Xavi admitted his Barcelona team failed to match the intensity of Athletic Bilbao as they tumbled out of the Copa del Rey at the last-16 stage, another blow in a dismal season.

Barcelona may yet claw their way into the Champions League places in LaLiga, but their trophy pursuit looks doomed to failure. Beaten by Real Madrid last week in the Supercopa semi-finals, a 3-2 defeat after extra time against Athletic on Thursday was another bitter pill for head coach Xavi and his players.

Add in the blow of losing substitute Ansu Fati to what Barcelona described as "a femoral biceps injury in his left thigh", and it was a calamitous night at San Mames for the visitors.

Barca are out of the LaLiga title reckoning, and Europa League play-off opponents Napoli will surely fancy their chances of taking the Blaugrana's scalp on this latest evidence.

The defeat in Bilbao, where home captain Iker Muniain capped an inspiring performance with two goals, means Barcelona have failed to reach at least the quarter-final stage of the Copa del Rey for the first time since 2009-10.

This is also the first season since 2003-04, when they were in the UEFA Cup, that Barcelona have not featured in the Champions League knockout rounds. A group-stage exit saw to that.

Barcelona got what they deserved in Bilbao. The expected goals (xG) calculation, based on each team's chances, showed the gulf between these sides was wider than the final scoreline.

Athletic had an xG of 3.33, while Barcelona's was a miniscule 0.36. The home side had 19 shots to just seven by Xavi's team, and the 66.7 per cent of possession that Barcelona enjoyed was mostly lacking in end product.

Success has flooded into the Catalan giants in recent years, and Barcelona beat Athletic 4-0 in the Copa final only last April. Lionel Messi scored twice in that game, and Antoine Griezmann also netted. Both have now long since departed.

"In summary, I think Athletic's intensity surpassed ours," said Xavi. "In duels, in second balls. They lived each ball as if it were their last."

Athletic led through Muniain and Inigo Martinez, but Ferran Torres, with his first Barcelona goal, and Pedri, deep into stoppage time, replied for Barcelona.

A handball by Jordi Alba was punished by Muniain from the penalty spot near the end of the first half of extra time, and this time Athletic did not relinquish their lead.

"With Pedri's goal it seemed like it was our moment," Xavi said, speaking at a post-match news conference.

Muniain's penalty told the coach different, however.

"It seems that when things are heads or tails, we always get tails. We have to change the dynamic," Xavi added.

 

He was not minded to contest the penalty decision after the final whistle. Alba was struck on the arm by Nico Williams' cross, and with VAR guidance it was an obvious spot-kick.

Former Al Sadd boss Xavi, who took over the Barcelona top job in November, said his team would "fight" for their remaining objectives.

It remains to be seen when Fati is seen again in action. He looked distressed, tearful, on leaving the pitch barely half an hour after entering the action. That setback compounded the misery of a regrettable evening.

Speaking to Barca TV, Xavi said: "We need to continue believing in this project, continue in LaLiga and continue in the Europa League. This is the way, continue to keep going and working hard."

Brooklyn Nets' All-Star Kyrie Irving has been fined $25,000 by the NBA for directing obscene language toward a fan.

The NBA announced the fine on Thursday with the incident occurring in the second quarter of Monday's 114-107 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Irving responded with obscene language to a fan who could be heard heckling the 29-year-old former Cavaliers point guard. He said: “Got y’all a championship and m***********s still ungrateful.”

Nets teammate Kevin Durant along with New York Knicks' Julius Randle have also been fined for obscene language this season as the NBA attempts to crack down on the use of profanity.

Irving was making his fifth appearance in the NBA this season, due to his vaccination status which meant he could not play home games in New York City, with the Nets not wanting him on a part-time basis. The Nets reversed that decision last month, allowing him to play in road games.

Irving has averaged 22.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 5.4 assists since his return this season.

Brooklyn Nets assistant coach David Vanterpool has been fined $10,000 and the franchise penalised $25,000 after bizarrely interfering with play in Wednesday's 119-118 win over the Washington Wizards.

The incident, which occurred with the Nets leading 109-103 with 5:42 remaining on the clock in the fourth quarter, went unnoticed at the time by officials but led to a turnover of opposition by the Wizards.

Referee Ben Taylor said none of the officials saw the deflection, as Vanterpool raised his hand and touched a pass for Kyle Kuzma.

Kuzma along with Spencer Dinwiddie, who passed the ball, both demonstratively protested the lack of a decision after Vanterpool interfered with the live play.

