Juventus manager Antonio Conte says his men will have to remain on their guard when they travel to the San Siro to square up with a rejuvenated Inter outfit in tomorrow evening’s 161th championship Derby d’Italia meeting.
Despite possessing a favourable record recent in away encounters against the Nerazzurri – with two wins in as many years – Conte knows he will be pitting his wits against a familiar face who has vowed to reestablish his new employers as a competitive force in both Serie A and Europe.
Addressing reporters in Vinovo, the 44-year-old began: “We need to be extremely alert because Inter have got everything it takes to break into the pack challenging at the top of the table. Mazzarri is an excellent manager who knows how to get the best out of his players.
“We know how they like to play and will need to pay great attention to their counter attacks, orchestrated by the likes of Alvarez and Palacio and their wide players. Guarin is another one who is capable of causing danger with the ball at his feet and splitting a side in two.”
While tomorrow’s clash between the two giants of Italian football is undoubtedly a highlight in the fixture calendar for both sets of supporters, Conte maintains that claiming all three points remains his number one priority regardless of the opposition.
“It’s a game that’s worth three points. Let’s not forget that if we were to win tomorrow but then lose against Verona, it would mean we hadn’t achieved anything. Where it is important, however, is from a psychological point of view. Winning would serve as a real confidence boost for Inter.
“That’s exactly what happened to us two years ago when we played clear favourites Milan in the fourth game of the season. They had the likes of Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva, Nesta, Gattuso, Robinho, Pato… and we managed to win that game which gave us the belief and knowledge that we could compete at the top.”
The winds of change that are currently sweeping over the Nerazzurri have drawn inevitable parallels with the project that Conte implemented upon his return to the club as manager in May 2011.
And with Mazzarri’s new charges eager to write the wrongs of two disappointing Serie A campaigns, it is a comparison that the Bianconeri manager feels he can identify with.
“When I arrived here as manager, Juventus, like the current Inter side, were approaching the campaign off the back of two negative seasons. Just as I had back then, Mazzarri also has the opportunity to work on his squad, organisation and fitness without a European campaign to tackle.
"Inter had a very poor season last year but it’s not as if they had a weak squad. Weak teams don’t come to Juventus Stadium and beat us 3-1. He’s got excellent foundations in place.”
The Bianconeri’s imperious start to their title defence means Conte has every reason to be confident when sending his men into battle tomorrow night in Milan.
But he conceded that the team’s heavy fixture schedule and impending assault on the Champions League will force him to shuffle his pack as the season wears on.
“Up until now we’ve played one game a week and I’ve been able to pick my team without having to take fatigue into consideration. We’ve won all three encounters, so I’d say my decisions have been correct. However, things obviously change when you’re tackling seven games in a month.”
With Martin Caceres and Simone Pepe confirmed absentees for the clash, Conte updated journalists on the progress of Andrea Barzagli and Mirko Vucinic, who were both forced to leave their respective international training camps early due to injury.
“Even though he hasn’t been in peak physical condition for the past three games, I asked Barzagli to put in a shift for us and he gave me his full commitment. He’s been back training with us for two days now and it’s only right that I speak to him and ask how he’s getting on.
“The same applies for Vucinic, who took a hefty blow to his knee. He trained with us yesterday and is available. We’re about to embark on a run of seven fixtures in a short space of time and I hope I’ll have a full complement of players at my disposal. Having said that, I’m also aware that those who could come in are training well and up to the task.”