Barcelona were held to a 1-1 draw away to Napoli on Tuesday, extending their unimpressive winless run in Champions League knockout matches in Italy to six.

Quique Setien's men fell behind late in the first half to Dries Mertens' gorgeous 25-yard strike, seeing the Belgian go level with Marek Hamsik as the club's all-time leading scorer on 121.

Barca did rescue a draw that at least sees them return home with an away goal, and therefore an advantage, with Antoine Griezmann equalising despite an otherwise anonymous outing.

Still, Barca - who had Arturo Vidal sent off towards the end - remain winless away to Italian opposition in the knockout phase of the Champions League since a 1-0 victory at Milan in April 2006, when Napoli's incumbent coach Gennaro Gattuso was in the Rossoneri midfield.

Following Tuesday's stalemate, we look back at the other results in this run...

Inter 3-1 Barcelona, 2009-10 (semi-final first leg)

The good old days, when Jose Mourinho v Pep Guardiola was about as gripping as it got. Although the tie was billed as being pragmatism v flamboyance, it was the typically disciplined Inter who thrilled in a 3-1 first-leg win in San Siro. Pedro opened the scoring, but the hosts ultimately romped to victory through Wesley Sneijder, Maicon and Diego Milito. The Italians succumbed 1-0 in Barcelona after the dubious sending off of Thiago Motta, but they clung on to spark comically passionate celebrations from Mourinho and Inter went on to lift the trophy.

Milan 0-0 Barcelona, 2011-12 (quarter-final first leg)

Barca certainly couldn't be accused of failing to dominate in San Siro in 2012, as they controlled much of the game in Italy, but Messi and company failed to find a way through. Luca Antonini was crucial to that, making a brilliant last-ditch block late on to ensure Milan went to Camp Nou with a fighting chance. As it was, Barca had too much for them in the second leg, Messi scoring two penalties as they claimed a 3-1 win.

Milan 2-0 Barcelona, 2012-13 (last-16 first leg)

A major shock saw Barca seemingly staring at an early exit in 2012-13, with Sulley Muntari and Kevin-Prince Boateng scoring in a 2-0 win in San Siro. The Rossoneri had been forced to defend desperately at times, before stealing two goals in the second period. Thankfully for Barca it didn't prove costly, as they crushed Milan 4-0 in the return leg, with Messi's brace added to by David Villa and Jordi Alba. It made Barca the first team to overturn a two-goal first-leg deficit without scoring an away goal.

Juventus 3-0 Barcelona, 2016-17 (quarter-final first leg)

Massimiliano Allegri's Juve became 'nearly men' in the Champions League, but there was also no doubting their class, as the 3-0 win over Barca in April 2017 showed. It was a commanding display in Turin, with two-goal Paulo Dybala turning on the style. Giorgio Chiellini rounded off the win that rarely looked like being overturned in Barcelona despite drawing inspiration from their comeback against Paris Saint-Germain in the previous round. Juve held out for a 0-0 draw.

Roma 3-0 Barcelona, 2017-18 (quarter-final second leg)

Barca have been involved in some monumental Champions League comebacks and turnarounds in recent years – on this occasion they were the victims. After winning 4-1 at Camp Nou, needing some luck to do so as they produced an unimpressive display, Barca looked destined for the semi-finals, but in Rome they were completely outmanoeuvred by an energetic Roma. Goals from Edin Dzeko and Daniele De Rossi left Barca twitching ahead of the latter stages and Kostas Manolas' header eight minutes from time secured a famous result, dumping Barca out of the competition.

Lionel Messi will hope to better a barren record on Italian soil when Barcelona visit Napoli in the last 16 of the Champions League on Tuesday.

Quique Setien's first match in charge in the competition will see him tasked with improving Barca's fortunes on their travels in Europe, although Napoli have an enviable goalscoring record in front of their own fans.

Bayern Munich head to Chelsea in a repeat of the 2012 final that they lost on home soil, and goals certainly appear likely given the previous meetings between the pair.

