Leaders Milan stunned | Atleti go eight points clear

Serie A leaders Milan were stunned 2-0 by Spezia to give Inter the chance to leapfrog them, while Atletico Madrid went eight points clear in La Liga.

Having already beaten AS Roma in the Coppa Italia and Napoli in the league since the turn of the year, Spezia, making their Serie A debut this season, scored twice through Giulio Maggiore and Simone Bastoni, both in the second half, to seal a surprise success.

Milan never got going and finished the match without having had a shot on target, while being completely outplayed by their opponents.

Spezia players celebrate during the victory
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Spezia players celebrate during the victory

Spezia saw out the win with ease to move up to 14th in the standings on 24 points, with Milan facing the prospect of losing top spot to rivals Inter Milan, should Antonio Conte’s side beat Lazio on Sunday.

Lorenzo Insigne’s penalty earned Napoli a 1-0 win over Juventus. Veteran defender Giorgio Chiellini was penalised for a foul on Napoli’s Amir Rrahmani in the penalty area to concede a 31st-minute spot-kick, which Insigne converted to score what proved to be the winner and his 100th goal in all competitions for Napoli.

Lorenzo Insigne scored the decisive penalty for Napoli against Juventus
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Lorenzo Insigne scored the decisive penalty for Napoli against Juventus

Juventus looked a shadow of their normal selves offensively in the first half but improved after the break, with Federico Chiesa denied by a fine save from Napoli goalkeeper Alex Meret.

Cristiano Ronaldo was having an off day in front of goal, missing a glorious chance with his head late on to snatch a point, with Napoli seeing out the win to move into fourth on 40 points, two behind Juventus in third.

Torino drew a fifth successive match as they were held by fellow strugglers Genoa in a 0-0 draw.

Genoa defender Davide Zappacosta almost scored against his old club but his effort came off the post. Torino are now two points above the drop zone. Genoa are 10 points clear of danger after an impressive run since coach Davide Ballardini took charge in December.

La Liga – Atletico move eight points clear

Angel Correra secured a late win for La Liga leaders Atletico Madrid
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Angel Correra secured a late win for La Liga leaders Atletico Madrid

Atletico Madrid went eight points clear at the top of La Liga with victory at Granada. A heavily deflected strike from Angel Correa saw La Liga leaders Atletico Madrid snatch a 2-1 victory at Granada to get back to winning ways and move eight points clear at the top of the standings.

Marcos Llorente put Atletico in front in the 63rd minute with a low finish from the edge of the area.

But the visitors’ joy was short-lived as Venezuelan midfielder Yangel Herrera equalised for Granada three minutes later following a corner, his shot flying into the net after bouncing off Llorente’s trailing leg.

Atletico appeared on course to drop points for a second consecutive game after Monday’s 2-2 draw at home to Celta, which would have offered Real Madrid the chance to close the gap with them to three points if they beat Valencia on Sunday.

But Atletico regained the lead in the 75th when Argentinian forward Correa tried his luck inside the box and saw his desperate attempt bounce off the foot of Granada defender Jesus Vallejo and loop over ‘keeper Rui Silva into the net.

Munir El Haddadi (left) scored the winning goal for Sevilla
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Munir El Haddadi (left) scored the winning goal for Sevilla

Lionel Messi scored two scorching strikes as Barcelona hammered Alaves 5-1 to warm up for their upcoming Champions League clash with Paris St Germain in style.

Portuguese forward Francisco Trincao put Barca in front after a cut-back from 18-year-old debutant midfielder Ilaix Moriba and Messi thought he had doubled the lead later on when knocking in on the rebound but the goal was ruled out for a marginal offside against Antoine Griezmann.

Lionel Messi scored twice for Barcelona against Alaves
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Lionel Messi scored twice for Barcelona against Alaves

Messi then took matters into his own hands from outside the area and thumped the ball off the far post with such venom that it landed just inside the opposite post.

