Matthijs de Ligt has put to bed suggestions he could have joined Manchester United in 2019, insisting they were never an option when he signed for Juventus in order to learn from the world's best defenders.

Despite only being 21, De Ligt is already something of a household name in European football, having come through the ranks at Ajax and earned himself a reputation as arguably the best young defender in the world.

His rise was rapid and impressive at Ajax, at the time becoming the youngest player to play a major European final, the club's youngest ever captain and the first recipient of the Golden Boy award – given to the best under-21 player in Europe – to be a defender.

Much of the praise De Ligt was afforded during his early days at Ajax related to his ability on the ball, with many expecting him to join Barcelona such were his technical talents, although United were also said to be in the running.

Therefore, his move to Juve came as something of a surprise initially, but he is adamant United - linked again more recently - have never made an approach and the switch to Turin made sense in the context of his dream to be the world's best defender.

"Honestly, I never heard anything from them [United]," De Ligt told the Telegraph.

"It was like you did at school, like with mathematics. It was a long process. You put the pros and the cons and, in the end, I chose Juventus."

While De Ligt arguably has not quite hit the heights most were expecting yet, with injuries proving disruptive this season, he has been showing clear signs of progress.

Although restricted to just 21 appearances in all competitions this term – partly due to a shoulder problem that kept him sidelined for three months – the Dutchman seems to have improved across the board.

His touches (86.8 from 70.8), attempted passes (76 from 61.1), completed passes (69.6 from 55.7), successful passes in the opposing half (25.1 from 20.2), tackles won (1.2 from 0.6) and interceptions (1.6 from 0.9) are all up significantly on a per-90-minute basis from last term, showing De Ligt is enjoying more influence in his second season.

"If you can do it here, you can do it anywhere," he continued. "I'm where I want to be and where I can learn as much as possible. There are experienced guys – [Giorgio] Chiellini, [Leonardo] Bonucci – but also a goalkeeper like [Gianluigi] Buffon and Cristiano Ronaldo.

"We all have our different characteristics, and I do not try and copy them, but I look at Ronaldo and see what he does, how he stays fit all the time.

"I ask for tips, for advice. What I have also learnt is that I need to do things that are good for me. In the end you find your own rhythm."

Buffon returned to Juve around the same time De Ligt signed, having spent 2018-19 at Paris Saint-Germain, and is still going at the grand age of 43.

He is now just 24 matches behind Alessandro Del Piero's record of 705 appearances for the club, yet despite his longevity and age, De Ligt insists mentally he is as sharp as a player in his prime.

"Well, he could be my father!" De Ligt quipped. "It's funny because when I see him and the way he behaves, I don't think he's twice my age and that's also his strength and why he is still playing. He plays with a head like a 29-year-old."

The Champions League round-of-16 second legs get underway on Tuesday, with Porto and Borussia Dortmund holding the upper hand over Juventus and Sevilla respectively.

Juve's latest bid to bring their domestic dominance to bear on the European stage is hanging by a thread, with Sergio Conceicao's robust side arriving in Turin 2-1 to the good.

If that tie is on a knife edge, Dortmund's task looks slightly more straightforward on paper – their 3-2 first-leg win having come on the road at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan.

However, Edin Terzic's side might be wounded by their sapping Klassiker loss to Bayern Munich at the weekend and Sevilla boast formidable European pedigree. Stranger things have definitely happened.

So, to help you navigate the potential madness, we take a closer look at both matches using Opta data.

 

Juventus (1) v (2) Porto: Ronaldo aiming to break the shackles

On his return to his homeland, Juventus superstar Cristiano Ronaldo found himself unusually frustrated during the first leg.

The five-time Ballon d'Or winner managed just one shot – his lowest return in a Champions League knockout match since he failed to register a shot on goal during the second leg of the 2010-11 semi-final between Real Madrid and Barcelona.

However, Federico Chiesa's crucial late away goal at the Estadio do Dragao snapped a run of five consecutive clean sheets in this season's competition for Porto, who are looking to achieve three consecutive shutouts on the road for the first time since November 2012.