However, the Bundesliga champions will need Robert Lewandowski to find his shooting boots given the striker has struggled in recent seasons when going beyond the group stages.

Here is the pick of the Opta facts ahead of two tantalising first legs...

Chelsea v Bayern Munich

17 - The four previous matches in all competitions between Chelsea and Bayern Munich have produced 17 goals, an average of 4.25 per game.

18 - Bayern won maximum points (18/18) and had a goal difference of +19 in the Champions League group stages this season, the best performance by a team in the group phase of the competition. However, none of the previous six teams to have won all their group games have subsequently lifted the trophy that same season.

1 - Chelsea have won only one of their past six Champions League games at Stamford Bridge (D4 L1), a 2-1 victory against Lille last December.

5 - Chelsea and Bayern scored the joint-most goals from set-pieces in this season's Champions League group stages (5), including three each from corners.

597 - Bayern striker Robert Lewandowski has scored 10 goals in this season's Champions League, only the second time he has reached double figures in the tournament after 2012-13 with Borussia Dortmund. However, he has failed to find the net in his past 597 minutes in the knockout stages of the tournament, his longest drought.

Napoli v Barcelona

2 - Napoli were eliminated in their two previous European Cup/Champions League two-legged ties with Spanish opposition, both times against Real Madrid: 3-1 on aggregate in 1987-88 (first round) and 6-2 in 2016-17 (round of 16).

0 - Barcelona's last away win against Italian opposition in the Champions League knockout stages came in April 2006, when they beat Milan 1-0, courtesy of a Ludovic Giuly goal; current Napoli boss Gennaro Gattuso played in that game for Milan. Since then, Barcelona have failed to win any of their five such away trips to Italy (D1 L4) and have failed to score in the past four.

20 - Napoli have only failed to score once in 20 Champions League games at the San Paolo, a goalless draw against Dynamo Kiev in November 2016. They are also unbeaten in their past seven home games in the competition (W5 D2).

1 - Barca have won only one of their past eight away games in the Champions League knockout phase (D2 L5), a 1-0 victory against Manchester United in April 2019. In those eight games, they have scored only two goals and conceded 17.

10 - Lionel Messi's total of two goals in five games in this season's Champions League group phase was his lowest for 10 years (since two goals in 2009-10). His only goal on Italian soil in the Champions League knockout stages was in the 2009 final against Manchester United at Rome's Stadio Olimpico – he has failed to find the net (or deliver an assist) in each of his subsequent five appearances.

Gerard Pique believes it is possible Lionel Messi could one day play for Napoli, but the Barcelona defender hopes the superstar retires at the LaLiga giants.

Messi and Barcelona face Napoli at the Stadio San Paolo on Tuesday in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie.

It has led to fresh comparisons between Messi and Diego Maradona, an Argentina great who starred at Napoli.

Asked if Messi could emulate Maradona and sign for Napoli, Pique told a news conference: "You can never say never in football, but I guess that is complicated.

"You should ask him as he decides his future. I would like him to retire with us. I can't tell you more."

Messi has scored 23 goals in 28 games in all competitions for Barcelona this season.

Lorenzo Insigne had no interest in comparing Lionel Messi to Diego Maradona ahead of Napoli's clash with Barcelona, saying the latter was "divine for Neapolitans".

Messi and Barcelona make the trip to the Stadio San Paolo, where Maradona starred as a player in the 1980s and '90s, for the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie on Tuesday.

Like Maradona, Messi is considered among the best players of all-time, but Insigne preferred not to compare the Argentine duo.

"I had an interview and I said Messi is the best player in the world," he told a news conference.

"However, I do not want to compare him with Maradona, who is everything for us. I do not want to compare him.

"Maradona is divine for Neapolitans, with all respect for Messi who is the best right now."

Despite some off-field issues, Barca are top of LaLiga and will go into the last-16 tie as favourites.

But Insigne said Napoli simply needed to focus on themselves heading into the first leg.

"I do not know what kind of problem Barcelona have got. I read some things as other people did," he said.

