Antonio Conte says Juventus will have to be at their best if they are to avoid becoming the latest scalp of Sinisa Mihajlovic’s resurgent Sampdoria when the two sides meet on Saturday night in Turin.
Tomorrow’s visitors, the only team to do the double over Juventus in Serie A last season, have profited from a recent change in the dugout, with former player Mihajlovic steering them out of the danger zone after making a triumphal return to his former stamping ground in November.
And Conte knows his men, who recently extended their winning streak to 11 consecutive league games with last Sunday’s 4-1 triumph in Cagliari, will need to be at the races in a “fundamental” encounter against a side currently brimming with confidence and self-belief.
Speaking to reporters in Vinovo, the 44-year-old began: “We’re taking on a spirited team in fine form and we’ll have to be fully alert. Mihajlovic is doing an excellent job and it’s not going to be a walk in the park for us, especially if we don’t prepare for it in the correct manner.”
The recent record-breaking triumph in Sardinia rounded off a sensational opening 19 games of the Bianconeri’s quest for a third successive Scudetto title, a run that Conte himself sought to define as “incredible”.
But the tactician insists his charges can’t afford to take anything for granted due to the quality of competition that will continue to snap at their heels right until the very end of the campaign.
“It’s been an incredible first half of the season and will be difficult to follow up in the future, both for Juventus or any other team. It’s even more impressive when you look at how our other direct rivals have fared: Roma and Napoli have both amassed record points respectively, and they continue to strengthen.
“We’ve had to maintain an extraordinary pace to keep them in our wake and we’ll need to remain alert throughout the second half of the season. I’m reading that the Scudetto has already been awarded, but I think those who say that have never won anything in their lives.”
The discussion then turned to recent events which have unfolded down the road in Milan, where the Rossoneri have disposed of the services of title-winning coach Massimiliano Allegri, replacing him with Clarence Seedorf.
But before discussing the managerial situation at the San Siro, Conte began by extolling the virtues of Alessandro Matri, who this week completed a switch to Fiorentina following an unfruitful spell in the red and black stripes.
“I’ve got a lot of time for Alessandro. He was always an important player for us and made a crucial contribution to both Scudetto triumphs. I’m sad that things didn’t work out for him at Milan.
“I’d also like to take the opportunity to bid farewell to Allegri who has been a great rival of Juventus over the past two years, both on the pitch and in the media. It’s always sad when an “enemy”, who I hold in high regard, retracts his weapons. I hope he’s back in the game soon.
“Milan have entrusted the team with someone who has won a great deal as a player and knows and understands the environment. He doesn’t have managerial experience, but I think he’s got all it takes to become a great coach. It doesn’t count where you start from, but where you end up. I also said that on my unveiling as Juventus manager.”
Since first sweeping through the gates of Vinovo in 2011, Conte’s ability to breathe new life into a struggling Bianconeri side has won him plenty of admirers which include both his peers and players.
The latest to hail the Conte-factor is Argentine striker Carlos Tevez, who lavished his coach with praise by calling him a “phenomenon” during a recent interview.
“These words fill me with pride and repay the many sacrifices I’ve made. We’ve embarked on an important journey over these past two-and-a-half years, bringing Juve back to the top.”