With just over 24 hours to go until Inter vs. Shakhtar Donetsk, the Europa League semi-final, scheduled for Monday at 21:00 CEST at the Düsseldorf Arena, Antonio Conte took questions in a press conference.
How have Shakhtar changed since Luis Castro took over from Paulo Fonseca?
“They’re a side that are full of talent, and beyond the change in leadership, Shakhtar have done well to keep a strong structure and to continue playing at a really high level. I faced Shakhtar back when I was at Juventus, and even then, they had players like Willian, Mkhitarayan, Pyatov, and Srna. In short, they’ve always had good players, and that remains true today. All credit to them, they have a knack for scouting out some really great talents."
What does the presence of the Club’s President, who’s just arrived in Düsseldorf, bring to the team?
“It’s an absolute pleasure for me and the team when the President comes to stay with us. His presence makes a really positive impact, both for me and for the players."
How do you expect Shakhtar to play, especially when it comes to their pressing, and how they dictate the game?
“They will alternate phases of high pressure and low pressure to give the opponent space to attack, and then they’ll try to hit us on the counter-attack. They’ve got a really respectable identity as a team and they play at a high level, and Castro has convinced even the strongest individual talents in his squad to put in the work for the team. Getting players of that calibre to put in plenty of effort on the defensive end is testament to the great work he’s been doing."
Is there an element of fear when you’re facing a Ukrainian side?
The word fear is not in my vocabulary, nor should it be a factor for any of my players. We have a great deal of respect for Shakhtar Donetsk because they’ve got some quality players. We’ve been preparing really well, and obviously this is the strongest side we’ve faced so far in the Europa League. We’ll approach the match with the utmost respect, but also with the desire to show that we are in the semi-final for a reason and that we deserve a place in the final."
Do you feel any responsibility for representing Italian football as the only Italian team still in contention in a European competition?
“We don’t consider ourselves our country’s saviours, we’ve just been worrying about our own path, without worrying about anyone else. This season we’ve treated every competition with the utmost respect: our objective is to improve ourselves as a team.”
You’re yet to win a European trophy: do you think that European success could be your big break on the international stage?
“Of course, if we win in Europe, I’ll be happy. But I’ll be happy for the Club and not for myself: I’m not worried about my personal trophy cabinet, rather, what matters to me is the success of the Club."
Are Inter looking to bring in any new players?
Now is not the time to be talking about the transfer market and the possibility of signing new players. We’re playing some important matches at the end of a tough season and I’ve got my current group of players to thank for what they’ve achieved, which has been highly commendable."
Alexis Sanchez is out injured: what impact will his absence have on the team and what have you got in the pipeline to make up for it?
“Let’s not forget that Alexis was out injured for most of the season. We’ve only just become aware of how dangerous he can be, as after all, he wasn’t available for three-quarters of our matches. It’s a real pity that he won’t be playing, and his absence deprives us of one of our most potent threats, whether he’s starting, or coming on as a substitute. We’ve got to ask for a huge effort from our two remaining attacking options, and the alternative to Sanchez, Sebastiano Esposito. We’ve tried things out in case of an emergency. But Alexis will be sorely missed."
(Photo Getty Images)