Antonio Conte is preparing to stifle Zlatan Ibrahimovic at the peak of his powers when Chelsea travel to Manchester United on Sunday.
The Premier League leaders face the toughest assignment of their run-in at Old Trafford, with United unbeaten in the league since taking a 4-0 pasting at the hands of Chelsea in October.
Though United’s long sequence without defeat has not vaulted them into title contention, due to too many draws, Ibrahimovic’s performances have been consistently excellent, helping him net 17 goals already in his first season in England.
Conte would not be drawn on whether any of United’s players would get into his Chelsea team, but lauded Ibrahimovic’s development into one of the world’s most lethal strikers.
“Yes, I agree. I always said this. I think now, Zlatan is at the top of his form in his career,” he said.
“I think he’s a great player now, a top player. Not only a finisher, but he plays for the team.
“It’s good to have this type of player because it’s very good to play for the team. It’s great. For me, he’s one of the best players in the world, Zlatan.
“We must have good defensive organisation, and we must pay attention because, when he attacks the box, he’s very dangerous.
“Also when he receives the ball, he’s dangerous. He’s a dangerous player.
“For this reason, I think my players must pay great attention and great concentration tomorrow to stop him, and not only one player, but the team.”
Conte’s fiery touchline antics drew the ire of Jose Mourinho in October’s thrashing at Stamford Bridge, the Portuguese caught on camera saying his counterpart’s celebrations were “a humiliation”.
But the former Juventus coach says there is no tension between the pair, outside of their respective desires to win.
“I have zero problems,” he explained. “It’s only a sporting competition between him and me.
“There is a game of football. I want to try and win with my team. He wants to try and win with his team. It’s normal to be a conflict during the game, but only a sporting conflict.”
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