Serie A title race '95 per cent' over, says Inter boss Conte

By Sports Desk April 25, 2021

Antonio Conte believes the Serie A title is "95 per cent" decided after Inter's slender 1-0 win over Hellas Verona on Sunday. 

The Nerrazzuri were far from their fluid best at San Siro, but sealed a 13th consecutive home league win for the second time in their history thanks to Matteo Darmian's goal 14 minutes from full-time. 

The result moved Inter 13 points clear at the top of the table with five games remaining, although neighbours Milan can scale that back to 10 with victory over Lazio on Monday. 

Conte is in no doubt his side will wrap up a first Scudetto since the 2009-10 season, but acknowledged some of his players have been feeling the pressure of the situation. 

"The ball is heavier now, many players have never lived this situation and it's undeniable a few players have been affected by this," Conte told DAZN.

"We played two good games against Napoli and Spezia [they drew both 1-1]. They said we had stopped ourselves, but it wasn't this like that.

"Managing to win this season makes these footballers become winners. Never forget the others are dropping points. We have been consistent. 

"Sometimes we suffer a little bit more, but we are keeping our foot on the gas pedal."

Conte sprinted to celebrate with his players after Darmian's goal and said he was motivated by the Serie A title being within touching distance. 

"It's easy to explain. In that run, I see 95 per cent of the Scudetto," he added. 

"I think it was an important win. We haven't won it yet, but it was important to win against a team that can create trouble; a very physical team that had nothing to lose.

"We've worked a lot over the last two seasons. As I said many times, Inter haven't been competitive for a long time. We tried [to win] last season. This term, we are close, but we need to work both on a mental and a footballing level.

"Sometimes I am heavy, but I found few people who can be both winners and light hearted. The path is extremely complicated. It takes hard work and sacrifice."

Inter limited Verona to just a solitary shot on target as they stretched their unbeaten Serie A home record against Ivan Juric's side to a club record 30 games, surpassing their 29-match unbeaten against Palermo. 

Conte highlighted the contribution of Stefan de Vrij, Alessandro Bastoni and Milan Skriniar, comparing them to the heralded triumvirate of Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgino Chiellini and Andrea Barzagli, who he coached at Juventus. 

"When, in my first year at Juventus, I coached Barzagli, Bonucci and Chiellini, they were young, and they had won nothing before," he said. 

"We have begun a new project here, and I can see many similarities with De Vrij, Bastoni and Skriniar.

"If we win this season, they will begin a path where the Scudetto can bring more self-esteem. Never forget, Bonucci, Chiellini and Barzagli were virgins in terms of victories when I arrived.

"At Chelsea, it was different. Some players had already won, they had more experience."

Related items

  • Fiorentina open to selling in-demand Vlahovic Fiorentina open to selling in-demand Vlahovic

    Fiorentina are open to selling Dusan Vlahovic in January but the Viola's director Joe Barone denied they have reached an agreement with Arsenal.

    Mikel Arteta's Gunners are among a plethora of Europe's elite who are chasing the in-form striker in the mid-season transfer window, with Premier League champions Manchester City also linked.

    Vlahovic has scored 17 times in 21 Serie A appearances, netting once every 109.5 minutes on average and comfortably outperforming his expected goals tally of 12.2, and his stock continues to rise.

    The 21-year-old ended 2021 on a high as well, matching Cristiano Ronaldo's 21st-century record for most goals in the Italian top flight in a calendar year (33), set in 2020.

    In fact, only Gunnar Nordahl in 1950 (36) has ever scored more times in a calendar year than Ronaldo and Vlahovic.

    But Barone revealed Vlahovic's time in Tuscany will likely come to an end soon with the Serbia international unwilling to sign a new contract, with his current deal expiring at the end of the next season.

    "Some English clubs have made contact, but there is no agreement yet. We are open [to selling]," Barone told Italian outlet La Nazione on Friday.

    Barone previously asked Vlahovic to publicly state whether he wants to leave the club or not, while suggesting no bids had been made for the forward in the last week.

