Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Five key problems Arsene Wenger must address at Arsenal after agreeing new two-year deal

 After months of speculation, Arsene Wenger is set to put pen to paper on a new deal and remain at Arsenal for another two years.

Wenger sat down with the board on Tuesday after the dust settled on the FA Cup final win over Chelsea to discuss the direction of the club.

Despite the trophy win, it has been a torrid campaign for the Gunners, who dropped out of the top four for the first time since the Frenchman took the reigns in 1996.

But Wenger has refused to give up on his 21-year stint in charge - and fully believes that he is the man to guide the Gunners back to former glories.

So, what does he need to do to get them there?

Here is what we believe should be at the top of his to-do list...

1. Sort out Sanchez and Ozil's contracts

The saga surrounding the contracts of Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil has been going on just as long as Wenger's.

Now Wenger's future is confirmed, Arsenal have to focus on getting their two prize assets nailed down for the foreseeable future.

Both men have just one year left to run of their current deals and given how long the discussions have dragged on, both are set to be offered wages far bigger than what Arsenal would have liked.

The current market does suggest, however, that Sanchez and Ozil are worth more than the initial £180,000-a-week that Arsenal had offered them.

Selling them would only ruffle feathers more, given that they will have to be sold at a cut-price rate as their contracts wind down.

Without Champions League football to attract new talent, Wenger has to push Arsenal to break the bank and ensure that they keep the men who will guide them back to European football's top table.

2. Invest in the squad this summer

Poor recruitment has been something of a theme for Arsenal in recent years.

Yes, they sign good players, but when was the last time they secured a truly outstanding talent?

If Arsenal are going to compete at the top of the Premier League table, they need to go some way to try and match the riches being spent by their rivals.

Manchester City will have spent nearly £100m by the end of this week and Manchester United will spend similar on Antoine Griezmann alone - so Wenger needs a summer recruitment drive to keep pace.

The inability to offer Champions League football is a big problem for them - but United proved with the signing of Paul Pogba last summer that it is doable.

Wenger desperately needs to push for new arrivals just to prevent Arsenal from dropping even further behind their rivals.

3. Resolve the director of football situation

Wenger has made it categorically clear that he does not want a director of football. He even claimed that he did not know what the role involved.

So a compromise is going to have to be found for him to move forward with taking Arsenal back to the top of the Premier League.

Arsenal's board want to bring in a new face to oversee some of the lesser operations at the club, which Wenger has got a stranglehold over at the moment.

That role will likely include contracts talks, pooling together medical information to logistics like first team travel.

The new role would ease Wenger's workload and help him delegate some of the tasks at the club.

He might not like it necessarily, but it seems to be the way forward for Arsenal.

4. Get set for the Europa League

Is the Europa League a desirable competition or just a pain in the backside?

Wenger needs to work out early on how he wants to approach the competition next season.

Manchester United have shown how playing in the Europa League can be a positive thing for a Premier League team if the right balance is found.

Jose Mourinho rotated his squad nicely and treated the Europa League with the respect that it deserves - and Wenger should approach the competition the same way to get the most out of it.

It could also prove the perfect breeding ground for the likes of Jeff Reine-Adelaide and Ainsley Maitland-Niles - if they are played alongside more experienced stooges.

And with competition for the top four as fierce as ever, Arsenal might as well keep the Europa League as a viable alternative to returning to the Champions League.

5. Show some love to the captain's armband

If his usage of Per Mertesacker during last season is anything to go by, Arsenal need to find themselves a new leader.

Mertesacker was excellent during the FA Cup final but it is clear to see that Wenger prefers Laurent Koscielny, Shkodran Mustafi and Rob Holding in the Arsenal back line.

Club captain Mertesacker played just the very last 127 minutes of the season.
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Manchester City unveil new kit for 2017-18 season

Man City have unveiled their new home kit for the 2017/18 season with Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane modelling at the launch.

Pep Guardiola's side will sport a design based on the title-winning side of 1967/68 with the added detail of maroon-banded socks.

The classic City blue shirt, which included a round-neck with white trim, is matched with white shorts.