Nevertheless, history is still weighted against the Primeira Liga club finishing the job.

Porto are winless in their previous 13 away games in the Champions League knockout stages, drawing four and losing nine.

You have to go back to a 3-2 win over Milan in 1996 for their most recent victory in Italy, with five defeats on the spin since then.

On the other hand, Juventus have been eliminated on five of the past six occasions they lost the first leg of a Champions League tie.

The exception came when a Ronaldo hat-trick wiped out Atletico Madrid's 2-0 advantage two seasons ago.

Once again, the 36-year-old looks their most likely hero. Ronaldo has 10 goals in 10 Champions League games for Juve at the Allianz Stadium. Only Lionel Messi (14) has more home goals over the period from the start of the 2018-19 campaign onwards.

 

Borussia Dortmund (3) v (2) Sevilla: Haaland at the double again?

Erling Haaland is at the opposite end of his Champions League journey to Ronaldo but certainly seems to have designs on emulating some of the veteran's great deeds and might even breach new ground this week.

The Dortmund striker has scored a brace in each of his past three Champions League appearances. If he nets another double against Sevilla, he will become the first player in the history of the competition to score twice in four consecutive appearances.

Haaland has 18 goals in 13 Champions League outings overall and appears certain to surpass Harry Kane as the quickest man to 20 in terms of games. The England captain reached the landmark in his 24th appearance.

Dortmund are aiming to reach the quarter-finals for the first time since 2017 and are unbeaten in seven Champions League matches at Signal Iduna Park (W5 D2).

Sevilla have never gone through in Europe's top competition after losing the first leg of a knockout tie, going down to Real Madrid in 1957-58, Fenerbahce in 2007-08 and Bayern Munich in 2017-18.

Since beating Borussia Monchengladbach 3-0 in 2015, the Andalusian club have lost three out of four against Bundesliga opponents.

Head coach Julen Lopetegui has similarly unhelpful memories of Germany, having lost his only previous Champions League away match in the country 6-1 when he led Porto against Bayern Munich.

Cristiano Ronaldo was named on the substitutes' bench for Juventus' Serie A clash with Lazio on Saturday. 

With an eye on Tuesday's Champions League last-16 second leg against Porto, who hold a 2-1 lead from the first match, Andrea Pirlo opted to rest his talisman. 

Ronaldo is the leading scorer in Serie A this season with 20 goals and has netted four in his last three games. 

Speaking at his pre-match media conference on Friday, Pirlo hinted that 36-year-old Ronaldo might be suffering from fatigue. 

"When you play a lot of games, a day or two of rest is good," Pirlo said. "It also applies to Cristiano. 

"Now that we are short up front, he has gritted his teeth and will do it for as long as we need it. He has shown and continues to demonstrate his great professionalism."

Juve, who were 10 points behind leaders Inter ahead of kick-off, opted for Alvaro Morata and Dejan Kulusevski in attack.

 

Andrea Pirlo insists Juventus remain determined to push for glory on all fronts despite not being at 100 per cent, with the club heading into a pivotal stage of the season.

The reigning champions find themselves in a battle to remain in touch with Inter in the Serie A title race; they trail the leaders by 10 points, albeit with a game in hand. 

They host Lazio on Saturday in league action, then have a crucial Champions League clash with Porto to follow on Tuesday, the Bianconeri needing to overturn a 2-1 first-leg deficit to make it through to the quarter-finals.

With a Coppa Italia final to come later in the year, Pirlo appreciates he will have to manage his squad carefully in the coming weeks, though insists his focus will not switch away from the Scudetto while there is still a chance of winning it for a 10th successive season. 

"All the matches are decisive for Juventus. The next game is tomorrow's match and we will concentrate on it with all our strength to win and only then will we think about Porto," Pirlo told the media on Friday. 

"We are still in the race on all fronts and as long as there is hope we will give our all to try to win the league. 