"You asked me if he may have touched it, there is no may have, he did," Wizards acting head coach Joseph Blair told reporters after Wednesday's game.

"My reaction was utter disbelief. I've never seen in my very long time in basketball something happen like that that the referees didn't see."

Brooklyn Nets All-Star Kyrie Irving has been fined $25,000 by the NBA for directing obscene language toward a fan.

The NBA announced the fine on Thursday with the incident occurring in the second quarter of Monday's 114-107 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Irving responded with obscene language to a fan who could be heard heckling the 29-year-old former Cavaliers point guard. He said: “Got y’all a championship and m***********s still ungrateful.”

Nets teammate Kevin Durant along with New York Knicks' Julius Randle have also been fined for obscene language this season as the NBA attempts to crack down on the use of profanity.

Irving was making his fifth appearance in the NBA this season, due to his vaccination status which meant he could not play home games in New York City, with the Nets not wanting him on a part-time basis. The Nets reversed that decision last month, allowing him to play in road games.

Irving has averaged 22.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 5.4 assists since his return this season.

Professional sports are usually cyclical with teams rising and falling at one point or another. Some franchises, however, seem to be stuck in a never-ending loop of nothingness.

That is where the Sacramento Kings have resided for far too long. 

The Kings own the NBA's longest active playoff drought at 15 seasons with the next closest team (Charlotte Hornets) at just five years. At 18-29 and 11th in the Western Conference, it doesn't appear likely that Sacramento will end that run of futility this year with the 16-season drought becoming the longest in NBA history. The Clippers went 15 seasons without a playoff appearance from 1977-1992.

Those Clippers at least had a winning season during their dearth of postseason basketball, going 43-39 in 1978-79. The Kings' best record in their sad stretch was 39-43 in 2018-19. Sacramento's last winning season came in 2005-06 (44-38), at the end of a streak of eight consecutive playoff appearances that included the league's best record in 2001-02 (61-21). 

That success must seem like a century ago to the Kings' beaten-down fanbase.

The Kings have been something of a vagabond franchise throughout their history, starting as the Rochester Royals in 1948 and winning their only championship two seasons later. 

The team moved to Cincinnati in 1957-58 and then was shifted to Kansas City-Omaha in 1972, when they were renamed the Kings. Finally, they became the fourth NBA team in the state of California with the move to Sacramento in 1985. 

Over the last five seasons, including the current one, the Kings rank 24th in winning percentage (.411). Trailing them are Cleveland, Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, New York and Orlando, all teams that have experienced the playoffs in that span except for the Eastern Conference-leading Bulls who are headed there this season. 

That Sacramento have only been moderately awful lately is one of the franchise's biggest problems. While other teams have bottomed out and rebuilt (Cavaliers, Hawks and Bulls), the Kings have wallowed near the bottom without much of a plan to lead them back to their long-forgotten glory days.

There is a myriad of reasons why the Kings have been unable to reach the playoffs since George Walker Bush was in the White House, but chief among them is an 11-man coaching carousel.

David Joerger (2016-17-2018-19) coached the most games in that span (246) and had the most wins (98), recently fired Luke Walton had the best winning percentage (.422) and Kenny Natt had the worst (.190).

Walton was fired on November 21, 2021, after a 6-11 start and a 68-93 record, and replaced on an interim basis by Alvin Gentry. That move hasn't provided much of a spark with Sacramento going 12-18 under Gentry.

While coaching, of course, plays a major role in any team's fortunes, players are truly what defines a franchise. Because impact free agents aren't flocking to Sacramento the way they do to Los Angeles or Miami, the Kings must hit on their draft picks, and they simply have had too many misses. 

It can be unfair to look at a specific team's drafts and pick apart what they should or shouldn't have done in hindsight, but in Sacramento's case, the misses have contributed to a lack of stars and therefore success.

The most egregious mistake came in 2018, when the Kings picked Marvin Bagley III second right before Dallas selected Luka Doncic and three picks before Trae Young went to Atlanta. While Bagley is a decent player, he's never averaged more than 14.9 points and is down to 9.4 this season as a part-time starter.

Doncic, meanwhile, was a star right from the jump and has ascended into one of the greatest players of his generation, while Young's career has followed a similar path. 

 

Other big blunders were taking Thomas Robinson fifth overall in 2012, one spot ahead of Damian Lillard, choosing Nick Stauskas eighth in 2014 instead of Zach LaVine, who went 14th to Minnesota, and picking Willie Cauley-Stein sixth the following year while Devin Booker lasted until pick number 13. 

