Gerard Pique told Barcelona to remain undistracted ahead of facing Napoli amid the social media controversy at the club.

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

But Pique is keen to ensure his team are focused ahead of the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie in Naples.

"We just try to be focused on our task as for this club in the last few years it has been massive what happens on the pitch," he told a news conference.

"Just the results have been holding back the entire club, so we know how important it is [to get results].

"The responsibility we have as Barcelona players to try to keep winning on the pitch. If not, there will be troubled water."

Despite the off-field controversy, Barca are two points clear atop LaLiga and go into their tie with Napoli as favourites.

But Pique warned his team the Serie A giants would lift for the last-16 tie.

"It is the first time Barca comes to Napoli to play at such a historic stadium. A football player always want to live new experiences, so coming here is one of them," he said.

"Regarding Napoli, they have improved a lot lately. They did not start well this season but have improved a lot lately. It will be a very difficult one.

"They have beaten Juventus and they beat Liverpool at the group stage. They raise their level against the big teams, so we will have to be very concentrated in order not to get badly surprised."

Quique Setien insists Barcelona have not spent much time talking about their Champions League exits at the hands of Liverpool and Roma ahead of their latest attempt to navigate the knockout stage.

Barca are in Italy ahead of facing Napoli in the first leg of their last-16 tie on Tuesday.

The clash comes after they infamously lost a three-goal first-leg lead in last season's semi-finals at Anfield, a year on from an away quarter-final collapse at the Stadio Olimpico.

While they fell to a Copa del Rey defeat against Athletic Bilbao this month, four straight LaLiga wins have Barca two points clear of Real Madrid at the top of the table, a run head coach Setien believes has his team battle-hardened.

A first Champions League success since 2015 is perhaps the most alluring prize still available for Barca and Setien, who is preparing to take charge of his first match in the competition.

"The reality is that very little has been said about what has happened, although surely everyone has it in mind," Setien said at his pre-match news conference when asked about Barca's recent European exits.

"Perhaps it is not comparable. Now we are carrying a very good dynamic and the morale is very positive. The team is in a good moment, like Napoli are.

"We have had tremendously hard matches in the league and lived through them, so I think the team is fine. 

"I trust we will continue in this dynamic, can maintain the level we have been giving and can keep it going for a long time."

Setien has told his players to expect Napoli to rise to the occasion under Gennaro Gattuso.

"It's a game that I think will be exciting – I hope that it goes down in history because we have played well and shown personality," added Setien.

"I always tell the players that we have to expect the best version of our opposition. Every team needs to give their all and this match will be no different. 

"I know what Napoli are capable of doing. In the group stage, they did very well up against some top-class sides. I'm sure they will produce an extraordinary performance.

"It's my first game in the Champions League game and that is a special motivation for me. 

"It's very exciting to start this stage of the Champions League in a stadium like Stadio San Paolo, full of passion, full of history." 

Gennaro Gattuso says Napoli will not have a cage to try and stop Lionel Messi when his side face Barcelona in the Champions League, as he urged his players to show no fear.

Napoli go into the last-16 tie, which starts with a home first leg on Tuesday, as clear underdogs to progress.

But Gattuso wants his team to show belief and, amid reports his players would try to isolate Messi from the rest of his team-mates with a unique man-marking strategy, insists there is only so much you can do to stop Barca's talisman.

"You need to stand up to Barcelona," head coach Gattuso said at his pre-match news conference.

"I want to see a lively team that plays without worry and with joy until the end. I want a Napoli side that are not afraid. 

"We haven't played great at the San Paolo in recent weeks, except against Juventus, so I want to see a team that knows how to battle. It is fair to have respect for the opponent, but not fear.

"I read that I would prepare a cage to stop Messi. It is not so, we need the collective to play the game and remember that there is not only Messi on the field.

"Lorenzo Insigne said that Messi is a great player. He does things that I see only those who play the Play Station do, he has incredible quality.

"And he's not only great at a footballing level. He is the greatest for how he has conducted his career. He's an example for kids to follow. He never says anything inappropriate.

"You can't stop Messi, but in these moments my players have to try. We are playing against Barcelona, it is not only Messi.

"It doesn't make sense to have a player man mark Messi but we will try some things in training and then we will see."

