Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde described Ansu Fati as a "born scorer" after the teenager made history against Inter in the Champions League.

Fati, 17, became the youngest goalscorer in the competition's history, netting a late winner in a 2-1 victory at San Siro on Tuesday.

The attacker has three goals this season and Valverde praised the Spain youth international, whose strike came after Romelu Lukaku had cancelled out Carles Perez's opener in the Group F clash.

"They [Fati and Perez] are two players who have reached the first team this year. Young players, very young in the case of Ansu," Valverde told a news conference, via AS. 

"The game was complicated, especially for Carles Perez because they had an experienced defence and he started, but he has a goal because he hits the ball well. 

"Ansu has been going through some physical difficulty, with some discomfort, but he is a born scorer."

Barcelona had already booked their place in the last 16 and they finished top of the group as Inter were eliminated.

Valverde talked up the importance of the Champions League to the Catalans, who last lifted the trophy in 2015.

"We have a very big obligation with our club and with this competition," he said.

"We have shown that you have to win everywhere and today's game was not going to be an exception."

After criticism earlier in the season, Barcelona top LaLiga and are on a six-match winning run in all competitions.

But Valverde wants to see more from his team, who make the trip to Real Sociedad on Saturday.

"We are fine, but I like to see everything in a more continuous way. At first we had difficulties," he said.

"This group phase has been difficult for us. We suffered to overcome Inter, to win at Slavia [Prague]. But we are here and we have a tremendous challenge with three games in a week and we want to close well."

Antonio Conte was rueful regarding Inter's poor finishing in Tuesday's costly 2-1 Champions League defeat to Barcelona but insisted he had "no complaints" after elimination from the competition.

Inter needed to at least match Borussia Dortmund's result against Slavia Prague, but the Germans claimed a 2-1 victory and the Nerazzurri did not do enough in San Siro.

Despite early dominance and a flurry of chances, Inter found themselves trailing in the 23rd minute when Carles Perez swept home in composed fashion.

Romelu Lukaku equalised before half-time, but he was otherwise wasteful and Ansu Fati, 17, secured Barca the three points four minutes from time to become the youngest Champions League scorer in history.

Conte acknowledged Inter had enough clear-cut opportunities to beat Barca.

"We had the chances to win the game, we created those opportunities, but lacked that clinical edge to convert them," he told reporters.

"I have no complaints to make, as my players gave their all. We just lacked a goal and instead conceded at the other end to go 2-1 down, which really killed us.

"Watching that Ansu Fati goal is painful, as it killed us in every way. We were pushing, creating the chances to score and go 2-1 up.

"I was also disappointed for the fans in San Siro, as they pushed us from start to finish and created a wonderful atmosphere. It should've ended differently.

"I think we deserved more in this group. Still, I think it's all valuable experience. We wanted to qualify, so there is disappointment from everyone right now, but as I told them, we have to raise our heads again."

Inter finished third in the group, meaning they will drop into the Europa League in the New Year. They will find out their next opponents in Monday's draw.

Carles Perez revelled in the fact he and fellow Barcelona academy product Ansu Fati made the difference in Tuesday's 2-1 win at Inter, proving La Masia has not lost relevance.

Barca endured a real tussle with Inter at San Siro, only securing a late win thanks to Fati's 86th-minute strike.

That goal made the 17-year-old the youngest scorer in Champions League history and sealed Inter's fate, as the Serie A side drop down to the Europa League after finishing third in the group.

Perez had opened the scoring with a composed finish, and his thoughts quickly turned to Barca's La Masia after the match, with the famed academy receiving criticism in recent years for a perceived lack of homegrown players reaching the first team.

"It is something incredible that we are both living," Perez told Movistar. "Both Ansu and I are an example for La Masia if you think you can get there [to the first team].

"Barca trust the people of academy and that is the most important thing."

Coach Ernesto Valverde also spoke of the two goal-scorers and was particularly thrilled by Fati's record.

"Carles has the nose for more goals and strikes the ball really nicely," he said. "Ansu is a born scorer and, although he's had some niggling pain, we wanted him to have some minutes.

"That it's a Barca lad who's the youngest ever scorer in this competition delights us."

Barca had already secured top spot in the group and will find out their next opponents in the Champions League during Monday's draw.

The Catalans face Real Sociedad at the weekend before then going head-to-head with bitter rivals Real Madrid in El Clasico on December 18.

Ansu Fati has become the youngest goalscorer in the history of the Champions League.

The Barcelona forward hit a late winner against Inter on Tuesday as the Serie A side were knocked out of the tournament.