Scoring points hasn't been a big problem for the Kings over the years, ranking 10th in points per game (103.5) since 2006-07. The opposite end of the court is where they have failed. During that span, Sacramento is last in defensive scoring (107.6), 29th in opponent field-goal percentage (47.0) and 29th in opponent three-point percentage (36.5).

Even more so than the defensive failures, the Kings have lacked an identity for what seems like forever. It's impossible to say what exactly is Kings basketball and what is it supposed to look like. The lack of star power, draft misses and a never-ending run of coaches has largely been responsible for that.

The franchise's best player over the past decade and a half was DeMarcus Cousins, selected fifth overall in 2010. Cousins wasn't only the Kings' best player for several years but was among the league's elite for a while, particularly from 2014-17 before he was traded to the New Orleans Pelicans in July 2017.

From 2014-2017, over a 196-game span, Cousins ranked fifth in the NBA in both scoring (26.1) and rebounding (11.7) while also adding 3.9 assists and 1.47 blocks with five triple-doubles. He was named to the All-NBA Second Team in consecutive seasons (2014-15, 2015-16) and was an All-Star in three straight years. 

Cousins, though, had several incidents with the Kings, including being suspended from the team for unprofessional behaviour and conduct detrimental to the team in 2012. By 2017, the relationship had run its course and he was traded to the Pelicans for three players and two draft picks. Buddy Hield remains from that deal and the 2017 first-round pick turned into Zach Collins, who was dealt to Portland. 

The best player on the current Kings is De'Aaron Fox, who is in his fifth season with the team after he was drafted five picks before Collins. 

Fox had a breakout campaign in 2020-21 with 25.2 points and 7.2 assists but has dropped off to 21.0 points and 5.2 assists this season while his three-point percentage is down to a career-worst 24.8.

Fox has a world of talent but has been plagued by inconsistency, and his disappointing play surely played a role in Walton's firing. The idea of trading him for a package of picks and players can't be completely dismissed anymore.

Trading Fox would signal that the Kings are ready to do a complete rebuild, and if that was the case, why not also deal Bagley, Harrison Barnes and others?

Second-year point guard Tyrese Haliburton has a very bright future and rookie guard Davion Mitchell has elite defensive skills, but neither is ready to lead a team without ample veteran help. Hield is a terrific shooter but doesn’t offer a whole lot more so likely has more value on a contending team. 

The Kings are at a crossroads right now because they aren't competing for championships anytime soon and even making the playoffs soon seems unlikely. It could be time for a total rebuild similar to what Detroit and Houston are doing now, but that could be a hard sell for a fanbase that hasn't seen a playoff game in forever. 

With the franchise teetering on the edge of basketball irrelevance, the worst thing the Kings could do now is nothing. Continuing down the same path would be foolish, and general manager Monte McNair, who has only held the position since September 2020, needs to go in a discernible direction to end the perennial losing.

Holders Barcelona were dumped out of the Copa del Rey and saw another trophy slip away as Xavi's team lost 3-2 after extra time at Athletic Bilbao.

Home captain Iker Muniain hit the first and last goals of the night, opening the scoring with a delicious strike. Ferran Torres responded against the run of play before half-time with his first goal for Barcelona. Inigo Martínez then scrambled what looked like a late winner, only for Pedri to strike in the third minute of stoppage time.

Muniain restored Athletic's lead with a penalty at the end of the first half of extra time, and this time there was no way back for Barcelona, who lost substitute Ansu Fati to an apparent injury.

Barcelona drubbed Athletic 4-0 in last year's final, with Lionel Messi getting two goals, Antoine Griezmann one and Frenkie de Jong also on target. That made this sweet revenge, and Athletic richly deserved the win.

Muniain gave Athletic a second-minute lead, collecting the loose ball after Nico Williams crossed low from the right. From a deep position beyond the far post, Muniain took two sharp touches to set himself and curled a sumptuous strike over Marc-Andre ter Stegen and into the far corner.

Torres replied from a similar spot and with a comparable finish in the 20th minute, stepping inside Oscar De Marcos and whipping a shot beyond Julen Agirrezabala.

Yet Barcelona were ripe for being picked off at the back and kept allowing chances, Muniain and Nico Williams going close before the break.

The visitors were stronger for the introduction of De Jong and Fati just after the hour, yet they looked doomed when Athletic's second goal arrived in the 86th minute, scrambled in from close range by Martinez after Alex Berenguer's header was only half-blocked by Ter Stegen.

