Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers labelled Barcelona’s Luis Suarez as the best striker in the world ahead of the Scottish champions’ daunting task of stopping Suarez, Lionel Messi and Neymar in their Champions League opener on Tuesday.
Rodgers worked with Suarez for two years at Liverpool as the Uruguayan’s 31 goals nearly carried the English side to their first Premier League title in for 24 years in 2014.
However, Rodgers admitted Suarez has gone to another level alongside Messi and Neymar in forming what the Northern Irishman described as one of the most deadly strike forces in football history.
“We respect that this is arguably the best team in the world with maybe the best front three of all-time,” Rodgers said at the Camp Nou on Monday.
“I know from working with Luis he used to occupy a four or five-man defence on his own, so if you put Neymar and Messi into that it is a very difficult task. In this moment in time Luis is the best striker in the world there is no question about that.
“First of all you have to speak about the man. He is one of the most beautiful men you can come across. He’s very humble guy, super professional, a family man who gives everything for his life as a footballer.
“I had the pleasure of working with Luis for two years. He is the best in the world. The biggest compliment you can pay him is he came to an already world class team and made them better. Barca now wouldn’t be the same team without Luis in the team.”
Celtic are huge underdogs to progress in a group that also contains Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City and Borussia Moenchengladbach.
However, the sides suffered contrasting fortunes at the weekend as Celtic thrashed old rivals Rangers 5-1 in the first league meeting between the two for four years, whilst Barca slumped to a shock 2-1 home defeat to newly-promoted Alaves.
“It can be positive, but also you can waken up a team with a result like that,” added Rodgers. “Luis (Enrique) made a number of changes to the team. Every manager picks the team to get the result and of course they will be disappointed. “When you work with big players they always want to make amends.”
Enrique was in the firing line after leaving Messi and Suarez on the bench among seven changes for the Alaves clash. However, he expects the Spanish champions to suffer no after-effects when back close to full-strength on Tuesday.
“The team has reacted well. They are obviously annoyed because we don’t like and are not accustomed to losing at home,” said Enrique. “We have the shortest turnaround you can have between games. The players are rested and desperate to compete and play again in the Camp Nou in a competition that excites us.”
Barca beat Celtic as recently as July 3-1 in a pre-season friendly in Dublin. However, Enrique expects a very different clash with Champions League points at stake. “It helps to have played them in pre-season, but in terms of intensity and fighting for the three points there is a huge difference,” added Enrique.
And he lauded the impact made by Rodgers in his short time in charge at Celtic in leading the Scottish champions back into the Champions League for the first time in three years. “He loves good football, he is a coach that likes to play on the front foot, to take the game to the opposition and you can see that already in his short time at Celtic. They have made good signings and have players that will cause us problems. I Like Rodgers as a coach and his idea of how to play football.”
Enrique’s only injury doubt comes in goal. Dutch stopper Jasper Cillessen made his debut on Saturday, but Marc-Andre ter Stegen trained fully on Monday and could make an earlier than expected return from a hamstring injury.