Fati, aged 17 years and 40 days, beat Samir Handanovic with a precise drive to grab yet another record.

He was already the youngest LaLiga goalscorer for Barca and the club's youngest player to feature in the Champions League.

Earlier this month, Barca rewarded Fati with a new contract that runs until June 2022, increasing his release clause from €100million to €170m.

When Fati signs full-time professional terms the release clause will rise again, standing at a whopping €400m.

Inter have failed to get beyond the Champions League group stage for a second successive season after losing 2-1 at home to Barcelona, with Ansu Fati's late winner making him the youngest scorer in the competition's history.

The Serie A leaders needed to at least match Borussia Dortmund's result against Slavia Prague due to being level on seven points before the game, but the Germans emerged 2-1 victors to secure their progression as Inter were made to rue their own wasteful finishing.

After weathering an early Inter storm, a much-changed Barca went ahead through fringe forward Carles Perez, though their lead did not last – Romelu Lukaku blasting in from 20 yards.

Lukaku was otherwise wasteful in front of goal, however, missing a particularly fine opportunity early in the second period, before the visitors sealed Inter's fate late on through 17-year-old Fati, dropping the Italians into the Europa League.

Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane remains hopeful Eden Hazard will not have to undergo surgery on his fractured ankle.

Hazard was forced off late on against Paris Saint-Germain towards the end of November after receiving a bang to his ankle.

Early concerns appeared to be put to rest when Madrid's medical team claimed the Belgian had only suffered bruising, but after needing crutches for longer than expected, he was sent for a second scan.

It was then that a small fracture was identified, essentially confirming he will not feature in El Clasico on December 18.

While there is no suggestion Hazard will be able to recover in time to face Barcelona, Zidane is at least hoping he will not require an operation.

"I don't believe so [that Hazard will need surgery]," Zidane told reporters on Tuesday.

"But I don't know exactly either. Yes, I can tell you that the injury he has is now controlled and I hope it [the time out] is less than expected.

"There was talk of a week or two, but now the important thing for him is to be patient, because it is not a good time, but I hope he will return quickly with us."

Madrid face Club Brugge in Belgium on Wednesday already knowing they will finish second in Champions League Group A.

As such, Zidane has taken the opportunity to rest some key players, with Toni Kroos and Sergio Ramos not in the travelling party, but Casemiro is with the team, suggesting the coach does not feel anyone else can do the Brazilian's job.

"We know what Case [Casemiro] does, we've talked about this many times," Zidane said. "He's a player that plays many minutes.

"A coach always has to choose a call and think about the specific game. Then we will see the others.

"There are many players who have a lot of time [and travelled], like [Raphael] Varane, and you also have to consider the minutes they have with their selections."

Barcelona and Real Madrid face a new threat of disruption at the season's first Clasico after pro-Catalan independence activists targeted the Camp Nou for protests.

The Tsunami Democratic protest group, which is run by anonymous leaders and mobilises followers by means including social media, has called on its supporters to head to four meeting points close to Barcelona's stadium at 4pm local time on December 18.

That is four hours before kick-off in the biggest match of the LaLiga season so far, which was moved from October 26 to its December date following civil unrest in Catalonia.

Tsunami Democratic says more than 18,000 supporters have already committed to joining its protest, including many who have tickets to the Clasico and members - known as 'socios' - of home club Barcelona.

The jailing of nine Catalan separatist leaders sparked major protests in Barcelona during early autumn, and the Tsunami Democratic group was behind a move to bring the city's El Prat airport to a standstill by flooding it with protesters.

Now the same group, knowing it will be unable to protest inside Camp Nou, is intending to make itself impossible to avoid on the day of the match, which could mean political protests take place inside the stadium as millions watch across the world.

Tsunami Democratic said: "In an exceptional situation, it is necessary to act exceptionally."

In a statement posted on Twitter, the group said: "At this time, an important part of the Catalan population suffers from exclusion for ideological reasons.

"It cannot exercise fundamental rights without repression, nor can it exercise his right to self-determination. In addition, dozens of people are or have been arrested simply for exercising and promoting these rights.

"After verifying the impossibility of agreeing with FC Barcelona and Real Madrid CF the opportunity to make visible, in the stands and on the pitch, in an effective form, the call for dialogue that Spain ignores, Tsunami Democratic commits to doing so.

"For this, Tsunami Democratic convenes a massive concentration on December 18 at 4pm outside Camp Nou. So far, more than 18,000 people have signed up to the call.

"Many of these people, with tickets or membership [of FC Barcelona], have already received the relevant slogans and have organised to develop the actions planned for a day that will be followed by 650 million people around the world."

