Antonio Conte has called on his players to put any thoughts of next week’s Champions League encounter with Galatasaray to the backs of their minds and focus all their attentions on chalking up a seventh consecutive Serie A success when they run out in Bologna on Friday night.
When speaking to the media in Vinovo this morning, the Bianconeri boss made no secret of the need to tackle a crucial stage of the campaign with a professional approach.
The 44-year-old began: “It’s an important moment of the season and clear heads are required. We’ve got a tough encounter ahead of us against a Bologna team in decent fettle.
“I’ll look to play the right side for the game and we’ll have the sole objective of getting the better of our opponents and winning. There are many factors that will come into play when I’m picking my starting line-up, but I’m sure those who do feature will give me the right responses.”
Juventus travel to Emilia-Romagna in full spirits after extending their lead over Roma to three points with last Sunday’s dramatic 1-0 triumph over Udinese at Juventus Stadium.
The only blemish on an otherwise memorable evening for the reigning champions was the early injury sustained by Andrea Pirlo, who limped off inside the opening 15 minutes of play after taking a knock to his knee.
With scans confirming the Azzurri international’s absence until the new year, Conte has been forced into rethinking his options in the middle of the park.
“Pogba can cover that role and also does a good job there. However, I believe he’s best suited as one of the two supporting central midfielders, where he can express all his talents. I could also deploy Vidal or Marchisio in front of the defence, we’ll see which option is the most appropriate depending on who we’re up against.”
The discussion then inevitably turned to last night’s accolade handed to talented French midfielder Paul Pogba, whose superb displays across the past year-and-a-half enabled him to scoop the Golden Boy 2013 award at a lavish awards ceremony in Saint-Vincent.
And Conte is confident the youngster will continue to flourish if he maintains the same level-headed mindset that has enabled him to handle the step up from youth team football to Serie A stardom with consummate ease.
“I’m happy about Paul’s award, even more so because he’s said that he’s not settling for what he’s achieved and wants to aim for even more prestigious accolades. He’s got a long way to go and needs to keep learning.
“He came from Manchester United’s youth team and has grown in an exponential way. He’s got all the potential required to keep developing, the most important thing is for him to keep his head down and continue to work.”
Next on the agenda was an update on Stephan Lichsteiner’s return from injury. Having deployed him for the majority of the second half against Udinese, Conte believes it’s only a matter of time before the Swiss defender is able to stake his claim for a starting berth.
“He’s still looking to get back to peak fitness and is undergoing specific training sessions. I hope he’s soon able to play from the start and make it all the way through until the 95th minute.”
Conte concluded by admitting his surprise at the fine incurred by the club for chants made during the meeting with Udinese, but was quick to suggest an alternative for when the ‘Gioca Con Me… Tifa Con Me’ initiative is repeated in just over a week’s time against Sassuolo.
He added: “I’ve been saying for a while that football needs to be improved in every aspect. I hope that the children shout ‘Bravo!’ when the Sassuolo goalkeeper takes a goal-kick. It would be a decent step forward for everyone.”