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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.

[ MORE: PST’s MLS 2017 roundtable ]

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.

Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

UEL, LIVE — Arsenal meets Eintracht before Man Utd, Wolves play

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The Europa League group stage begins play on Thursday, with Arsenal in Germany to face Eintracht Frankfurt.

The Bundesliga side is missing a lot of familiar faces after a tumultuous summer saw Luka Jovic, Sebastien Haller, and Ante Rebic.

[ LIVE: Europa League scores  ]

Arsenal will follow suit with some youth, as Emile Smith-Rowe, Bukayo Saka, and Joe Willock drawing starts.

Kickoff is at 12:55 p.m. ET, with Manchester United and Wolves set to kick-off their respective matches against Astana and Braga at 3 p.m. ET.

Full slate

12:55 p.m. ET
CFR Cluj v. Lazio
LASK v. Rosenborg
Getafe v. Trabzonspor
PSV Eindhoven v. Sporting Lisbon
Basel v. Krasnodar
APOEL Nicosia v. Dudelange
Copenhagen v. Lugano
Standard Liege v. Vitoria SC
Qarabag v. Sevilla
Eintracht Frankfurt v. Arsenal
Rennes v. Celtic
Dynamo Kiev v. Malmo

3 p.m. ET
Wolfsburg v. Oleksandriya
Espanyol v. Ferencvaros
Rangers v. Feyenoord
Porto v. Young Boys
Slovan Bratislava v. Besiktas
Borussia Monchengladbach v. Wolfsberg
Partizan v. AZ Alkmaar
AS Roma v. Istanbul Basaksehir
Gent v. Saint-Etienne
Manchester United v. Astana
Wolves v. Braga
Ludogorets Razgrad v. CSKA Moscow

Report: Man City’s David Silva in “likely” Inter Miami move

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Arguably the greatest player in Manchester City history could become the first star player of Inter Miami.

That’s the story coming out of England, where The Independent reports that David Silva will “likely” join Inter Miami CF for its inaugural MLS run in 2020.

It’s well-known that Silva is leaving Man City this summer after one last-go at his first UEFA Champions League title.

[ MORE: Man City bests Shakhtar ]

David Beckham has been recruiting some of the top names in the game, and has been linked with Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Silva, 33, checks all the boxes. The Spanish star won two EUROs and a World Cup, and is still playing at a very high level. He has five assists in six matches for City this season.

If healthy, it would be foolish to expect anything but dominance out of Silva, though beware the think pieces out there about how he “might find it tougher than he thinks.” We’re talking about a world beater who posted 10 goals and 14 assists for City last season.

Even at his age, he’d carry one of the top resumes of any player to join Major League Soccer (Beckham, Steven Gerrard, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic would like a word).

He has 71 goals and 134 assists in 402 matches for City, and would eventually line up against fellow City Football Group club NYCFC.

NBC Sports’ Premier League Fan Fest heading to Austin

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Everything is bigger in Texas. And this will be no different.

NBC Sports and the Premier League have announced details for the first Premier League Mornings Live Fan Fest event of the season, and we are heading to Austin, Texas in October.

Just like the events in Washington D.C., New York City and Boston last season, fans will be able to watch all of the PL action together with the live studio show taking place in front of them.

This time it takes place at Scholz Garten in downtown Austin.

[ STREAM: Watch every PL match live

The two-day celebration of Premier League fandom will take place on Saturday Oct. 26 and Sunday Oct. 27. The Scholz Garten venue is inclusive of a full street closure, courtyard space, and indoor bar.

All sections of the venue will be packed with fun activities and of course plenty of viewing areas for fans to watch all of the action.

The event will feature the NBC Sports studio broadcast live onsite with special appearances throughout the day. We’ll also have free merchandise and giveaways throughout the day, plus food, drink and plenty more.

Premier League Interim Chief Executive, Richard Masters, said: “After a successful season of Premier League Mornings Live, we are delighted to be visiting Austin, Texas, for the first event of 2019-20. Last year we saw how passionate our American fans are, as we brought the Premier League experience to Washington D.C., New York and Boston.

”This season we are once again working with NBC Sports and bringing many of our clubs, partners and some famous faces to unique locations in different cities. Those attending in Austin can expect some great activations and I am sure there will be plenty of entertaining football for them to enjoy as we have some exciting fixtures taking place over the weekend.”

Report: Newcastle United tracking Atlanta United’s Martinez

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A report out of Newcastle says the Magpies may be returning to Atlanta United’s ranks for a January transfer swoop.

MLS record goal scorer Josef Martinez is the name mentioned as among Newcastle’s targets, though journalist Lee Ryder says there may be trepidation given Miguel Almiron’s failure to find goals at St. James’ Park.

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Martinez, 26, scored twice more Wednesday evening for the Five Stripes, including a sensational solo goal. He has scored in 15-straight league matches and is five goals away from matching his MLS single season record set last season.

Atlanta signed Martinez through the 2023 season. Transfermarkt puts his market value around $11 million, comparing him with players like Jurgen Locadia, Yoshinori Muto, and Manolo Gabbiadini.

Newcastle broke its transfer record to land Almiron last season, then smashed it sign Joelinton from Hoffenheim in August. The Magpies have also splashed cash on Allan Saint-Maximin and there’s a clear focus on upgrading the attack.

Maybe the Magpies would view the move as a bargain which could help Almiron get back to his form of last season, but it seems there would be numerous hurdles to clear before a firm bid would be made for Martinez. If Saint-Maximin or Almiron finds form, would there be room for Martinez running underneath Joelinton? Or maybe we’re wrong and Mike Ashley is ready to spend to provide adequate depth?

Lots of questions here.