Antonio Conte insists Inter ‘play modern football,’ explaining how they mutated tactically and why Ivan Perisic went from outcast to key player. ‘Inter are no longer players who participated. They are players who won.’
The Nerazzurri secured their 19th Serie A title this afternoon, their first in 11 years, ending the nine-season Juventus dominance.
“We feel happy, satisfied, relaxed, because bringing the Scudetto back to Inter with four rounds to spare makes us very happy,” Conte told Sky Sport Italia.
“We want to continue doing well for the remaining four rounds and give space to those who haven’t played as much. They know what I expect from them and what we want to see.”
Inter locked down their defence in the last 17 rounds and that proved a huge difference, as during that period they were trailing for a total of 45 minutes.
“There was tactical progress. Over the years we tried a few different options. We had started a bit like we ended last season, pressing high all over the pitch, and that brought good results, as we finished one point behind Juventus and reached the Europa League Final.
“In the first 10-12 games this season, we tried to have that same identity. However, the opponents study you and we were often caught out on the counter-attack. The issue this year was our opponents found the right counter-measures.
“I think a winning team must have balance between attacking and defending. The lads learned to read the game and which moment to press, which moment to sit back in our own half and wait. That’s the sign of a mature team.”
Sassuolo seemed to represent a turning point tactically in Week 9, when Inter seemed content to cede possession.
“We changed during the year, as we have alternated between a diamond and two playmakers, so either Eriksen or Sensi next to Brozovic. Sassuolo are well-trained in possession and passing, so we knew that if we won the ball back, we’d have the whole pitch open up in front of us.
“A coach has to understand how to hurt the opponent, but also not lose your own identity. We never lost our identity, as when we have the ball, we know exactly what we need to do. We also know exactly what to do when we don’t have the ball.
“The tactical maturation of the players was the difference and there was no comparison with the other teams this season.”
The Scudetto winners have been criticised this season, particularly in recent months, for being negative and even boring.
“Inter play modern football, from building out from the back to a high press, to waiting for the right moment to strike. These players have learned how to do everything and above all read the game, which means also knowing our own limitations and work to improve them.
“I think the first goal we scored against Crotone yesterday was another work of art. Only a blind person could look at that passing move and not see the beauty in it. These are players who know where to go and where to pass.
“Some people seem to think players just wonder around and happen to be in those positions by chance. I can assure you there’s a lot of hard work involved and it’s important to know without even looking that Lukaku is there and Eriksen will run into that space.
“That’s all something to have in your locker, then of course there’s the creativity of the individual and the quality in the finish or the final ball.”
Conte’s rapport with his players wasn’t always smooth sailing, particularly with the likes of Christian Eriksen and Ivan Perisic.
“The thing that most irritated me when I was a player was the coach saying a nice lie to keep me happy. I think you appreciate an honest but harsh statement more than a well-meaning lie. The players know any decision I make is for the good of the team.
“My initial idea when I arrived at Inter was for Perisic to be a wing-back, as I knew he had the characteristics for it. You can have all the ideas you want, but you need the player to put in the effort and be ready to do that work.
“Ivan had just come off several seasons playing different roles and he was not prepared to do that, so he went on loan to Bayern Munich. He returned with a different mentality.
“I think Perisic is such a great player with fantastic physical strength, he’s good in the air, he has quality taking players on. I just needed him to be ready to do that kind of work and once he did, he began playing regularly.
“He also knows full well that I expect more from him, because he has the quality to do even better.”
Conte moulded this Inter squad in his image and won’t shy away from that responsibility.
“The best thing I found at Inter was a group that trusted me completely. They trusted my leadership and my vision. That is the greatest thing.
“The lads developed and matured over the year and that’s what we needed. The Inter players are no longer those who participated. They are players who won.”