Leroy Sane, who ended the season in superb form, expressed how much he has enjoyed his time at the Etihad after joining last year from Schalke.

“I’ve loved my first season with City," said the German winger after finishing the year with nine goals and eight assists in all competitions.

"We work hard to play fast, exciting and attacking football and we’re looking forward to creating winning moments for our fans."

The kit will also be worn by City's highly successful women's side and captain Steph Houghton, who has claimed three trophies in 12 months with the side, is excited by the future.

The kit will also be worn by City's highly successful women's side and captain Steph Houghton, who has claimed three trophies in 12 months with the side, is excited by the future.
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Tuesday, May 30, 2017

#WengerIN; Arsenal boss agrees new two year deal

 Arsene Wenger will today agree a two year contract to stay at Arsenal.

Wenger, 67, will attend today's board meeting where his future, summer plans and a backroom reshuffle will be discussed.

But reports say Wenger will stay and the deal has now been agreed with a formal announcement to follow on Wednesday.

There will be some degree of change after amicable talks between Wenger and chief executive Ivan Gazidis.

Majority shareholder Stan Kroenke has always been a huge admirer of Wenger and has been fully supportive of Wenger.

Frenchman Wenger, who joined the club in 1996, has always wanted to stay.

And while this contract was on the table long before Wembley, the FA Cup has helped change the mood among many fans.

Wenger has held discussions since Saturday and it is understood now that everything is in place for him to stay until at least 2019.

Arsenal are also making one last push today to keep contract rebels Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil - by offering them a combined £30million per season in salary.

The Gunners are set to offer Sanchez a new contract with a two year extension in excess of £275,000-a-week to keep him at the club until 2020.

They have already offered Ozil £280,000-a-week to stay even though the German midfielder’s representatives have been pushing for around £350,000-a-week.

Sanchez likes London and Arsenal hope that plus a mega offer will help persuade him to stay as both have got contracts which expire in 2018.

Bayern Munich have sounded out Sanchez’s representatives while Manchester City are also confident of landing the Chile forward.

But there has not been the same level of interest in signing Ozil and Arsenal are anxious to avoid allowing them to run down their contracts and let them leave for free.
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Monday, May 29, 2017

Who won what around Europe in the 2016/17 season? League champions and cup winners revealed

Find out who got their hands on silverware across Europe in the 2016/17 season...

Premier League champions: Chelsea
FA Cup winners: Arsenal
League Cup winners: Manchester United

Serie A winners: Juventus
Coppa Italia winners: Juventus

Ligue 1 winners: Monaco
Coupe de France winners: Paris Saint-Germain
Coupe de la Ligue: Paris Saint-Germain

La Liga winners: Real Madrid
Copa del Rey winners: Barcelona

Bundesliga winners: Bayern Munich
DFB-Pokal winners: Borussia Dortmund

Eredivisie winners: Feyenoord
KNVB Cup winners: Vitesse Arnhem

Belgian First Division winners: Anderlecht
Belgian Cup winners: Zulte Waregem

Scottish Premiership winners: Celtic
Scottish Cup winners: Celtic
Scottish League Cup winners: Celtic

Primeira Liga winners: Benfica
Taca de Portugal winners: Benfica

Russian Premier League winners: Spartak Moscow
Russian Cup: Lokomotiv Moscow

Swiss Super League winners: Basel
Swiss Cup: Basel

Super Lig: Besiktas
Turkish Cup: To be determined (İstanbul Başakşehir v Konyaspor, 31 May, 19:30 BST)
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Barcelona name former Athletic Bilbao boss Ernesto Valverde as new manager

Barcelona have appointed Ernesto Valvderde as their new manager.

Valverde has been the reported front-runner for the job for some time and he last week stepped down as Athletic Bilbao boss.

He replaces Luis Enrique at the Nou Camp, with the Spaniard calling time on his tenure after three years.

President Josep Bartomeu confirmed the appointment, stating: "A new era has begun." Valverde is due to be formally presented on Thursday.