"I think after four goals scored by Messi against Eibar ... they have no problems.

"We do not have to think about them. We have to think about ourselves. They have to play a great game from the beginning until the end. That's it."

After dominating European football for over a decade, could Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo shelve their rivalry and come together as team-mates?

David Beckham might be the man to make it happen.

The former Manchester United and Real Madrid midfielder appears to have ambitious plans for his new MLS franchise.

 

TOP STORY – MESSI, RONALDO WANTED AT INTER MIAMI

Barcelona captain Messi, 32, and Juventus talisman Ronaldo, 35, will end their careers on the same side if Inter Miami co-owner Beckham gets his wish, according to the Mirror.

The newspaper claims the new MLS outfit are "already thinking big" and could look to lure football's two biggest superstars to the United States.

LA Galaxy have also been linked with a move for Messi but Minnesota United head coach Adrian Heath believes Beckham's pulling power has the potential to create a dream attacking duo.

“For Ronaldo and Messi, the two obvious destinations if they came to the MLS would be Los Angeles and Miami," Heath told the Mirror.

"And, with his links to both players and the plan Beckham and his backers have in place, I can really only see them going to Miami."

ROUND-UP

- Manchester United are set to launch a £50million bid for Wolves forward Diogo Jota, scorer of a Europa League hat-trick on Thursday, reports the Express.

- United have also been linked with Birmingham City teenager Jude Bellingham but the Red Devils are set to face competition from Liverpool, according to the Daily Star.

- Serie A leaders Juventus are at the front of the queue for Paul Pogba but Paris Saint-Germain also hope to land the French star, reports Le10 Sport.

- PSG, meanwhile, are planning for life after Thomas Tuchel, who is said to be in talks with Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich. L'Equipe claims the Ligue 1 champions could look to replace him with either Massimiliano Allegri or Lazio boss Simone Inzaghi.

- Premier League clubs Sheffield United, Wolves and Burnley are showing interest in Leeds United midfielder Kalvin Phillips, suggests the Sun.

Martin Braithwaite enjoyed a strong second-half cameo on his Barcelona debut following a controversial transfer - and he vowed to not wash his jersey after receiving a hug from Lionel Messi.

After a difficult week for the club, Barca demolished struggling Eibar 5-0 at Camp Nou, with four-goal Messi in inspirational form as he netted a first-half hat-trick.

Before the match many Barca supporters waved white handkerchiefs towards president Josep Maria Bartomeu and chanted for his resignation after he was forced to deny allegations earlier in the week that the club had hired a firm to "damage the image" of players past and present, including Messi.

Then there was the controversial signing of Braithwaite, who arrived from Leganes as an "emergency" purchase to cover the absence of Ousmane Dembele and seen as an underwhelming acquisition.

But the Denmark international made an immediate impact, having a hand in Messi's fourth before getting involved in Arthur's goal that rounded out the scoring.

When asked about what Messi said after helping him score, Braithwaite told reporters: "He congratulated me, he's a great guy.

"He tried to make me comfortable [after being brought on], he looked for me with his passes. I won't wash my clothes after the hug he gave me," he quipped.

"Honestly, I'm very happy to have been able to give him assistance. I felt very well here, surrounded by fantastic players.

"I tried to run and move, which is what I have to do, and the team-mates have found me, so it has been amazing. I am very happy."

Barca coach Quique Setien was pleasantly surprised by Braithwaite, accepting the forward had more of an impact than anticipated.

"Braithwaite did more than I expected, much more," he said. "Honestly, he was very good and I think we have got an extraordinary signing.

"He'll adapt perfectly to what we do, he was involved in two goals and he understands the game so well. He's powerful and technically very proficient – he's a worker and has many things that will help us."

Barca are in action again on Tuesday in the Champions League against Napoli, before returning to LaLiga action against Real Madrid next Sunday.

Lionel Messi was in inspirational form as he scored four goals – including a first-half hat-trick – to lead Barcelona to an easy 5-0 win over Eibar at the end of a difficult week for the club.

