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European Football Weekly Round-Up By Zach Lowy

Zach Lowy is back with another weekly round-up on European football. This week he focuses on PSG’s new manager Christophe Galtier and Les Parisiens’ start to the new season.

European Football Weekly Round Up

Born in Marseille on August 26, 1966, Christophe Galtier grew up in Marseille and developed at OM’s academy before moving to Lille and racking up 93 appearances between 1987 and 1990 before leaving and bouncing around from Toulouse, Anges, Nîmes, Marseille (again), spending a year at Italian side Monza and another year at Chinese side Lioaning before hanging up his boots in 1999. Galtier would immediately move into coaching and served in a number of assistant roles that would take him from France to Greece to England to the United Arab Emirates, but his first managerial role would come about a decade after his retirement in December 2009 with Ligue 1 side Saint-Ètienne, who were in danger of relegation. Galtier guided them to safety with a 17th-place finish, before finishing 10th, 7th, and 5th over his next three seasons in charge of Les Verts, the latter seeing them qualify for the 2013/14 UEFA Europa League group stage thanks to a 19-goal tally from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, whilst they would also defeat Rennes in the Coupe de la Ligue Final via a goal from Brandão. They finished 4th, 5th and 6th in the following years, but an 8th-place finish in 2016/17 would see Les Verts and Galtier end an eight-year spell together as the longest-tenured manager in Ligue 1 at the time.

Galtier’s Time With Lille

Seven months after leaving the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, Galtier had picked a new adventure for himself. For the second straight time, he began in December and took the reins of a club in danger of relegation with Lille, with Marcelo Bielsa taking charge the prior summer and bringing in a wide variety of young players such as Nicolas Pépé, Thiago Mendes, Luiz Araújo, Xeka, Boubakary Soumaré, Kévin Malcuit and Thiago Maia. Bielsa left the club in 18th place and reeling on and off the pitch, but Lille managed to secure safety on the final day of the season, avoiding relegation by a point before selling a host of key players the following summer in a desperate bid to avoid financial catastrophe with Yves Bissouma, Ibrahim Amadou, Fodé Ballo-Touré, Lebo Mothiba, Hamza Mendyl and Malcuit being sold. With sporting director Luís Campos at the helm, Les Dogues were able to replenish their squad with various free transfers such as José Fonte, Rafael Leão, Jérémy Pied, and Jonathan Bamba as well as low-cost deals for Jonathan Ikoné, Zeki Celik, Loïc Remy and Rui Fonte. With Galtier and Campos working together, Lille went from 17th to 2nd, their highest finish in 5 years, qualified for the Champions League, and stamped their authority on French football with a 5-1 victory at home against Thomas Tuchel’s Paris Saint-Germain on April 14. Once again, Europe’s elite clubs came calling after the completion of the campaign and proceeded to raid Galtier’s squad, with Pepé, Leão, Mendes, Anwar El Ghazi and Youssouf Koné departing the Stade Pierre-Mauroy, and once again, Campos and Galtier worked diligently to rebuild the squad, bringing in young talents Jonathan David and Sven Botman as well as a journeyman Turkish striker by the name of Burak Yılmaz. Lille finished 4th in the COVID-shortened Ligue 1 season and reached the Coupe de la Ligue semifinals and Coupe de France Round of 16 but were unable to advance to the Champions League knockout round, finishing bottom of their group of Chelsea, Valencia and Ajax with just one point. Despite selling Nigerian striker Victor Osimhen to Napoli, their top scorer in 2019/20 with 18 goals in all competitions, as well as Brazilian defender Gabriel to Arsenal, Lille began the season well under Galtier, finishing second in their Europa League group of Milan, Sparta Prague and Celtic before losing in the Round of 32 to Erik ten Hag’s Ajax, as well as losing to PSG in the Coupe de France Round of 16 on March 17. Galtier would have the last laugh, however – two weeks later, they faced off against Les Parisiens and took the lead within 20 minutes via David, and held on for a 1-0 victory at the Parc de Princes that would see Neymar and Tiago Djaló sent off for either side. Lille would take two draws and five wins from the final seven matches to finish one point above PSG, bouncing back from a 0-0 draw at home to Saint-Ètienne by winning 2-1 at Angers – David opened the scoring within 10 minutes, Yılmaz doubled the scoring from the penalty spot at the cusp of the interval, whilst Angelo Fulgini pulled one back for the hosts in extra time. For the first time in four years, Paris Saint-Germain had failed to win the Ligue 1 title, and for the first time in 10 years and for the fourth time in club history, Lille had reclaimed their throne atop France’s footballing elite.

