Antonio Conte says his men will have to remain alert against a “fierce” Fiorentina keen on exacting revenge for Sunday’s league reverse at Juventus Stadium - but believes the Bianconeri’s desire for a Serie A-Europa League double will enable them to match their visitors’ determination all the way.
Both teams square up for the second time in five days in tomorrow night’s Europa League last 16 first leg tie at Juventus Stadium, and Conte began by warning of the difficulties his charges could face when encountering a team who will be able to focus all their attentions on prolonging their European adventure.
Yet the unquestionable importance of gaining vital international experience remains something very much at the forefront of the manager’s psyche, meaning Juventus will put all domestic thoughts to one side when they resume hostilities with the Viola.
Previewing the clash in Vinovo, the 44-year-old said: “We’ll be up against a fierce Fiorentina side who will want to go through. Their domestic situation means they’ll be focusing all their efforts exclusively on these two games. We, on the other hand, are gunning for a great target in what would be the club’s third consecutive Scudetto.
“But we’re also aiming to continue our journey in Europe. The Europa League is a wonderful competition and, although it won’t be easy, going all the way would be very important for our development as a group. It would give added international experience to a group that, aside from a few players, possesses very little on the European stage.”
Sunday’s win over Vincenzo Montella’s men, coupled with Roma’s defeat at the hands of Napoli, enabled the Bianconeri to extend their lead at the summit of Serie A to 14 points.
But with a clutch of important fixtures on the horizon, Conte moved quickly to dismiss suggestions that the Scudetto race had already reached its conclusion.
“Nothing has changed as far as we’re concerned. We’re doing very well in Serie A, but there are 11 games to go, 33 points up for grabs and everything’s still to play for. We don’t consider the Scudetto to already be in the bag. We’ve got Fiorentina, then Genoa, Fiorentina and Catania - all games in a short space of time. I think we’ll have more of an idea after these fixtures, but it’s very much as you were for now.”
After making several alterations to his starting line-up for both victorious Round of 32 legs against Trabzonspor, the manager is again expected to keep to the same blueprint when compiling the Bianconeri’s team sheet for Fiorentina.
Whilst suggesting top scorer Carlos Tevez could be one to drop out due to a sore tendon, Conte also sought to defend the performances of Paul Pogba, whose recent display against the Viola was called into question by a journalist.
“I’m expecting to have a full group at my disposal. Carlos has experienced an inflamed patellar tendon which we’ve been managing in training since last week. We’ll see how he is today and make our required assessments.
“Paul’s in good shape and I think he put in an excellent performance on Sunday. Let’s not forget that he’s a 20-year-old lad who has played a great deal. He featured in the Under-20 World Cup in the summer and only had 15 days off. But he’s a young guy and has no problems in covering the yards.
“It’s inevitable that I’ll be making some changes with so many games coming up in a short space of time. I’ll always look to pick a side capable of winning the game. We’ve worked on our rotation policy and let’s hope they’ll help us get results both domestically and in Europe.”