LONDON: Barcelona’s visit to Chelsea on Tuesday gives Antonio Conte the perfect opportunity to reaffirm his stature as one of Europe’s greatest coaches.
“To play against Barcelona is a great challenge for us,” Conte said after easing the pressure on his job with back-to-back home wins over West Brom and Hull in the past week.
“We must be excited to play this type of game, especially against this team. I consider Barcelona one of the best teams in the world.”
Conte also considers himself one of the best coaches in the world, referring to himself despite a recent 4-1 drubbing at Watford as “a winner.”
He does so with some justification.
In a glittering coaching career, Conte made Juventus title winners again with three consecutive Serie A titles after a five-year drought.
He also surpassed expectations by leading an Italy side short on star names to the quarter-finals of Euro 2016, and delivered the Premier League in his debut season at Chelsea.
However, a second season slump at the Bridge and his fractious relationship with the club’s hierarchy means most believe the Italian won’t last at Chelsea beyond the end of the season at the latest.
Whether it is to convince Roman Abramovich and close aid Marina Granovskaia he should remain in charge next season or to attract the attention of Europe’s other giants who may be looking for a coach come the summer, Conte needs Champions League nights to remember.
His two years in the competition at Juventus ended in a 4-0 quarterfinal aggregate thrashing from Bayern Munich and an embarrassing group stage exit behind Galatasaray.
Conte complained then it was impossible for Italian sides to compete at the latter stages of the Champions League.
It didn’t help his case then that his successor Massimiliano Allegri then led Juve to two Champions League finals in three seasons.
There have been similarities between Conte’s final days at Juventus and many of his public outbursts against the Chelsea ownership this season over his lack of input over recruitment and how much is spent.
“I think I’m a bit of a disaster to convince the club to buy the players,” Conte said last week.
“I have to speak more with the managers who are very, very good to persuade their clubs to spend money and buy top players.”
Conte may then welcome his meeting with the more softly-spoken Ernesto Valverde this week.