Toure proves class
MADRID — Barcelona coach Luis Enrique believes his side’s 23rd La Liga title can be the launching pad for another prolonged period of success and a potential treble this season.
Lionel Messi scored the winner to hand the Catalans a fifth title in seven years with a 1-0 win at Atletico Madrid on Sunday as Barca returned the favour after Los Rojiblancos sealed the title at the Camp Nou exactly a year ago.
Barca face Athletic Bilbao on home soil in the Copa del Rey final on May 30 before taking on Juventus in the Champions League final a week later.
Luis Enrique was recruited along with seven new players last summer after Barca’s first trophyless campaign in six years and he lauded their response in what he described as a season of “transition”.
“I hope it can be a new era. We have to deserve to win the other titles. We have two finals left and we need to show we are better than the opponents,” he said.
“We started 10 months ago with many changes at the club and coming off a season having not won anything.
“We knew it would be a season of transition and we tried to do our best. We have two titles still to play for, but we already have the one that rewards consistency.”
A treble would be just the second in Barca’s 115-year history.
However, many of the current squad were also part of the side that achieved the feat for the first time in the 2008/09 season.
One of those was midfielder Sergio Busquets and he insisted that the marathon of a 38-game La Liga season makes it the toughest competition to win.
“Last year we weren’t at the level required to be champions. This year we are on the right track, the first trophy is out of the way and now we have to celebrate it because it’s the hardest competition to win as you have to play against all of the teams and be consistent. — AFP MANCHESTER — David De Gea waved goodbye to Old Trafford on Sunday and Louis van Gaal could give no guarantees that he would be back next season.
De Gea hobbled off in the 74th minute of Sunday’s 1-1 draw against Arsenal with a hamstring injury and there is a growing feeling that he will not be seen in a Manchester United shirt again.
Van Gaal was asked repeatedly about De Gea’s future after the game and, although he said the 24-year-old Spaniard would “not leave us so easily” he appeared braced for such an outcome.
When asked if De Gea was off to Real Madrid, there was no firm rebuttal from Van Gaal, just a list of reasons why he could be tempted to return to his homeland instead.
The United boss said: “You are asking things I cannot answer because I don’t know.
“I have also said a transfer is an individual thing. It is a process. He has to decide because we have given (him) a fantastic contract because we want him to stay - fantastic season, I think.
“But I analyse his position and then I say he is Spanish, he is a Spanish international and now a Spanish club is coming. His girlfriend is Spanish.”
Madrid dropped first-choice Iker Casillas for their penultimate game of the season on Sunday and his replacement Keylor Navas made a bad error in an eventual 4-1 win over Espanyol.
The result was not enough to prevent Barcelona clinching the title with victory over Atletico Madrid and the rebuilding for next season begins now with De Gea, the former Atletico Madrid man, top of Florentino Perez’s shortlist.
United have already started planning for life without De Gea. Van Gaal drew up a shortlist of potential replacements earlier this year, knowing the Spaniard’s contract expired at the end of next season.
The Dutchman says United have offered their number one “a lot of money” in a bid to persuade him to sign and the fans did their best on Sunday by singing “David de Gea, we want you to stay”.
But Van Gaal conceded: “I don’t think I can persuade him because he knows everything he has at Manchester United. I don’t have to say something because he can feel it every day. You have seen the fans, unbelievable.
“When he goes he is losing that. Here he has a lot of credits. He has to decide.”
De Gea was fantastic again on Sunday, saving from Aaron Ramsey and his own teammate Phil Jones. The only time he was beaten was when Theo Walcott’s shot took an unfortunate deflection off Tyler Blackett.
Radamel Falcao waved to all four corners of Old Trafford when he was substituted an hour into his latest sub-par performance.
Van Gaal insisted no decisions had been made about the 29-year-old, who has scored just four goals in 29 appearances since joining on a season-long loan from Monaco.
Van Gaal said: “You know how the situation is of Falcao. At the end of the season we will decide.”
Meanwhile, after the embarrassment of finishing seventh last season under David Moyes, Van Gaal has steadied the United ship and a place in the Champions League qualifying round is an acceptable prize.
“I am satisfied we have set our goal and reached that,” the Dutchman told Sky Sports.
“From what I have seen of the fans they are pleased.
“We have not yet qualified for Champions League. It is always stressful as you can meet opponent who is halfway through a season already.”
United dominated the first half against Arsenal at Old Trafford and led through Ander Herrera’s far-post volley, but substitute Tyler Blackett deflected in Theo Walcott’s strike eight minutes from time to earn Arsenal a point.
“You can say we are unlucky because it is the third deflected goal in a row and falls in our net,” Van Gaal said.
“But I have said it is not unlucky to the players. You have to force luck by finishing games. You see Arsenal want to come back so you have to stick together and be compact.
“I have said Arsenal have maybe the best team but Chelsea can finish the game which Arsenal cannot do and we can’t either. That is important.”
Van Gaal will be there again next season to continue his re-building programme.
“As the manager I want more,” he said. “Next year we shall fight for more.” — AFP
City this summer and, even after a season where he has not been at his best, the midfielder underlined just how difficult it will be to replace his presence.
Milner is out of contract and is about to confirm a free transfer to Liverpool, even though Pellegrini believes the Etihad is the best place for the 29-year-old.
The City manager said: “James can play 10 positions and always do well. It is a decision James must take at the end of the season as to what is best for his future.
“He is an important player for our team because he is an intelligent player, who can play in several positions and always gives 100 percent.
“I can think that being at Manchester City is best for him, but it is important what he thinks. I want to keep him.”
Meanwhile, Bony said Swansea City’s pitch felt like his “garden” after scoring on his return to the Liberty Stadium on Sunday.
It was the first time the Ivorian has returned to the Welsh club since his £28 million move to Pellegrini’s side in January.
Bony has not been so prolific for his new club, with Sunday’s goal only his second since moving to Manchester.
The 26-year-old says he will rediscover his scoring touch next season.
“There’s more to come from me. I went to Africa Cup of Nations in January and came back tired,” Bony said.
“I have to finish the season well. We have one game left, I want to win and score. The important thing is to prepare myself well for next season.
Last fixtures May 24: Stoke v Liverpool, Arsenal v West Brom, Manchester City v Southampton, Everton v Tottenham, Leicester v Queens Park Rangers, Crystal Palace v Swansea City, Newcastle United v West Ham United, Chelsea v Sunderland, Hull City v Manchester United, Aston Villa v Burnley. — AFP
Manchester United goalkeeper David De Gea.
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