Antonio Conte could not resist smiling as he spoke about Inter’s Scudetto chances. ‘We went close last season with the Europa League Final, but this time… we might get there.’
A lone Romelu Lukaku goal proved enough to conquer Bologna at the the Stadio Dall’Ara and this is their ninth consecutive Serie A victory.
The only time the Nerazzurri managed such a run was the record of 17 set in 2007 under Roberto Mancini.
Above all, as Milan and Juventus were held to draws, Inter go eight points clear with a game in hand to be played against Sassuolo on Wednesday.
“Inevitably, as we get closer to the finish line, every victory weighs more and more,” Conte told Sky Sport Italia.
“Winning in Bologna against a team that plays good football and presses you hard, that was certainly a big step forward. Bologna did very well, they have an excellent coach in Sinisa Mihajlovic and it wasn’t easy. This was also a very long day for us, as we were in the hotel watching Milan’s game at lunch, then I watched Sassuolo against Roma. Juventus played just before us, so I didn’t see that one.
“It wasn’t easy playing after everyone else, especially after international duty, but the lads kept their focus and the right spirit. It was not to be taken for granted.
“I told the lads, this is a victory that we must follow up with Sassuolo on Wednesday.”
However, Conte refused to admit his hug on the touchline with director Lele Oriali or the audible celebrations in the locker room were for the title.
“No, it cannot be a Scudetto celebration, because we have to earn that on the pitch and it needs to be mathematically certain. There are 10 games to go for us, nine for some others, and 27-30 points up for grabs.
“We know full well that Serie A is very difficult and every match is a battle to get the victory. The closer to we get to the finish line, the clearer we can see the prize at the end. Everyone is looking at that direction and we see it from a different angle to the others right now, but we still have it all to do. We’ve achieved nothing yet.”
If Inter do win the Scudetto this season, what would that mean for him and the club?
“I was called to Inter in order to change the narrative of the last few years. The objective was in three years to either win or at least build something credible and make the Inter fans proud.
“Inevitably, a few things have changed since the start of this journey, but we must continue to focus only on our work. As I said, we must concentrate only on what we have the power to change. What happens off the field is of interest, obviously, but we cannot affect that.”
Andrea Ranocchia stepped in for a rare start this evening and Inter remained just as solid at the back.
“Andrea hasn’t played very much, but he has always ensured that he is ready when called upon. He deserves the credit for putting the effort in and our staff deserve credit for training everyone as if they are about to play. That means when they are called upon, they all know exactly what they need to do.
“Ranocchia is behind Stefan de Vrij, who is a pillar, but he had only trained with us for a couple of days. If I didn’t trust Andrea, I would’ve fielded Stefan.
“All the players in the squad know I have absolute faith in them. The same goes for Ashley Young, as he played because Ivan Perisic had a slight muscular issue.”
Conte was told that the Inter players also seem to have that same absolute faith in their coach.
“I do think we’ve created something wonderful between the players and staff. They all know I am consistent, that I don’t treat people differently because of their name. I make choices for the good of Inter. That respect has now developed between us all, there is a symbiosis, but we’ve got to keep it going to the end.
“It would be marvellous to end a season that has not been easy for anyone by crowning it with a trophy. We went close last season with the Europa League Final, but this time… we might get there,” he grinned.