PSG Come Calling After His Spell With Nice

Anticipating another summer exodus, Galtier decided to ride off into the sunset – the French Riviera to be exact – and join OGC Nice, who had finished eight positions below Lille after a drab season that saw Patrick Vieira sacked and replaced by Adrian Ursea in December. He was proven right – Lille sold French youngsters Boubakary Soumaré and Mike Maignan to Leicester City and Milan, respectively, and Brazilian winger Luiz Araújo to Atlanta United, whilst Nice flexed their muscles under new owners INEOS – led by the richest man in the United Kingdom, Jim Ratcliffe – signing Calvin Stengs, Andy Delort, Jean-Clair Todibo, Pablo Rosario, Mario Lemina, Marcin Bulka and Melvin Bard as well as bringing in Justin Kluivert on loan. Whilst Nice remained in the fight for Champions League football up until the final day of the season, they ended up finishing fifth, level on points with Rennes, three points behind Monaco, five behind Marseille, and 11 above 10th-placed Lille. Whilst they trailed champions Paris Saint-Germain by 20 points, this disparity was not reflected on the pitch: Nice drew 0-0 in Paris in December before prevailing 1-0 three months later in the Côte d’Azur via an 88th-minute winner from Andy Delort. After drawing 0-0 in their Coupe de France tie against PSG at the Parc de Princes, Nice won 6-5 on penalties to eliminate Mauricio Pochettino’s side in the Round of 16, beating Marseille and FC Versailles 78 before losing 1-0 to Nantes in the final in Saint-Denis. Despite failing to seal a return to the Champions League or end the club’s 25-year trophy drought, it was a positive first season at the Allianz Riviera for Galtier, and it was also his last. Paris Saint-Germain came calling after a drawn-out managerial search, with Campos reuniting at the capital club with Galtier after the two managed to put an end to Les Parisiens’ domestic dominance while together at Lille. Galtier signed a two-year contract to become Paris Saint-Germain’s new manager, replacing Mauricio Pochettino, whose side fell to Les Dogues in the 2020/21 Ligue 1 title race before reclaiming their spot atop the elite the following year. However, after following up their run to the Champions League Final under Thomas Tuchel with a semifinals defeat to Manchester City and a Round of 16 elimination to Real Madrid, the Argentine’s fate was sealed, and the baton has now been handed to the 55-year-old Galtier in PSG’s endless search to win the club’s first ever Champions League trophy.

Campos’ Impact At PSG

With their Portuguese sporting director and their French manager at the helm once more, Les Parisiens have had a radically different transfer approach to that of last summer, when a vast array of big-name stars like Lionel Messi, Sergio Ramos, Achraf Hakimi, and Gianluigi Donnarumma arrived. There is a different, long-term approach at the Parc de Princes that has not been seen in recent years – Portuguese midfielders Vitinha and Renato Sanches to replenish an area of the pitch that PSG have consistently neglected in the past, whilst two French defender Nordi Mukiele and French centre forward Hugo Ekitiké have arrived as well. Pablo Sarabia has returned from a sensational loan spell at Sporting, having joined last summer as the Nuno Mendes deal, whose transfer was made permanent after an impressive loan spell.

As for outgoings, Arnaud Kalimuendo has joined Rennes on a permanent deal after impressing on loan at Lens, Colin Dagba and Georginio Wijnaldum have headed out to Strasbourg and Roma on loan, Thilo Kehrer has joined West Ham on a permanent deal, Ángel di María has left for Juventus after Les Parisiens chose not to extend the Argentine’s contract, and Alphonse Areola’s incessant cycle of loan spells has finally come to an end with West Ham purchasing the French goalkeeper. There is still plenty of work to be done in terms of overhauling a bloated, ageing squad and correcting the mistakes of his predecessor Leonardo – whilst Rafinha is close to joining Qatari side Al-Arabi, Idrissa Gana Gueye’s move to Everton has stalled and so has Leandro Paredes’ exit to Juventus. PSG face the dilemma of paying a hefty sum to rescind the contracts of Mauro Icardi, Julian Draxler, Layvin Kurzawa and Ander Herrera or keep them on their books until 2024, whilst Keylor Navas has been linked with a move to Napoli. Nevertheless, Les Parisiens have managed to put together a much-needed squad overhaul with Mukiele replacing Kehrer in defense, Ekitiké replacing Kalimuendo, Sarabia replacing Di María, and a midfield makeover that has seen Sanches and Vitinha arrive, with Napoli’s Fabián Ruiz looking set to join them in the centre of the pitch. Most importantly, they have tied down Kylian Mbappé to a new contract, beating out interest from Real Madrid and sealing a three-year deal to keep hold of the French superstar in attack.

