Conte: ‘A lot at stake in the Milan Derby’

Inter boss Antonio Conte acknowledges having a Milan Derby Scudetto showdown is ‘very satisfying for the city and there’s a lot at stake,’ but denies the Nerazzurri have an advantage.

It kicks off on Sunday at 14.00 GMT, click here for a match preview.

The first focus was naturally on Mauro Bellugi, the former Inter great who sadly died this morning due to complications from COVID.

There will be a minute’s silence before kick-off in every game this weekend and Inter will wear black armbands.

“Unfortunately, the news arrived while we were on the training ground of the sad death of Mauro Bellugi. We’re all very sad and join his family in mourning.”

The Nerazzurri are top of the table in the second half of the season for the first time since winning the Treble in 2010.

They were able to leapfrog Milan last week, following the Rossoneri’s defeat at Spezia. Conte was asked if this represented an advantage for Inter.

“We are talking about two teams who are basically tied together at the top with little to separate them. That is very satisfying for the city, it means there is a lot at stake, far more than local pride,” said Conte in his press conference.

“We must always work with the right determination and enthusiasm, so when the table is like this, you need to be even more motivated and exhilarated.

“The message I gave to the team this week is the same as every week, to give their all, work well and improve. We strive for excellence. Nothing changed from any other week.

“We are working to build something important, to continue the growth process, and are up against a Milan side that deserves its position in the table and is a great team, so we need to be at our best tomorrow.

“The season is incredibly difficult to predict. Many assumed we’d be several points behind going into the derby, because we had Lazio and Fiorentina, while Milan had Crotone and Spezia. Yet we are one point ahead.

“It’s a very unpredictable campaign and nothing can be taken for granted. Naturally, every victory improves self-confidence and team morale, gives you more belief, so we just have to take it one game at a time.”

These sides met only a few weeks ago in the Coppa Italia quarter-final, a very ill-tempered affair that saw Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Romelu Lukaku clash.

“It’s going to be a match with two teams trying to win and surpass each other. An excellent referee has been assigned to the game.

“We must never forget that, even if this is a big game and a derby, it remains a sport. I don’t predict much tension in the atmosphere.”

Ibrahimovic scored in that Coppa tie before he was sent off, so how will Inter work to block his influence?

“You neutralise threats by working as a team, reducing the errors. Ibrahimovic is a top player who is doing very well for Milan, he already scored against us this season, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he will score again.”

Milan could also argue they are penalised by having the Europa League commitments, including Thursday’s 2-2 draw with Red Star Belgrade, whereas Inter are out of every tournament and can now focus only on Serie A.

“We have played every three days until now anyway, as we had a Coppa Italia semi-final over two legs with Juventus and that used up a lot of energy,” insisted Conte.

“On paper, you might talk about advantages, but the only thing that matters is what happens on the pitch. We have to keep working even harder when we don’t play on Tuesday or Wednesday.

“We were clinical against Lazio, but also wasted many scoring opportunities and could’ve had a lot more. I think we did well against Lazio, had the right game plan on how to hurt them, which wasn’t easy for a side that had won six consecutive Serie A games.

“Now we have worked on Milan, we know the difficulties they can create for us and know it won’t be easy. We have to be at our best.”

With Arturo Vidal not at 100 per cent, it remains to be seen whether Christian Eriksen will start in midfield.

“I haven’t made any decisions yet. Christian has improved a great deal, we tried to work with him on his approach in training and we’ll continue that. It’s good for Christian, good for the team and everyone else.”

The Derby della Madonnina will be played behind closed doors, but fans of both clubs are planning to cheer on their teams beforehand.

“My message is always the same: we will give our best, as we always have done, for these colours, the history of the club and our fans. We always want to make them proud of us.”

Finally, Conte was asked if he would’ve shared Milan’s acceptance of Ibrahimovic spending the week at the Sanremo music festival rather than training with his teammates?

“We’ll do our singing at San Siro tomorrow.”