"The enthusiasm is there because we are going through a period of tough and important games. Tomorrow's match is also important for the standings and where we are is the same as last week. We can't make mistakes in case those in front of us do so."

He added: "We must play an intelligent game tomorrow, knowing that we are in a delicate period and we are not at 100 per cent.  

"It will be important to manage every situation and every play well, because you won't be able to go to 100 miles per hour for 90 minutes."

Pirlo is hampered in his preparations by injuries within the first-team squad, while Rodrigo Bentancur is isolating away from the group after testing positive for COVID-19. 

Alvaro Morata is nearing a return to action; the striker's recent absence has increased the reliance on Cristiano Ronaldo, who has scored four goals in Juve's past three games. 

"When you play a lot of games, a day or two of rest is good," Pirlo said. "It also applies to Cristiano. 

"Now that we are short up front, he has gritted his teeth and will do it for as long as we need it. He has shown and continues to demonstrate his great professionalism."

Pirlo revealed Leonardo Bonucci has been able to take part in some sessions, though fellow defender Matthijs de Ligt is yet to resume training. Morata, meanwhile, is "getting better every day". 

There was also good news regarding Arthur, with the midfielder sidelined since early February but potentially close to a comeback.

"Arthur's medical check-up went well yesterday, the pain is reducing," the Juve boss revealed. "We hope he can give us a hand in the next few matches, it will depend on the pain when he resumes training with the team.

"Aaron Ramsey is fine and could play tomorrow. He can be an extra resource and we might need him."

Karim Benzema has revealed how Cristiano Ronaldo's departure has allowed him to take on a different role in Real Madrid's attack.

The Frenchman has scored a goal every 1.7 games across all competitions in the two-and-a-half seasons since Ronaldo made a €100million switch to Juventus.

But in their nine campaigns together at the Santiago Bernabeu, Benzema was instead finding the back of the net once every 2.2 games.

And the 33-year-old has now acknowledged that he had to sacrifice certain parts of his game for Ronaldo's benefit - not that he has any regrets over the matter.

"Cristiano's departure allowed me to play a different role. He scored 50 goals every year and you had to adapt to his game," he told El Pais.

"He is one of the best in the world and I was happy by his side."

Nine of the 18 trophies Benzema has won in his 12 years in Madrid have come during the two separate managerial stints of Zinedine Zidane.

Of his compatriot, he added: "He is an older brother for me, he is always there to advise me."

In a wide-ranging interview, Benzema also opened up on his boyhood sporting heroes, explaining: "In football, it's Ronaldo, the Brazilian. 

"I admire [Mike] Tyson because we both came from the bottom and we went up little by little. We never had it easy, nor did they give us anything."

He also discussed his upbringing, adding: "I come from a neighbourhood where things were difficult. When I saw older boys well-dressed and with nice cars, what I wanted was to be like them.

"Money makes things a lot easier, but you don't need millions to be happy."

Cristiano Ronaldo made history on Tuesday to give Juventus a 3-0 Serie A victory over Spezia in Turin.

The 36-year-old struck the third goal of the game after Alvaro Morata and Federico Chiesa had put the champions in control in the second half at the Allianz Stadium.

Ronaldo's clinical finish saw him become the first player to score at least 20 goals in each of the past 12 seasons in Europe's top-five leagues.

It was a moment to savour for the Portugal star, who was playing in the 600th league match of his career, as he moved two goals clear of Inter's Romelu Lukaku in the race to finish as Serie A top scorer for 2020-21.

The result lifted Juve back to within seven points of league leaders Inter with 14 games remaining, and head coach Andrea Pirlo is not prepared to give up on their chances of a 10th title in succession.

"The gap is just the points that separate us," he told Sky Sport Italia. "We know it will be a long chase. Inter have been playing together for two years, they have a well-drilled approach, whereas we just started this season. We still intend to be there right to the end."

Pirlo felt his side's sluggish start against Spezia was "more physical than psychological fatigue", adding: "It can happen when you have so many games with the same players.