Alaves’s Luis Rioja pounced on a mistake by Ilaix to reduce the deficit in the second half but Barca came roaring back with a second strike from Trincao, another long-range missile from Messi, and then a fifth goal crafted by Messi and Griezmann and finished off by left-back Junior Firpo.

Barcelona players celebrate during the thumping win over Alaves
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Barcelona players celebrate during the thumping win over Alaves

Sevilla were made to suffer by basement club Huesca, but thanks to the heroics of goalkeeper Bono, they held on for a 1-0 home win, their ninth consecutive victory in all competitions.

Munir El Haddadi headed home a cross from Oliver Torres to break the deadlock for the hosts in the 57th minute but it took two outstanding saves from Bono to preserve their advantage.

The Moroccan first made a jaw-dropping save to keep out a header by Huesca forward Rafa Mir from point-blank range, while in the 89th minute he parried an effort from Sergio Gomez and then got up to prevent Mir netting on the rebound.

Elsewhere, Eibar and Real Valladolid drew 1-1 in a battle at the bottom of the table.

Bundesliga – Haaland rescues late draw for Dortmund

Erling Haaland scored for Dortmund, but there was controversy during the build-up
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Erling Haaland scored for Dortmund, but there was controversy during the build-up

Borussia Dortmund’s poor form continues after they were held by visiting Hoffenheim to a 2-2 draw.

Erling Haaland’s 16th goal of the season salvaged the draw for Dortmund, but will do little to address questions of defensive frailties and charges of complacency among the home team.

Dortmund have won only one of their last six league games and are dropping back in the race for the Champions League places. The gap is likely to grow with Eintracht Frankfurt, Wolfsburg and Borussia Monchengladbach all playing on Sunday.

Ihlas Bebou missed two good chances for Hoffenheim before Jadon Sancho beat the offside trap at the other end to open the scoring in the 24th minute.

Munas Dabbur equalised soon after. Stefan Posch then produced a last-ditch tackle to deny Jude Bellingham before Dabbur scored on the counter-attack.

Dortmund’s shaky defence always looked susceptible, so it was no surprise when Bebou scored Hoffenheim’s second goal after the break. Goalkeeper Marwin Hitz punched the ball away but only as far as Bebou, who headed home.

Hoffenheim drew 2-2 with Dortmund in the Bundesliga
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Hoffenheim drew 2-2 with Dortmund in the Bundesliga

Haaland had a goal ruled out for offside before he finally equalised in the 81st minute. There was some pushing and shoving afterwards as a Hoffenheim player was down injured when Haaland scored, but Bebou played on and Sebastian Rudy’s botched back pass gave Haaland his chance.

Every game in the Bundesliga was drawn on Saturday

After two defeats, Hertha Berlin drew 1-1 at Stuttgart for their first points in three games since Pal Drdai returned as coach.

Sasa Kalajdic scored just before the break after a first half to forget from Hertha. Sami Khedira came on against his former club and crossed for fellow substitute Luca Netz to score the equaliser in the 82nd minute. The 17-year-old defender became Hertha’s youngest goalscorer in the Bundesliga.

Mainz also scored two late goals at Bayer Leverkusen to draw 2-2, and Freiburg played out a goalless draw at Werder Bremen. Loris Karius making a late save in his first start for Union Berlin to preserve a 0-0 draw against Schalke.

Ligue 1 – PSG back top after win

Moise Kean was on target again for PSG
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Moise Kean was on target again for PSG

Paris Saint-Germain geared up for their Champions League trip to Barcelona with a 2-1 home win against Nice that sent them provisionally top of the Ligue 1 standings.

Moise Kean netted the winner after Rony Lopes’ 50th-minute goal had cancelled out Julian Draxler’s opener for PSG in the first half.

PSG were without three key players with Neymar and Angel Di Maria injured while Marco Verratti was nursing a knock he sustained in a 1-0 Coupe de France win at Caen on Wednesday.