Messi had gone over a month without a goal in LaLiga before Saturday but once he found his groove there was no hope for hapless Eibar, as Barca's talisman tore the visitors apart at will.

Much of the build-up to the contest had been dominated by off-field matters, including the controversial out-of-window signing of Martin Braithwaite and president Josep Maria Bartomeu denying the club hired a firm to "damage the image" of players past and present, including Messi.

Yet Messi appeared unencumbered by the controversies, the Argentina superstar scoring a wonderful treble in the first half before adding a fourth after the break. A goal for Arthur late on completed a handsome triumph ahead of a potentially season-defining week, which includes clashes with Napoli and Real Madrid.

The white handkerchiefs were being waved with vigour in the direction of Bartomeu by many supporters even before kick-off, and for a moment early on in the contest they looked to have another reason to fume, as Sergi Enrich emphatically headed in Jose Angel's cross.

But the offside flag spared Barca from falling behind and Messi soon took charge, opening the scoring with a remarkable goal – coolly clipping a delicate effort past Marko Dmitrovic having nutmegged Anaitz Arbilla and held off Papa Diop.

It was 2-0 in the 37th minute, Messi again driving into the box and picking out the bottom-right corner with aplomb.

And he swiftly completed his treble, turning in from close range after Antoine Griezmann wasted an opportunity to shoot.

The hosts appeared to ease off after the break, with the only notable opportunity before the hour-mark seeing Ivan Rakitic thwarting by Dmitrovic after Griezmann's cross.

However, Barca eventually increased the deficit in the final three minutes – Messi scoring his fourth after toying with the Eibar defence before Arthur's straightforward finish, with substitute Braithwaite showing his usefulness by having a hand in both.

Head coach Quique Setien does not expect Barcelona's focus to waver over a key run of games despite a series of off-field controversies.

Barca face Eibar on Saturday before visiting Napoli in their Champions League last-16 first leg in midweek and then taking on LaLiga title rivals Real Madrid in El Clasico on March 1.

The forthcoming schedule represents a make-or-break stretch in the season for Setien's side, who are a point behind Madrid in the table.

Yet a number of incidents away from the pitch have overshadowed the early weeks of Setien's tenure.

Director of football Eric Abidal suggested the players had not been working for previous coach Ernesto Valverde prior to his January dismissal, prompting a strong response from captain Lionel Messi.

Barca then denied allegations made by Spanish radio network Cadena SER this week that they hired a company to damage the image of key figures associated with the club, including Messi, by spreading negative messages on social media platforms.

But Setien is not distracted said ahead of the Eibar game: "You'd think it might affect us, but the reality is it's not like that.

"We're very focused on what we need to focus on. We're focused on football matters, we have a lot to focus on. We know what goes on, but I can assure you it doesn't influence anything.

"We're focused on our objective, which is to win games, play well and allow the fans to enjoy themselves. Anything other than that really doesn't affect us."

And Setien confirmed president Josep Maria Bartomeu had discussed the latest issue with senior players.

"Everything the president says is accepted. He told us exactly the same as what he said everywhere," he said. "I'm not thinking about that anymore."

Setien was reluctant to discuss the clash with Napoli but was asked about Messi's suggestion in a wide-ranging Mundo Deportivo interview that Barca were not ready to compete for the Champions League this season.

"There are things that I agree with and things that I'm not in agreement with," Setien said. "In the past 20 years, we have won a lot of Champions Leagues.

"We've got the same chance of winning as other teams have. There's no room for error. There are things we need to try to improve and that we need to do well. That's clear.

"We're not happy with everything, but I think we're growing gradually and reaching a level that will allow us to compete, definitely, with every team."

Barca controversially signed Martin Braithwaite from Leganes this week, following long-term injuries to Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele, and the new man has gone straight into the squad for the Eibar game.

"He's come here with a lot of excitement and a lot of desire," Setien said of Braithwaite. "We hope that he can help us a lot."

Also in with the chance of a first-team debut is Barcelona B left-back Sergio Akieme, who joined the club from Rayo Vallecano in September.