"We tried to control the game and then when the fresh legs came on, we were sharper and able to make the most of our chances."

Alvaro Morata scored within a minute of coming on as a substitute to help Juventus to a 3-0 win over Spezia at the Allianz Stadium on Tuesday.

The Spain striker struck just after the hour mark before Federico Chiesa's improvised finish and a late Cristiano Ronaldo strike secured an important three points for the Serie A champions.

Having been held to a draw by Hellas Verona last time out, this was an important match for Andrea Pirlo's men, although they looked far from their best in a frustrating first-half performance.

The introduction of Morata helped to turn the tide as Juve moved to within seven points of Inter and three of second-placed Milan, with Ronaldo's effort making the Portugal star the first player to score 20 goals in each of the past 12 seasons in Europe's top-five leagues.

Riccardo Marchizza nearly caught Juve cold seven minutes in, turning and shooting just wide of the left post following Diego Farias' pass.

There was little Juve threat to speak of until Ronaldo, making his 600th career league appearance, smashed a strike off the base of the post three minutes before the break.

The home side's best work was coming down the left, Weston McKennie almost capitalising on a loose backpass and Dejan Kulusevski sending over a cross that Ronaldo could not meet with conviction.

Spezia did not heed the warning and substitutes Federico Bernardeschi and Morata combined from that same position, the latter finishing at the near post and the goal awarded after a VAR review.

With Morata keeping the Spezia defence busy, Kulusevski found Chiesa in the box and, after his initial shot was saved, he expertly hooked in the rebound for 2-0.

Ronaldo was frustrated by goalkeeper Ivan Provedel from a free-kick but left the keeper with no chance, netting a crisp finish a minute from the end of normal time.

Wojciech Szczesny did not have a save to make until the final kick of the match, when he pushed away Andrej Galabinov's tame penalty to deny the visitors a consolation.

Ansu Fati has been advised to stay humble by Barcelona great Lionel Messi, who the teenager would love to see alongside Cristiano Ronaldo in a five-a-side dream team.

Spain international Fati has made a huge impact at Camp Nou since bursting onto the scene in August 2019, setting a number of records along the way before being struck down by a knee injury that has ruled him out since November.

Fati is Barca's youngest ever goalscorer, the youngest player to score and provide an assist in a single LaLiga game, the youngest Camp Nou goalscorer and the youngest player to score in a Champions League game.

Many have compared the 18-year-old's rise to stardom as being similar to that of Messi, who has gone on to win a record six Ballons d'Or across his 17 seasons in Barca's first team.

And La Masia product Fati, who has been nominated for the Laureus Breakthrough of the Year award, has been given guidance by Messi over the past 18 months.

"What advice has he given me? I try to transmit the same humility as he does. Despite all he has done, he is a very simple man, and the advice he gives is always about keeping your feet on the ground," Fati said, talking to Barcelona's official website.

"It is a dream to play with the best player in the world and learn from him in training."

Fati did not name Messi as his role model - that honour instead went to brother Braima - but he did pick the Argentina international in his fantasy side, along with a group of former Barca stars and ex-Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo.

Asked to select five players, Fati said: "That would be Víctor Valdes, [Carles] Puyol, Xavi or Iniesta, Messi and Cristiano."

Fati is not expected to return for Barcelona until the start of next season, at which point he may be joined by fellow academy product Eric Garcia, who looks set to return to the club from Manchester City.

Garcia spent close to a decade in the Catalan giants' academy set-up and Fati has named the 20-year-old centre-back as his best team-mate.

"We have grown up together from a young age," Fati said. "We've played together and he helped me get better.

"He was very hard to dribble past, and we've been 'at war' since we were kids. We've also played together for Spain - we were always dreaming of this as kids."

David Beckham's Inter Miami are trying to woo Cristiano Ronaldo to MLS.

Ronaldo, 36, is contracted at Juventus until 2022, but his next move is seemingly already a discussion point.

And MLS could suit nicely if Beckham has his way.