The Italian was replaced by Draxler, who lived up to the task as he drove the ball home from close range after Mauro Icardi’s attempt had bounced off the post into his path in the 22nd minute.

Nice, however, stepped up a gear after the break and Lopes equalised with a powerful shot under the crossbar following a rare poor clearance by Marquinhos.

Kean then scored the winner in the 76th minute, heading home from point-blank range to give PSG all three points after Icardi had stretched in the air to deflect Kylian Mbappe’s cross. It was Kean’s 10th goal in 17 league games.

The French champions are on 54 points and lead Lille, who host Brest on Sunday, on goal difference with Lyon in third place on 52 points. The result left Nice in 13th place with 29 points.

Elsewhere, Reims and Lens played out a 1-1 draw.

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Neymar’s Barca return cancelled by thigh injury

Neymar is out of Paris Saint-Germain’s Champions League last-16 first leg against former club Barcelona.

The Brazil forward has been ruled out for four weeks with a thigh injury suffered in the French Cup win over Caen, ruling out his return to play in the Nou Camp on February 16.

He is also a doubt for the second leg on March 10 at the Parc des Princes in a major blow for Mauricio Pochettino, who is already without Angel Di Maria for the game in Spain next week.

PSG confirmed on Thursday: “Neymar Jr suffered an injury to the left adductor longus on Wednesday evening. Upon analysis of the clinical examination and imaging examinations, an unavailability of approximately four weeks is expected depending on the course.”

The last time the two clubs met in the Champions League last-16, Neymar scored twice for Barca in a 6-1 thrashing in the second leg, overturning PSG’s 4-0 first-leg advantage to progress in the 2016-17 competition.

Neymar, Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez
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Neymar formed part a formidable front-three at Barcelona alongside Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez

He then switched to PSG that summer, after Barca were knocked out in the quarter-finals by Juventus, in a then-world record £200m deal, reportedly against the advice of team-mates Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez.

Barcelona have been trying to bring Neymar back to the Nou Camp since, but a deal has not materialised and now Messi’s own Barcelona future is in doubt, with PSG wanting to sign him on a free transfer this summer.

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Kounde stunner gives Sevilla edge over Barca in semis

Jules Kounde’s wondergoal helped give Sevilla the advantage in their Copa del Rey semi-final with Barcelona as they won the first leg 2-0 on Wednesday night.

Ivan Rakitic got what could prove a vital second against his old club late on, but plaudits on the night belonged to the Frenchman Kounde.

The 22-year-old ran from his own half to fire Sevilla in front with 25 minutes gone, evading several challenges before burying a shot beyond Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

Barcelona piled on the pressure in the closing stages but could not find an equaliser before Rakitic finished off a counter-attack for Sevilla with five minutes left – offering Julen Lopetegui’s side something of a cushion going into the second leg at the Nou Camp on March 3.

Barca had started positively, with Lionel Messi forcing a save from Bono in the 11th minute after being teed up by Antoine Griezmann.

The Argentine sent another opportunity over in the 22nd minute, but it would be Sevilla’s young centre-back who would steal the show moments later.

Kounde was in his own half when he first picked up the ball, quickly exchanging passes with Suso as he began to edge forward, slowly at first but with ever more conviction as he skipped past challenges with space opening up in front of him.

Sevilla-Barcelona
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Barcelona will host Sevilla in the Copa del Rey second leg in March

He arrived in the box with only Ter Stegen to beat and made doing so look easy as he rifled the ball into the bottom left corner.

Barcelona sought an immediate response but Messi sent a free-kick straight at Bono.

Sevilla did an effective job at stifling their visitors for the remainder of the half, which ended with the hosts back on the attack as Sergio Escudero’s shot was saved by Ter Stegen.

Barca were back on the attack early in the second half, but Messi’s shot was blocked before Jordi Alba fired high and wide. Sevilla twice went close on the hour mark as Rakitic and Diego Carlos both saw shots blocked.

