Barca's Ernesto Valverde thankful he doesn't have to go against Lionel Messi
BARCELONA -- Ernesto Valverde is thankful to finally be able to enjoy having Lionel Messi on his side after spending years suffering at the hands of Barcelona's Argentine star.
Messi scored twice on Tuesday as Barca began their Champions League campaign with an emphatic 3-0 win against last season's runners-up, Juventus, who eliminated the Catalan side in the last eight on their way to the final.
Ivan Rakitic scored the other goal, which was created by Messi, as former Athletic Bilbao coach Valverde saw his new side extend their winning streak to four games in all competitions.
"I have suffered against Messi many times; now I am lucky enough to have him on my team," said a smiling Valverde in his postgame news conference.
"When he has the ball you always believe that anything can happen -- good things for us. It's not just about his goals, either, but his all round involvement."
Messi's two strikes against Juve took his tally to eight for the season, with seven of them coming in his last three outings, where he's played in a more central position.
Having spent the majority of Luis Enrique's three years at the club, it represents a change for the 30-year-old, who looks to be enjoying his new role.
"You can put Messi in any position and he can score goals," added Valverde, downplaying his decision to tinker with the forward's positioning.
"His quality is always the same wherever he is. It doesn't matter if he's on the wing or in the middle, he's always connected to the play."
Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri, despite acknowledging the threat of Messi, who scored his first goals against Gianluigi Buffon at the fourth time of asking, preferred to focus on his own team's shortcomings.
"We were punished for the first error, 30 seconds from half-time, when we didn't close Messi down or foul him," he said. "If you leave Messi space to run in, he's going to score."
Sporting Lisbon beat Olympiakos 3-2 in the group's other game on Tuesday. The Portuguese side are Barca's next opponents in Europe but Valverde wanted to stress the importance of the win against Juve before looking ahead to the next game.
"It was an important win, above all for our aim of qualifying from the group," he said. "We played against last year's finalists and it's a good feeling to start with a win. The fans knew patience was required, but with the goal, we [began to] find more spaces.
"The fans go home happy and so do we. It was a good game against great opposition, which adds to the importance. You have to have the opposition in mind. They created problems... but we were patient and our chances arrived. ... Leo's [first] goal was extraordinary.
"Three wins in the league and now this. It's good for our confidence."
Samuel Marsden covers Barcelona for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @SamuelMarsden.