 

TOP STORY – BECKHAM'S INTER MIAMI EYE CRISTIANO

Beckham is speaking to Ronaldo's representatives about a move to Inter Miami, according to todofichajes.com.

The Portugal international is understood to be interested by the challenge of joining the club in the United States.

The financial contract would be massive for Ronaldo but he may potentially make the move next January, lowering the transfer fee, given the MLS runs from March to December.

Lionel Messi was reportedly previously sounded out about a possible US switch.

 

ROUND-UP

- The Express are reporting that Gareth Bale's recent form upturn means Tottenham are now keen to sign him permanently, with the Welshman having joined on loan from Real Madrid. Subsequently, the funds availed from a permanent transfer could enable Madrid to enter the fray for Paris Saint-Germain's Kylian Mbappe.

West Ham, Leicester City, Southampton, Brighton and Hove Albion and Aston Villa are among the list of clubs interested in Tammy Abraham if Chelsea deem him surplus to requirements, according to The Telegraph.

- The Star claims the Hammers are also keen on two other young English strikers; Arsenal's Eddie Nketiah and Brentford's Ivan Toney.

- Deportivo Alaves goalkeeper Fernando Pacheco is being pursued by Premier League pair Leeds United and Southampton, according to todofichajes.com.

Andrea Pirlo felt Juventus did not have enough leaders who could "understand the moment" as they threw away two points at Hellas Verona in Serie A action on Saturday.

Defending Serie A champions Juve were heading for a second victory of the week after Cristiano Ronaldo netted early for the visitors in the second half.

But Antonin Barak's header 13 minutes from time rescued a point for Verona, who might then have snatched victory during the closing stages as Wojciech Szczesny saved smartly from influential substitute Darko Lazovic.

Juve head coach Pirlo was disappointed with the way the Bianconeri slipped up from a position of strength, having been made to work hard for their lead against a side they have failed to beat in three attempts.

"We're sorry because we knew it was going to be a difficult, dirty game," Pirlo told DAZN.

"We had interpreted it well. We were also able to take the lead, which was the hardest thing, but then we couldn't keep the result.

"We lacked a bit of aggression, especially for the goal. It was necessary to prevent [Lazovic] from crossing easily.

"These are issues that, unfortunately, the young players still do not understand, because these make the difference and make you take home points."

When Aaron Ramsey was substituted 22 minutes from time, six of the remaining Juve players were aged 23 or younger. Alessandro Di Pardo, introduced in place of Federico Chiesa late on, was a seventh.

Meanwhile, only Alex Sandro (147), Rodrigo Bentancur (102), Federico Bernardeschi (98), goalkeeper Szczesny (92) and Ronaldo (84) had made more than 50 league appearances for Juve.

Amid the lack of experience, Pirlo turned to Alex Sandro and Ronaldo to lift their colleagues, failing to do so as the defender was outjumped for Barak's leveller while the scorer of the opener ended the game having hit the target with only two of his seven attempts.

"When you have the advantage in these games, you have to try to bring it home," Pirlo added.

"But there was a lack of experienced players, many young players, therefore few who made themselves heard and understood the moment of the game.

"In fact, I asked Cristiano and Alex to make themselves heard, to make people understand the moment, but unfortunately there were too few [leaders].

"It's a shame to have dropped two points, because the most difficult thing was to take the lead and we had to make better use of this opportunity."

Juventus suffered another setback in their bid to rein in Serie A leaders Inter as they could only draw 1-1 at Hellas Verona on Saturday.

The defending champions are third but had the opportunity to close within five points of the frontrunners ahead of their game the following day.

Although the Bianconeri were made to work hard by Verona, they looked to be on course when Cristiano Ronaldo netted his 26th goal of the season early in the second half.

But Antonin Barak's header gave Verona a point they deserved, extending their unbeaten league run against Juve to three matches for the first time since the 1980s.

Juve made a rapid start and Aaron Ramsey had a low shot touched wide, but the best attempt of the first half soon followed at the other end as Wojciech Szczesny turned Marco Faraoni's header onto the crossbar.