Luuk de Jong and Munir El Haddadi were part of a triple Sevilla substitution with 20 minutes to go as Lopetegui sought to build on Sevilla’s advantage, but it was Barca who turned up the heat.

Messi fired narrowly wide before Ousmane Dembele was twice denied and Junior Firpo saw a header blocked.

But with Barca pushing forward they left the door open at the back. A long ball forward found the run of Rakitic down the left, and the Croatian took it in his stride before cutting in and firing into the roof of the net.

Messi had one more chance in stoppage time but Bono was again equal to his shot as the night ended in frustration for the Catalans.

Coppa Italia – Napoli knocked out by Atalanta

Atalanta celebrate reaching the Coppa Italia final
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Atalanta celebrate reaching the Coppa Italia final

Matteo Pessina scored twice as Atalanta knocked holders Napoli out of the Coppa Italia with a 3-1 victory to set up a final against Juventus.

A goalless draw in the first leg of the semi-final left the tie on a knife edge, but the hosts raced into a commanding early lead as Duvan Zapata smashed in an unstoppable shot and Pessina swept home the second inside the opening 16 minutes.

Napoli came to life after the break and pulled one back through Hirving Lozano before Pessinas dinked finish 12 minutes from time left the visitors hopes of a successful cup defence in tatters.

Atalanta have won the Coppa Italia once in their history, in 1962-63, and finished as runners-up on three occasions, most recently in 2018-19. They will face Italian champions Juventus, who have won the cup a record 13 times, in the final.

Coupe de France – Holders PSG through, Neymar injured

Holders Paris Saint-Germain reached the last 32 of the Coupe de France with a 1-0 win at Ligue 2 side Caen, but Neymar suffered a possible thigh injury six days before their Champions League last 16 first-leg tie against Barcelona.

Moise Kean scored the only goal early in the second half before Neymar limped off the pitch just after the hour, raising concerns about his participation in the Nou Camp clash.

With Kylian Mbappe and Marquinhos on the bench, PSG struggled against a compact Caen side. Neymar found himself isolated and the French champions failed to create a clear chance in a dull opening half.

Yet the visitors sprung to life after the break as Kean netted from close range from Neymar’s cross at the end of a counter attack four minutes into the second half.

Neymar, however, went down after a robust challenge from Steeve Yago in the 56th minute, holding his left thigh as he left the field to be replaced by Mbappe. PSG will already be without the injured Angel Di Maria for the Barcelona game.

Elsewhere, Marseille ended a seven-game winless streak as they beat AJ Auxerre 2-0 away and Ligue 1 leaders Lille sneaked through with a 1-0 victory at Dijon.

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Suarez: I was disrespected by Barcelona

Luis Suarez says he was determined to leave Barcelona with his “head held high” last summer after being “disrespected” by the club ahead of his move to Atletico Madrid.

The Uruguay striker left the Nou Camp in acrimonious circumstances in September as Barcelona’s second-highest goal-scorer of all time, having scored 198 goals since signing from Liverpool in 2014.

Suarez, 34, had one more year to run on the contract he signed with Barca in 2016, but was told by new head coach Ronald Koeman that he was not part of his plans and has since scored 14 goals for Atleti after moving to the Spanish capital for £5.5m, with Diego Simeone’s side 10 points clear at the top of La Liga.

Only Lionel Messi has scored more goals for Barcelona than Luis Suarez
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Only Lionel Messi has scored more goals for Barcelona than Luis Suarez

The former Liverpool forward says he rejected the chance to sit out Barca’s pre-season while his move was finalised and did not speak to now-former president Josep Maria Bartomeu over his exit.

“It was tough because of the way I was disrespected, but I wanted my children to see me leave the club with my head held high,” Suarez told Onda Cero. “When the time came to tell my children about the move, it was very difficult. They’re older now and sensed there was going to be a change.