Sergio Ramos has joked there should be one Ballon d'Or award for Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo - and an alternative trophy for the rest of the world's footballers to fight over.

Real Madrid captain Ramos has a stack of individual accolades alongside the host of trophies he has won in his Santiago Bernabeu career.

But like so many great players of the last 12 years, he has been put in the shade by Messi and Ronaldo when it comes to the biggest awards.

From 2008, when Ronaldo first landed the Ballon d'Or, through to Messi scooping the honour earlier this month, the pair have had a near total duopoly, interrupted only in 2018 by Luka Modric's success.

Ronaldo has taken the prize five times and Messi six, prompting Ramos to jest that the pair should be left alone to slug it out for one trophy, while giving everyone else a chance of taking another.

"They could make a Ballon d'Or only for Cristiano and Messi depending on results...and another for the rest," Ramos told Mexican broadcaster TUDN. "In the end it would be better for football."

Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk split Barcelona star Messi and Juventus forward Ronaldo this year, taking second place in the vote conducted by France Football magazine.

But the star goal-getters have been the dominant figures in the world game for over a decade, establishing a rivalry for who will be remembered as the greatest of their generation.

Ramos played alongside Ronaldo for many years at Madrid, before the Portuguese moved to Italy in July 2018.

At the age of 33, and as he approaches 15 years as a Madrid player, the captain of Spain is targeting next year's Olympic Games football tournament and sees himself playing on for several seasons yet.

"I will play until the excitement goes, but my excitement is very great," Ramos said, according to Marca. "I will make the most of everything football has to offer for as long as I feel good. I look after myself well and I hope to continue for many years."

With Neymar's future far from certain, Paris Saint-Germain are reportedly planning for life without the star forward.

Neymar appears to covet a Barcelona reunion, after leaving the LaLiga champions two years ago.

Should Neymar's wish be granted, an African sensation lighting up Anfield is said to be on the agenda.

 

TOP STORY – NEYMAR OUT, MANE IN

Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain want Liverpool star Sadio Mane to replace Neymar, report France Football and Mundo Deportivo.

PSG star Neymar wanted to leave Paris during the previous transfer window, but a proposed return to Barcelona did not materialise.

Doubts remain over Neymar – who left Barca for PSG in a €222million transfer in 2017 – and the French powerhouse are said to have identified Mane should the Brazilian depart the capital.

 

ROUND-UP

- According to Calciomercato, Napoli have agreed a deal for former Milan boss Gennaro Gattuso to replace head coach Carlo Ancelotti. It comes with Ancelotti on the brink amid a nine-match winless streak ahead of Tuesday's crucial Champions League clash against Genk.

Manchester City are set to rival Chelsea for Bournemouth's Nathan Ake, says Sky Sports. Chelsea want to bring Ake back to Stamford Bridge following his exit in 2017. However, Premier League champions City are reportedly interested amid their defensive woes.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been offered an 18-month contract by Napoli, reports Gazzetta dello Sport. The 38-year-old is a free agent after leaving MLS outfit LA Galaxy and he has been linked to Milan and Inter.

- Sport claims Inter want to sign either Ivan Rakitic or Arturo Vidal from Barcelona in January. Antonio Conte is determined to bolster his squad as Inter challenge for Scudetto honours and juggle Champions League commitments. Rakitic has also been linked to Serie A holders Juventus.

Everton hope to have Vitor Pereira installed as manager for Sunday's Premier League fixture at Manchester United, according to Sky Sports. After sacking Marco Silva, the Toffees are ready to offer the Shanghai SIPG coach a three-year deal. It comes as Sky Sports also reports former Arsenal boss Unai Emery was approached about the Everton job.

- The Mirror says Manchester United are ready to show their faith in manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer by backing him in moves for Atletico Madrid midfielder Saul Niguez and Salzburg sensation Erling Haaland. The spotlight was on Solskjaer following a poor run of form and Mauricio Pochettino's Tottenham exit. However, the Norwegian has overseen consecutive victories over Tottenham and Manchester City.

Bayern Munich and Manchester City are monitoring the progress of Rangers teenager Kai Kennedy, says the Daily Record.

Barcelona head coach Ernesto Valverde said Lautaro Martinez is a "great player" as the Inter star continues to be linked with the LaLiga champions.

Inter forward Martinez has reportedly emerged as a top target for Barca, who are looking to identify a long-term heir for the aging Luis Suarez.

Martinez has scored 13 goals across all competitions this season, including a goal away to Barca in the Champions League on October 2.