The pace of the game slowed thereafter, although Marco Silvestri was asked to push away a Federico Chiesa effort.

The breakthrough goal arrived four minutes into the second period when Chiesa turned provider and squared to Ronaldo, whose finish slipped beyond Silvestri.

Juve failed to build on that strike, though, and Verona recovered a foothold and eventually parity as Barak towered over Alex Sandro from substitute Darko Lazovic's cross.

Verona looked the more likely to forge a winner, with Szczesny expertly denying Lazovic, but they settled instead for a point that means Juve are winless in three on the road in all competitions.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has encouraged Marcus Rashford to follow the example of Cristiano Ronaldo in order to make the most of his Manchester United career. 

February 25 marks five years since the forward's memorable debut for the Red Devils, when he scored twice in a 5-1 Europa League defeat of Midtjylland at Old Trafford. 

Having been drafted hastily into Louis van Gaal's first-team squad due to injuries and then thrust into the starting line-up when Anthony Martial was hurt in the warm-up, Rashford, then 18, struck twice in 12 minutes to help his side progress. 

Rashford has since developed into a key part of United and England's plans, with 85 goals and 38 assists in 253 games in all competitions at club level, plus 11 goals in 40 appearances for the national team. 

His strike in the 3-1 win over Newcastle United last Sunday drew him level with David Beckham for United goals, just 33 behind Ronaldo. 

Manager Solskjaer hopes Rashford takes inspiration from the five-time Ballon d'Or winner, who leads the goalscoring charts in Serie A this season after turning 36 three weeks ago. 

Speaking ahead of Thursday's Europa League last-32 second leg against Real Sociedad, Solskjaer said: "He's had an incredible impact on and off the pitch. He's matured, grown into a real proper young man.

"He knows what it takes to be a Manchester United player on and off the pitch, he's taken responsibility on it and off it. I do remember [his debut]: a young little lad coming on, two nice goals, celebration with his team-mates in the stand and I think he's living proof of what we want to do at the club. 

"When you sign for Man United, whether you're five, six, 10, 14, you have a chance to make dreams come true and long may it continue, he's got 10-15 years left in him. 

"You have to be meticulous to last for a long career. We've had the best possible example of that in world football with Cristiano. The way he has looked after himself, the way he came into the club and we all took notice the way he developed throughout his career and the way he looked after himself is major. 

"I'm sure Marcus as well is looking after himself. That's the only way to be at the top: you can't get distracted and if you play until you're 35 you can do whatever you want after that." 

Rashford scored in United's commanding first-leg victory in Turin, a result that puts them in a strong position to progress to the last 16. 

With Edinson Cavani, Paul Pogba, Scott McTominay and Donny van de Beek sidelined and a Premier League game at Chelsea to come on Sunday, Solskjaer could well hand opportunities to youngsters such as Shola Shoretire and Amad Diallo, although Hannibal Mejbri will miss out through injury.

"Amad and Shola will be involved, they're in the squad and I'm not going to tell you if they're starting or not," he said.

"I believe in the youth, I believe if young players, if they get a chance, they can really develop, improve, impress, even surprise you and that's just part of this club and it's part of me.

"I've always loved working with young players and hungry players with a good attitude. If you've got a good attitude, you've got a good chance; if you don't, then there's less of a chance."

Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski moved outright third on the list of all-time Champions League goalscorers with his strike against Lazio on Tuesday.

The 32-year-old pounced on a poor backpass from Mateo Musacchio, rounded Pepe Reina and rolled the ball into an empty net to open the scoring in the last-16 tie.

Lewandowski now has 72 goals in UEFA's premier club competition, moving him above Real Madrid great Raul and behind only Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

Juventus forward Ronaldo tops the list with 134 goals while Barcelona's Messi has 119.

Poland international Lewandowski reached the 72-goal mark in 95 matches, scoring 47 with his right foot, nine with his left, 15 with his head and one via other means.

