Antonio Conte was the coach who started Juventus’ title-winning streak and as Inter boss he is determined to bring an end to the reign of the Turin giants.
However, Conte knows the will and planning on his part is not enough, and the onus falls on his team to beat direct rivals such as Napoli, who visit San Siro on Wednesday.
Seeing off such opponents could begin to tip the balance in Inter’s favour, with the Nerazzurri prominent contenders to deny Juventus a 10th consecutive Serie A crown.
Inter sit second, with Napoli third, going into their midweek tussle, both keen to keep pace with early pace-setters Milan and stay ahead of fourth-placed Juve, who have yet to be beaten.
“Head-to-head matches are very important for the standings and from a mental point of view,” Conte said at a pre-match news conference on Tuesday.
“Every game, even against teams that are not fighting to win or for a place in the cups, is still difficult. Winning head to head gives you more certainty and helps you feel stronger.”
| FIGHTING SPIRIT
— Inter (@Inter_en) December 14, 2020
Assessing talk of Inter now almost needing to win the Scudetto, Conte pointed to the difficulty teams have had in dethroning Juventus over seasons gone by.
He led Juve unbeaten through the 2011-12 Serie A season as they began their dominance, helming the tirst three championships, and current head coach Andrea Pirlo has seen them put together six wins and five draws in their opening 11 games of this term.
Conte knows Juventus being present in a title race makes every other team’s task all the more difficult, particularly being acutely aware so many see Inter’s time as having arrived.
“If I hear of an ‘almost obligation’, it makes me smile,” Conte said. “We all start with the ambition to be a protagonist and at least on my part there is always the intention of trying to win, but having said that, only one team wins and in the last nine years it has always been the same team.”
Looking at Napoli, a team who under Gennaro Gattuso’s leadership have taken a leap forward this season, Conte said: “It is a demanding challenge against a team who have the same ambitions as us. The result will be a gauge on which to make certain assessments.”
Napoli have been a forward-looking team under former Italy midfielder Gattuso, who took the reins last December.
His first year has shown that he wants his team to attack, with their average of 17.4 shots per game during his tenure only beaten by Manchester City (17.5) in the top five European leagues.
Yet Napoli have not found the net in their last three away games against Inter in Serie A. The last team to keep a clean sheet in four consecutive home games against Napoli were Catania, whose feat stretched to six games and spanned from 1961 to 2008.
Inter did the double over Napoli in Serie A last season, with Conte bidding to become the club’s first boss to win each of his three first league games against the Naples side since Alfredo Foni from 1952 to 1953.
Inter appear likely to be without Alexis Sanchez, however, due to an adductor muscle problem, and Arturo Vidal is another unlikely starter as he battles to overcome a thigh strain.
Wing-back Achraf Hakimi has a minor knock but could be involved, with Conte saying: “Of the three, he is the one I am most open to.”
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