“There were some very tough moments surrounding my departure from Barcelona. There were rumours that were eventually confirmed and that’s what hurt me the most.”

He added: “Koeman called me and told me I wasn’t in his plans. I accepted the decision, but I told him I had a contract and the club would have to sort it out. I was given the option not to show up for pre-season, but I said that I was still under contract and that I was going to show up.

“Nobody explained it to me properly. I didn’t get to speak to Bartomeu. My lawyer took care of that.

Lionel Messi
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Suarez also spoke about his close relationship with Lionel Messi

“Seeing how Barcelona are doing does reassure me in some way. I could’ve stayed put and been paid, but I still believed in my ability. I knew that if I stayed I’d be slated the moment there was a hint of bad form. I needed a change for my pride.

“The first thing I said in terms of negotiations with Atletico was that I didn’t want to do anything until I had left Barcelona. There was a lot of talk about Juventus, but plenty of clubs were interested. I kept moving forward with my Italian passport because it was something I’d been doing for a year.”

Suarez also spoke about his close relationship with Lionel Messi and was upset to see details of his former team-mate’s contract being leaked in the Spanish press.

“I arrived [at Barcelona] one day and started to have mate [traditional South American drink] with Messi. We struck up a great rapport and became like a family. Our wives began to have a fantastic relationship, which also helped strengthen our own wonderful connection,” he said.

“I don’t understand how someone could be evil enough to make something as private as Leo’s contract public, considering everything Messi has done. No footballer has ever given as much to one club.

“Only four or five people could’ve known about the contract, but I have no idea who it could’ve been. I spoke to Messi two years ago about how we were finding it harder and harder and maybe wouldn’t be able to retire in the way that we wanted.”

Griezmann AP
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Suarez has denied he had a strained relationship with Antoine Griezmann

Suarez also dismissed suggestions of a strained relationship with Antoine Griezmann, who joined Barcelona in the summer of 2019.

“We had a good relationship with Griezmann at the start,” he said. “We were open with him and met up away from football. You can’t come out to deny everything because it would drive you crazy.”

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Barca stage thrilling late fightback to beat Granada

Barcelona survived a huge scare to reach the Copa del Rey semi-finals with dramatic 5-3 extra-time victory at Granada.

Granada were 2-0 up with two minutes of normal time remaining thanks to goals in each half from Kenedy and former Tottenham striker Roberto Soldado, but Antoine Griezmann inspired Barca’s thrilling late fightback.

The Frenchman reduced the arrears on 88 minutes before setting up Jordi Alba’s stoppage-time equaliser as the 30-time winners forced extra-time.

Griezmann then gave Barca the lead in the tie for the first time in the 100th minute but Granada fought back to level swiftly through Fede Vico.

But as penalties loomed, Frenkie de Jong restored Barca’s lead before Alba added a stunning second – volleying in another Griezmann assist – to send Ronald Koeman’s side into the last four.

How Barca mounted glorious, late Granada fightback

Jordi Alaba celebrates his goal for Barcelona at Granada
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Jordi Alba celebrates his goal for Barcelona at Granada

Koeman has spoken of the importance of winning the Copa del Rey this season as his side’s chances of catching La Liga leaders Atletico Madrid keep fading, and he backed up his words by naming a strong line-up.

He fielded Lionel Messi, Griezmann and De Jong from the start and even picked Marc-Andre ter Stegen over usual Copa del Rey keeper Neto, although it counted for little as clinical Granada pounced on two Barca mistakes to take the lead.

Defender Samuel Umtiti lost possession on the left-hand side of his area and Alberto Soro quickly delivered a ball into the box which Brazilian midfielder Kenedy knocked past Ter Stegen from close range.

Barcelona were 2-0 down going into the 88th minute of the tie
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Barcelona were 2-0 down going into the 88th minute of the tie

Veteran striker Soldado then latched on to a long ball from Angel Montoro, who had dispossessed Griezmann, easily beating Umtiti for pace before confidently slotting into the net.