Pedri dramatically made it 2-2 with a thumping strike from 15 yards, but Barca then lost Fati to injury early in extra time, and they conceded a penalty when Nico Williams' cross struck Jordi Alba on the arm from close range. Muniain blasted past Ter Stegen, Barcelona complained to no avail, and it is Athletic who go into Friday's quarter-final draw.

Carlo Ancelotti acknowledged Eden Hazard and Isco might have been frustrated by their restricted roles for Real Madrid but now hopes to rely on both moving forward. 

Hazard and Isco have started just 10 Madrid games between them in all competitions this season and were again on the bench for Thursday's Copa del Rey clash at Elche. 

Isco was introduced late in normal time with the game goalless, before Hazard came on as the tie headed into extra time. 

The pair did not have an immediate impact, as Marcelo was sent off and Gonzalo Verdu netted a deflected opener for Elche, but ultimately turned the match on its head. 

Isco touched in an equaliser before Hazard's first goal of the season sent Madrid through. 

A report last week claimed Madrid had accepted a bid from Newcastle United for Hazard, but it added the player rejected the move. He has now had two goal involvements in as many appearances – as many as in his previous 17. 

A delighted Ancelotti appears convinced, saying of the winger and Isco: "I knew that changes could give a boost to the team and they have given it. 

 

"[Hazard] and Isco have won the match. It has a meaning. It may be that they deserve to play more, but the past is the past and you have to look forward. 

"I know that I can count on them and on a squad that has everything, an extraordinary character and that fights against adversity and never gives up. 

"I'm very happy. I think it's the game that's given me the most happiness." 

Both men might expect to feature again in the quarter-finals of the Copa in a fortnight, when Madrid will be without a host of South American stars due to a short international break outside of a FIFA window. 

"Let's see if those who make the calendars wake up. It's nonsense," Ancelotti said of the issue. "It is inevitable, but it has to be changed. We have to make them fairer for everyone." 

Madrid are playing in the last eight for the fifth time in six seasons, although they have not won the trophy since 2013-14. Only twice this century have the Blancos lifted the Copa. 

Diogo Jota was "on fire" against Arsenal and Jurgen Klopp took it as evidence he has become a "world-class" attacker at Liverpool. 

Liverpool spent £41million to sign Jota from Wolves in September 2020 and he has provided stiff competition for Roberto Firmino. 

The Portugal international took his tally for the Reds to 27 in 57 appearances with a double in the EFL Cup semi-final second leg against the Gunners on Thursday, clinching a 2-0 aggregate win that set up a meeting with Chelsea at Wembley in February. 

Despite only playing two games for Liverpool at Emirates Stadium he is already the club's top scorer at the ground with four goals, while he has five in his past four appearances against Arsenal in all competitions. 

Jota stepped up to play a decisive role with Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah away on international duty at the Africa Cup of Nations, but it came as no surprise for Klopp. 

"The mood in the dressing room is that we are over the moon. It was a difficult game, difficult time in general … but what the boys did tonight against this really strong Arsenal side was absolutely exceptional," Klopp told Sky Sports. 

"First half, Arsenal were pretty lively, then we calmed it down, played good football and created not plenty but quality efforts were not so easy. The second half was pretty similar. 

"We scored two wonderful goals, I have to say. Wow, Diogo Jota on fire. But the passes were – on the first goal it was super play and the second one, I don't think a lot of people in the stadium saw Diogo in that position but Trent saw it, which was helpful. Then he finished it off. Absolutely outstanding. 

"We were completely convinced when he arrived at the club that he would help us massively. Nowadays you can watch 100 games if you want [before signing a player], so we were really comfortable. 

"Since he is here, he has made another step. It's helpful. He has just turned into a really world-class striker." 

Arsenal hit the bar through Alexandre Lacazette in the opening period and the France international missed a great chance to work Caoimhin Kelleher early in the second half. 

The Gunners' were left with a bitter taste when Thomas Partey picked up two bookings in three minutes after returning from AFCON duty earlier in the day.

Arsenal have had a player sent off in three of their past four games – none of which have ended in victory – and have received a total of 14 red cards in all competitions since Mikel Arteta took over in December 2019. No other Premier League side has received more than eight.

"We are really disappointed but we played against a top side. We had big moments in both halves and we have to score," said Arteta. 

"We had chances and were pushing for the game but we have to convert if we were to beat a team like Liverpool. 

"I have no regrets [about sending Partey on]. I cannot use him now, so it is what it is. He made the effort to come ... we had to make a decision and we decided to use him and unfortunately that happened.

