Barcelona head coach Quique Setien thinks they had their Champions League last-16 second leg against Napoli under perfect control - even though he was feeling nervous on the touchline.

Goals from Clement Lenglet, Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez secured a 3-1 win for Barca at Camp Nou on Saturday and a 4-2 aggregate victory.

Barca were 3-0 up and had another goal through Messi disallowed for handball in the first half, and although Lorenzo Insigne's penalty shortly before the interval gave Napoli some hope, they could not find a way back into the contest against a resilient Blaugrana.

Barca have endured nightmarish second-leg losses to Liverpool and Roma in the past two seasons, so Setien was particularly pleased with the manner of their performance when under pressure from Napoli, even if he could not always keep his anxiety in check.

"It was what we were looking for, to take the first step and to wait for the rest of the games with the same excitement with which we faced this one," he told Movistar.

"We were very good and we deserved the victory.

"It's true they had us compromised in the opening minutes. Napoli are a really good team - it's not easy to do what we've done. They're one of the best teams in Italy.

"We controlled it perfectly, we had a really good first half and in the second they were more in charge but they still didn't put us in much danger.

"A second goal would have given them a boost that could have threatened us. It's normal to be a little bit nervous, of course."

Messi took a heavy kick to his calf in winning a penalty against Kalidou Koulibaly, but Setien is confident he will be fit to face Bayern Munich, who destroyed Chelsea 7-1 on aggregate, in next week's quarter-final.

"He took a strong hit, but he looks okay. It'll need treatment but I don't think it'll be a problem," he said of Messi.

"It'll be a really tough game. They have gone through a tie with a six-goal margin. They are an amazing team and it'll be a great game."

They might have lost LaLiga's title race, but Barcelona at least got one over on Real Madrid by reaching the Champions League last eight.

A day after Madrid fell in Manchester, Quique Setien's Blaugrana, maligned this season for lacking a clear plan and a firm backbone, showed both in overcoming Napoli at Camp Nou.

Juventus were also knocked out on Friday, Cristiano Ronaldo's two goals not enough to spare them from elimination by Lyon or to keep Maurizio Sarri in a job. Not so for Lionel Messi: he scored, had another disallowed and won a penalty converted by Luis Suarez as Barca won 3-1 in the last-16 second leg and 4-2 on aggregate to reach a 13th straight quarter-final.

The suggestion is Sarri was facing the sack regardless of the Lyon result, but it seems unlikely Juve would have pulled the trigger had he got them into a quarter-final tie with Manchester City. The same can likely be said for Setien, who would almost certainly not have been Barca coach much longer had Napoli triumphed, and who may well find his days numbered if they cannot find a way to best red-hot Bayern Munich, who destroyed Chelsea 7-1 on aggregate, in the last eight.

Messi - and Setien - deserve real credit for Saturday's victory, though. Those nightmarish visits to Roma and Liverpool in the past two seasons will not be forgotten, but this time, as tension tightened in a crowdless Camp Nou, Barca showed they can hold their nerve.

It was mostly an un-Barca, un-Setien-like performance: perfunctory, moderately adventurous, the best work done largely without the ball. Napoli had close to 80 per cent of the possession in the first 10 minutes and then found themselves a goal behind when Clement Lenglet headed in an Ivan Rakitic corner. It was hard to know which of Setien or Gennaro Gattuso seemed more surprised.

It was a simplistic goal befitting a rare uncomplicated approach from Setien. Messi, Suarez and Antoine Griezmann were joined in a three-pronged attack, with licence to roam and a requirement to hustle for the ball high up the pitch. Behind them, with Sergio Busquets suspended, were Rakitic, Sergi Roberto and the excellent Frenkie De Jong, whose primary task was to disrupt as much as dictate.

It was a Barca reminiscent of Luis Enrique's first season in charge, when Messi, Suarez and Neymar wreaked havoc at the head of a solid base. Of course, the blueprint of 2014-15 is not a bad one to follow - it won them their last Champions League trophy.

Messi, it is said, is borderline obsessed with winning the competition again this year. He certainly played like it in the first 45 minutes. His goal was one of those maddening combinations of skill and tenacity that must exasperate defenders, as he bustled into the area, fell to his knees, scrambled back up and found the bottom-left corner while falling again, all before Mario Rui had realised where he was.