The Frenchman made amends with his late goal which gave Barca a lifeline while Messi smacked the post moments later, the third time Barca had hit the woodwork, before Alba’s headed equaliser.

Granada had one final chance to snatch a winner in the dying seconds of normal time when Colombian forward Luis Suarez raced clear but arrowed his shot inches wide of the far post.

Barca showed their class in the extra period as Granada’s legs gave in, giving the Catalans another shot at Copa del Rey glory.

Koeman relishes eight-goal thriller

Barcelona manager Ronald Koeman: “Football is incredible. We had chances to win the game far sooner, but we put in an enormous effort, at the end of the second half and in extra-time, showing the mentality of a real team.”

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Koeman: Di Maria’s Messi to PSG talk ‘disrespectful’

Barcelona boss Ronald Koeman has accused Paris Saint-Germain winger Angel Di Maria of being disrespectful for saying he hopes Argentina team-mate Lionel Messi will join the French club.

Messi is out of contract at the Nou Camp at the end of the season and questions remain over whether he will stay or move elsewhere.

Barcelona face Paris Saint-Germain in a first-leg round-of-16 tie in the Champions League on February 16.

“Yes, yes, I hope so,” Di Maria said when asked whether Messi could join him in Paris. “There are many possibilities. We have to be calm and things will develop.”

On Di Maria’s comments, Koeman said: “It’s wrong to say such things, especially because it heats up our Champions League match even more.

“I think it’s not fair and it’s disrespectful to talk so much about one player who is still playing for Barcelona.

“I think it is disrespectful to talk so much about Leo while he is playing for Barcelona, especially before a Champions League match against them.”

Lionel Messi curled in a stunning free kick after 20 minutes for his milestone goal
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Lionel Messi is out of contract at Barcelona in the summer

Barcelona are 10 points behind top-of-the-table Atletico Madrid in La Liga, while Messi played the full match in their 5-3 win over Granada in the Copa del Rey quarter-final on Wednesday.

Messi attempted to leave Barca last summer by exercising a clause in his contract that he believed entitled him to exit on a free transfer.

However, the club claimed the clause had expired and Messi reluctantly backed down after Josep Maria Bartomeu insisted he could only leave if a buyer paid his €700m (£618m) release clause.

Koeman urges Barca to sack anyone involved in Messi leak

Earlier this week, Koeman called on Barcelona to sack any employee that may have been responsible for leaking details of Messi’s contract to the press.

On Sunday, Spanish newspaper El Mundo reported that Messi’s four-year contract, signed in 2017, was the most expensive ever awarded to an athlete, and stated it has “ruined” Barcelona by causing their current financial crisis.

El Mundo said the Argentine forward’s deal is worth €555m (£492m) and includes fixed incomes and extras that could reach nearly €138m (£122m) each year.

Barcelona have denied the leak came from the club’s board and have threatened legal action against El Mundo.

Lionel Messi helped guide Barcelona into the next round of the Copa del Rey
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Ronald Koeman called on Barcelona to sack any employee that may have been responsible for leaking details of Lionel Messi’s contract to the press

Messi put the controversy to one side and scored his 650th goal for Barcelona in their 2-1 victory over Athletic Bilbao on Sunday, after which Koeman said: “I don’t understand how anyone could link Messi to Barca’s ruin.

“He has spent years proving his quality and doing great things for this club, helping it win many important trophies.

“Whoever published this had bad intentions and wanted to cause Barca damage. But we have to be united and focused, we have to forget about whatever has been published.

“Without Leo we couldn’t aspire to win very much. We have known for a very long time that he is the best player in the world, he has done so much for this club and is decisive. We have to respect everything Messi has done.

“If this was someone from the club they cannot have a future here.”