Bartomeu added: "He has ability, knowledge and experience. He promotes the youth players and he follows the Barca way"

The 53-year-old Valverde is a former Barca player, helping the club win the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup and Copa del Rey during two years at the Nou Camp under Johan Cruyff.

His managerial career has included spells at Espanyol, Olympiacos, Villarreal and Valencia

Barca have been searching for a new boss since Enrique announced in March that this would be his final season, and his last game in charge was Saturday's Copa del Rey final victory over Alaves.

That was the ninth trophy Barca had won during the 47-year-old Enrique's three years in the hotseat, which included league and cup doubles in 2015 and 2016.

Barca were unable to make it a hat-trick of doubles this season as they finished runners-up in LaLiga to Real Madrid, while in the Champions League they were knocked out at the quarter-final stage by Juventus.
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Huddersfield 0 Reading 0 (4-3 pens); Huddersfield seal £200m jackpot to join Premier League with Championship play-off final win

Huddersfield sealed a £200million jackpot and promotion to the Premier League with a tense penalty shootout win against Huddersfield in the Championship playoff final this afternoon.

Nearly 77,000 fans packed Wembley to watch the extremely nervy affair as the Terriers kept their cool from the spot and booked their place in the top flight for next season.

A minute’s silence before kick-off was impeccably observed and there was applause in the 22nd minute at Wembley to remember the victims of the Manchester terror attack.
    Huddersfield started brightly, and Michael Hefele should have scored after five minutes when Aaron Mooy swung in a free kick and the unmarked German defender somehow headed wide from five yards out.

    Latest possible contender for miss of the season: Elias Kachunga forced his way down the right and squared for Izzy Brown who missed an open goal from a yard out. Surely Izzier to score than miss.
    Manchester United fans knew all about the Dutch philosophy under Louis Van Gaal: lots of possession but going nowhere. That was Reading in the first half.
    Better from Swift at the start of the second half. He combined with George Evans and timed his run well to burst into the box, but his shot was straight at keeper Danny Ward.

 £200million or £20 at stake, there weren't any nerves shown by any of the players; it was simply a case of some real poor quality on show in the most lucrative game in world football.
    Reading pushed for the winner with Chris Gunther raiding down the right but Hefele was there with superb block just before Yann Kermogant could pounce.
    Referee Neil Swarbrick nearly had his Yorkshire pass revoked when he failed blow when Van La Parra was fouled. Gareth McCleary found Royals skipper Chris Gunther whose poor header sailed over the bar.
    The first period of extra time was as depressing as the Tiger Woods mugshot doing the rounds on social media.

    Nakhi Wells should have won it in the second period when sub Kasey Palmer found him in the box. A great turn and control, but the striker screwed a tame shot wide.
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Barcelona unveil Nike home kit for 2017-18 season with new sponsor

Barcelona have unveiled their new home kit for the 2017-18 campaign.

The Catalan giants took to social media to show off their latest design with brand new shirt sponsor Rakuten.

Sticking with the traditional colours of blue and red, the new jersey has faded stripes across the front moving away from last season’s shirt which had an evenly-spaced design.

Part of the club’s history is shown on the collar with is partially represents the Catalan flag called the Senyera.

On the inner right sleeve are the words “Forca” whilst on the left is “Barca” which stands for “Strength to Barca.”

It will be the first season with Japanese company Rakuten, the club’s new global sponsor.

Brazil ace Neymar said of the shirt: “Pulling on the new Barça kit for the first time creates a mixture of pride and optimism for the season ahead. It looks and feels like a modern uniform of sport.”

But that’s not the only change happening at the Nou Camp this summer with boss Ernesto Valverde set to replace departing manager Luis Enrique.

The current Athletic Bilbao coach has reportedly agreed a two-year contract with the option of a further 12 months.
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Sunday, May 28, 2017

Thibaut Courtois issues Chelsea ultimatum

Real Madrid target Thibaut Courtois has told Chelsea “there will be no doubt” he will stay if he is “rewarded with a new contract” by the club.

The Belgian goalkeeper has so far yet to commit his future to the club amid interest from the La Liga giants.