"We have played the last three games with 10 men and at this level it is extremely difficult to win like that. I am proud of the boys and how committed they were without any training sessions." 

Diogo Jota fired Liverpool into the EFL Cup final with his double securing a 2-0 victory over Arsenal, who finished the semi-final second leg with 10 men.

Liverpool will take on Chelsea at Wembley in their 13th EFL Cup final, though it will be their first appearance in the showpiece since 2016. 

Jota squeezed in the opening goal in the 19th minute, bringing an end to a bright Arsenal start that saw Alexandre Lacazette hit the crossbar. 

Liverpool had the tie wrapped up when VAR overturned an offside decision after Jota lifted in his second, with the Gunners' frustrations compounded by a 90th-minute dismissal for Thomas Partey.

Arsenal went close to taking the lead when Lacazette's free-kick was tipped onto the bar by Caoimhin Kelleher during an impressive opening quarter of an hour for the hosts. 

However, Joel Matip had a goal ruled out for offside before a sweeping Liverpool attack ended with Jota scuffing an effort beyond Aaron Ramsdale from 18 yards against the run of play. 

Lacazette spurned a great chance from Albert Sambi Lokonga's excellent pass four minutes after the restart. 

Kaide Gordon wasted an opportunity to punish him when he blazed over and Konate – who replaced Matip at half-time – crashed a powerful header into the foot of the upright before the hour mark. 

Arsenal controlled possession in the closing stages but Jota put the game to bed in the 77th minute, with the VAR deeming he had been played onside from Trent Alexander-Arnold's excellent pass by Gabriel Magalhaes.

Partey only arrived back from Africa Cup of Nations duty with Ghana on Thursday and picked up two yellow cards in three minutes to cap a disappointing day for the Gunners.

What does it mean? Liverpool too good for Gunners 

Arsenal had their moments and played well, but Liverpool were just too solid for them and they failed to register against Jurgen Klopp's side in the fifth straight meeting of the teams in all competitions. 

The Gunners have now won just one of their past 18 matches against the Reds, with this representing their first home EFL Cup loss to the Merseyside side. 

Chelsea await in the final, where Liverpool will hope to become the first team to win the competition nine times. 

Diogo goal crazy 

Jota now has five goals in his past four games against Arsenal in all competitions – four of them have been at the Emirates as a Liverpool player, making him the club's leading goalscorer at the stadium.

Gordon makes history 

Gordon was named in the starting line-up and became the first Liverpool player aged 17 or younger to feature in the semi-final or final of a major competition. He was not heavily involved and missed a great chance to mark the occasion with a goal early in the second half. 

What's next? 

Arsenal entertain Burnley in the Premier League on Sunday, when Liverpool are back in London to take on Crystal Palace. 

Mali took top spot in Group F at the Africa Cup of Nations after coasting to a 2-0 win over Mauritania in their final pool fixture.

The Eagles needed simply to better Gambia's result to lead the standings and did so as their rivals won only 1-0 against Tunisia.

Mali were already through regardless, though, and so there was little jeopardy even before Massadio Haidara's second-minute opener – the earliest strike at the tournament so far.

The Lens left-back scored a scruffy first international goal when Moussa Doumbia touched a right-wing cross into his path.

Mauritania never truly looked like responding, although Ibrahima Kone's penalty was ultimately required to pip Gambia, the forward thrashing in after a clumsy foul on Doumbia early in the second half.

A superb 93rd minute strike from Ablie Jallow gave Gambia a dramatic 1-0 win against Tunisia, though both teams had already been guaranteed a place in the last 16 of the Africa Cup of Nations regardless.

Gambia ended the game being leapfrogged for top spot in Group F by Mali on goal difference, who beat Mauritania 2-0, and they will play Guinea in the round of 16, while third placed Tunisia will face Nigeria.

A relatively uneventful game in the main saw plenty of chances but few of note, with Tunisia's Ali Abdi going closest in the early stages as he cut inside from the left and saw his deflected shot fly just wide of the near post.

Ellyes Skhiri fired wide of the far stick with a well-hit effort on 41 minutes but shortly after Tunisia had a penalty when Seifeddine Jaziri was tripped by Pa Modou. Tunisia had missed their first two spot kicks of this tournament, which became three when Jaziri saw his penalty saved well down to his right by Baboucarr Gaye.

When the half-time whistle came, ill-tempered reactions by both teams as they headed off the pitch led to referee Fernando Guerrero Ramirez producing a red card to Tunisia's substitute goalkeeper Farouk Ben Mustapha.