A statement from Barcelona on Sunday read: “FC Barcelona categorically denies any responsibility for the publication of this document, and will take appropriate legal action against the newspaper El Mundo for any damage that may be caused as a result of this publication.

“FC Barcelona expresses its absolute support for Lionel Messi, especially in the face of any attempt to discredit his image, and to damage his relationship with the entity where he has worked to become the best player in the world and in football history.”

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Koeman urges Barca to sack anyone involved in Messi leak

Ronald Koeman has called on Barcelona to sack any employee that may have been responsible for leaking details of Lionel Messi’s contract to the press.

On Sunday, Spanish newspaper El Mundo reported that Messi’s four-year contract, signed in 2017, was the most expensive ever awarded to an athlete, and stated it has “ruined” Barcelona by causing their current financial crisis.

El Mundo said the Argentine forward’s deal is worth €555m (£492m) and includes fixed incomes and extras that could reach nearly €138m (£122m) each year.

Barcelona have denied the leak came from the club’s board and have threatened legal action against El Mundo.

Messi put the controversy to one side and scored his 650th goal for Barcelona in their 2-1 victory over Athletic Bilbao on Sunday, after which Koeman said: “I don’t understand how anyone could link Messi to Barca’s ruin.

“He has spent years proving his quality and doing great things for this club, helping it win many important trophies.

Lionel Messi helped guide Barcelona into the next round of the Copa del Rey
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Ronald Koeman urged people to show more ‘respect’ to Messi, who has spent his entire career with Barcelona

“Whoever published this had bad intentions and wanted to cause Barca damage. But we have to be united and focused, we have to forget about whatever has been published.

“Without Leo we couldn’t aspire to win very much. We have known for a very long time that he is the best player in the world, he has done so much for this club and is decisive. We have to respect everything Messi has done.

“If this was someone from the club they cannot have a future here.”

A statement from Barcelona on Sunday read: “FC Barcelona categorically denies any responsibility for the publication of this document, and will take appropriate legal action against the newspaper El Mundo for any damage that may be caused as a result of this publication.

“FC Barcelona expresses its absolute support for Lionel Messi, especially in the face of any attempt to discredit his image, and to damage his relationship with the entity where he has worked to become the best player in the world and in football history.”



Lionel Messi, Barcelona




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Spanish football expert Alvaro Montero says Barcelona must sell players if they want to make any new additions to their squad, with the club experiencing financial turmoil

Last week, El Mundo claimed Barcelona were “on the verge of bankruptcy” due to reported debts of €1.173billion (£1.036billion).

Barca have been without a president since Josep Maria Bartomeu resigned in October and are due to hold presidential elections on March 7.

In December, interim president Carlos Tusquets claimed the club should have sold Messi last summer when he wanted to leave.

Tusquets said: “Both in terms of what you save on the wage bill as well as the money you make, it would’ve been desirable.”

Messi attempted to leave Barca last summer by exercising a clause in his contract that he believed entitled him to exit on a free transfer.

However, the club claimed the clause had expired and Messi reluctantly backed down after Bartomeu insisted he could only leave if a buyer paid his €700m (£618m) release clause.

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El Clasico protest against women’s COVID protocols

Barcelona and Real Madrid’s women’s teams staged a protest before Sunday’s El Clasico between the sides in the Spanish league to demand better COVID-19 protocols.

Both sets of players stood motionless for a few seconds after the initial whistle to send a message to the Spanish soccer federation.

Several women’s games have been postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic in Spain, including five for league leaders Barcelona.

The players have been calling for more efficient measures to protect the athletes and the competition.

Barcelona won the match 4-1, with Asisat Oshoala scoring twice.

The Catalan club have a two-point lead over second-place Levante. Real Madrid, in their first season with a women’s team, sit third.

Barcelona have three games in hand compared to Levante and Real Madrid.

Spain has been one of the countries hit the hardest by the pandemic in Europe.

