Antonio Conte claimed that Eden Hazard must start winning football’s biggest trophies if he is to bear comparison with a “genius of football” like Andres Iniesta.
Iniesta was a fitness doubt for Barcelona against Chelsea in the second leg of a tight Champions League round-of-16 tie at Camp Nou due to a hamstring injury, but Ernesto Valverde confirmed on Tuesday that the Spain international would be in the squad.
Conte compared the World Cup winner to retired Italy legend Andrea Pirlo in terms of his ability and standing within the game, adding that he does not believe Hazard is at the same stage of his career.
“We are talking about two different players [Iniesta and Hazard],” Conte said. “Hazard is more a No. 10. Iniesta is a thinking midfielder. A midfielder that thinks and stays always in the centre of the play, of Barcelona’s play.
“Hazard is more a No. 10 and, for me, can play as a false nine, a second striker. We are talking about two different players with different careers. Iniesta won a lot in his career. Hazard has to start to win important trophies in his career.
“I have great admiration for Andres Iniesta. For him and for the players who created the history of Barcelona: I’m talking about [Gerard] Pique, about [Sergio] Busquets. They have many great players with great talent.
“Iniesta is a genius of football. I like to compare him with Andrea Pirlo. We are talking about a genius, a genius with a football.”
Conte kept his tactical plans close to his chest in a news conference on Tuesday, but Willian hinted that Chelsea will seek to replicate the game plan — featuring Hazard as a false nine — that troubled Barcelona for long spells of last month’s first leg at Stamford Bridge, which ended 1-1.
“We come here to do exactly the same job that we did at Stamford Bridge,” he insisted. “We know Barcelona always have more possession. They like to have the ball and they like to play. With the ball we have to be more clinical. Without the ball, we have to stay compact like we did at Stamford Bridge.
“We all have to do the same job. We know here the pitch is big, and we have to stay together to make sure we don’t concede goals, but to go for the counter-attacks as well.”
Conte repeated his mantra that Chelsea must be prepared to “suffer without the ball,” and admitted that their task at Camp Nou has been made even harder by the away goal that Lionel Messi scored at Stamford Bridge.
“In the first leg we had a plan,” he added. “For sure, the final result was not good for us because 1-1 means you have to score, you have to win if you want to go into the next round, or to score twice to draw 2-2.
“You have to say the game will not be easy. We know the difficulty we can face tomorrow. But if you want to go through to the next round, we must stay in the game in every moment.”
Conte has no new injury worries ahead of Wednesday’s match and Antonio Rudiger is back in contention after missing Saturday’s 2-1 victory over Crystal Palace, though David Luiz and Ross Barkley remain unavailable.