Referring to Napoli icon Diego Maradona, Gattuso added: "He was the god of football, I saw him in many videotapes, but never live.

"I know, however, the champion that Diego was, certainly one of the biggest in the world. 

"Right now, Messi is the one who comes closest and does some of the things he did. I'm sorry I didn't see him live, I missed something wonderful. 

"Barca have some important players missing, but Quique Setien is a great coach and with him they have returned to many of the things they did in the past. They win the ball back so quickly. We know it will take a great performance to win.

"Can Napoli win the Champions League? Never say never. I thank the team and Carlo Ancelotti for their work as I haven't done anything to get here, but now I am excited."

Erling Haaland has taken the world by storm since joining Borussia Dortmund in January.

Already stunning Europe with his exploits for Salzburg, Haaland has scored 12 goals in eight appearances as a Dortmund player.

Now, Real Madrid could be about to come sniffing in their pursuit of goals.

 

TOP STORY – HAALAND AN OPTION FOR MADRID

Borussia Dortmund sensation Haaland could be a cheaper alternative for Real Madrid instead of Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe, writes Marca.

Mbappe has long been linked with a move to Madrid, where Zinedine Zidane is a keen admirer of his fellow Frenchman.

However, 19-year-old Dortmund recruit Haaland – whose €75million release clause is set to kick in next year – has emerged as an option for Madrid, with PSG set to demand a mammoth fee for Mbappe.

 

ROUND-UP

- Reports linking Inter star Lautaro Martinez to Barcelona are gathering steam and Calciomercato says the LaLiga champions want to start negotiations by May. Madrid and Manchester United are also reportedly interested.

- Staying at Camp Nou and Barca are keen on signing Valencia centre-back Hugo Guillamon, according to Sport. The 20-year-old will be available on a free transfer at season's end.

Bayern Munich are interested in RB Leipzig defender Dayot Upamecano but Kicker claims the Bundesliga champions believe he is too expensive at €60m. Upamecano has been linked to Arsenal, Tottenham, Barca and Madrid.

- Remaining in Munich and Kicker also says Bayern are unconvinced by the €100m price tag of Bayer Leverkusen midfielder Kai Havertz, whose admirers include the likes of Liverpool and United.

Sergi Roberto will miss Barcelona's Champions League tie with Napoli and the Clasico against Real Madrid after injuring one of the adductor muscles in his right thigh.

The Spain international was an unused substitute as Barca thrashed Eibar 5-0 on Saturday but Roberto, who can play at right-back or in the centre of midfield, is not part of the squad for the last-16 first-leg fixture in Naples.

Barca confirmed Roberto will miss around three to four weeks of action via a statement on their official website, which means he will also miss a vital top-of-the-table clash at Real Madrid next weekend.

One of the quirkier additions on Barca's squad list for Napoli - albeit his name was accompanied by an asterisk - was Martin Braithwaite, who cannot play in the Champions League as he is not registered.

Denmark forward Braithwaite signed in a controversial deal from Leganes this week after Barca were granted permission to make an emergency transfer outside of the window.

Barca's victory over Eibar and Madrid's defeat at Levante on Saturday means Quique Setien's men sit top of LaLiga by two points. However, Roberto's injury is the latest to have limited Setien's options for upcoming fixture.

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.

Eden Hazard's availability for Real Madrid's crunch fixtures against Manchester City and Barcelona appears in doubt after Zinedine Zidane admitted his latest injury "doesn't look good".

The Belgium forward hobbled off in the second half of the 1-0 loss to Levante on Saturday and he could be seen on the bench receiving treatment on his lower right leg.

Hazard only recently returned from a fractured right ankle so the sight of him appearing to have another problem in the same area was alarming for Zidane.

Madrid face Pep Guardiola's City in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie on Wednesday before a Clasico date with new LaLiga leaders Barcelona next weekend.

"It doesn't look good," Zidane told reporters at a news conference.

"It can become weak where you've had an injury. It is a blow, let's see.

"It's sore now but we'll see tomorrow when we do more tests."

It was a thoroughly miserable outing for Madrid as they suffered a surprise defeat thanks to Jose Luis Morales' stunning late effort.