Courtois and Manchester United’s David De Gea are both wanted by Champions League finalists Madrid.

The 25-year-old Blues stopper’s family still live in the Spanish capital from his time playing for Atletico Madrid, but that looks unlikely to draw him away from the Premier League champions.
Following Chelsea’s 2-1 defeat to Arsenal in the FA Cup Final at Wembley, he told Sky Sports: “Contract talks haven’t opened but I am happy at Chelsea.
“I hope they reward me with a good contract.

“Then there will be no doubt I will sign it.”
Courtois is under contract at Stamford Bridge until 2019 his form this campaign has led to Madrid stepping-up their interest in the star.
He won the Golden Glove award for keeping 16 clean sheets during Chelsea’s march to the title.

And reflecting on their defeat against the Gunners, Courtois admitted he and his team-mates will try to forget it as soon as possible.
He told the club’s website: "It's not a good feeling now. I had the same thing in Spain when I won the league and then lost the Champions League. We wanted to end on a high, now we feel sad.
"Winning is everything so this is hard to face but we have to try to forget it."
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Manchester City complete £43.6m signing of Monaco’s Bernardo Silva

Manchester City have signed Monaco’s Bernardo Silva in a £43.6m deal. The midfielder has agreed a five-year contract with the Premier League side to kickstart Pep Guardiola’s overhaul of a squad that finished last season without a trophy.

The Catalan was determined to move swiftly in the transfer market this summer after his team finished third in the Premier League and failed in their pursuit of the two domestic cups and the Champions League.
Guardiola had earmarked the 22-year-old Monaco midfielder as one of his top targets and the two clubs reached an agreement on Friday, with the player having travelled to Manchester for a medical.
Silva, who will wear the No20 shirt, told City’s website: “It feels great. To be honest I’m now at one of the best teams in the world. To be part of this club and to have this opportunity is great.
“I’m very happy to be part of City’s team and I look forward to trying to do my best to help the team reach their goals. Of course when you have the opportunity of being trained by Guardiola, you don’t say no. If not the best coach in the world, he is one of the best.

The Portuguese added: “What he did in Barcelona and Bayern Munich was amazing and we expect also here that he will win titles. It’s great to be working with him and to have this opportunity.”

Silva, who has 15 caps for Portugal after making his debut against Cape Verde in March 2015, joined Monaco on a permanent deal in the summer of that year having spent the previous season on loan there from Benfica.
The playmaker missed Portugal’s Euro 2016 triumph through injury but has been instrumental in Monaco’s title win this season, as well as their progress in the Champions League, where they eliminated Manchester City before losing to Juventus in the semi-finals. In the French league in 2016-17 Silva played 37 games, scored eight goals and provided nine assists.
On Thursday City confirmed the departures of Jesús Navas, Gaël Clichy, Willy Caballero and Bacary Sagna with Guardiola set for an upgrade of the squad he inherited last summer. All four players were out of contract this summer. A number of other players out on loan could also move on, including Samir Nasri, Joe Hart, Eliaquim Mangala and Wilfried Bony.
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Angers 0-1 Paris Saint-Germain; Late Issa Cissokho own goal hands PSG French Cup title

PSG's dominance in the domestic cup competitions continued on Saturday after they captured a record 11th French Cup title by beating Angers 1-0 thanks to an injury-time own goal.

The capital side, who owed their victory to Issa Cissokho's own goal a minute into added time in an otherwise dull final, claimed the title for the third year running and have now won 32 consecutive League Cup and French Cup games.
Their last defeat in a cup match came in the 2013/14 season when they were knocked out by Montpellier in the last 32 of the French Cup.

The result at the Stade de France should ease the pressure on coach Unai Emery after his side failed in the Champions League and lost their Ligue 1 title to Monaco.
PSG, who now own one more French Cup title than Marseille, got off to a solid start but Alexandre Letellier denied Edinson Cavani and Marco Verratti early on.