Messi scored again, chesting the ball down and smashing it in, only for VAR to penalise the faintest grazing of the ball on his arm. He had the technology to thank before the break, though, when he hustled and harried Kalidou Koulibaly, who swung his foot to clear the ball and seemed surprised when Messi's calf appeared in the way.

The Argentine was hurt badly, and you suspect he might have come off at half-time had Lorenzo Insigne not scored a penalty for Napoli moments before the break to give Barca that all-to-familiar sinking feeling.

So, he stayed out, and he led. He wasn't the inspiration Barca were used to, but he was the one they needed: a hurrying, scurrying, scrapping captain who dragged his team over the line.

Napoli had 18 shots to Barca's seven, 11 crosses to their two, and only 2.2 per cent less of the ball, but Messi and Barca won't care if this result means they have finally learned again how to see out a cup tie. They'll need every ounce of that new-found nous if they are to halt the Bayern juggernaut in Lisbon and keep Setien in the job a little while longer.

Lionel Messi was in fine form as Barcelona progressed to the Champions League quarter-finals, with a 3-1 second-leg defeat of Napoli sealing a 4-2 aggregate victory.

An action-packed first half at Camp Nou saw Barca take a three-goal lead, before Lorenzo Insigne pulled one back from the spot in stoppage time.

Clement Lenglet's ninth-minute header broke the deadlock, with Messi netting an exquisite second prior to winning a penalty which Luis Suarez converted.

Insigne's spot-kick gave Napoli hope, but Barca had enough to book their place in the last eight, where Bayern Munich await.

Dries Mertens clipped the woodwork inside two minutes but Barca swiftly took control – Lenglet heading home unmarked from Ivan Rakitic's inswinging corner, with the goal standing after a VAR check for a possible foul on Diego Demme.

Further punishment followed when Messi bundled his way through a crowd of defenders and, despite an untimely slip, he curled a wonderful finish beyond David Ospina.

It appeared Barca had gone 3-0 up by the half-hour mark, only for Messi to have a second goal ruled out for handball, yet Barca had their third when Suarez scored from the spot after Kalidou Koulibaly clumsily kicked Messi.

Napoli were handed a lifeline two minutes later, however, with the referee harshly deeming Rakitic to have fouled Mertens – Insigne converting the resulting penalty.

Insigne could have doubled his tally early in the second half, but failed to test Marc-Andre ter Stegen with a close-range header.

Arkadiusz Milik looked to have made an instant impact after his introduction from the bench late on, only for his header to be disallowed for offside as Barca secured their place in Portugal with minimum fuss.

 

What does it mean? Barca still have hope

It has been a dismal season on the domestic front for Barca, but their hopes of a sixth Champions League title remain intact.

However, an imperious Bayern side will present an altogether different challenge than Gennaro Gattuso's side after their 7-1 aggregate victory over Chelsea, and the Blaugrana will have to display a quality which has often been lacking this term in order to progress further.

Messi turns on the magic to lift Setien 

It has not been easy for Quique Setien since he was appointed in January, and the Barca boss could well have been under severe pressure had his side gone out on Saturday.

However, Messi turned on the style to quieten the doubters – at least for now.

Koulibaly found wanting

Raphael Varane made two calamitous mistakes for Real Madrid against Manchester City on Friday, and another of Europe's finest defenders struggled this time out.

Koulibaly seemed to go down easily in the build up to Barca's opener when Demme was pushed into him, while Messi got the better of him to win the penalty from which Suarez made it 3-0.

What's next?

Bayern are Barca's opponents in the last eight, with the game to take place in Lisbon on Friday. Napoli, meanwhile, will turn their attention to next season.

Lionel Messi's sublime home record for Barcelona makes worrying reading for Napoli, whose task is not nearly as tricky as the one Chelsea face against a Bayern Munich side spearheaded by the sensational Robert Lewandowski. 

The final two rearranged Champions League last-16 games take place on Saturday before the competition, which was halted due to the coronavirus pandemic, heads for Lisbon. 

Barca, who drew 1-1 at the San Paolo in the first leg, host Napoli for the first time in a competitive match, with Gennaro Gattuso's visitors aiming to become the first team to win their first away trip to Camp Nou since Rubin Kazan in October 2009. 

Bayern's squad and coaching team will surely be having their passports stamped for a trip to Portugal having hammered Chelsea 3-0 at Stamford Bridge. Frank Lampard's Blues will have to do something that has never been done if they are to progress.