Madrid drew 2-2 with Celta Vigo at home in their previous outing and they will host Barcelona next Sunday knowing they are now two points behind their great rivals in the title race.

Captain Sergio Ramos revealed the level of frustration he was feeling in a social media post.

"We're p***ed off," he wrote on Twitter.

"But we can't allow our heads to drop.

"We have to reset now and tomorrow push harder than ever before for a very important week. We're counting on you."

Eden Hazard hobbled off during Real Madrid's LaLiga game at Levante on Saturday - giving Zinedine Zidane a major injury concern ahead of a crucial week for the club.

The Belgium international, who has only recently returned from a fractured ankle, was clearly in pain as he was replaced by Vinicius Junior in the 67th minute with the score at 0-0.

Hazard could be seen sitting on the visitors' bench receiving treatment to his lower right leg, with Zidane now waiting to discover the full extent of the problem ahead of two huge home fixtures.

Madrid, who went on to lose 1-0 to Levante, host Manchester City on Wednesday in the first leg of their last-16 Champions League tie, followed by the visit of title rivals Barcelona in league action next Sunday.

Hazard was making just his second outing since requiring surgery on his right ankle after he was hurt against Paris Saint-Germain on November 2.

His debut campaign in the Spanish capital got off to a delayed start following a thigh injury in pre-season, forcing him to wait until September 14 to make his debut following his arrival from Chelsea in June.

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.

Inter boss Antonio Conte is not concerned about Lautaro Martinez's head being turned after the striker was lauded by Barcelona star Lionel Messi.

Martinez has been strongly linked with a move to Camp Nou as a long-term replacement for Luis Suarez and was this week hailed as "spectacular" by compatriot Messi.

The 22-year-old reportedly has a €111m release clause in his contract and has also been touted as a possible target for Manchester United, Manchester City and Real Madrid.

Despite the growing interest in Martinez, however, Conte is confident the Argentina international is only focused on helping Inter.

"The boy is fully concentrated," Conte said at a news conference on Saturday. "He is doing well and must continue in this way. 

"He has grown a lot over the last year and is only 22. He is committed and I am happy to have him available."

Inter recovered from back-to-back defeats in the league and cup with a 2-0 win over Ludogorets in the first leg of their Europa League last-32 tie on Thursday.

Conte's men face a quick turnaround for Sunday's visit of Sampdoria in Serie A and the head coach is anticipating a difficult test against the relegation battlers.

"Playing on a Thursday makes things difficult as you only have one day to prepare for the next game," he said. "It is something we will get used to over time.

"Sampdoria are in good shape, despite losing last week. We will have to be very focused to get the three points.

"They have a highly experienced coach in Claudio Ranieri and experienced players like Fabio Quagliarella, who amazes me every year."

Conte will wait until Sunday before making a decision on whether to start Marcelo Brozovic, who has been struggling with a knock but took part in training on Saturday.

Brozovic's return could see Christian Eriksen used in an advanced midfield position behind Martinez and Romelu Lukaku, with Conte happy to try out different formations.

"It depends on the game and the opponent. You can try different things but don't forget you have to field a balanced team," he said. "We will see if this is the right time to do it."

Carles Perez has hit out at Barcelona for the manner of his exit and suggested his former club no longer have patience to bed in academy players.

The 22-year-old joined Roma on an initial loan deal in January that will be made permanent at the end of the season if various clauses are triggered.

And after marking his first start for his new side with the only goal in Thursday's 1-0 Europa League win over Gent, Perez admitted to being hurt by Barca's decision to cash in.

"Am I in pain? Mostly, because of the way it happened," he told Mundo Deportivo "I think they didn't behave well in the end, but I'm grateful to Barcelona.

"I'm a guy who has given everything for Barcelona since I was a kid. My dream was to make it to the first team; I achieved that and they took it away from me for no reason. 

"And especially with the performances I was having. They talk a lot about the academy and in the end, they show the opposite.

"Anyway, I don't view Barcelona in a bad light; I am grateful, but I don't like the way it was handled. Nothing else."

As well as offloading Perez to Roma, Barcelona also sent fellow academy product Abel Ruiz to Braga in a deal worth a reported €8million.

