Antonio Conte has brushed off criticism concerning Tuesday night’s Champions League debut in Copenhagen and encouraged his players to use pressure as a motivating factor when crossing the white line.
Having earned plenty of plaudits for their strong start to the domestic campaign, which included two comprehensive victories over Lazio and a creditable draw at the San Siro, the Bianconeri were subject to less favourable reviews in the aftermath of their midweek European draw against FC Copenhagen.
But Conte is no stranger to the scrutiny that comes with managing a club like Juventus and called on his team to channel any pressure into positive energy.
Speaking to reporters in Vinovo, the 44-year-old began: “These are the same criticisms we had last year. I remember people saying that we were going well in the championship but stuttering in Europe. And then when we beat Chelsea 3-0, we were suddenly kings of Europe and ready to win the Champions League.
“This is the world we live in. But we’re perfectly calm, we’ve got an added year’s experience and need to remain balanced in handling the pressures that we face, using them as motivation to do well.”
On returning to Turin, Conte ran through the 90 minutes in Denmark with his players and says there were both positives and negatives to be highlighted from their display at Parken Stadium.
With a total of 27 shots on goal, only a goalkeeping masterclass from FC Copenhagen shotstopper Johan Wiland denied the Bianconeri all three points, yet Conte acknowledges there is room for improvement as far as certain defensive situations are concerned.
“We watched the game again with the players. We did very well when in possession, creating a great deal of chances. We were less convincing when dealing with that one set play, when the rebound favoured the FC Copenhagen player.
“There were a few movements in our defensive play that weren’t as precise as they need to be. And when I speak about the defensive side of things I’m talking about everyone: strikers, midfielders and defenders.”
Returning to domestic matters, Conte claims the strong starts made by the Bianconeri’s main Scudetto rivals in an increasingly competitive Serie A have failed to surprise him.
“I said a few weeks ago that it would be a tough championship, because certain teams have strengthened and can aim for the title. I spoke about the likes of Napoli, Roma and then Inter, who aren’t in Europe and have the opportunity to work well.
“I also said that Fiorentina, Milan and Lazio will be there or thereabouts. It’s a confirmation that we’re involved in a stimulating league, in which we need to be competitive in order to enjoy a strong season.”
Juventus will hope to maintain their 100 per cent start to the season on home soil when they entertain newly-promoted Hellas Verona tomorrow afternoon in Turin.
And with Wednesday night’s trip to Chievo Verona falling before next Sunday’s inter-city derby with rivals Torino, the 44-year-old believes the meeting with the Gialloblu represents the ideal opportunity to freshen up his starting XI.
“Storari will start tomorrow. Buffon played two consecutive games with the national side and has many others ahead of him in the coming weeks. So, in agreement with Gigi and our goalkeeping coach, we’ve decided to rest him for the game.
“It’s also in line with our idea of rotating the side, because if we want to be competitive on every front, the entire squad needs to be involved. They are lads who deserve to be at Juventus, they’ve participated in our victories and will continue to be involved in our future triumphs.”
On the injury front, the manager confirmed that Claudio Marchisio will take his place in the matchday squad after coming through a useful midweek friendly workout unscathed.
The midfielder, whose knee injury sustained against Lazio in the Super Cup kept him out of the first three championship games, will not however be joined by Simone Pepe, with Conte urging for patience as the winger bids to regain peak condition.
“Claudio has recovered and looked good in Thursday’s friendly. He’s available and his return is welcome because it enables me to freshen things up in midfield, given that Pirlo, Pogba and Vidal have played every game so far. I don’t know if he’ll start tomorrow, it could be a risk to throw him in straightaway.
“We need to be patient with Pepe. It’s a pity because he’s a player who would give us an added option during the game. He’s had a nasty injury and been out for a year, now he’s recovering but I don’t want to say that he’ll be ready soon. He’s working with a top medical team to look to come back as strong as he was before.”
Conte concluded by hinting at the possible inclusion of Fernando Llorente, who is edging closer to his first league start in the black and white stripes after working hard on the training ground to rediscover his sharpness.
“Fernando has needed extra time to regain his intensity. These are the things you lose when you don’t play for a year. He’s been training for three months and working hard, it’s inevitable he’ll get his chance. I coach these players and see what happens during the week. Llorente is like Pogba, Vidal, Tevez… we chose them together as a club and will support them together.”