Barcelona v Napoli

6 - Napoli's Dries Mertens has scored six Champions League goals this season, one shy of the record for goals in a single season in UEFA competition for the club; both Edinson Cavani (2012-13 Europa League) and Gonzalo Higuain (2014-15 Europa League) scored seven each. 

11 - Messi has been directly involved in 11 goals in his last five home Champions League knockout matches at Camp Nou (8 goals, 3 assists), scoring a brace in four of those five games. 

12 - Barcelona have qualified for the Champions League quarter-finals in each of the last 12 campaigns, last failing in 2006-07 under Frank Rijkaard; no other team has qualified for the last-eight of the competition in more than eight consecutive seasons. They have also progressed from each of their last 19 Champions League knockout ties after avoiding defeat in the first leg away from home, only failing to do so once (vs Juventus in the 2002-03 quarter-final). 

2 - Napoli's two previous away Champions League knockout matches have ended in defeat, losing 4-1 to Chelsea in March 2012 and 3-1 to Real Madrid in February 2017. They have failed to progress from nine of their last 10 UEFA European knockout ties when failing to win the first leg. 

1 - This is Quique Setien's first home Champions League match as Barcelona boss – 10 of their previous 11 managers have won their first in charge at Camp Nou, with only Louis van Gaal failing to do so in a 2-2 draw against PSV in October 1997. 


Bayern Munich v Chelsea

6 - All six of Serge Gnabry's Champions League goals for Bayern this season have come against English teams (four vs Spurs, two vs Chelsea). Only two players have scored more goals against teams from a single nation in one season – Cristiano Ronaldo in 2013-14 vs German teams (7) and Luiz Adriano in 2014-15 vs Belarusian teams (8). 

41 - Lewandowski has scored 11 goals and assisted two more in six Champions League appearances this season, averaging a goal or assist every 41 minutes. The German side have failed to win any of their last five knockout stage games in the Champions League in which Lewandowski has not been on the scoresheet (D3 L2). 

1- Chelsea have only scored three goals in an away Champions League knockout match once previously, winning 3-1 at Liverpool in April 2009; Bayern have only conceded three times in three of their 43 home Champions League knockout games, though did so most recently in a 3-1 defeat to Liverpool in March 2019. 

0 - In the entire history of the European Cup and Champions League, no team has ever won by three or more goals in the first leg of a knockout match away from home and failed to progress, going through on all 92 previous occasions. 

3- Bayern Munich manager Hansi Flick is looking to become only the third manager in Champions League history to win his first five matches in charge, after Fabio Capello (first six with Milan in 1992-93) and Luis Fernandez (first six with PSG in 1994-95). 

Sergio Busquets hopes Barcelona and Arthur come to a speedy resolution on the Brazil international's situation at Camp Nou.

Arthur has agreed to join Juventus at the end of the season in a deal worth €82million, with Miralem Pjanic heading the other way for a fee that could reach €65m.

The former Gremio midfielder has not featured for Barca since his transfer was announced in June and did not return to training following the conclusion of LaLiga.

Arthur has been left out of the Barcelona squad to face Napoli in the second leg of their Champions League last-16 tie on Saturday and is reported to be hoping to negotiate the termination of his contract.

"It was a surprise to everyone that Arthur did not return," said Busquets, who will be unavailable to face Napoli due to a suspension triggered by a booking in the 1-1 draw in the first leg.

"Arthur's situation has been difficult, but the only ones who know the situation are the player and the club.

"We know some of the news from what comes out, that he left and will now return, but we are on the sidelines and we hope they reach an agreement that will be the best for all.

"We will only focus on the game against Napoli."

Head coach Quique Setien said of Arthur: "I spoke with him before he left, the reality is that from then on I have not spoken to him again, what I have learned has been through the club. I would have liked it to be different, but I can't say anything else."

Barca held a two-point advantage at the top of LaLiga when the season was paused amid the coronavirus pandemic but ended up finishing five adrift of champions Real Madrid.

Captain Lionel Messi made it clear they needed to improve to have a chance of getting past Gennaro Gattuso's Napoli and held talks with Setien to clear the air ahead of the resumption of their European campaign.

Busquets said: "Everything that is discussed in the dressing room to improve is welcome. These weeks have been very good for us to train, to better plan the game tactically.

"We really want to be able to continue in this competition and be in the final eight, but first we have Napoli, who have a great coach and he's not going to make it easy for us."