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Messi return helps Barca into quarter-finals

Lionel Messi returned from suspension to help guide Barcelona to a 2-1 win away to Rayo Vallecano on Wednesday and reach the quarter-finals of the Copa del Rey.

Barcelona dominated the match and hit the woodwork three times but second division Rayo took a surprise lead in the 63rd minute when Barca ‘keeper Neto failed to deal with a low cross and midfielder Fran Garcia pounced to bundle the ball over the line.

Rayo went looking for a second goal and were badly caught out on the break when Frenkie de Jong picked out Antoine Griezmann and the Frenchman laid the ball off for Messi to slot into the net from close range in the 70th minute.

The Argentine, who became Barcelona’s record appearance maker in the competition with 76 games played, was the architect of the second goal 10 minutes later. He released Jordi Alba down the left wing with a sumptuous pass and De Jong finished off the defender’s cross to send the Catalans into the last eight.

Messi should have added a third goal in added time after waltzing his way through the Rayo defence, but when it came to shoot he lost his footing and could only find the side netting.

Elsewhere, Sevilla joined Barcelona in Friday’s quarter-final draw by crushing 2019 Copa del Rey winners Valencia 3-0 at home. Almeria sneaked into the last eight with a 5-4 penalty shootout win at home to Osasuna after a 0-0 draw following extra-time.

Coppa Italia – Juventus breeze into next round

Dejan Kulusevski and Federico Chiesa both scored in Juventus' win
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Dejan Kulusevski and Federico Chiesa both scored in Juventus’ win

Juventus eased past Serie B side SPAL 4-0 to reach the Coppa Italia semi-finals despite resting regulars like Cristiano Ronaldo and Paulo Dybala.

Alvaro Morata and Gianluca Frabotta scored first-half goals for Juventus while Dejan Kulusevski and Federico Chiesa added late strikes. In the two-legged semi-finals, Juventus will face Inter Milan, who eliminated AC Milan in a derby on Tuesday.

Morata converted a penalty after a foul on Adrien Rabiot before Frabotta added the second in the 33rd minute.

Kulusevski scored Juve’s third on the counter-attack after being set up by Chiesa, who completed the rout in injury time by dribbling around the goalkeeper and sending the ball into an empty net.

Juventus are into the semi-finals of the Coppa Italia after beating SPAL
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Juventus are into the semi-finals of the Coppa Italia after beating SPAL

Juventus are seeking a record-extending 14th Coppa Italia title after losing last season’s final to Napoli.

Earlier, 10-man Atalanta beat visiting Lazio 3-2 and will next face either Napoli or Spezia, who play on Thursday.

Aleksei Miranchuk scored the winner for Atalanta four minutes after team-mate Jos Luis Palomino was shown a direct red card for a foul on Manuel Lazzari.

Berat Djimsiti and Ruslan Malinovskyi also scored for Atalanta in an entertaining match that included Lazio goals from Vedat Muriqi and Francesco Acerbi.

Atalanta forward Duvan Zapata could have added a fourth goal but had a penalty saved by Pepe Reina.

Ligue 1 – Lorient net late winner

A last-gasp goalkeeping blunder gave Lorient a much-needed 3-2 home win against fellow strugglers Dijon.

Anthony Racioppi saved Andrew Gravillon’s header from a free-kick six minutes into injury time, but in doing so he carried the ball over the line and a goal was given following a video review.

The win moved Lorient off the bottom of the table and into 19th place, level on points with Dijon, who are 18th on goal difference.

Trevoh Chalobah, on loan from Chelsea, put Lorient ahead in the 29th minute with a shot that deflected off striker Mama Balde.

Dijon equalised 10 minutes later, when Chalobah failed to clear a free-kick and Bruno Ecuele Manga netted from the ensuing cross, then went ahead when Balde turned in a low cross.

Lorient rallied through striker Terem Moffi, and had a red card for left-back Yoann Etienne reduced to a yellow moments later following a review.

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