Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde labelled Chelsea counterpart Antonio Conte as “one of the best managers in the world” as their sides prepare to meet in the Champions League on Tuesday.
Reigning Premier League champions Chelsea host the first leg of last-16 tie boasting an impressive record against the Catalan giants.
Barcelona have never beaten the Blues when Chelsea have kept 11 players on the pitch, while talisman Lionel Messi remains goalless in eight previous encounters.
Conte heads into the tie with speculation over his future continuing following a poor run of form which has seen his side win just four of their last 12 games in all competitions.
Two of those wins have come in their last two games, a league victory over rock-bottom West Brom and an FA Cup stroll against Championship strugglers Hull, but heavy defeats to Bournemouth and Watford remain open wounds.
Conte’s position has been in question with Chelsea failing to put up a strong defence of their title, but he received a ringing endorsement from Valverde – whose Barcelona side are seven points clear at the LaLiga summit – on the eve of the contest at Stamford Bridge.
“He is one of the best managers in the world with a great record,” the former Athletic Bilbao boss said.
“Not only that he has shown at Chelsea, but previously with Juventus and the Italian national team, you can see the quality of his coaching in his teams.
“He has the classic Italian methods, very strong defence who can counter at any moment. Chelsea have a very unique style of football, they know their game. The English style of football is a unique, physical style, but they play good football as well.
“Any moment is bad to play Chelsea. They have the same qualities they had last year. They may not have had the best season so far, but they are still so strong.
Barcelona’s history against Chelsea is best summed up by their semi-final meeting in this competition in 2012 when they surrendered a two-goal lead to crash out at the Nou Camp as Roberto Di Matteo’s side went on to lift the Champions League for the first time.
Messi, true to form in this fixture, hit the crossbar with a penalty in that meeting but, although Valverde knows those players who remain at Barcelona will remember the tie, he insists it will have no impact almost six years later.
“Of course previous games do count and you have to look at them,” he said.
“(But) it has little to do with what will happen tomorrow in reality, the key players change from time to time and from the last game. There is a little bit of a rivalry between the two teams, which is a good thing and makes it more of a spectacle.
“For us, it is a game that makes us very excited, but it is just another game in the Champions League. I don’t know if Leo is thinking about this (the penalty miss) or not.
“We know Leo hasn’t had much luck against Chelsea in the past, but tomorrow is a different game and we have to move on.”