It remains unclear whether Setien will still be at the helm for the start of the 2020-21 season, but Busquets believes it will be a positive sign for everyone at the club if he is retained.

"It's a decision for the club whether Setien continues or not," he said.

"If Setien continues it will be a good sign for everyone, but that should not worry us now."

Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have been in fine fettle since football returned from its coronavirus-enforced break. The same cannot be said for Barcelona and Juventus.

Juve won a ninth Serie A title in a row, of course, but a run of two wins in eight games to end the domestic season was not exactly sparkling form. They also lost the Coppa Italia final to Napoli.

As for Barca, a two-point lead when LaLiga restarted became a five-point deficit to Real Madrid by the end, as Zinedine Zidane's side took back the title.

Messi made it perfectly clear in a rather disgruntled outburst that, if they do not improve, they will not progress to the Champions League quarter-finals, having drawn 1-1 at Napoli in the first leg. It's worse for Juve; they must overcome a 1-0 deficit to Lyon if they are to make the last eight.

As the numbers show, Messi and Ronaldo might need to be at their best if we're to see them in the next round in Lisbon...

MAGIC MESSI

Even with Luis Suarez's return, Messi was largely a lone bright spark in the Barca attack post-lockdown.

With six goals and nine assists in 11 league appearances, he took his tally for the season to 40 goal involvements in 42 outings and broke former team-mate Xavi's record for assists in a single LaLiga campaign when he reached 21.

Prior to lockdown, Messi was averaging one big chance created per game in the league, and that actually increased after the restart - he managed 14 in his 11 outings. His passing accuracy, too, was largely stable, dropping by just 0.3 per cent on average.

Interestingly, his shooting became a little more wayward, his shot accuracy dipping to just 45.7 per cent from a seasonal average of 68.5. Likewise, his dribble success rate slipped to 59.3, having been at 66.2 prior to the shutdown.

RELENTLESS RONALDO

Ronaldo scored 21 in 22 Serie A appearances pre-lockdown, with three assists to boot. That form stayed largely consistent after the restart, with 10 goals and two assists in 11 games.

Creating chances has been a limited part of Ronaldo's game in recent years but his numbers in that regard are solid, with three big chances created after lockdown and six before.

His passing accuracy in all competitions went up (87.1 per cent compared to 84.2 pre-lockdown), while his shooting accuracy (53.6 from 54.8) and his dribble success rate (50 from 57.3) went down - just like Messi. Perhaps the long season began to creep up on them.

TWO TEAMS IN TROUBLE

There's no doubt Barca and Juve would find themselves in some difficulty if Messi and Ronaldo become suddenly unavailable. Their form just isn't strong enough.

Pre-lockdown, Barca had played 38 games in all competitions, scoring 82 goals and conceding 41; afterwards, they played 11 league matches, scored 23 and conceded seven. That's consistent enough.

The problem is more in the way they have been playing. Their average possession went up after lockdown to 70.1 from 64.9, but shooting accuracy fell a massive 13.2 per cent to 48.7 and their shot conversion rate dropped from 22.5 to 19.7. Teams were happier to give up the ball and sit back, confident they could keep Barca (largely) at bay.

As for Juve, they scored 71 goals and let in 34 in 37 games before the pause, and while they scored 26 in 14 afterwards, they conceded a truly worrying 19.

Like Barca, their shooting accuracy fell (45.8 from 49.1), as did their shot conversion rate (13.5 from 15.9). They also averaged 2.6 per cent less possession after lockdown - not a great look for Sarri-ball - and won just twice on the road (they won 10 away games before the break).

Juve might have held on in the title race, but they, like Barca, have been getting worse since the season restarted. A strong challenge to win the Champions League will depend on some fairly substantial improvement - or a number of magical moments from their main men.

Lionel Messi will retire as a Barcelona player in "three or four years", according to club president Josep Maria Bartomeu.

Six-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi has a contract at Camp Nou until the end of the 2020-21 season, but Bartomeu last month said he expects the superstar forward to sign an extension.

The 33-year-old has been linked with a return to boyhood club Newell's Old Boys before hanging up his boots.

However, Bartomeu has no doubt Barca's all-time leading goalscorer Messi will end his career with the Catalan giants, which could happen by 2023.

"It's not just me who says it. Messi says it himself, that he wants to finish his professional playing career at Barcelona and it's the only club for him," Bartomeu told beIN SPORTS.