Emery's side struggled to threaten and Angers came closest to scoring midway through the first half when Nicolas Pepe's fierce 20-metre strike hit Alphonse Areola's post.
Letellier made a fine save in the 56th minute to deny Blaise Matuidi as Angers held firm.
Six minutes from time, Cavani, who has scored 49 goals in all competitions this season, squandered a chance to match Zlatan Ibrahimovic's 2015/16 tally of 50 when he missed the target from close range.
But PSG eventually sealed their win when Senegalese Cissokho put through his own goal when trying to defend a corner.

The result earned Girondins de Bordeaux, who finished sixth in Ligue 1, a Europa League spot next season.
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Frankfurt 1-2 Borussia Dortmund: Aubameyang fires BVB to DFB Pokal trophy

Borussia Dortmund ended a run of three successive DFB-Pokal final defeats with a 2-1 victory over Eintracht Frankfurt at Berlin's Olympic Stadium on Saturday.

Striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who reportedly handed in a transfer request this week, scored his 40th goal of the season from the penalty spot for Dortmund midway through the second half to clinch the club's fourth German Cup title and first in five years.
Aubameyang also hit the crossbar late on as Dortmund put the defeats to Bayern Munich (twice) and Wolfsburg behind them in a record fourth-in-a-row final appearance.

Dortmund took the lead after just eight minutes when Ousmane Dembele picked up where he had left off with his semi-final winner against Bayern.
The midfielder reached double figures for the season with a left-footed shot from a tight angle.
However, they could not press home their advantage and on the half-hour, Frankfurt, appearing in their first cup final for 11 years, equalised through Ante Rebic.

Dortmund replaced Marco Reus and Marcel Schmelzer with Gonzalo Castro and Christian Pulisic at half-time and it was the latter who won the penalty after he was fouled by Lukas Hradecky, allowing Aubameyang to his 40th in 46 matches this season.

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FC Barcelona 3-1 Alaves: Messi, Neymar and Alcacer strike to send off Enrique in style

Lionel Messi will celebrate his 30th birthday next month with 30 trophies to his name after winning the Copa del Rey with Barcelona on Saturday night in Madrid.
He became the first player to score in four Spanish Cup finals since Telmo Zarra did it in 1950, winning the trophy for the fifth time in the process.

His contribution on the night was huge. He scored his team's first goal and set-up the third with a divine assist worthy of winning any final.

Neymar also scored as Barcelona beat plucky Alaves. In the first Spanish Cup final in their history they were a match for Barcelona but not for Messi.
Theo Hernandez got the goal of the night for them with a direct free-kick that will have pleased Real Madrid fans almost as much as Alaves supporters. He is set to sign for them this summer from his parent club Atletico Madrid for €30million (£26m).
It was Messi clocking up thirty pieces of silver that was the story of Luis Enrique's last game in charge of Barcelona. The coach leaves with nine trophies won from a possible 13. He will know much of that success is down to Messi – pity the first manager who comes in to this club and cannot rely on the Argentinian number 10.

Barcelona had struggled to sell out their 19,000 allocation for this game while Alaves, in their first ever Copa del Rey final, had brought more than 20,000, many without tickets. They whistled down the Barcelona team as it was read out – it was an XI without Luis Suarez and right-back Sergio Roberto, both suspended.
On nine minutes they lost stand-in right-back Javier Mascherano too. He clashed with Real Madrid loanee Marcos Llorente and while the Alaves player had to be bandaged-up the Barcelona man had to be carried off. Andre Gomes came on in his place.

On 23 minutes we had the first sighting of Messi's genius as he wriggled clear of three Alaves challenges only to be flattened on the edge of the area by Carlos Vigaray. The referee gave only a corner and the resulting kick came to nothing.

From their next counter Ibai Gomez forced a save from Jasper Cillessen at his near post with the ball rolling agonizingly along the goal-line and to safety after his block.
Messi does not, of course, have to be that close to goal to score and when he bent a trademark left-foot finish past Fernando Pacheco after a one-two with Neymar Barcelona were ahead. The lead lasted barely more than a minute.
With their next attack Alaves won a free-kick and Hernandez buried it. He probably won't get to take too many when he joins Real Madrid but this was some calling card to say how capable he is.