Les Parisiens’ Start to the Season

Galtier’s first competitive match in charge of PSG would see him avenge defeat for the Coupe de France Final as a brace from Neymar and goals from Messi and Ramos saw PSG thrash Nantes 4-0 in the Trophée des Champions in Tel Aviv, Israel. They opened their Ligue 1 campaign with a 5-0 win at Clermont Foot, with Neymar breaking the deadlock after nine minutes, Hakimi and Marquinhos adding to the lead before halftime and Messi adding a late brace, before hosting Montpellier at the Parc de Princes. PSG secured a two-goal lead in quick succession before the break via an own goal from Falaye Sacko and a penalty from Neymar, with the Brazilian completing his brace shortly after the interval and Mbappé and Sanches adding to the scoring in a 5-2 win.

PSG’s third Ligue 1 match of the season saw Galtier pay a visit to former employers Lille, with the 55-year-old French manager seeking to repeat the fortunes of last year when his Nice side thrashed the defending champions at Lille on August 14. Galtier fielded nearly the exact same line-up as his previous three: Gianluigi Donnarumma started between the sticks, Sergio Ramos partnered Marquinhos and Presnel Kimpembe in the back three, Vitinha and Marco Verratti played in the double pivot alongside wingbacks Achraf Hakimi and Nuno Mendes, whilst Lionel Messi partnered Neymar in attack. The only exception? It was Kylian Mbappé, not Pablo Sarabia, starting alongside his South American teammates in the front three.

After Clement Turpin blew his whistle to start proceedings, Neymar passed it backwards to Marco Verratti, pretending to run forward for a half-second before turning back to receive it from Verratti, lightly tapping it into the path of Messi who launched an inch-perfect pass towards Mbappé, who timed his run to perfection to evade Lille’s defence, waiting for it to bounce into his path before chipping it above goalkeeper Léo Jardim. It was a rehearsed play that seemed more suited for an NFL match than a Ligue 1 match, and that, in sharp contrast to the beleaguered performances and overdependence on Mbappé’s individual brilliance that blemished PSG’s previous campaign, highlighted the work being done on the training ground by Galtier and his players. Neymar came within inches of doubling the scoring in the eighth minute only to scuff his shot wide, with a number of big chances following to PSG’s attackers before the 28th minute as Messi threaded a pass towards Nuno Mendes who returned a cross for Messi to slot into the right corner of the net. 10 minutes later, PSG would triple their lead with Neymar threading a pass for Hakimi to launch into the bottom left corner, with the Brazilian opening his account before halftime after rifling a shot past the Portuguese goalkeeper and making it 5-0 shortly after the break. The hosts responded quickly with a goal from Jonathan Bamba, but PSG reclaimed their advantage following a seamless combination from Neymar and Mbappé, with the Frenchman sealing his hat-trick in the 87th minute to secure a 7-1 victory. They weren’t just exorcising their past demons and avenging their 2020/21 title defeat to Lille, they were showcasing a hunger and teamwork rarely seen in recent PSG sides. Another French championship is all but guaranteed, but it is in Europe where Galtier’s mettle will truly be tested. Keeping PSG’s stars focused and motivated, driven to not simply win domestic trophies, but to do it in style, dedicated to going unbeaten, finishing with record points tallies and goal margins…all of this will be crucial in keeping Les Parisiens’ superstar-filled squad clicking on cylinders well into the home stretch of the campaign. 

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Zach Lowy is the co-creator of Breaking The Lines (@BTLVid) and a freelance soccer journalist for various websites such as BET Central, Soccer Laduma and Hudl Analysis. He is fluent in Spanish and Portuguese and is the host of the Cortalinhas podcast, a weekly podcast that discusses Portuguese football. Zach has accumulated a wealth of experience and knowledge in football and has written about various subjects for BET Central ranging from Barcelona's financial difficulties to the 'lost generation' of South Africa's Amajita class of 2009.

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