Antonio Conte insists Inter fully intended to ‘cede possession’ to Sassuolo at San Siro in a 2-1 victory. ‘Aesthetics are fine, but the Scudetto is too important.’
The Nerazzurri were again absolutely clinical in their 2-1 victory, having just 30 per cent possession at San Siro, but beating Sassuolo 2-1 with Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez counter-attacks.
It allowed them to go 11 points clear at the top of the Serie A table, with a 10th consecutive victory.
Lautaro Martinez said after the game that Inter had a ‘talk’ at the midway stage of the season and changed gear.
“We needed to take another step up if we wanted to have a season as real protagonists and challenge for the Scudetto,” Conte told DAZN and Sky Sport Italia.
“We had to become more determined, more focused in every situation, as well as more resilient. There are games like today where we can be up against teams with no pressure and if we are more clinical, we can score five or six goals. Sassuolo kept it open to the end, even if they scored only when Milan Skriniar was off the field.
“I congratulate Sassuolo, as they came here to play their game and this performance shows how much we’ve grown. With this attitude, we’d still be in the Champions League.
“Sassuolo make possession their main strength, so we chose to close the gaps in the centre more than anything else. We knew that we’d have to cede possession.
“Aesthetics are fine, but the Scudetto is too important. We played beautiful football in the Champions League and all anyone said was that we were eliminated, so we have to focus on the results now.
“We are trying to press high, without running too many risks, so we can make the most of players like Lukaku, Lautaro and Hakimi who can hurt teams when running into space.”
Conte had famously called Lukaku a ‘rough diamond’ when he arrived from Manchester United, but has he been fully polished yet?
“You can see the work Romelu has done and I don’t forget when people said he was over-rated. I immediately said that with his potential, he could do extraordinary things here.
“The great thing about our strikers is that they are all willing to do the dirty work too. Christian Eriksen has also grown, we knew it would be difficult for him to adapt to a very tactical league like Serie A. He can do much more, but we are counting on him.
“It’s a pity we conceded that late goal with a player out, but we are more balanced and mature as a team now. If you want to win league titles, solidity is important.”
Despite the 11-point gap, Conte will not say the Scudetto is a done deal.
“No, no, there are still many games to go and each victory is worth six points. By winning, we put pressure on and can see the satisfaction and effort in everyone’s eyes at every victory.
“We want to do something wonderful for a club that hasn’t won for 10 years. It’d be wonderful if we were the ones to remove from the pedestal those who won for nine years non-stop.
“There will be tension from here on, it’ll feel like the ball weighs more at our feet, perhaps more than for those teams who no longer have the same objectives.”