Zlatan Ibrahimovic called Barcelona "probably the best team ever on this planet" and praised Lionel Messi, but the Paris Saint-Germain striker was still bullish about the French club's chances in Tuesday's Champions League quarter-final first leg.
Ibrahimovic, 31, will come face to face with the team he left after a disappointing single season in Spain three years ago, but the Swede showed no signs of rancour as he raved about the quality of the side PSG will face at the Parc des Princes.
"I think it'll be a tough game, they're probably the best team right now, and probably the best team ever to have played on this planet. Everyone knows them, they like to keep the ball. We want possession too as we're at home, but I think it'll be exciting to find the solution how to play against them, to try to disturb them as much as possible. It's easy to talk before the game, but you have to try and do it on the pitch too," Ibrahimovic told the press before turning his admiring gaze on former team-mate Messi.
"For sure, Messi is the best player in the world right now. He's won the World Player of the Year award in the last few seasons. Perhaps they should just call it the Messi award instead of the Ballon d'Or. I think he'll win it again for the next couple of years."
The Argentine's emergence was a major contributing factor in Ibrahimovic's brief stay at the Camp Nou where differences with then-coach Pep Guardiola poisoned their relationship. Despite his underwhelming year at Barcelona being a blot on an otherwise success-filled CV, Ligue 1's leading scorer insisted he would change nothing should he return to Catalonia, saying: "I'd be the same as I was when I was there a couple of years ago. Just be myself and play my game."
That motto could well be used by coach Carlo Ancelotti, 53, ahead of the game with the Italian determined his side should have confidence in their own abilities. When asked how PSG could contain Messi, the former Chelsea coach replied: "I think Ibrahimovic is tough to stop. I think also for Barcelona it'll be tough to stop him. We're focused on playing our football, and must concentrate on defending and attacking. We must not think too much about the quality of our opponents and the players against us."
He added: "I'd like to see a courageous PSG with personality, who'll play the game. We perhaps won't have a lot of the ball, but I hope that when we do have it, we'll have good, clear ideas to attack, score and win the game."
Having guided his team through to the semi-finals of the competition on five of the previous seven occasions he has guided them this far, Ancelotti has good reason to be in high spirits. The former Champions League winner even had the large media gathering chuckling as he denied L'Equipe reports Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho had supplied him with a blueprint on how to beat Barça.
"I've not had that information," he said. "The match is tomorrow. If Mourinho wants to give me something, then I'm here and listening. He's got a lot of experience in playing Barcelona, but that information still hasn't arrived."