Messi had the best chance to restore the lead stinging Pacheco's hands with a free-kick Neymar then converted Andre Gomes' cross on 45 minutes. Barcelona looked like going down the tunnel minus Mascherano and with Samuel Umtiti on a booking after he fouled Deyverson and only one goal to the good. But up popped Messi again.

Time and space are not the same in Messi's universe. And seemingly with neither commodity in his favour, out on the right touchline he slalomed away form three Alaves defenders before slipping a pass into Paco Alcacer's path. The former Valencia man hit it first time, and with the last kick of the first half made it 3-1.
Alaves thought they had scored on 70 minutes but an offside flag cut-short their celebrations after Deyverson had converted.

Messi, who was booked in the second half for protesting, has now won eight league titles, four Champions Leagues, five Spanish Cups, three European Super Cups, three World Club Cups and seven Spanish Super Cups.
Andres Iniesta has the same haul. The pair will be back for another Super Cup in August against Champions Madrid.

In the mean time Messi can take a well-earned rest. Barcelona have fallen short at times this season but nobody has scored more goals than he has in Europe. When they have lost it has been in spite of him. When they have won it has been because of him.

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Saturday, May 27, 2017

Manchester City to return to Monaco for Mendy

Manchester City are looking to follow the signing of Bernardo Silva by adding his former teammate Benjamin Mendy, reports, reports suggests.

Pep Guardiola will be rivalled by Jose Mourinho and Manchester United though, with bothclubs prepared to pay £39.3m for the left back
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Chelsea to hand Conte £200m war chest

Antonio Conte will pen a new four-year deal at Chelsea before beign handed a summer budget of £200m to strengthen his squad ahead of Champions League football next season, according to the telegraph.

The Italian will pocket £9.6m per season and immediately set out to bring Romelu Lukaku back to Stamford Bridge to add fire power to his side.

Van Dijk is a priority at the back, while Monaco powerhouse Tiemoue Bakayoko is also a target.

Eden Hazard and Thibaut Courtois could be handed new deals too, as Conte looks to build momentum in a new era at Stamford Bridge.
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Liverpool prepare for summer spending spree

Liverpool set to break transfer record to sign RB Leipzig's Naby Keita, with reports claiming that the Reds are set to big as high as £50m for the box-to-box midfielder.

The Guinea international would command a fee in excess of the £38m they paid for Andy Carroll and could provide extra dynamism at the centre of the park, that has been lacking whenever Jordan Henderson was absent through injury.

The reds are set to tempt Keita with an offer of £120, 000-per-week in wages, and should he swap the Bundesliga for the Premier League, the 22-year old would front a spree that could go beyond £150m and up to £200m.

Similar fees have been mentioned for both Lyon striker Alexandre Lacazette -- also linked to Atletico Madrid -- and Southampton defender Virgil van Dijk, meaning the Reds could break theuir transfer records on three occassions this season.
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FC Barcelona VS Alaves ; Spanish Copa del Rey FINAL Preview

Luis Enrique takes charge of Barcelona for one final time on Saturday evening, as his side face rank outsiders Alaves in the Copa del Rey final at the Vicente Calderon.
The 47-year-old enjoyed much success in his first two campaigns at the helm but is now relying on this weekend's showpiece to salvage his final term, having failed in both the Champions League and La Liga.