"I don't have any doubt that when he finishes his football career in three or four years that it will be here in Barcelona.

"Messi has it very clear. He's been here since he was a kid. He knows the colours and he's a part of the club's history.

"He's the best player in the world. Not just right now, but in the history of the game. He's at Barcelona and has made clear he wants to stay here."

Another priority for Bartomeu is tying goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen down to a new contract, as his existing deal has just two years left on it.

"Marc is an excellent player and person, he has always shown that as a goalkeeper," said Bartomeu.

"With the current situation with COVID-19, he said, 'Let's hope everything is calmer to talk about it in the future.' But his future is to renew with Barca.

"We have a goalkeeper for many years because he is young. When everything passes, we will talk with Marc to finalise his renewal."

Despite being yet to play a game for Barca, Francisco Trincao and Pedri have been linked with exits from Camp Nou.

Trincao is reportedly a target for Leicester City, while Bayern Munich are said to have an interest in Pedri.

Bartomeu has no plans to sell either player as Barca prepare for the future with a new generation of talent.

"Trincao and Pedri are not for sale," he said. "Young players are coming who will be the stars in a few years."

Lionel Messi described former Real Madrid captain Iker Casillas as "a legend of the game" following his retirement from football. 

Casillas issued a statement on Tuesday to confirm he is calling time on a playing career that spanned more than 20 years. 

The 39-year-old suffered a heart attack during Porto training in May last year and has not played since. 

Casillas won five LaLiga titles and the Champions League on three occasions in a glittering Madrid career, while he was also a key part of Spain's greatest period in international football. 

He earned 167 senior caps for his country and captained them to back-to-back European Championships in 2008 and 2012 and the World Cup triumph in South Africa in 2010. 

Although on the other side of the Clasico rivalry, Messi has no doubt Casillas deserves the highest praise for his career. 

"Iker is retiring, but his status as a legend of the game was secured long ago - not just because he was one of LaLiga's best players, but also because he won everything at international level," Messi told AS. 

In a message to the former goalkeeper, he added: "You're a fantastic goalkeeper and were a really tough opponent, I have to say. 

"Looking back, I think it was a really special rivalry that pushed us to reach new levels every time we came up against each other."

Napoli head coach Gennaro Gattuso joked that he can only mark Lionel Messi in his dreams or on PlayStation as he looked ahead to the upcoming Champions League showdown with Barcelona.

Saturday saw Napoli end their 2019-20 coronavirus-hit Serie A season with a 3-1 victory at home to Lazio – Fabian Luiz, Lorenzo Insigne and Matteo Politano fuelling the win.

Attention now turns to the second leg of Napoli's Champions League last-16 tie against LaLiga giants Barcelona, scheduled for August 8 at Camp Nou following February's 1-1 draw.

Asked about six-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi post-match, former Milan midfielder Gattuso told reporters: "I can mark Messi only in my dreams.

"Or if I set Napoli vs Barcelona on my son's PlayStation, trying to catch him there when I played for Milan with 10-15 kilograms less than today."

On Napoli's planned approach against Barca after seeing off fourth-placed Lazio in Serie A, Gattuso said: "I think they are very different teams [Lazio and Barcelona] with two different styles.

"Lazio mixes technical and physical skills. Barcelona are all about quality. I think it will be a different game. We don't have to think about score or not.

"We must play as a team, being confident that we can have our chances. We know that it will be an enterprise. Our mind must be free in order to express our qualities."

Napoli will be sweating on Insigne's fitness for the Barca trip after the star captain hobbled off against Lazio with six minutes remaining due to a thigh problem.

"Insigne spoke to the doctor, we'll evaluate it over the next 48 hours when we have the test results," Gattuso added. "Hopefully, it's not as serious as we first thought."

Lazio star Ciro Immobile said "dreams do come true" after equalling Serie A's goalscoring record and claiming the European Golden Shoe for 2019-20.

Immobile tied Gonzalo Higuain's record for most goals in a Serie A season with 36 after scoring in Saturday's 3-1 loss to Napoli.

The 30-year-old Italy forward matched the feat achieved by Higuain in 2015-16, while also collecting the coveted Golden Shoe award for the highest goalscorer in European football.

Immobile outscored the likes of Bayern Munich star Robert Lewandowski (34), Juventus superstar Cristiano Ronaldo (31) and Barcelona captain Lionel Messi (25).

