is assured of their place at PSG.

Except for Neymar and Mbappe, that is, who seem to enjoy a different status. PSG is desperate for Mbappe to sign a new deal, with his current one expiring next June.

Wijnaldum is possibly the key signing.

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He should improve a midfield that lacked fitness during the second half of games last season, tailing off against Manchester City in the Champions League semifinals and against Lille when it lost at home.

The Netherlands captain’s arrival takes some pressure off Euro 2020 champion Marco Verratti, who is an excellent schemer and passer but tires in games when he has too much defending to do.

Although Lille beat PSG last weekend in the Champions Trophy — its third straight match without conceding a goal to PSG — it remains to be seen whether the northern club can challenge again under its new coach Jocelyn Gourvennec.

Lille’s defense was the best in Ligue 1, with goalie Mike Maignan keeping the most clean sheets. His departure to AC Milan is a big blow but not the only one, with coach Christophe Galtier snapped up by ambitious Nice.

Galtier’s first season there is likely to be mostly one of transition as he plans the long-term success the club’s billionaire owner Jim Ratcliffe craves.

PSG appears to have the edge over Lille, so the main challenger could be Monaco, which kicks off the season at home to Nantes on Friday.

Coach Niko Kovac did a brilliant job in his first season. Monaco beat PSG home and away, finished third and reached the French Cup final.

Monaco’s attack will be led by sharpshooters Wissam Ben Yedder and Kevin Volland, with fit-again Aleksandr Golovin pulling the strings in midfield.

OUTSIDERS

Lyon and Marseille are more likely to contest the Champions League places.

After finishing fourth last term, Lyon replaced Rudi Garcia with Peter Bosz, who was f ired by German side Bayer Leverkusen last March.

Bosz is known for his attack-minded philosophy and for picking players on form alone and not on reputation.

He must galvanize an attack which lost star forward Memphis Depay after he joined Barcelona.

Much rests on the shoulders of playmaker Houssem Aouar, providing he stays at the club amid transfer speculation, and 17-year-old attacking midfielder Rayan Cherki.

Marseille, meanwhile, sold star winger Florian Thauvin to Mexican side Tigres and will miss his goals.

But veteran playmaker Dimitri Payet looks in good form and coach Jorge Sampaoli has been given funds to strengthen the squad in his first full season.

Lyon is at home to Brest on Saturday and Marseille is at Montpellier on Sunday night.

Eight of the 10 games are to be shown by new broadcaster Amazon, with the French league embroiled in a bitter dispute with Canal Plus and beIn Sports over who broadcasts the other two matches.

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