Antonio Conte has expressed his pride at leading the Bianconeri back into the big time but believes three points from tomorrow’s clash with Real Madrid are an absolute priority if his team is to harbour any hopes of progressing through to the knockout stages.
Opening draws from the two Champions League fixtures against FC Copenhagen and Galatasaray, coupled with last month’s defeat to Real, means Juventus’ ambitions of making it out of a tough Group B stand on a knife-edge.
Yet, historically speaking, the visit of the Spanish giants in Europe’s top club competition always appears to bring out the best in the Bianconeri, who possess a home winning streak stretching back to the competition’s change of format in 1992.
And Conte has called on both his players and the club’s supporters to once again rise to the occasion when the two European powerhouses go head-to-head at Juventus Stadium on Tuesday night.
Speaking to the media at Juventus Stadium, the 44-year-old said: “It’s a historic, fascinating game, but one that is fundamental as far as we’re concerned. We’re playing against a great team and should be proud that we're once again involved in such big encounters.
"Before the game in Madrid I said the three following games would be decisive regardless of how we fared at the Bernabeu. That sentiment still remains. We need to show that we deserve to reach the group stages, otherwise we’ll applaud whoever goes through in our place.
“We need to make our home advantage count. I’m expecting our fans to provide a red-hot atmosphere, not only when the game is going our way but also when the game isn’t going our way. They need to push the players to overcome a hurdle, a very high one at that…”
The manager opted for a change in system for last month’s trip to the Bernabeu, employing a 4-3-3 line-up which, for the most part, successfully nullified the threat of the Spaniards' most potent attacking talents.
And, whilst keeping his cards close to his chest regarding tomorrow’s formation, Conte said he would have no issues in reverting back to a defensive quartet after yielding a trio of recent domestic victories with a 3-5-2 layout.
“We’re able to operate in both systems. We could start with a certain formation and then change as the game progresses. What counts more than the system itself is the desire and intensity shown by my players.
“Real’s attacking threat is devastating, especially if they’re able to sit back before breaking on the counter. Ronaldo, Bale, Benzema and Di Maria are extraordinary players when they have space in which to operate. From a tactical point of view, we need to repeat the good things we did in Madrid, cutting out the errors and looking to strike when we’re in possession.”
Refereeing decisions overshadowed much of the Bianconeri’s good work in the Spanish capital, with question marks raised over the red card handed to Giorgio Chiellini within three minutes of the restart.
But Conte, whilst reiterating his faith in the Champions League officials assigned to preside over Juventus fixtures, insists his side should cast the refereeing debate to the back of their minds and focus fully on overcoming Real Madrid.
“There were certain decisions that influenced the game and result in Madrid, but we’re confident in the referees we’re given and their ability to do a good job. Anyone can make mistakes, they’re part and parcel of football. We’re happy that we’re getting a top-rate official for this particular game, Webb is one of the best in the world. But at this precise moment we need to be focused first on ourselves and then Real Madrid.”