Guardiola versus Conte
MANCHESTER, England (AP):
Pep Guardiola started the season calling Antonio Conte a "master tactician." Now, he's labelling him "maybe the best" coach in world football.
"His statistics, his numbers, the way they play, are really good," Guardiola said yesterday, a day before his Manchester City side takes on Conte's Chelsea in a match between two of the title favourites in the English Premier League.
It will be the first time that Guardiola, a serial winner in spells at Barcelona and Bayern Munich, and Conte, who won three Italian titles with Juventus, have come up against each other as managers. They vaguely recall facing each other as players when Juventus (Conte) played Brescia (Guardiola) in Serie A in 2003.
"You and me had hair in that time!" Guardiola said, laughing. "Wow, it was a long time ago!"
City and Chelsea sit in the top three of the Premier League after 13 games, with their coaches having contrasting starts to their first jobs in English football.
City won their first 10 games in all competitions under Guardiola but have stuttered since, winning just three of their last seven matches in the Premier League.
It took Conte time to get his methods across at Chelsea, but he now has the team firing after switching to his favoured three-man defence. With seven straight wins in the new 3-4-3 formation, Chelsea lead the league.
"They were contenders to win the Premier League from the beginning, but now, maybe more than before. It's a good test for us," said Guardiola, who gave his players two days off this week ahead of the game.
"We are going to take them on with ambition and see what we can do to win the game."
Chelsea have conceded just one goal in their recent winning run that has taken in victories over Hull, Leicester, Manchester United, Southampton, Everton, Middlesbrough and Tottenham.
"Tomorrow is a great test for us, for our formation, to continue in this way," Conte said. "We know that it won't be easy because tomorrow we face a really great team.
"We want to show we are working very well and we are growing. Tomorrow is another step to show us if something changed compared to the start of the season."