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Can PSG beat Manchester United without Neymar, Cavani?

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Can PSG beat Manchester United without Neymar, Cavani?

Sometimes Thomas Tuchel concentrates so hard that he can’t see a person standing a yard beside him. He must feel like that this week.

On Tuesday, the giant, obsessive manager sends his weakened, Neymar-less Paris Saint-Germain side out against a resurgent Manchester United. If PSG wins, the club remains on track for its last remaining obsession and, frankly, almost the sole point of its existence these days: its first-ever Champions League trophy. (So dominant is Paris at home that nobody is excited about its impending sixth French league title in seven seasons.)

Off the field, Tuchel has another objective: getting his nemesis, Antero Henrique, replaced as PSG’s sporting director by his soulmate, Arsene Wenger. This is the German’s chance to establish himself as the long-term guide of a giant club rather than just the latest of PSG’s seemingly temporary coaches.

Like Wenger, Tuchel reached the top solely on drive and brainpower. He, too, was a modestly talented defender whose true passion was coaching. After injury ended his playing career at third-division Ulm, aged just 24, he coached youth teams at Stuttgart, Augsburg and Mainz, graduating from a coaching course with sky-high grades. After Mainz suddenly offered him a job coaching the first team — the first time he had ever coached adults at any level — he went on to win more points than all but four other Bundesliga teams in five seasons. He then quit, saying he couldn’t take the club any further. In his next job, at Dortmund, he had the unenviable responsibility of replacing Jurgen Klopp but arguably went on to be better; his points-per-game average (2.09) was the best of any coach in the club’s history. Yet Tuchel quit in 2017 after clashing with team executives and, after a sabbatical, he joined Paris.

And so, an awkward character had taken on an awkward club. If PSG’s stars had been the kind of people who wanted to push themselves to the maximum every week, they wouldn’t be playing in the tinpot French league. And nobody can tell Neymar, Dani Alves or Kylian Mbappe what to do. Tuchel understands that the coach isn’t the most important man in any club; he describes soccer as a “players’ game.” But how does one manage this squad?

Tuchel arrived having taught himself very decent French (better than some players who have been at PSG for years). That helped him woo PSG fans: “Too-shell,” as the French mangle his name, is more popular than his predecessors. However, language is also essential to his work. Tuchel believes in deep communication that’s different for every player. He obsesses about what makes each man tick.

At Mainz, writes German author Christoph Biermann in his book “Matchplan,” Tuchel discovered that one of his players was motivated by money: namely win bonuses and the dream of a lucrative transfer. That was fine by Tuchel; understanding this made the art of man-management easier. At PSG, he decided that what the squad’s many Brazilians most wanted from a coach was love. Tuchel says he hugs Neymar and that when the player isn’t around, “I write him texts to tell him I still believe in him and that I’m sad he isn’t here.” This was not the approach taken by his predecessor, Unai Emery.

Yet Tuchel also subjects PSG’s players to his fanaticism. Rail-thin at 45 years old, he boasts of having once spent four weeks in Italy without touching either pasta or pizza. The first time his PSG side took the bus to an away game, the playmaker Marco Verratti requested a Coca-Cola. Horror of horrors, he discovered that Tuchel had banned all soft drinks and sandwiches. Verratti quickly got the message.

Discipline has long been an issue at PSG. Players kept forgetting bits of kit in the changing rooms during training and going back to fetch them. Showing up late for meetings was epidemic. Eventually, Tuchel punished Mbappe and Adrien Rabiot by benching them for the grudge game against Marseille last fall (of course, PSG won anyway). He has also reportedly gone around his players’ favorite restaurants and nightclubs to have a word with staff.

Tuchel’s pushed his team in a tactical sense as well. For years, PSG had only one gear: an attacking, possession-based 4-3-3. But Tuchel is a believer in constantly changing formation and in attacking through the center of the field rather than the flanks. PSG can now play in a 3-4-3 and even run on the counterattack.

Their start to the season was excellent: PSG reeled off 14 straight league wins, a French record, and earned a slightly lucky qualification for the Champions League knockout stages after a crucial 3-2 home win against Liverpool. But things unraveled this winter.

In December, Henrique kicked Rabiot out of the squad because the midfielder refused to sign a new contract. Then, on Jan. 23, Neymar broke his metatarsal bone again. He will miss the United games. So, almost certainly, will Edinson Cavani, after he limped off during Saturday’s 1-0 home win against Bordeaux. With Verratti only just back from injury, Tuchel is struggling to field a midfield against Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s suddenly invincible side.

PSG’s run of injuries is terrifically unlucky, but it also reveals a flaw in the club’s recruitment strategy: After it paid a combined transfer fee of €400 million for Neymar and Mbappe, the two most expensive players in soccer history, there wasn’t enough left to build a deep squad.

Since the New Year, Tuchel’s previously unbeatable team has crumbled. It lost at home to village team Guingamp; it lost away to Lyon; and on Feb. 6, PSG needed extra time to beat third-division Villefranche in the French Cup.

Meanwhile, Henrique has been flailing off the field. Last summer, he failed to sign the defensive midfielder, which was Tuchel’s priority. Days before the January transfer window closed, with Tuchel asking for two new midfielders, the Portuguese still hadn’t even managed to sign one. The young Argentine midfielder Leandro Paredes was expected to join from Zenit St. Petersburg, but in late January, Tuchel half-joked, “I’ve looked for him in the showers, in the changing room, with the janitor, the physios … but he’s not there!” Paredes eventually arrived before the deadline, but he alone may not be enough.

Henrique’s longer-term project of signing midfielder Frenkie De Jong from Ajax failed too, despite long hours of negotiations in Amsterdam’s Amstel Hotel. Perhaps predictably, the player chose Barcelona.

