Antonio Conte hails Inter ‘mental strength’ after beating Lazio 3-1 to become the new Serie A leaders and explains how Christian Eriksen and Ivan Perisic have been transformed on a tactical level.
The Nerazzurri needed the victory to leapfrog Milan and go top of the table, something they had not experienced during the second half of the Serie A season since the Treble campaign of 2009-10.
“This was an objective we’d been chasing for a long time, to get to the top of the table, we achieved it today after a game against a very strong team. I congratulate Lazio and Simone Inzaghi, as they are tough, organised and with a lot of quality,” Conte told Sky Sport Italia.
“The fact they were coming off six consecutive victories shows their strength, but at the same time it shows our mental strength.
“I am happy for the lads, inevitably this must be a starting point for us and not the finish line. We know the next game is the derby with Milan, going into it ahead is obviously much better.
“It’s going to be a fascinating game between two teams who have strong ambitions.”
Romelu Lukaku was the real leader, scoring two goals and running from his own half to lay it on a silver platter for Lautaro Martinez on the third.
“Romelu and the whole team gave a great response. Lautaro did really well, so did Ivan Perisic, Marcelo Brozovic, the defenders. They all stepped up.
“Some were starting to murmur about Lukaku after the Coppa Italia and a few opaque performances, suggesting he had some psychological blowback from that, but there are moments when you are not at 100 per cent.
“He came back firing on all cylinders tonight and we need this Romelu. We need this determination and passion from everyone in the team.
“Christian Eriksen is starting to understand what we want from him and I think the fact he played last week and tonight shows he’s really growing. This is the path, everyone needs to feel they are protagonists and we can count on everybody.
“We know there is only one objective, and that is to make Inter proud.”
Conte had originally considered both Eriksen and Ivan Perisic to be unsuited to his 3-5-2 formation, but with no other competitions to worry about and time in training, he has been able to work with them both to transform their capabilities.
“I think Christian had a few problems settling in, understanding Italian football, which is very difficult and tactical compared to the Premier League. There is also a far greater intensity now than in previous years here,” continued the coach.
“He has started to get into these situations, we tried in every way to settle him in, even changing tactical system. I think now he has made a step towards us, is starting to understand Italian, which is an important development too. He is understanding what we need.
“Eriksen was very focused when defending as well as attacking. He has a different grip and power to his leg now after the fitness work.
“He’s an extra option for us and I am more comfortable relying on him now.”
Perisic was a surprise starter this evening, placed up against attacking Lazio winger Manuel Lazzari.
“As with Eriksen, we also needed to give Perisic time, as we’ve been working on the role. He is an attacking winger in a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1. We worked with him in training and now he can do the two phases, defending and attacking, much better.
“We know he can attack, but the defending was a new development and he didn’t get anything wrong this evening. Perisic is a player who came back to Inter and we had to make do with what we had at our disposal, so it took a little longer, but we are now reaping the rewards.
“It’s important, as with Eriksen and Perisic, we are widening the available group of players that we can count on.”