The 22-year-old Argentina international will come up against Barca again when Inter welcome the Spanish giants to Milan on Tuesday, in a battle of first against second in Group F on the final matchday.

Asked about Martinez on the eve of the clash, Valverde – whose Barca have already qualified for the last 16 – told reporters: "He is a great player and he's having a great season. He is quick and strong.

"He scored a great goal in the first game at the Camp Nou. I know he is comfortable with [Romelu] Lukaku, they’ve found the right mechanism to help Inter.

"As for Lautaro being similar to Luis Suarez, they are a little different but both are born goalscorers.

"But Inter have so many good players, Lautaro, Lukaku, [Milan] Skriniar…"

 

Lionel Messi's omission from Barcelona's squad for their Champions League clash with Inter was influenced by a daunting set of forthcoming fixtures that includes a potentially crucial Clasico with Real Madrid.

Messi has been rested by Ernesto Valverde for Tuesday's game at San Siro, with Barca enjoying the luxury of having already qualified for the last 16 as Group F winners.

Barca visit fourth-placed Real Sociedad in their next LaLiga match on Saturday before welcoming Madrid to the Camp Nou the following Wednesday and then hosting Alaves in their final fixture before the mid-season break.

Valverde's men are level on points with Madrid at the top of the table and, in the face of repeated questioning about Messi's absence at a media conference on Monday, he pointed to that run of three games in eight days as the key reason for his decision.

"Messi has rest. Nothing more," Valverde said. "We come from important games and we have important games and I have decided that some players do not come.

"Last year we played a great game here. Without Messi, by the way."

Jordi Alba and Nelson Semedo are both back in training following hamstring and calf problems respectively, but neither has been given the green light to play in Milan.

Ansu Fati's participation in the game is in doubt due to problems with the patellar tendons in both knees while Arthur has been struggling with a groin problem.

Barcelona were held to a 1-1 draw by Inter at San Siro last season but the Catalans overcame Antonio Conte's side 2-1 at Camp Nou in October.

Asked what he expects from Inter this time around, Valverde said: "The best. They are the leaders of Serie A and in the first match they played a great game.

"They are making a great start to the championship, but in the end you have to compete.

"We come here to compete, but knowing that they have a great team."

Antonio Conte has stressed there will be no second chances for Inter when they take on Barcelona in a crucial Champions League clash on Tuesday.

Inter welcome Barca to San Siro sitting second in Group F, level on seven points with Borussia Dortmund, who face Slavia Prague.

The Nerazzurri - who hold a two-point lead over Juventus at the top of Serie A - must at least match Dortmund's result to ensure their place in the knockout stages.

While Conte is not thinking too far ahead in regard to how far his team can go in the competition, he emphasised Inter must grasp their final opportunity to progress.

"This is a very important game for me and the club. Our qualification hopes are on the line. It is a very big moment in our season," Conte told a news conference.

"When the draw was made, this was labelled the group of death. There are some great teams in Group F, the fact we are still in the running is very impressive. We should be very proud of how we've done.

"This would be a great achievement should we qualify. There are injuries at the moment, it has been an ongoing situation. The positive aspect is everyone is responding well. Everyone in the team is taking responsibility.

"We have injuries but everyone is stepping up, there are three games before the winter break, there is the right enthusiasm in the squad, we are on the right track, we simply need to keep this up and give that little bit extra and dig deep.

"There will be no second chances, so we must do our job and get the result. In the tough times we need to give our all. 

"There will be pressure on us, but this team is growing and needs this experience. We cannot look too far ahead."

Barca have already secured first place in the group and, with their rearranged Clasico against Real Madrid coming up, Ernesto Valverde has left both Lionel Messi and Gerard Pique out of his 20-man squad, though Conte does not think that will make Inter's task any easier.

"Barca are an amazing side whoever plays. Barca are one of the best teams in the world, they aim to win every competition," Conte said. "They have qualified but will come here to play their game.

"They have no pressure which could work in their favour, but we need to focus on ourselves, play our game. I will tell the lads I want us to give our all. I do not want us to have any regrets."

Luis Suarez scored both of Barca's goals in the reverse fixture as they claimed a 2-1 win at Camp Nou in October, with Lautaro Martinez having put Inter ahead early on.

Martinez has been in superb form this season, scoring 13 goals in all competitions, and is reportedly being considered by Barca as a possible replacement for Suarez should the former Liverpool star leave the club.

Suarez's Uruguay team-mate Diego Godin, however, is hopeful Martinez's immediate future is with Inter.

