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Maybe he's the best - Guardiola hails 'superb' Chelsea boss Conte

Pep Guardiola believes he could be pitting his wits against the sharpest dugout mind around when Manchester City take on Premier League leaders Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

City, tipped by many as potential champions under ex-Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss Guardiola this season, are a distant fourth – 11 points shy of Conte's men following three consecutive top-flight draws.

Chelsea suffered a rare slip-up as Crystal Palace claimed a shock 2-1 victory at the weekend but Guardiola's pre-seaon prediction in the biography "Pep Guardiola: The Evolution" by Marti Perarnau, that Conte and Chelsea could be his toughest opponents of all in England, is proving accurate.

"My opinion about my colleague Antonio Conte is that he's superb – a top, top manager, maybe he's the best at the moment in terms of how they play," Guardiola told a pre-match news conference.

"It's not just here, how he was able to make Italy play beautiful football, Juventus too, in a culture where it's so defensive.

"He's an excellent manager. I learn a lot when I see his teams - Juventus, Italy and right now. When I see these teams I love many, many things.

"I like to do that because you see what they want to do. These teams control a lot of aspects. It's a good lesson for me to see his teams and learn from them."

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City led through a Gary Cahill own goal in December's reverse fixture but goals in the final half hour from Diego Costa, Willian and Eden Hazard sealed a 3-1 comeback win for Chelsea.

The hosts then unravelled in stoppage time as top scorer Sergio Aguero and Fernandinho were sent off. In their absence, City went down to a 4-2 defeat at Leicester City and have never managed to recover the ground in the title race.

Nevertheless, Guardiola took plenty of positives from the previous outing against Chelsea and maintains his men were the better side despite the unflattering scoreline.

"We finished the game against Chelsea four points down and, believe me, I saw the game many times - we were much, much better," he said. "I'm sorry, Antonio, but we were.

"We deserved to win. At that moment we would have been one point [behind], then we go to Leicester without Sergio - another three [point dropped] and soon it's 10 points. These are minimum details."

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Ironing out such blips will be the order of what promises to be a busy summer for Guardiola as he continues to try to shape City in his image, having witnessed another mixed bag during Sunday's 2-2 draw at Arsenal.

"We speak every day about what we do to improve the quality of the players we have and will have in the future," he added. "What we can do get better and, of course, buy some players to help us to be stronger.

"But all the teams are going to think about that. Even Chelsea are going to buy players. It will make an exceptional Premier League, every club is going to try to improve.

"I remember Sir Alex Ferguson would win titles and titles but every season would change players. You have to do that."