The 22-year-old has been called up to provide cover for Junior Firpo after Jordi Alba injured his right adductor last weekend, potentially making the Spain international a doubt to face Madrid.

New Barcelona signing Martin Braithwaite believes his studious approach to football will make him a shrewd addition for the LaLiga champions.

The striker completed a move to Camp Nou on Thursday after Barca activated his €18million release clause at Leganes.

The Catalans had been granted special dispensation to sign a forward due to long-term injuries to Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele, who may not return to action this season.

Braithwaite scored six times in 24 appearances for Leganes this season to help their fight against relegation but has only twice reached double figures for goals in a single league campaign, back when he was with Toulouse in 2015-16 and 2016-17.

However, the 28-year-old sees himself as a student of the game and one whose attributes will make him useful to head coach Quique Setien.

"I'm really excited. It's a childhood dream come true," he told Barca TV. "Everyone who plays football dreams of playing at Barcelona. Here I am, and I'm really excited to win titles.

"It's a club with a lot of pressure, a lot of expectations, and I'm here to go and try to win everything possible.

"I'm a technical player, always physical in that I'm really fast, really strong. I'd say my best attribute is my intelligence. I move really intelligently. I study the game. I call myself a football student. I always try to improve my football every day.

"I think, the way we play here, my movement will help the team a lot. And, of course, I'm a goalscorer so I'm here to score goals."

Braithwaite is looking forward to the chance to call Lionel Messi a team-mate, hailing the Barca captain as arguably the greatest player in history.

"He's maybe the best player ever, so of course it's a big moment for me to be able to play with this guy and to say that I've played with him, so I'm really excited," said the Denmark international.

Braithwaite could make his debut when Eibar visit Camp Nou on Saturday.

Barca then face Napoli at the San Paolo in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie before they take on Real Madrid in El Clasico on March 1.

Barcelona forward Lionel Messi believes it would be "screwed" if Manchester City's players were banned from playing in the Champions League for two years.

Last week City were hit with a two-year ban from European competition by UEFA for "serious breaches" of Financial Fair Play regulations following an investigation.

City, who were accused of "overstating sponsorship revenue" between 2012 and 2016, have denied any wrongdoing and intend to appeal the sanctions at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

However, should the ban stick, it would cast doubts over the futures of players such as Raheem Sterling, Kevin De Bruyne and Messi's close friend Sergio Aguero.

"It is surprising because nobody thought that such a thing could happen, so powerful," Messi told Mundo Deportivo.

"Paris [Saint-Germain] paid a fine or I don't know how it went. If in the end City does not play in the Champions League for what it is, with the players, the club, and the money it spends, it will be weird."

Messi was then asked about the possibility of his compatriot Aguero wanting to join him at Camp Nou should the ban be upheld.

"If City do not enter the Champions League there are many players that may look for an exit, or maybe not," Messi added.

"The Champions League is very attractive so two years without playing it can be screwed."

City face Real Madrid in the last 16 of this season's competition, with their Premier League rivals Liverpool having already lost to another club from the city in their first leg.

Atletico Madrid became just the third team to defeat the Reds this season when they claimed a 1-0 success in Spain on Tuesday, not that Messi was surprised by the LaLiga side's performance.

"The truth is, no," he said.

"On the day of the draw we talked in the dressing room that it would be very close because Atletico competes a lot in this competition. 

"In duels of two matches they are very strong and they showed it again, that they will compete and they will be there."

Lionel Messi said Neymar wants to return to Barcelona, while the six-time Ballon d'Or winner lauded reported target and Inter star Lautaro Martinez.

Neymar left Barca for Paris Saint-Germain in a world-record €222million transfer in 2017, but the Brazil star continues to be linked with a Camp Nou return.

The PSG forward reportedly tried to engineer a move back to Barca at the start of the season, though a transfer did not materialise, despite the club's best efforts.

Messi, who has made no secret of his desire to reunite with Neymar, told Mundo Deportivo: "I say it many times, at the sports level, Ney is one of the best in the world and I would love for him to return.

