RB Leipzig have confirmed rumours that Barcelona were indeed interested in pursuing a summer deal for influential midfielder Naby Keita, although ultimately did not push as hard as Liverpool to complete his signing.
Keita was hotly pursued by Liverpool throughout the last transfer window, with the Reds, who were simultaneously dealing with Barcelona's high-profile pursuit of Philippe Coutinho, seeing club-record bids worth £57m ($75.7m) and £66m rebuffed during a frustrating saga.
They eventually agreed to pay an undisclosed premium on top of the player's £48m release clause in order to seal an agreement for next summer, with his arrival scheduled for 1 July 2018.
Liverpool were initially believed to be facing competition from Serie A outfit Inter Milan for the Guinea international, while whispers regarding Barcelona's interest began to mount with reports that technical secretary Robert Fernandez and assistant Urbano Ortega had travelled to watch both him and Leon Goretzka in action during the August Bundesliga draw between Schalke and Leipzig in Gelsenkirchen.
As frustrations over chief target Coutinho grew thanks to stubborn Liverpool's decision to reject multiple lucrative offers for one of their most important assets, Catalan publication Mundo Deportivo reported that the La Liga leaders were considering a late swoop for Keita before the Spanish market closed on 1 September.
It was said that Barcelona viewed the 22-year-old as a "jewel" for the future.
Such a move never obviously never came to pass, however, with Leipzig CEO Oliver Mintzlaff now suggesting that they failed to match Liverpool's effort.
"That's right [Jurgen Klopp has his favourite player], even more so because Barcelona were also interested in Naby Keita," he said during an interview with Sport Bild, per ESPN. "This was confirmed to us by Barcelona, but obviously they didn't try as hard as Liverpool."
Mintzlaff further confirmed that Keita wanted to join Liverpool immediately, but sporting director Ralf Rangnick, who is expected to sign a new deal shortly, told the team that Leipzig were not willing to sell any players after their first-ever season of top-flight football ended in a second-place finish and an automatic Champions League berth.
Keita has made 47 appearances across all competitions since joining Leipzig from sister club Red Bull Salzburg in 2016 and in September sparked minor concerns over his temperament after being shown three red cards in the space of just seven games for club and country.