"I am super happy and proud of what I've achieved, especially when I look back to where I started and everything I went through," Immobile told Lazio Style Channel.

"If you truly believe, sometimes, dreams do come true. I can only thank the coach and staff, my team-mates, and I can assure you these records are for the whole team.

"I also thank the Lazio fans, who made me feel indispensable for this team, and I am so proud of that. I want to be a living example that if you never give up, you can achieve any target.

"I'm so proud to have my place in the history of this sport. I am moved thinking of how my team-mates greeted me in the dressing room after I scored a hat-trick at Verona. That's what the sport is about."

Lazio, who qualified for the Champions League, ended the season in fourth position, having challenged for the Scudetto prior to the coronavirus-enforced break.

 

Inter chief executive Giuseppe Marotta once again poured cold water over the possibility of signing Barcelona captain Lionel Messi, labelling the speculation as a "pure dream".

Messi continues to be linked to Inter, with the Barca superstar reportedly unhappy at Camp Nou and prepared to leave the LaLiga giants once his contract expires in 2021.

There has been renewed talk that Inter could attempt to prise Messi to San Siro after a picture of the six-time Ballon d'Or winner was projected onto the Duomo di Milano prior to Tuesday's 2-0 Serie A victory over Napoli.

However, Inter CEO Marotta dismissed the chance of Messi swapping Barca for the Italian club following Saturday's season-ending 2-0 triumph at Atalanta.

"We have to be realistic, it's a dream. These are fantasies," Marotta told Sky Sport Italia.

"Messi is an absolute top player who is with his ideal club like Barcelona, where I think he will end his career. So, I repeat that this is a pure dream."

Inter finished the 2019-20 Serie A season just a point adrift of champions Juventus thanks to their success away to high-flying Atalanta.

Ashley Young scored a fine goal from outside the box after team-mate Danilo D'Ambrosio had given Inter the lead inside just 50 seconds.

Despite securing a runners-up finish in his first season with Inter, head coach Antonio Conte took aim at the Nerazzurri afterwards, claiming neither he nor his players received protection from the club amid criticism.

But Marotta – who also worked alongside Conte at Juventus – said: "Second place is the confirmation of a project that has been underway since the beginning of this season.

"The fact that we have matched the points earned in the treble season, that we have set the away goals record and maintained the best defence in the league are great facts, but the priority is to have created a model for the seasons to follow. So, I have to thank the management for the support given to the team."

Antonio Conte reiterated his belief that rumours linking Lionel Messi to Inter are a little farfetched, hinting he struggled to even get the club to sign Romelu Lukaku.

Inter closed out a solid 2019-20 Serie A campaign on Saturday, beating Atalanta 2-0 in Bergamo to secure the runner-up spot in Italy's top flight.

That result means they finished just a point adrift of champions Juventus, who lost 3-1 at home to Roma in their final league match.

Having already backed Conte significantly in the transfer market, Inter are expected to further strengthen ahead of the 2020-21 campaign.

One somewhat outlandish report in Italy has claimed Inter are trying to lure Barcelona icon and Ballon d'Or holder Messi away from LaLiga, with his future a little uncertain due to turbulence at Camp Nou.

But Conte will remain realistic, particularly after Inter CEO Giuseppe Marotta likened the rumour to a "utopian" fantasy. 

"Look, only I know what I had to do to get Lukaku," he joked to reporters after the match.

"Trust me, at the end of the season we will make evaluations."

Lukaku, a 2019 arrival from Manchester United, finished his maiden Serie A campaign as Inter's top scorer, having netted 23 times, and Conte paid tribute to the Belgium striker along with his attacking colleagues Lautaro Martinez and Alexis Sanchez.

"He is strong, I was already looking for him at Chelsea but then he went to United," Conte said of Lukaku. "He is an atypical footballer who can be a point of reference, but he can improve.

"Today, I also liked Lautaro and Sanchez. It is thanks to these guys if we scored 81 goals and if we finished second."

Ciro Immobile tied Gonzalo Higuain's record for most goals in a Serie A season, while his tally of 36 also means he finishes as the European Golden Shoe winner for 2019-20.

Lazio's prized asset was on target in a 3-1 defeat to Napoli as Simone Inzaghi's side ended their domestic campaign in fourth, with their title challenge falling apart upon Serie A's resumption following the coronavirus-enforced break.