"He is really looking forward to coming back, he always seemed sorry [after leaving]. He did a lot to return and that would be the first step to try to arrive."

Neymar's decision to leave Barca almost three years ago angered some of his former team-mates but Messi said: "It is normal for people to see him that way because of the way he left, it also bothered me at the time, we tried to convince him not to. 

"But in the end we all want to win and have the best. We and the people. As I said before, he is one of the best and contributed for us a lot on the pitch. But it is understandable that people think like that, since he left in a way they did not like."

Barca have also been linked to Inter forward Martinez as the LaLiga champions eye a long-term replacement for Luis Suarez.

Martinez reportedly has a €111m release clause amid links to Barca, Manchester United, Manchester City and Real Madrid.

Messi knows Martinez well as the pair are international team-mates for Argentina and the Barca captain hailed his compatriot.

"He is spectacular, he has impressive conditions," Messi said. "He was seen to be a great player, now he exploded and is showing it. He is very strong. He has a very good one against one, he has a lot of goals, in the area he fights with anyone. Lautaro has a lot of quality. He is very complete."

Messi continued: "I wish they could all come and fight it all, and the Champions League. Lautaro has much resemblance to Luis."

Inter Miami have their sights set on a big-name signing, with Lionel Messi reportedly among the possibilities.

With David Beckham among their owners, Inter Miami are preparing for their debut MLS season beginning next month.

Messi has been linked with the MLS club previously and those rumours are persisting.

 

TOP STORY – MESSI STILL A TARGET FOR INTER MIAMI

Barcelona great Messi is among the stars who could sign for Inter Miami, according to OKdiario.

Real Madrid midfielder Luka Modric and Paris Saint-Germain striker Edinson Cavani are also possibilities, the report says.

Messi reportedly bought an apartment in Miami in December, while he can leave Barcelona for free at season's end despite being contracted until 2021.

ROUND-UP

- Juventus have other plans should Paul Pogba not return to the club from Manchester United in the close season. Sport reports the Serie A giants are considering a move for Bayern Munich midfielder Thiago Alcantara, whose contract expires next year.

- Barcelona will announce Leganes striker Martin Braithwaite as their latest signing on Thursday, according to AS, which reports the LaLiga club are set to pay €18million for the Denmark international.

- Linked with RB Leipzig star Timo Werner, Liverpool are seemingly considering their options. Bild reports the European champions are tracking Milot Rashica, the 23-year-old who has scored 10 goals in 21 games for struggling Werder Bremen this season.

- Hansi Flick's future is unclear. Bayern Munich will wait until May to make a decision on the head coach, who has attracted interest from other clubs, according to Bild.

- Could Adam Lallana be set for a reunion with Brendan Rodgers? Sky Sports reports Leicester City have approached the Liverpool midfielder's representatives about a move at season's end. Lallana and Rodgers worked together at Anfield and the 31-year-old is coming out of contract.

- After an initial move for Marcos Alonso in January failed, Inter are still considering the Chelsea left-back, according to CalcioMercato. However, the report says the Serie A giants are unwilling to pay Chelsea's asking price of €30m (£25.1m).

Lionel Messi insisted he was still in love with Barcelona, although the star admitted the recent social media controversy at the club was "strange".

Messi is enjoying another fine season with the LaLiga giants, who are a point adrift of rivals and leaders Real Madrid.

Contracted at Camp Nou until next year, Messi said he was happy in Barcelona, where he has spent his entire professional career.

"I love Barcelona although I miss Rosario very much. This is my house, I was here longer than in Argentina," he told Mundo Deportivo. 

"I love Barcelona, the place where I live, Castelldefels, and I live a life that I like very much."

However, it has been a tumultuous period for Barcelona, who sacked Ernesto Valverde in January and have also endured off-field problems.

Barca earlier this week denied allegations made by Spanish radio network Cadena SER that they hired a company to damage the image of people associated with the club, including Messi, by spreading negative messages on social media platforms.

Messi said: "I really find it strange that something like this has happened, but they also said that there would be evidence.