Those sales have been brought into focus following the emergency signing of Martin Braithwaite, which Perez claimed offers further evidence of Barca's priorities shifting.

"Sometimes you make good decisions and sometimes you don't," he said. "And now they have to make a life for themselves.

"I think about what Marc Cucurella previously said: at Barcelona, you always want to win but don't have the patience with academy products anymore."

Perez made 14 first-team appearances for Barcelona, including five LaLiga starts this term, and has not ruled out the possibility of returning to Camp Nou one day.

"I haven't thought about that since I left," he said. "Barcelona is the past and I am focused on Roma, although I don't know what will happen in the future."

Manchester City's Champions League ban could have some serious consequences.

While City are planning to appeal UEFA's two-season suspension from European competition after an investigation found the club broke financial fair play regulations, rivals are circling.

City's stars are reportedly attracting interest from far and wide.

 

TOP STORY – BARCA EYE BERNARDO SILVA

LaLiga champions Barcelona are targeting Manchester City star Bernardo Silva, according to the Transfer Window Podcast.

The report comes following City's Champions League suspension handed down to the Premier League giants by UEFA.

City team-mate Raheem Sterling has already been linked to Real Madrid.

 

ROUND-UP

- Marca says Madrid are ready to make a move for Rennes teenager Eduardo Camavinga. The 17-year-old has starred for the Ligue 1 outfit and is reportedly valued at €70million.

Paul Pogba has also been linked to Madrid but Goal claims he could be offered a new contract by Manchester United, who expect the Frenchman to leave at the end of the season. Former club Juventus are also reportedly tracking the midfielder.

Paris Saint-Germain are looking to either Juventus head coach Maurizio Sarri or Massimiliano Allegri amid uncertainty over the future of Thomas Tuchel, reports La Gazzetta dello Sport.

- Lille defender Gabriel is being monitored by Arsenal, Everton, PSG and now Leicester City, according to Le10 Sport.

- The Mirror says Arsenal are set to raise transfer funds through the sale of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and potentially Matteo Guendouzi as the Gunners eye Valencia's Carlos Soler and RB Leipzig defender Dayot Upamecano.

Pep Guardiola says any club would "tremble" if Real Madrid or Barcelona enquired about one of their star players, amid speculation linking Raheem Sterling with Los Blancos.

In an interview with Spanish publication AS on Friday, City forward Sterling spoke of his admiration for Madrid following rumours of a potential move to the Santiago Bernabeu.

The England international was also pictured holding up the shirts of both City and Madrid, who meet in the Champions League last 16 next week.

In a news conference ahead of City's Premier League clash with third-placed Leicester City, Guardiola insisted he has no doubt over Sterling's commitment.

However, he conceded all clubs have to worry should Madrid or their LaLiga rivals Barcelona come calling.

"All the clubs have to know that when Real Madrid or Barcelona knock on the door, the other clubs must tremble, they will be a little bit in trouble," Guardiola told reporters.

"Barcelona and Madrid are maybe the strongest and most powerful teams in terms of history and how good they are. That is normal and I understand completely.

"But on the same point, you just see the commitment from Raheem, every single day when he arrives. He's never injured.

"His commitment in every game, offensively and defensively, so he's one of the best players in the world and it's normal that big clubs see his desire for the team.

"I don't know if Madrid or Barcelona called his agent, [but] I don't have any doubts about the commitment Raheem and the other ones have had from the first day to the last day."

Guardiola himself has been linked with leaving City after the club was handed a two-year ban from the Champions League by UEFA for a breach of Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations.

With City in the process of lodging an appeal after denying UEFA's claims, Guardiola swiftly moved to dismiss reports of a potential exit and reiterated his commitment to City once more on Friday.

"My happiness. I'm looking for my happiness, that's the only thing I'm looking for," Guardiola said when asked if he would consider staying beyond the expiration of his current deal, which runs out at the end of next season.

"I'm working with exceptional players especially and I have the feeling that they follow us 100 per cent, knowing how it's not easy working with us and with me, but I'm happy.

"That is the only reason why, when I move on always it's because I am thinking I can be happier than the place that I was before. That is the only reason.

"We have got incredible owners and a good relationship, so I think it will not be a problem to understand both sides if we decide to stay three more years or stay in the time we are together."

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.

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