Immobile's return matches that achieved by Higuain in the 2015-16 campaign when the Argentine striker was playing for Napoli.

The 30-year-old has enjoyed his most prolific campaign in front of goal and was all but guaranteed to finish as Serie A's top scorer when Juventus opted to rest Cristiano Ronaldo for their own finale against Roma.

Consequently, Immobile also collected the coveted Golden Shoe award for the highest goalscorer in European football.

Immobile outscored the likes of Bayern Munich's Robert Lewandowski (34), Ronaldo (31) and Lionel Messi (25) this season in a campaign where experienced strikers shone, with 33-year-old Jamie Vardy ending as the Premier League's Golden Boot winner with 23.

Antonio Conte has again dismissed the possibility of Lionel Messi joining Inter, suggesting it would be easier to move Milan's cathedral than Barcelona's icon.

There was renewed speculation that Inter could attempt to pull off an audacious move for Messi in this transfer window when a picture of the Argentina great was projected onto the Duomo di Milano on Tuesday.

Reports in Italy said Inter's owners were behind the stunt, which had been designed to publicise television coverage of the Nerazzurri's Serie A clash with Napoli later that evening. 

It did more than that, though, once again reigniting the rumour that Messi – who has not been afraid to express his unhappiness at Barca this season – could move to Milan, where his father has recently bought a house.

However, after chief executive Giuseppe Marotta said suggestions Inter could sign Messi were merely "fantasy football", Conte also poured cold water on the idea.

Asked by Sky Sport Italia whether he would rather sign Messi or four players worth €50million each, Inter head coach Conte replied: "I think both of those scenarios are pretty improbable!

"I am holding on tight to my players, as they are giving their all, I can guarantee that.

"It'd be easier to move the Duomo than to bring Messi to Inter!"

It was Inter's current Argentina star who helped them defeat Napoli 2-0 on Tuesday.

There were shades of Messi in Lautaro Martinez's brilliant run and 30-yard finish into the bottom corner, though it was just his third goal since January.

Danilo D'Ambrosio was also on target for an Inter side that moved back up to second and extended their unbeaten run to seven games.

Though Juventus have already been crowned champions, Conte is keen to secure the runners-up berth, which Inter would do if they avoid defeat against third-placed Atalanta in their final league fixture at the weekend.

"It was not easy after Atalanta had won at Parma, as we were in a certain sense forced to win our game," Conte added.

"These are important situations, because being in front – even if it's for second place and someone else won the Scudetto – we need to get used to feeling the pressure of teams pushing up behind us."

Inter could not afford Lionel Messi and any suggestion of them signing the Barcelona superstar is "utopian", according to chief executive Giuseppe Marotta.

There was a stir in Milan and beyond on Tuesday when a picture of Messi projected onto the city's cathedral circulated on social media.

Italian media said Inter's majority owners, Suning, used the image to publicise the televising of Inter's game against Napoli in China.

It is not the first time there has been speculation Inter could be interested in Messi.

However, Marotta, who is hopeful Alexis Sanchez could stay with the club next season, cannot see how Inter could make any deal for Argentinian superstar Messi happen.

Marotta told Sky Sport Italia: "Messi on the cathedral? It wasn't my idea. It reminds me of football from the past with such situations. We are talking about an icon, a great player, a desire that everyone has."

He stressed it would be "extraordinary to see such a champion at Inter", adding: "It's fantasy football, a utopian situation."

Marotta added: "Our football [in Italy] needs a lift. Champions raise the value of the Italian brand and football. If we could consider ours to be a championship in which the great champions come and stay, it would be better.

"No Italian team is capable of carrying out such an operation unless extraordinary factors arise related to the shareholders, and therefore the actual owners.

"Let's not forget that we must respect FFP [Financial Fair Play]. This year, COVID has ensured that there is some flexibility, but afterwards the rules will have to be respected.

"Suning has already injected many millions into the company. Today investments have to give continuity and be done with a project."

Marotta said Inter must look to "raise the bar" next season, in Antonio Conte's second campaign as head coach.

Whether Sanchez remains at the club remains to be seen, given the on-loan Chilean forward has two years remaining on a lucrative Manchester United contract.

"It is not easy," Marotta said, pointing to Sanchez's United's terms.

The intention is nevertheless there on Inter's part to push for an extension to Sanchez's stay, with Marotta saying: "We would like to have him with us today, tomorrow and the day after tomorrow."

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