Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde labelled Chelsea counterpart Antonio Conte as “one of the best managers in the world” and believes the Blues would be wrong to axe the Italian.
Reigning Premier League champions Chelsea host the first leg of last-16 tie on Tuesday night 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 when asked if he thought the Blues would sack the Italian should they go out of the Champions League to his side.
“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.
“They have been better in the last two games. With Eden Hazard, Alvaro Morata, Pedro and Willian they have such quality up front. They have got very good tactics from the coach as well. We obviously wish Chelsea were first in their group so we didn’t have to play them.”
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