Less than a week on from seeing their title hopes finally put to an end by Real Madrid, ending what felt like a season-long pursuit of their great rivals, this Spanish Cup final has arguably come at the wrong time for Barcelona.
Throw into the mix the arrest of former club president Sandro Rosell for money laundering, combined with the Spanish Supreme Court's decision to uphold Lionel Messi's 21-month jail sentence for tax fraud, and there is a risk of Barca taking their eye off the ball.
If losing out to Madrid at the top of La Liga had a sense of inevitability about it, even after a dramatic 3-2 win at the Bernabeu to extend the title race by an extra month, the resounding Champions League exit to Juventus at the quarter-final stage hammered home that the Catalan club are no longer the force of yesteryear.
This is very much a time of uncertainty at Camp Nou, with recently-departed Athletic Bilbao boss Ernesto Valverde widely expected to take over from Enrique as soon as next Monday, and the ex-Barca player will have to get straight into strengthening the squad.
At key times this season Enrique has often been let down when rotating his squad, in contrast to Madrid who seemed to thrive when fringe players were brought in over the closing weeks, while the troublesome right-back slot desperately needs some attention.
Yet all this requires some context. Enrique did win a treble in his first season in charge, after all, and soon followed that up with a domestic league and cup double last time around, meaning that he can still bow out with eight major honours when factoring in the Super Cup and Club World Cup.
While the league season was ultimately a disappointment for Enrique and his charges, they did end it on a high by winning seven games in a row - including that Lionel Messi-inspired Bernabeu triumph that will live long in the memory - and scoring 28 goals in the process.
The nine goals shipped during that time says a lot about their shaky nature at the back, particularly in recent games with Gerard Pique absent, but the bookies are right to mark the record 28-time winners down as strong favourites as they seek a third-successive triumph in the competition.

Standing in Enrique's way for a winning send-off is an Alaves side on a real high, coming off the back of an impressive first campaign back in the Spanish top flight following a near decade-long absence.
During their time away from La Liga, the Babazorros dropped down as far as the third tier before beginning their ascent back up, marking their return by accruing 55 points from their 38 league fixtures - just one fewer than Espanyol in eighth.
It has been a memorable campaign right from the off, when holding Atletico Madrid to a dramatic late draw at this very ground and then beating a rotated Barcelona side at Camp Nou in their third outing, only seeing their unbeaten start come to an end in their fifth match.
It has not been plain sailing throughout but a seven-match unbeaten run to see out the campaign saw them finish comfortably inside the top half which, when factoring in the fact Barca have lost to the likes of Celta Vigo, Deportivo La Coruna, Malaga and indeed Alaves this term, means that they should not be completely written-off.
The best bet for Mauricio Pellegrino is to keep things tight, like in the most recent encounter at Mendizorroza which Barca eventually ran away with, and with one of the best defensive records in the division - 43 conceded all term, just two more than Madrid - they certainly have the ability to frustrate their more superior opponents.
The beaten 2001 UEFA Cup finalists have had far less luck at the other end of the field, however, scoring at a rate of just over a goal-per-game on average, so Barca's potentially makeshift defence should have a quieter evening than they have become accustomed to in recent weeks.
It would be fair to say that Alaves do not boast the same pedigree as Barcelona, with this their first ever appearance in the domestic cup final after previously reaching the semis twice before, most recently in 2004 when losing to eventual winners Real Zaragoza.
As ever, though, anything can happen in an end-of-season final, and having already beaten Barca once this term there will be no fear among those Alaves players as they enter the field for the final match to ever be staged at the Vicente Calderon.

Kick-off Saturday 8.30pm
Venue Vicente Calderon
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Arsenal VS Chelsea : English FA Cup FINAL Preview

The Double is on for Antonio Conte and it is clear Chelsea must be considered favourites, given the season they have had. Arsène Wenger is unconcerned. He knows the underdog can have its day and he referenced the 2005 FA Cup final, when his Arsenal team “had no players available” but somehow beat Manchester United. It could be Diego Costa’s last game in Chelsea colours but probably will not be Wenger’s last at Arsenal

Despite ending their Premier League campaign with seven victories from eight matches ahead of another appearance in the FA Cup final, there is a lingering feeling at the Emirates Stadium that the uncertainty over Arsene Wenger and the ownership battle between Stan Kroenke and Alisher Usmnaov will only lead to the club falling behind their rivals.