Tuchel is cautious when responding to questions about Henrique — “I have my views, he has his” — but the two plainly aren’t best friends. Tuchel’s exit from Dortmund after his clashes with directors there suggests one possible ending in Paris, but there’s also a more hopeful scenario for him: that Wenger replaces Henrique as sporting director. Nine months after leaving Arsenal, the Alsatian, 69 years old but still looking more like 40, is bored and keen to return to daily soccer.

Wenger has advised the club’s Qatari owners from the start. In 2011, he told them it was a “no-brainer” to buy the club. He has long been a well-paid pundit on the Qataris’ French TV channel, BeIN Sports. He has received many offers from clubs and federations in recent months, but the job he appears keenest on is Henrique’s.

Tuchel is a coach in Wenger’s own image: a cerebral, multilingual workaholic obsessed with diet, match stats and beautiful football, and — so far, anyway — not a serial winner of trophies. In fact, Tuchel hasn’t yet won a single title. But Wenger doesn’t want to join PSG only to spend his days fighting: He wants long-term control. That would mean Henrique leaving.

A Tuchel-Wenger duo able to unleash Neymar and Mbappe would be something to behold. But first, an under-strength PSG team must somehow find its way past United.

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Ex-Houston coach Major Applewhite to be analyst for Alabama

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Ex-Houston coach Major Applewhite to be analyst for Alabama

Former Houston coach Major Applewhite will join Alabama‘s program as an analyst this season, AL.com reported on Tuesday.

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Purdue student walks 100 miles, raises $20K in honor of superfan Tyler Trent

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Purdue student walks 100 miles, raises $20K in honor of superfan Tyler Trent

Purdue superfan Tyler Trent, who died in early January from a rare form of bone cancer, was honored Tuesday by a fellow Boilermaker who completed a near-100-mile walk from West Lafayette, Indiana, to Bloomington for the team’s game against the rival Indiana Hoosiers, raising more than $20,000 in the process.

Purdue student Aaron Lai announced the walk on Jan. 20 in an effort to raise awareness for Trent’s story and cancer research. Lai never met Trent but says he reminded him of his grandfather, who had lung cancer.

Many first learned about Trent and his connection to the Boilermakers football team when he correctly predicted Purdue’s upset of Ohio State on Oct. 20 during a feature on him on ESPN’s College GameDay.

Lai began his trek before dawn Sunday morning from West Lafayette.

He arrived three days and 99.6 miles later at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, some 40 minutes before Purdue-Indiana tipped off. Tyler’s parents, Tony and Kelly Trent, were there to welcome him.

Kelly Trent took to Twitter to show her gratitude:

“What an amazing young man you are and what an accomplishment. Just WOW! Words are inadequate for our gratefulness for your sacrifice.”

As of Tuesday night, Lai’s Go Fund Me — “A Walk for Tyler Trent” — had raised more than $21,000, easily surpassing its $10,000 goal. Money raised would benefit the Tyler Trent Cancer Research Endowment, and will be matched by the Walter Foundation, according to Lai.

Purdue won Tuesday night’s game on a tip-in with 3.2 seconds left, beating Indiana 48-46.

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Tiafoe crashes out, Del Potro advances at Delray Beach Open

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Tiafoe crashes out, Del Potro advances at Delray Beach Open

(Reuters) – Frances Tiafoe’s title defense wilted but Juan Martin del Potro looked fully recovered from his knee injury to cruise to a 6-3 7-5 win over Yoshihito Nishioka in the first round of the Delray Beach Open on Tuesday.

FILE PHOTO – Tennis – Australian Open – Quarter-final – Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia, January 22, 2019. Frances Tiafoe of the U.S. in action during the match against Spain’s Rafael Nadal. REUTERS/Aly Song

The third-seeded Tiafoe looked to have the match against qualifier Dan Evans in hand when he served up 6-5 and 30-love in the second set but was instead broken by Evans, whose aggressive net play frustrated Tiafoe in the final two sets as the Briton eventually prevailed 3-6 7-6(1) 7-5.

Late drama arose when Evans served for the match up 5-4 in the third set but nerves appeared to get to him and he was broken amid a flurry of unforced errors.

But Tiafoe was broken in the next game and Evans made sure not to make the same mistake twice, winning his final service game at love to set up a second-round match against tournament wild card Lloyd Harris of South Africa.

World number four del Potro, who missed last month’s Australian Open to nurse the kneecap he fractured at the Shanghai Masters, showed no ill effects in his first match of the year as he blasted 12 aces to see off baseline specialist Nishioka.

The hard-hitting Argentine is looking to pick up where he left off before the injury, when his superb play made him a finalist at the U.S. and China Opens and helped the 30-year-old reach a career-high ranking of world number three.

Del Potro, who won the tournament in Florida in 2011, will next face big-serving American Reilly Opelka after last week’s New York Open champion saw off countryman Tennys Sandgren 6-4 6-0 earlier in the day.

Top American men’s player John Isner used his blistering serve to overwhelm Canadian Peter Polansky 6-3 7-6(4) and advance to the second round.

The second-seeded Isner fired 23 aces to Polansky’s four and won 87 percent of his first serve points as he cruised to victory.

Next up for Isner is a second-round meeting with unseeded Slovak Lukas Lacko on Wednesday.

Adrian Mannarino, Andreas Seppi, Paolo Lorenzi, Jordan Thompson, Steve Johnson, Mackenzie McDonald, Guillermo Garcia-Lopez and Radu Albot also won their first round matches on Tuesday at the ATP World Tour 250 event, which is played on outdoor hard courts.

Reporting by Rory Carroll; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty

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