Barcelona, Juventus, Leagues, Spanish Primera División, Story, UEFA Champions League

Ernesto Valverde sings the praises of Barcelona’s hat-trick hero Lionel Messi after a win over Catalan rivals Espanyol.
Lionel Messi scored his first hat trick in 11 months as Barcelona easily saw off Catalan rivals Espanyol.

Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri believes Barcelona are still the benchmark in European football as he prepares his side to face the Blaugrana in their opening Champions League group fixture on Tuesday night.

The Bianconeri lost out to Barca in the 2015 final, but they gained revenge with a comfortable victory in last season’s quarterfinals.

They therefore travel to Catalonia with expectations high on the outside, even if Allegri is trying to keep them in check internally.

“For me, Barcelona are still the best club around today,” he said at a news conference in Barcelona. “[Andres] Iniesta represents the essence of football, while [Ousmane] Dembele is an interesting youngster, and when you have players like [Lionel] Messi, [Luis] Suarez and Dembele, it’s hard for your opponents to mark you.

“Barcelona have also started the season well and they, together with Real Madrid, are favourites to win the Champions League.”

Barcelona defeated Juventus in the 2015 Champions League final.

Juve have also started the season well with three straight wins in Serie A, including five goals from Paulo Dybala.

The Argentinian is being increasingly tipped to fill Messi’s boots — for club and country — but he says that is the last thing on his mind.

“Nothing has changed for me,” he said. “I always try to play the same way, helping the team in every way.

“I’m lucky to play with Messi with the national team and that’s great, but I don’t know what will happen in the future. I’m happy and feel at ease with Juve. I’ve chosen to wear a number [10] which has a great significance in this club’s history, but we’ll see about the rest.

“I don’t know if Barcelona were interested in me last summer, you’d have to ask the club. I wasn’t told anything. The only thing the club told me was that they want me to be part of this project for a long time, and I’m happy about that.

“I’m happy to be at Juve for as long as they are happy to have me.”

Ben Gladwell reports on Serie A, the Italian national team and the Bundesliga for ESPN FC, UEFA and the Press Association. @UEFAcomBenG.

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