"I know Suarez very well, he is one of the best," Godin said. "I have been playing with Lautaro from this season, he is developing all of the time, he is in good form at the moment, playing very well.

"At the moment he is at Inter, he has many good years ahead of him, he has the skills to go far, there is no limit, I feel. We all hope he can keep doing well, I hope he can help this team. He is a player with a key role."

Lionel Messi has been left out of Barcelona's squad for their final Champions League group stage match against Inter.

Messi endured an injury-hit start to 2019-20, but has shown little sign of rustiness since returning to full fitness, and followed up his record sixth Ballon d'Or win with a hat-trick in Barca's 5-2 win over Real Mallorca on Saturday.

However, with Barca's place in the last 16 already secured thanks to a 3-1 victory over Borussia Dortmund in their previous Group F fixture, it appears Ernesto Valverde has decided to rest Messi for the trip to Milan.

After Tuesday's match at San Siro, Barca face Real Sociedad before taking on Real Madrid in the rearranged Clasico on December 18, with another league match against Deportivo Alaves capping off 2019 three days later.

Messi is not the only star name to be left out of Barca's squad, with Gerard Pique also missing, while Jordi Alba and Nelson Semedo continue their respective recoveries from hamstring and calf problems. Arthur and Ousmane Dembele are absent through injury as well.

Luis Suarez, who scored both goals in Barca's 2-1 win over Inter in October, is included within the 20-man squad, as is Antoine Griezmann.

While Barca's place in the knockouts is secured, Inter need to at least match Dortmund's result against Slavia Prague if they are to guarantee progression.

Barcelona "cannot afford" to let unsettled midfielder Arturo Vidal leave the club in January, according to president Josep Maria Bartomeu.

Vidal has started just four of Barca's 20 matches this season and last month vowed to quit the Spanish champions next year if he is not made to "feel important".

Barca boss Ernesto Valverde has opened the door for the Chile international to find a new team, with Inter CEO Giuseppe Marotta recently hinting his side are interested.

However, Bartomeu is expecting Vidal - a reported €18million signing from Bayern Munich in August 2018 - to remain at Camp Nou until at least the end of the season.

"No movement is expected in January," he told La Repubblica. "We have a balanced squad - we don't lack anything, but we also cannot afford to lose someone. 

"Several times before a player has showed a willingness to leave, but never in January. In some cases we have let them go, on other occasions we have convinced them to stay."

Barcelona travel to Inter in the Champions League on Tuesday with top spot already assured in Group F, while the Italians need to match Borussia Dortmund's result against Slavia Prague.

Lautaro Martinez has been in fine form for the Serie A leaders this season, leading to reports he is on Barca's radar, but Bartomeu was unwilling to comment on the speculation.

"This is a trap question," he said. "What I can say is that Inter are playing very well and he is not the only player who has impressed me. It is no coincidence that Inter are top of Serie A."

Barcelona will find it impossible to replace Lionel Messi, according to club president Josep Maria Bartomeu, who added Pep Guardiola would always be welcome back at Camp Nou.

Messi followed up winning a record sixth Ballon d'Or by recording his 35th LaLiga hat-trick in Barca's 5-2 win over Real Mallorca on Saturday.

Despite spending big on Antoine Griezmann and Frenkie de Jong in the most recent transfer window, Barca are still heavily reliant on the 32-year-old, who has scored 14 goals from 15 appearances in all competitions this term.

Bartomeu has acknowledged Barca will find it extremely difficult to replace Messi whenever the forward calls time on his stay at the club, but outlined their intention to continue developing young talent from the famed La Masia academy. 

"We Barca fans have the good fortune to enjoy Messi every three days," Bartomeu, who plans to offer Messi a "lifetime contract" told Italian publication La Repubblica.

"Leo is impossible to replace and when he will be here no more, we will be forced to play differently. I cannot say that we are already preparing for post-Messi, but it is true that we have already decided to bet on young players for a long time.

"For now, what we have to do is not worry, but enjoy it. I would like to make him an annuity contract as we have already done with [Andres] Iniesta. He has earned the right to decide when to say enough is enough.

"As a footballer, Messi is number one and we will fully understand it only in a few years, because Leo has changed not only the history of Barca, but that of world football."

Bartomeu also confirmed Guardiola - who left Barca in 2012 after four trophy-laden seasons in charge before going on to coach Bayern Munich and now Manchester City, will always have a home at Barca, should he wish to return. 

"A possible return of Guardiola? It doesn't depend on me," he added. 

"It was Pep who decided to leave, but for him the doors of Barca are always open." 

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