    But the Fiorentina chief claimed he is still yet to hear from Vlahovic's entourage as the Viola reportedly hold out for €75million for their prized asset.

    "I haven't heard anything from them, I had asked Vlahovic's agent to be clear, but I haven't heard anything, no contacts at all," he added.

    Fiorentina sit sixth in Serie A on 35 points ahead of their next clash with Cagliari on Sunday.

  • Lloris commits to new Tottenham contract Lloris commits to new Tottenham contract

    Hugo Lloris has committed to Antonio Conte's Tottenham project by signing a new two-and-a-half-year contract with the Premier League club.

    Lloris, 35, had entered the final six months of his previous deal and was entitled to discuss an end-of-season free transfer with foreign clubs.

    He was linked with his boyhood club Nice, where he came through the academy before spending three years in the first team, but will be staying in north London.

    Tottenham confirmed the deal that will take Lloris past 10 years with the club, with the goalkeeper set to remain at Spurs until the end of the 2023-24 season.

    The news is a huge boost for Conte, who took on the Tottenham top job in November and made it clear he saw Lloris as part of the team's future.

    Conte had been optimistic a deal would be agreed, recently expressing optimism Lloris would sign "because he loves Tottenham and Tottenham loves him".

    Now that has come to fruition, meaning Tottenham need no immediate strengthening in the goalkeeping department, that boxed ticked by this move.

    Lloris joined Spurs from Lyon in August 2012 and helped the team reach the 2019 Champions League final under Mauricio Pochettino.

    He became Tottenham captain in 2015 and has worn the armband for his country since 2012, leading Les Bleus to World Cup glory in 2018.

    Since skippering France to that triumph in Russia, Lloris has underlined his status as one of Europe's premier goalkeepers.

    From August 2018 to the present day, Lloris can be shown to have prevented 21.3 goals. That is based on a calculation starting with Tottenham's expected goals on target (xGOT) conceded total of 180.3 and deducting the actual number of goals, other than own goals, that they have shipped during that time (159).

    Only four goalkeepers from Europe's top leagues have a better goal prevention record in this same three-and-a-half-season period, Opta data shows. Those are: Thibaut Courtois of Real Madrid (25.3), Liverpool's Alisson (22.9), Sevilla's Yassine Bounou (21.6), and Atletico Madrid mainstay Jan Oblak (21.6).

    Tottenham made a poor start to the season under Nuno Espirito Santo but have been revitalised in the Premier League by Conte's arrival. They have kept five clean sheets in nine games in the competition since the former Inter and Chelsea boss arrived and have soared to fifth place, with games in hand on those ahead of them.

  • Theo Hernandez has found perfect fit as left-back leader for modern Milan Theo Hernandez has found perfect fit as left-back leader for modern Milan

    January has so far been a quiet month for Milan – not that the Rossoneri will necessarily complain.

    While technical director Paolo Maldini has failed to this point in his pursuit of a new centre-back – Lille's Sven Botman was a target – he has crucially kept together a Milan team who are again contending for the Serie A title.

    The side's progress under Stefano Pioli has prompted links between a number of their players and super-rich suitors, with each possible departure having the potential to derail Milan's season.

    Indeed, Theo Hernandez's future could so easily have been the subject of a mid-season soap opera, such is the demand for superstar full-backs in the modern game. 

    Hernandez certainly falls into that bracket. Just three defenders in Europe's top five leagues – Trent Alexander-Arnold (38), Achraf Hakimi (36) and Robin Gosens (35) – have registered more goal involvements than Hernandez's 30 (tied with Raphael Guerreiro) since he joined Milan in 2019. In 2021-22, the France international's nine (matched by Reece James) are topped only by Alexander-Arnold (12) and Jonathan Clauss (11).

    Murmurs of a Chelsea bid were inevitable this month with Ben Chilwell out for the season, while Manchester City – playing right-back Joao Cancelo at left-back – and Paris Saint-Germain – never afraid to splash out at any position – have been credited with an interest in the past.

    Instead, Hernandez looks to be staying at San Siro.

