Milan: Antonio Conte has returned to Italian football in style with Inter Milan flying high under his back-to-basics guidance, ahead of a Champions League trip to Barcelona that will test the Serie A leaders' continental credentials.
Conte's side stretched their perfect league start to six wins from six for the first time in 53 years at the weekend with a 3-1 win over Sampdoria that came despite having to play most of the second half a man down.
They are two points ahead of fierce rivals Juventus as they await a top-of-the-table clash at the San Siro on Sunday. Meanwhile, Inter head for Catalonia on Wednesday off the back of a shaky start in Group F, a 1-1 draw against Slavia Prague salvaged late after a below-par performance that contrasted sharply with their domestic form.
Conte — reportedly the highest-paid coach in Italy with a salary of 10 million euros ($10.8 million) a year — believes his side is flourishing because he simplifies the game.
"I am a coach who always gives a precise idea of football to his team. I seem to set the trend in tactics," said the former Chelsea and Juventus coach.
"My football has always been organised, we have an idea and work hard on a range of scenarios. All our performances this season have shown quality and organisation, but mentality makes the difference in getting out of tricky situations."
Helenio Herrera was the last man to lead Inter to win six straight matches from the start of a league season back in 1966-1967, the three-time Serie A winner having also established them as a continental force with European Cup wins in 1964 and 1965.
Conte is bidding to claim the club's first league title since 2010, the year they won a historic treble under rival coach Jose Mourinho. "We must now press the reset button, focus on Barcelona at Camp Nou," insisted Conte, whose last trip to Barcelona with Chelsea ended in a 3-0 defeat in March 2018.
"We're getting into the right frame of mind, but we sill have to grow a lot. We're newborns in this project," he said.
Conte has remodelled the club he took over after a rollercoaster two years under predecessor Luciano Spalletti — who brought Inter back to the Champions League on the final day of each of the last two seasons — bringing in 11 newcomers in the summer. Former captain Mauro Icardi moved on loan to Paris Saint-Germain amid a protracted contract wrangle which overshadowed last season.
Belgian forward Romelu Lukaku joined from Manchester United along with midfielder Alexis Sanchez, with young midfielders Stefano Sensi and Nicolo Barella also arriving at the San Siro. The busy transfer window seems to have paid off with Lukaku and Sensi both bagging three league goals and Barella grabbing the late equaliser against Slavia Prague.
Sanchez then scored on his debut against Sampdoria at the weekend, before being sent off for diving. "At the age of 26, I want a coach like this, who helps me every day and gives me motivation," said Lukaku.
But it is still early days for Conte's bid to topple his former club Juve, where he spent the bulk of his footballing career. The former Italy midfielder won 13 trophies in as many years in Turin, including five Serie A titles and their last Champions League in 1996.
He returned to coach the club in 2011 and won the first three Serie A titles in their current run of eight before going on to coach the Italian national team.
However Conte's thrilling start is no guarantee of Inter's first league title in nine years: Rudi Garcia lead Roma to a Serie A record 10 straight wins in the 2013-14 season but missed out to Juve, as did Napoli two season ago after a run of seven wins on the bounce.
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Updated Date: Oct 01, 2019 13:05:43 IST