"We will have to wait to see if it is true or not. We cannot say much and we will wait to see what happens with all of this.

"I really thought it was a strange subject."

Messi was also involved in a public row with Barcelona sporting director Eric Abidal earlier this month.

LaLiga champions Barcelona are a club in crisis.

From public rows to allegations that say the current board were involved in hiring a PR firm to spread negative narratives about Barca legends, a claim the club have denied.

It has been a turbulent time at Camp Nou and MLS powerhouse LA Galaxy have looked to capitalise.

 

TOP STORY – GALAXY ENQUIRE ABOUT MESSI

LA Galaxy enquired about Barcelona captain Lionel Messi's interest in moving to the United States, according to Radio Continental.

Messi was involved in a public row with director of football Eric Abidal, raising doubts over his Barca future amid links to Manchester United, Manchester City, Inter and Paris Saint-Germain.

Galaxy head coach and former Boca Juniors boss Guillermo Barros Schelotto reportedly reached out to Messi's father to see if the six-time Ballon d'Or winner was open to swapping Barcelona for Los Angeles.

ROUND-UP

Paul Pogba is confident he will finally be granted an exit by Manchester United, reports the Evening Standard. Pogba – still recovering from an ankle injury – has been linked with a return to former club Juventus as well as LaLiga giants Real Madrid.

- Staying at Old Trafford and The Independent claims United are in advanced negotiations with former PSG technical director Antero Henrique. Ralf Rangnick is also reportedly being considered.

- RB Leipzig's head of sport Rangnick is still being targeted by Milan for the role as head coach, reports Calciomercato. However, the Italian club are split as Stefano Pioli leads a resurgence.

- According to Tuttosport, Serie A champions Juventus are interested in bringing Manchester City forward Gabriel Jesus to Turin.

- France Football says Barca are eyeing Galatasaray's teenage sensation Mustafa Kapi. The 17-year-old is out of contract at the end of the season.

Chelsea have entered the race to sign in-demand Hellas Verona centre-back Marash Kumbulla, says Calciomercato. The 20-year-old Albania international is also wanted by Inter, Napoli, Liverpool, United and City.

Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu has denied the club hired a social media contractor in order to discredit the likes of Lionel Messi, Gerard Pique and Pep Guardiola.

Spanish radio network Cadena SER reported on Monday that an independent social media company was contracted by Barca to boost the public profile of the current board of directors.

The reports also stated the company was tasked with undermining individuals with strong links to the club, including current stars Messi and Pique, former coach Guardiola and midfield icon Xavi.

Following a strong statement of denial on Monday, Bartomeu, while acknowledging Barca had hired I3 Ventures – the company in question – has reiterated the club's stance.

"I want to make clear, for the [Barca] members, and everyone, because I have heard different versions," Bartomeu said at the XIV Vazquez Montalban International Journalism Awards.

"First of all, I have to say that Barcelona haven't hired any service to discredit anyone. Neither players, nor the executives, ex-presidents. That is totally false.

"So we will defend ourselves where necessary regarding this subject, by all means, and in front of anyone who accuses us of doing this. I repeat again, it is false that Barcelona, in any case, has hired no one to discredit anyone."

However, with I3 Ventures connected to one of the accounts named in the reports – Respeto y Deporte (Respect and Sport) – Bartomeu confirmed Barca have ended their relationship with the contractor.

"It is true that at the end of 2017, Barcelona hired a service to monitor different areas of the club in the social media, as the major of the clubs have," he added.

"After the confirmation that one of the accounts linked to one of this company's suppliers have made inappropriate commentaries about people related to our organisation, I have given instructions personally to terminate the contract with this company.

"I want to make something clear. Regarding to the question that "if we have ordered anyone to monitor the social media", the answer is yes and we will still do it. 

"It is the responsibility of this club to know what is going on and what it is being said around the world, always to preserve Barcelona.

"Regarding to the question "If we have ordered to discredit people or institutions through social media" the answer is no and we will persecute everyone who accuses us of it."

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