Gambia showed a bit more intent in the second half with Jallow firing wide before Musa Barrow hit the woodwork with a fierce free-kick, but it took until the closing seconds of stoppage time for the deadlock to be broken as Jallow took down a cross from the left and fired the ball hard and high past Bechir Ben Said to win it for the Scorpions.

Eden Hazard was Real Madrid's unlikely Copa del Rey matchwinner as the 10-man LaLiga leaders rallied to a 2-1 win at Elche in extra time.

Madrid have lifted the Copa only twice this century and looked highly unlikely to improve that record when Marcelo was sent off and Gonzalo Verdu capitalised from the subsequent free-kick in the 103rd minute.

Carlo Ancelotti's men had been awful to that point but staged a stunning recovery courtesy of goals from two substitutes.

Isco levelled with 12 minutes to play, teeing up Hazard – much maligned at the Santiago Bernabeu – to race away and net a decisive second, stunning poor Elche, who were contentiously denied their own equaliser and then had Pere Milla dismissed.

Ousmane Dembele has reacted with fury after Barcelona director of football Mateu Alemany ordered the winger to find a new club "immediately".

French winger Dembele has struggled at Camp Nou since joining from Borussia Dortmund in 2017 for an initial €105million.

A string of injury setbacks have hampered his progress, although Barca head coach Xavi recently claimed Dembele could become the "best in the world" in his position.

Dembele's contract runs until the end of the season, meaning this month's transfer window could be the last opportunity for the club to get back any money on their investment.

Barcelona do not want to lose such an expensive signing on a free transfer, and to that end they have been looking to extend his deal, but Alemany said all offers to Dembele "have been continuously rejected by his agents".

Alemany added, speaking to Barca TV on Thursday: "It seems obvious that the player does not want to continue at Barcelona and is not committed to our future project."

This has incensed Dembele, with Alemany going on to say: "We told him and his agents that he must leave the club immediately because we want to have players committed to the project. We expect a transfer to take place before January 31."

Dembele has been linked with clubs including Liverpool, Paris Saint-Germain and Newcastle.

Responding to Barcelona's stance, Dembele issued a long statement on Instagram, saying he would not be "giving in to any blackmail".

The 24-year-old said he had put up with four years of reading lies about himself, declaring that claims had been made "with the sole purpose of harming me". He said it had been a mistake that he had not spoken out sooner.

"From today, I will answer with sincerity and without giving in to any blackmail," Dembele wrote. "I am 24 years old and like any man, I have faults, imperfections. I have known complex moments, injuries, I have been affected by COVID. Without any training, the coach called on me and I always answered present... without batting an eyelid.

"I appreciate the chance to do the best job in the world. Furthermore, my message is clear. I forbid anyone to pretend that I am not involved in the sports project. I forbid anyone to attribute to me intentions that I never had. I forbid anyone to speak in my place, [or] in place of my agent in whom I have complete confidence.

"Still under contract, I am fully concerned and at the disposal of my club, my coach. I have always given my all for my team-mates as well as for all the supporters... and this won't stop now."

Xavi has also told Dembele to sign or be sold, and the player who was acquired after the big-money departure of Neymar to Paris Saint-Germain may have kicked his last ball for Barcelona. He was left out of the squad for Thursday's Copa del Rey last-16 tie with Athletic Bilbao.

Former Barcelona forward Antoine Griezmann responded with fire and heart emojis to Dembele's passionate statement.

"I am not a man who cheats and even less a man who has a habit of giving in to blackmail," Dembele added.

"As you know, there are negotiations. I let my agent take care of this, it is his field. My field is football, simply playing football, sharing moments of joy with my team-mates, with our supporters. Above all, let's focus on the essentials: WINNING."

Lonzo Ball will be out for up to eight weeks after he undergoes knee surgery this week, the Chicago Bulls announced on Thursday. 

After sitting out the past three games, the decision has been made for Ball to have arthroscopic surgery on his left knee – reportedly to repair a torn meniscus. 

A statement from the Bulls read: "Following an initial period of rest and targeted intervention, Bulls guard Lonzo Ball will undergo arthroscopic surgery on his left knee and is expected to return in 6-8 weeks." 

Ball is averaging 13 points, 5.1 assists and 5.4 rebounds for the Eastern Conference-leading Bulls this season. 

Chicago were 6-2 in the eight games Ball has missed this campaign, all of which have come since Boxing Day. 

The Bulls ended a four-game losing streak against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday and take on the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday. 

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