Chelsea boss Antonio Conte is “one of the best managers in the world”, according to his opposite number at Barcelona, Ernesto Valverde.
The two giants of European football will face-off on Tuesday in the first leg of their Champions League last 16 tie at Stamford Bridge.
Despite two convincing home wins in the last seven days, the pressure remains on Conte after an indifferent defence of the Premier League title his side won last season.
The former Juventus boss continues to be linked with a move away from west London, with Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain and AC Milan all reportedly interested in his services next season.
But Valverde insists his team will not be taking the Blues lightly while leaping to the defence of Conte.
“Antonio Conte is one of the best coaches in the world,” he told a press conferene. “He’s got a fantastic CV, not just here in England after winning the league with Chelsea, but with Juve and with his national team.
“His teams are well drilled tactically. They know what to do in every moment and it’s a real challenge.
“We’re planning to change our dynamic a little bit away from home. They’re physical, they defend well. They’ve got players who can hit you well on the counterattack.”
Tuesday’s clash will mark the 13th time Barca have faced Chelsea in the Champions League, with the Premier League outfit holding the recent edge.
The Blues are unbeaten in their last seven games against the Blaugrana, though Barca have won three of the five knockout ties between the teams across two legs.
Valverde admits he is looking forward to adding another chapter to their rivalry, but took time to remind his hosts of previous results.
“History counts,” he said.
“The main players change during the game. [Lionel] Messi, [Andres] Iniesta might still be there, but I think it’s good that there’s been a little rivalry, it gives us a little bit more expectation.”
Surprisingly, Barca star Messi has never scored in 655 minutes of action against Chelsea, although Valverde knows his team will offer plenty of support to the Argentina international as he seeks to end that unhappy sequence.
“This tie is important for Leo, for me, for everyone. For Barcelona. It’ll be tough, but it’s important because we want to qualify,” he said.
“Leo perhaps hasn’t had much luck against Chelsea before, but Tuesday is a different game.”