Antonio Conte has called on his men to put their midweek Champions League hangover behind them by bouncing back with a positive performance and all three points in Sunday’s Serie A clash with Sassuolo at Juventus Stadium.
With second-placed Roma not in action until Monday, a win would enable the Bianconeri to steal an early march on their nearest title contenders by opening up a six-point gap at the top of the championship.
But the newly-promoted Neroverdi possess a strong record against the front runners in this season’s Scudetto race, prompting Conte to stress the importance of a correct mindset when lining up against Eusebio Di Francesco’s men.
Speaking to journalists in Vinovo, Conte began: “The present is the only thing that counts, and Sassuolo have held both our nearest challengers, Roma and Napoli, to draws in front of their own fans. We’ll need to do well to immediately think about this game, forgetting about what’s come before, with the awareness that we’re in a delicate stage of our season.
“This isn’t the first setback we’ve faced. It’s already happened twice this year when we were defeated by both Fiorentina and Real Madrid. Those who play sport know that you can win and lose and need to be prepared for both eventualities. We also need to bounce back this time.”
The manager has been tasked with lifting morale in the camp following Wednesday’s disappointing exit from Europe’s elite competition at the hands of Galatasaray and remained philosophical when analysing the reasons behind the defeat.
“Winning the Champions League is the right kind of ambition to have, because you always need to raise the bar, but doing so requires enthusiasm, passion, patience and, above all, time.
“It is no longer the competition it was when I was a player. You’re now up against teams you’re unable to compete with on a financial level and I think it will be tough to see an Italian team reach the final in the next few years.
“Last year we got to the quarter-finals and were eliminated by Bayern Munich, whereas this year we failed to get off to a good start and that affected our campaign. We shouldn’t have left it down to the last game to play for qualification.”
Injuries continue to hamper the Bianconeri in attack, with Conte confirming that Sunday’s visit of the Neroverdi will more than likely come too soon for strike duo Mirko Vucinic and Sebastian Giovinco.
And the absences of Andrea Pirlo (injury) and Claudio Marchisio (suspension) could also see Kwadwo Asamoah deployed in a new role as part of the central midfield trio.
“Vucinic is unavailable and Giovinco took another knock during our workout with Chieri, forcing him to miss yesterday’s training session. Pirlo and Marchisio are out as well, meaning Asamoah could be an option in the centre of midfield.”
One frontman who looks set to retain his place for tomorrow’s clash is Carlos Tevez, whose lack of goals in the Champions League has been brought into question by certain sections of the media.
But Conte was quick to praise the Argentine’s contribution to the cause, pointing to Wednesday’s magnificent display on a tough playing surface as a perfect example of the qualities he brings to Juventus.
He concluded: “As far as I’m concerned, a striker’s performance doesn’t depend on the amount of goals he scores. Carlos was a leader in Turkey, playing like a lion in spite of the difficult conditions. He represents an excellent purchase, not just because of his playing qualities, but also his personal attributes, bringing us charisma and experience.”