Wenger could become the first manager in english football history to win seven FA cups, eliminating a bit of the scar that comes with Arsenal failing to qualify for the Champions League for the first time since 1998. But given the injuries to their three first-choice centre-backs, a heavy defeat will only lead to more despair for their supporters.
Losing Laurent Koscielny to suspension came as a huge blow to their chances of causing an upset against the league champions, but the absence of Gabriel Paulista will also be felt by Wenger. Shkodran Mustafi still has a chance of featuring as he continues to recover from concussion, but Wenger may decide that it is a risk not worth taking.
That would leave Per Mertesacker to take his place alongside Rob Holding in defence and although it is not the worst combination on paper, the tall German has only played 37 minutes of football all season and while Chelsea's attack are in sublime form, he could get exposed. His selection is not a given but if Kieran Gibbs is out injured as well, it leaves Wenger with very little choice.

Further forward, his players are coming good at the right time. Alexis Sanchez continues to contribute on a game-by-game basis, but Mesut Ozil and Olivier Giroud have also shown that they still have parts to play in this Gunners side, despite the speculation regarding their future.
Arsenal have been afforded a mixed route to the final with tough ties against Southampton and Manchester City being cancelled out by successive matches against non-league Sutton United and Lincoln City, but while the importance of this competition is sometimes played down, there is no doubting that the result could be pivotal ahead of the decisions which need to be made in the coming days.
A win may lead to a few more supporters accepting that Wenger remaining in the dugout is not as bad as previously perceived, but a defeat - to coincide with a fifth-place finish in the top flight - will only increase hostility as fans grow more concerned about their future both on and off the pitch.

Antonio Conte on the other hand, has used this year's competition has an opportunity to give some minutes to members of his squad who have been forced to remain on the sidelines for much of their league campaign, but expect a change of mindset when it comes to deciding on his starting lineup for the showdown at Wembley.
The Italian has shown that he can be sentimental - his use of  John Terry in Chelsea's final two Premier League matches has shown that - but Conte is a leader who knows when the time is right to be ruthless and there are unlikely to be any alterations from the team he has selected for many of their victories throughout the season.
He still has a couple of selection dilemmas to contend with regarding the centre of his midfield and who features in his front three alongside Eden Hazard, but Conte is aware of the magnitude of achieving a domestic double in his first season in English football.
Arsenal will hope to throw a spanner in the works, despite their injury problems, but for Conte, it is about going out there and winning a football match with minimal fuss and given the number of goals they have scored from all areas of the pitch, is anyone going to back against them?
His suggestion that Arsenal are favourites for this match is pure kidology from a man who knows that he has a system in place which is as efficient as it is effective, and players at his disposal who are of better quality than their opponents in all areas of the pitch.
Blues boss Antonio Conte may have to choose between winger Willian - who has started every FA Cup game this season - and Pedro, who has usually been preferred in league matches.
It also remains to be seen whether Conte picks ex-Arsenal star Cesc Fabregas in midfield or deploys the more defensive-minded Nemanja Matic.
The form of Diego Costa will be of small concern to Conte with his top goalscorer having under-performed during the second half of the campaign, but he may have found a replacement in Michy Batshuayi who has scored four goals in his last 126 minutes on the pitch.

Whoever Conte opts for, he heads into this match in the knowledge that his team have scored 106 goals in 45 matches in all competitions since his arrival and he will be confident that his side can deliver more than that ratio of 2.35 goals per game during their final match before the summer.

Kick-off Saturday 5.30pm
Venue Wembley Stadium
Head-to-head Arsenal 73 Chelsea 62 Draws 54

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger: "It will not be my last match because whatever happens I will stay in football.
"Would it be a nice farewell? No, what I want is to win the next game. I love to win and I love to do well for my club. I want to win the cup for my club.
"It's not about me, it's about us winning the trophy and giving everything to achieve it."

Chelsea head coach Antonio Conte on Arsene Wenger: "When you stay for a long time at the same team - we're talking about a great team, not a small team - we must consider him like one of the best managers in history. He won a lot.
"When you stay a lot for a long time in the same team, someone can forget this. But Arsene Wenger is, for sure, a really good manager for me.
"For sure, I don't [believe] that today will be the last game for Arsene. I think he deserves to work with Arsenal because he showed, in these 20 years, he is a good manager. He did a good job. Only this season they missed out on the Champions League."

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