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Preview: Monaco face impossible task as Neymar arrival looms

Football Soccer - AS Monaco v Lille - Ligue 1 - Stade Louis II, Monaco - 14/5/17Monaco fans celebrateReuters / Jean-Pierre Amet/Files
Football Soccer - AS Monaco v Lille - Ligue 1 - Stade Louis II, Monaco - 14/5/17Monaco fans celebrateReuters / Jean-Pierre Amet/Files

By Julien Pretot

PARIS (Reuters) - Monaco face an almost impossible task to retain their Ligue 1 title with a squad shorn of players that lit up their championship charge as big-spending rivals Paris St Germain look to add Brazilian striker Neymar to their bloated ranks.

The principality side have seen Tiemoue Bakayoko, Benjamin Mendy and Bernardo Silva all depart for the Premier League and sports daily L'Equipe reported on Thursday that coveted French forward Kylian Mbappe has also asked to leave the club.

Meanwhile, last season's runners-up PSG have recruited Brazil full back Dani Alves from Juventus and are close to completing the staggering acquisition of Neymar from Barcelona for a world record 222 million euros ($262.94 million).

"We know that it will be very difficult to successfully defend our title and everybody knows who the favourites are," Monaco vice-president Vadim Vasilyev said ahead of Friday's opening day of the season.

Monaco have also lost forward Valere Germain to Olympique de Marseille and midfielder Nabil Dirar to Fenerbahce but the side has constantly shown they can adapt and evolve in recent seasons under the shrewd guidance of coach Leonardo Jardim.

The Portuguese has steered them to top-three finishes in every campaign since joining in 2013-14 and last year Monaco played some of the most attractive football in Europe as they netted 107 league goals on the way to a famous title triumph.

Monaco have a reputation for nurturing young talent and they will be looking to get the most out of Belgian prospect Youri Tielemans, a gifted midfielder who scored 18 goals and had 15 assists for Anderlecht last season.

"Like every year, we will try to rely on a blend of talent and experience and we've been implementing this in our recruitment," Vasilyev added.

Monaco kick off the season on Friday at home to Toulouse as they bid to move within one victory of the French record of 14 consecutive league wins, having prevailed in their last 12 games of the previous campaign.

PSG take on Amiens at the Parc des Princes on Saturday but even if he has completed the transfer, Neymar and the club's fans will need to wait a little longer until he makes his debut.

Other title contenders include Marseille, who have strengthened with the arrival of Germain from Monaco, midfielder Luiz Gustavo from VfL Wolfsburg and defender Adil Rami from Sevilla.

Nice, third last season, will again rely on volatile Italian striker Mario Balotelli to lead the line for a side buoyed by their progression to the Champions League playoffs with an away goals win over Ajax Amsterdam on Wednesday.

($1 = 0.8443 euros)

(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by John O'Brien)

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