    Hernandez happy at San Siro

    Hernandez, whose existing contract expires in 2024, is widely expected to agree an extension, snubbing the prospect of a big move. Of course, the player, who came through Atletico Madrid's academy, has already had one such transfer.

    Having impressed on loan at Alaves, Hernandez headed to Real Madrid in 2017 for an unsuccessful stay at the Santiago Bernabeu. In a single season in the Madrid first team, the defender was restricted to 13 league appearances (10 starts) and failed to contribute either a goal or an assist, creating a meagre eight chances.

    A return to some sort of form with Real Sociedad was followed by a permanent switch to Milan and at last certainty and a clearly specified role, leading the attack from left-back.

    Only Zlatan Ibrahimovic (42), Ante Rebic (32) and Hakan Calhanoglu (31) have since registered more Milan goal involvements in Serie A; Calhanoglu (168), now at Inter, alone has created more chances (107).

    "At Real Madrid, I lacked the confidence to play more loose and drive forward," Hernandez told The Athletic this week. "But at Milan, I've got it.

    "I can link up better with the strikers and forwards. What is it that I like? Attacking and going up the pitch. I play with more freedom to score goals and assist more."

    Perfect fit for Pioli's side

    While these attacking contributions are no doubt what has caught the attention of Chelsea and Co., Hernandez is unlikely to enjoy that same freedom in another side.

    At Milan, the 24-year-old's initial task is often simply to get the team up the pitch and into the final third – something he does exceptionally well; no team-mate since 2019 has carried the ball further (231.7 metres) or progressed further up the field (161.7m) per 90. With the license then to orchestrate the play as he sees fit, Hernandez does not always hug the touchline like other players in his position, preferring instead to come inside and use his close control to beat defenders, taking on opponents with 9.7 per cent of his carries.

    In the final third, as Alexander-Arnold – perhaps far more akin to what was traditionally expected of an attacking full-back – delivers 5.9 open-play crosses per 90, Hernandez opts for this route just 2.3 times over the same period. In fact, the Milan man takes shots himself (1.5 per 90) more often than he creates chances for others (1.3).

    Hernandez has similarities with Gosens (1.9 shots, 1.2 chances created per 90) in this sense, with both posting higher figures for expected goals (Hernandez – 0.17, Gosens – 0.25) than for expected assists (Hernandez – 0.15, Gosens – 0.12). However, unlike Gosens, very much a wing-back at Atalanta, Hernandez is typically playing in a back four.

    The signing of a strong left-sided centre-back like Botman – or Diego Carlos of Sevilla, another mooted option – would therefore appear to represent a commitment to Hernandez and his carefree approach.

    Hernandez's nine errors leading to shots in the past three seasons have resulted in three goals, as many as from errors by Alexander-Arnold (two), Guerreiro (one), Gosens, Hakimi and Clauss (all zero) combined. Such mistakes would surely be less costly with a reliable colleague providing back-up, allowing the full-back to continue attacking effectively.

    The leader from left-back

    Although "a complete defender" in the middle – as Pioli describes the blueprint for Milan's ideal signing – would help, Hernandez is determined to play his part in defensive improvement.

    "A full-back firstly has to defend and then has to attack," he told The Athletic. "That is what I'm improving on, little by little. I'm young still, I have many years of football left, and I'm improving on that defensive phase that I was missing."

    The need for improvement was evident in September's reverse fixture against Juventus, Sunday's visitors, when Hernandez's slack early header in the attacking half allowed the Bianconeri to break and, with the defender unable to recover, score through Alvaro Morata.

    Hernandez could still have teed up a winner at the end of that 1-1 draw when a drive through the middle of the pitch found him in position to slide in Pierre Kalulu for a chance the 21-year-old would like to have back.

    Indeed, Hernandez is far from the youngest, rawest talent in the Milan squad and has increasingly established himself as a leader since the game in Turin, wearing the captain's armband in the team's most recent league win at Venezia and marking the occasion with two goals.

    How he and Milan, stunned by Spezia in midweek, when Hernandez missed a penalty, would love to be celebrating again this weekend. With a contract extension on the horizon, Rossoneri fans soon will be regardless.

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.