Inter will play their penultimate away fixture of the season at 18:00 CEST on Saturday 1 May, when they’ll face Crotone at the Stadio Ezio Scida. On the eve of the matchday 34 clash, Antonio Conte had the following to say to the press:
What kind of match will it be tomorrow?
“The lads know that we need to play like Inter tomorrow because if we think about doing anything different we’ll be in for a few nasty surprises. We must have the maximum respect for Crotone. They’ll be motivated and will want to show that they deserve to remain in Serie A, especially given they’ll be playing the team at the top that are trying to win the Scudetto. We need to produce an Inter-like performance and be attentive, ferocious and determined in order to avoid any surprises. I’ve said this to the boys and I hope that they’re listening to me.”
Can you tell us about the President’s visit?
“Greetings were exchanged because we haven’t seen each other in a while. He greeted the players and wished us good luck because the President is also fully aware that we haven’t won anything yet.”
Have you made the most of this week to recharge the batteries or are you thinking about making some changes?
“Everyone is feeling tired. Given the gap in the table, perhaps the others are feeling it even more. We’re about to do something extraordinary and historic for the Club after so many years, so the players can’t think about fatigue.”
You’ve won a lot, where do you rank this season? What’s your assessment?
“The important thing is for the season to end in the right way and that we’re rewarded for the sacrifices we’ve made, the sweat we’ve shed and all the sleepless nights we've had.”
Is there a player whose performance levels and growth have been particularly surprising?
“If you remember, at the beginning of the year, I said that Inter’s fortunes would depend on the growth of individuals in order for the team as a whole to grow. This is what’s happened and why Inter now have the opportunity to do something extraordinary. Everyone has made strides forward, they’ve developed a greater sense of responsibility. They’ve all understood the path that needs to be followed in order to be protagonists and everybody has reaped the benefits, including on an individual level. Even Pinamonti, who hasn’t had much playing time due to very strong players like Sanchez, Lautaro and Lukaku being ahead of him in the pecking order, is now a much better player than what he was at the start of the season. It can be really hard when you work in a certain way, but you also see the benefits.”
Was this season’s turning point the win against Juventus?
“I think there have been various key moments this season that have made us become more aware of our capabilities and increased our confidence, it can’t just be put down to a single game. It was a crucial moment when we went top after previously being behind and doing the chasing because either you demonstrate that you can handle the pressure and stay first or you can let the pressure get to you and get sucked under. The guys have done well, they’ve understood the messages that they’ve been given. This is why we’re currently talking about an Inter side that have their destiny in their own hands. I hope that we’ll finish the campaign in the best possible way, which would represent a masterpiece for us.”
How is Vidal doing?
“The problem is he’s had unforeseen injury difficulties, and this is delaying things for him. He’s training separately and isn’t available. I hope he’ll be able to make a return in these closing stages of the season because it’d be great for everyone to be involved.”
Sanchez has become an important player for Inter…
“I think that everyone is doing something important on this extraordinary journey. When the transfer market closed, he really put his body and soul into the cause because I think he understood the family environment here where everyone is important and can make a contribution. I think that he’s happy and will be able to take to the pitch even more at this final stage of the campaign.”
Are you experiencing the wait in a different way compared to the past?
“When you get close to a goal, the wait becomes something you have to be good at managing for yourself, the group, the Club and the fans. It’s not easy, but I think we’re handling things in the right way. When I say that Inter need to play like Inter tomorrow, this is what I’m referring to: we don’t want to experience any nasty surprises and are looking to achieve our objective as soon as possible. Everyone who works at the training ground knows that something extraordinary is on the horizon this year.”
You’ve brought about big changes, but have Inter changed you?
“My objective at all the clubs I’ve been at has been to apply my beliefs and vision. It’s a journey that involves sacrifices, sweat and hard work. It brings everybody to the limit, but I think this is the path to follow if you want to honour Inter’s history and be successful and credible. Here, I’ve encountered many people who wanted to go down this path. We’ve experienced two important years where Inter have regained credibility on a national and international level given that we made the Europa League final. It’s been an important journey.”
Do you see the upcoming matches as the chance to reward the players who have played fewer games? Or will they be fixtures where you make assessments with next season in mind?
“It must be stressed: we still need to secure the Scudetto title. I’ve said that I’ll give more playing time to those who may deserve it and not because I’ll be doing them a favour. When I make my choices, I’ll continue to reward the players who deserve it, those who have shown that they’re in the right frame of mind to play during training. Our objective is to achieve the maximum. This is the mentality of those who always want to win. They don’t give an inch.”
(Photo Getty Images)