Jamal Musiala went on to double Bayern's lead at the Stadio Olimpico with a strike from the edge of the box, making him the youngest ever Englishman to score in the Champions League at 17 years and 363 days, before Leroy Sane made it 3-0 prior to half-time.

Kylian Mbappe will use his "shark" mentality to try to push aside Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo at the summit of world football, according to Thomas Tuchel.

World Cup winner Mbappe has established himself as one of the sport's foremost stars since breaking through at Monaco but still has some way to go to match Messi and Ronaldo.

Now at Paris Saint-Germain, the striker has so far finished no higher than fourth in Ballon d'Or voting, while the two modern greats have won the prize 11 times between them.

Mbappe is also still waiting for a first Champions League triumph, losing with PSG in last season's final having failed to score in the knockout stages of the 2019-20 tournament.

The 22-year-old has quickly made amends this term, though, hitting a hat-trick at Barcelona in last week's last-16 first leg.

Mbappe became just the 10th player ever to score a treble away against Barcelona, and only the second - after Andriy Shevchenko in 1997 - to do so in the Champions League.

The performance from Mbappe in a 4-1 win was considered another breakout moment on the world stage, although Messi and Ronaldo are not going away.

While Mbappe has been involved in 30 goals in all competitions this season, ahead of the veteran stars (Ronaldo 29 involvements, Messi 27), his rate of a goal every 108 minutes lags behind Ronaldo, who nets every 95 minutes.

If Mbappe is to establish himself as the world's best, former PSG coach Tuchel says he must kick on again.

"They will never step aside, never of free will. They will never step aside," Chelsea boss Tuchel told BT Sport. "If he wants to be there, he has to push them aside.

"This is clear: on that level, nobody will step aside for him.

"Scoring a hat-trick at Nou Camp is a message and is what he demands of himself. It is his potential, it is what he has in him. He is still young, he is still hungry, he is a shark in his mentality.

"He wants to grab everything that he can have. This is the mentality that you need, and I mean it in the most positive way because he's a nice guy in private and in person.

"He's a nice guy, super intelligent, super funny, but once he's on the pitch, he's a shark. This is what the big guys are. If there is one drop of blood in the water, they arrive.

"This is Kylian, and if he wants to enter on the level from the guys that you mentioned [Messi and Ronaldo] - because they are there for years and years and years - I don't think they are ready to step aside just because he arrives.

"He has to take it. I think he will do everything to do it."

Andrea Pirlo vowed Juventus will "fight until the end" to retain their Serie A title after Cristiano Ronaldo scored twice in a 3-0 victory over Crotone.

Ronaldo had gone three games without goal but headed home a first-half double as Juve claimed a first win in four matches.

Weston McKennie was also on target as the champions dominated sorry bottom side Crotone, registering 27 shots in a one-sided encounter at Allianz Stadium on Monday.

Victory for Juve moved them up to third place, eight points behind leaders Inter with a game in hand.

Head coach Pirlo was pleased with the way the Bianconeri got back on track and says they are ready to roll up their sleeves and battle in the title race.

He told Sky Sport Italia: "The last two games had left us with some nerves, then luckily we managed to straighten the situation and we managed the game well."

Pirlo added: "All the teams chasing [Inter] are genuine rivals, we will try to fight until the end."

Ronaldo was among the Juve players who were guilty of wasting glorious chances, the Portugal captain only hitting the target with four of his 11 shots, and Pirlo expects the Turin giants to be more clinical in their pursuit of more trophies.

The former Italy playmaker said: "We have created a lot, it's a pity we didn't take so many chances. The important thing is to create, the goals will come."

Pirlo picked out Rodrigo Bentancur for praise after he gifted Porto an early goal in a 2-1 Champions League defeat for Juve last week.

"The midfield did well. Bentancur played without training," the Juve boss said. "Those who played tonight did well with a positive and proactive attitude.

"Bentancur was good and deserves applause because it was not easy to return to the field after the mistake against Porto."

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