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Luis Enrique’s departure brings uncertainty to Barcelona

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MADRID (AP) Luis Enrique’s surprise announcement has left Barcelona surrounded by uncertainty.

Although the coach had been under pressure and many expected him to be replaced next season, few anticipated he would reveal his intention to leave with three months left and with the team still contending for titles.

The announcement – on the night Barcelona regained the lead in the Spanish league – quickly turned the focus away from team’s recent successes on the field and brought attention to its uncertain future.

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Seconds after Luis Enrique said he needed to rest and would not return next season after three years in charge, speculation began about who will be the next coach for one of the most dominant clubs in the last decade.

Here are a few things to know about Barcelona’s future:

NEXT COACH

Sevilla coach Jorge Sampaoli is among the top candidates to replace Luis Enrique next season.

The 56-year-old Argentine coach was sought-after by several clubs and national teams after leading Chile to its first Copa America title in 2015. He eventually joined with Sevilla, and has helped the club become a contender for a league title for the first time in years.

Another rumored candidate is Ernesto Valverde, currently with Athletic Bilbao. He led the Basque club to some of its greatest successes recently, including victory over Barcelona in the 2015 Spanish Super Cup, which gave the club its first trophy in more than 30 years.

STILL TO PLAY

Barcelona still has the chance to win three titles before Luis Enrique leaves – the Spanish league, the Copa del Rey and the Champions League, although the latter is unlikely because it must reverse a 4-0 first-leg loss to Paris Saint-Germain.

The 6-1 rout of Sporting Gijon on Wednesday – the team’s fifth win in a row – left Barcelona one point ahead of Real Madrid in the Spanish league, a competition it won the last two seasons with Luis Enrique. The Catalan club will play Alaves in the final of the Copa del Rey, which it also won the last two years.

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“We have three exciting months left,” Luis Enrique said. “Three months in all competitions. In one of them, of course, we are in a difficult situation, but, with everyone’s help, I am sure we will have an opportunity to turn it around.”

MOTIVATED PLAYERS

Luis Enrique’s announcement caught players by surprise, but club president Josep Bartomeu was quick to say that they will be motivated to help the club win again before the coach leaves.

The squad learned of the decision moments after the win over Sporting Gijon at the Camp Nou.

“He told us about his decision before going out for the press conference,” Barcelona midfielder Ivan Rakitic said. “The decision is clear and we have to accept it in the dressing room. We want to end the season successfully, enjoy it as best we can.”

SUCCESSFUL STINT

Luis Enrique had been under pressure since the humiliating loss to PSG in the Champions League, which was likely the team’s worst defeat since he took over from Gerardo Martino ahead of the 2014-15 season.

But the former midfielder won eight of 10 possible titles with the club during his current coaching stint, including the treble of the Spanish league, Copa del Rey and Champions League in his first season in charge.

His other titles with Barcelona include the 2015 UEFA Super Cup and the 2016 Spanish Super Cup, as well as the 2015 Club World Cup.

“We had a super coach during three seasons,” Bartomeu said.

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Leicester City record massive earnings from UEFA Champions League

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Leicester City’s UEFA Champions League campaign may have ended without a trophy, but the Premier League side pipped the European champions in the bank account.

UEFA announced on Friday that Leicester City earned $96,167,125 during the Champions League run that ended in the quarterfinals, the farthest of any Premier League club. Real Madrid, the back-to-back champions, earned a slightly less $95,385,679. Much of the difference comes from TV rights deals in England, which pays out more to teams compared to the TV rights deal in Spain.

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Juventus, the Italian giant, earned the most of any club in last year’s Champions League, making a whopping $129,965,357, mostly thanks to the TV rights again.

Mourinho: Ibrahimovic could return in December

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Dare to Zlatan? It could be only a couple of months away.

That’s according to Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho, who said the veteran striker could return from his torn ACL before the end of the calendar year.

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“Zlatan is here, he’s working here and under our control,” Mourinho told reporters. “He’s working as you would expect so, so, so hard. But he’s not to be back in the next week or next couple of weeks. Do I believe he’ll be back in 2017? Yes, I do. But it’s just a feeling.”

The big Swede scored 28 goals for Man United last year in all competitions, proving that he’s still got it at the age of 36, but it’s going to be tough for him to find his old form coming off an ACL injury at such an old age. After suffering the injury last April, it’s been a long road to recovery for Ibrahimovic.

However, with the play of Romelu Lukaku up top, Ibrahimovic would only play from time to time, which could help in his recovery both from the knee injury and just the general recovery between games.

Manchester City quartet called up by Brazil for friendlies

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Brazilian National Team coach Tite has decided on calling up a full-strength squad for November’s upcoming friendly matches in Europe, including four Manchester City players in his 25-man squad.

Gabriel Jesus, Fernandinho, Danilo and Ederson all made the squad as Tite looks to develop more chemistry among his side ahead of the 2018 World Cup, which Brazil breezed into after Tite took over in 2016.

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Luckily for Manchester City and the other European-based players in the squad, Brazil’s friendly matches will be played in Western Europe. The Selecao first faces Japan in Lille, France on November 10 before taking on England at Wembley Stadium on November 14.

The call-ups may be a tough pill for Guardiola to swallow though. As of Friday, Manchester City has 17 games remaining in the calendar year, and surely he would prefer for some of his starters to get a two-week break in November to preserve some energy instead of play in friendly matches.

Everton announce lifetime ban for fan involved in altercation with Lyon player

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On a night when UEFA unveiled a new campaign for respect, there wasn’t enough of it shown both on and off the field.

Everton has followed up on UEFA opening up disciplinary proceedings against them by banning a fan from Everton matches after the fan was seen to punch at an Olympique Lyon player in the second half of Lyon’s 2-1 win at Goodison Park.

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“Club Officials have reviewed the footage of an incident that occurred in the 64th minute of the game against Olympique Lyonnais where supporters towards the front of the lower Gwladys Street End became involved in a confrontation between players,” Everton said in a statement. “We have identified one individual whom action will now be taken against. This will include a ban from attending future Everton fixtures and the Club registering a formal complaint with Merseyside Police.”

The video below shows a fan – amazingly, holding onto a small boy in one arm – throwing some punches at Lyon players after a fracas on the field.

The punch and ban is yet another dark moment for Everton, which has just one point from its first three Europa League matches and sits in 16th place in the Premier League with eight points from eight games.