Chelsea head coach Maurizio Sarri says Fulham manager Claudio Ranieri has been an inspiration to him after studying his tactics over 20 years ago.
Sarri first met Ranieri when he visited the Premier League-winning manager while he was in charge of Fiorentina between 1993-1997.
Ranieri returned the favour by visiting Sarri at Chelsea’s training ground earlier this season, before the former Leicester boss returned to management in England with Fulham after a spell at Nantes.
Sarri said: “Friend is a big word but I like him (Ranieri) very much. I visited him in Florence 20 years ago. I think he doesn’t remember this meeting but it was very important for me.
“He visited us around 40 days ago to see our training. He spoke to me and Gianfranco (Zola).
Asked whether Ranieri has been an inspiration, Sarri replied: “Of course. I think he is very able in the defensive phase and very dangerous on the counter-attack, like with Leicester.
“So it will not be easy to play a Ranieri team.”
Despite Thursday’s 4-0 Europa League win over PAOK, Sarri is under pressure in the Premier League following a goalless home draw with Everton, and the 3-1 defeat to Tottenham at Wembley.
On Sunday, Ranieri returns to the place where he began his coaching career in England. He left Chelsea in 2004 after missing out on winning the title, second only to Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’.
Sarri disagreed Ranieri will have an advantage going into Sunday’s match, despite him attending his training sessions earlier this season.
He added: “He only saw two of my training sessions. 20 years ago, I saw 40-45 [laughs], so I have the advantage.”
Sunday’s match will be the first west London derby between Chelsea and Fulham since March 2014.