Antonio Conte has urged the Bianconeri to put their forthcoming Champions League fixture against Real Madrid to the backs of their minds and focus exclusively on claiming all three points from Sunday afternoon’s testing away encounter with Fiorentina.
Speaking to the media in Vinovo, the 44-year-old began: “Real Madrid isn’t important for me today. The game of our lives is Sunday’s clash against Fiorentina. Only once the 90 minutes in Florence are up will we start to think about Wednesday’s match at the Bernabeu.”
Emerging victorious from the Artemio Franchi has become even more paramount after Roma chalked up their eighth consecutive Serie A triumph to put further distance between themselves and the chasing pack with Friday night’s win over Napoli.
But Conte insists the Giallorossi’s imperious start to the Serie A campaign can only encourage his side to raise their game over the course of this year’s race for the Scudetto.
“If they maintain their pace they’ll shatter every record and we can only applaud that. Seeing a team ahead of us must serve as a motivating factor and yesterday’s game means we’ll be on full alert.
“It’s good that this is happening, because if certain people here were thinking that winning the title would be straightforward, their eyes will now be opening. We need to surpass ourselves to achieve something extraordinary for the third consecutive year, but if we’re all conscious of the difficulties then our possibilities of doing so will only increase.”
Sunday’s opponents Fiorentina have been widely tipped to mount a convincing tilt for the Champions League places this season and, despite tailing off in recent weeks following consecutive draws with Lazio and Parma, will be confident of regaining their stride under the shrewd management of Vincenzo Montella.
“Fiorentina have been set up to build on last year’s fourth-place finish. They’ve made important purchases and you can only take your hat off to the club and Montella for the work done. It will also be tougher for them this time around because they’re no longer a surprise package.”
The Bianconeri will be welcomed to the Artemio Franchi by the usual red-hot atmosphere that has traditionally characterised meetings between the two sides over recent years.
And Conte sought to applaud the decision to remove the barriers between the stands and the pitch, expressing his belief that the Florence-based public will set a positive example for the rest of the country.
“Unfortunately football in Italy isn’t the same as it is in England, Spain or Germany, where people go to the stadium, support their own teams, win or lose, and calmly make their way home afterwards. Here it seems as if we’re going into war every time and it’s terrible.
"I think they’ve done the right thing in removing the barriers. The people from Fiorentina are polite and civil, an example for the rest of Italy and I’m sure they will be so again tomorrow.”
This week’s training ground injury to Fabio Quagliarella, along with Mirko Vucinic’s previously confirmed absence, means Conte will approach Sunday’s clash with just three recognised strikers at his disposal.
But the manager believes the trident of Carlos Tevez, Sebastian Giovinco an ever-improving Llorente will provide him with plenty of different options in the final third.
“It’s a situation that we’ll deal with calmly. Injuries are part and parcel of a season and are taken into account when building a squad. We’ve got five strikers and the current absences of Vucinic and Quagliarella will give greater possibilities to the other three. I’ve got full faith in all of them.
“Llorente is making excellent progress after spending practically a year out of action in Bilbao. He played very few games in a difficult season and I think it also had a psychological impact on him. He’s now experiencing a different type of football, where the defenders are less forgiving, and is adapting and developing well. I hope to get him back to his best and enable him to be reconsidered for the Spanish national team.”
Conte concluded by confirming press speculation surrounding Arturo Vidal’s delayed return from international duty, but says he still needs to speak to the player before deciding on the most appropriate course of action.
He added: “It’s right for me to ask Arturo why he turned up a day late and missed two training sessions. Rules are in place and when I fully work out what’s happened we’ll make sure they’re respected, for the good of everyone.”