Conte: ‘Criticise me, not Inter’

Antonio Conte maintains Inter criticism is ‘all about’ him as the target, while he thought tomorrow’s opponents Napoli would be ‘favourites’ for the Scudetto and tried to get Kalidou Koulibaly at Chelsea.

It kicks off at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona on Sunday at 19.45 UK time (18.45 GMT), click here for a match preview.

“This is going to be a tough game and, as you all know, I have always put Napoli among the two-three teams who could challenge for the Scudetto to the end. Gennaro Gattuso is an excellent coach and this is going to be a difficult test for us,” said Conte in his press conference.

“Napoli have one of the best squads in Serie A and I put them among the favourites for the Scudetto at the start of the season. Rino is doing really well, but as we all know, the coach is the first to be criticised when results don’t come. It hasn’t been an easy year for me either.

“If a player asks me for advice on whether to become a coach, I tell him that he needs passion. Sometimes you can get the result and still be criticised, so you need the passion to go beyond positive or negative feedback.”

They are 11 points clear at the top of the table, but Inter are still criticised for their defend and counter approach.

“I realised that it’s all about me, that’s the basic problem. I don’t mind that, as long as they don’t touch Inter. There are still many points up for grabs and we’ll go to Napoli for the victory. We cannot start calculating or holding back, because my experience tells me that is counter-productive.

“We mustn’t fall into the trap of taking the Scudetto for granted, because it hasn’t been assigned yet. We know the sacrifices we’ve made to reach this position, but must be humble to realise there are still some steps to go before we can make that dream come true.”

The most fascinating battle tomorrow should be between Romelu Lukaku and Kalidou Koulibaly.

“He is one of the top two or three defenders in the world and I wanted to bring Koulibaly to Chelsea. He’s actually improved since then.

“Lukaku has improved a great deal too, it’ll be an interesting duel, but both sides will have to work as teams to create goal-scoring opportunities.”

Inter have found their form since sticking to a starting XI that rarely changes, which they could work out earlier due to a lack of European football.

“I think every team needs an identity and you can only have that if you focus on a specific system. I find it easier for players to recognise themselves in a system if it has only minor adjustments from game to game.”