Conte sees positive signs for Inter despite injury problems

By Sports Desk July 18, 2020

Antonio Conte pointed to injuries hampering Inter during his first season in charge as they aim to close the gap on leaders Juventus at the top of Serie A.

The Nerazzurri have recorded back-to-back victories to move up to second in the table, six points behind the reigning champions ahead of Sunday's trip to Roma.

Conte's side can cut the deficit in half to keep the pressure on Juve, who play Lazio on Monday, though Inter's Scudetto bid during a truncated campaign has been hurt by key players missing extended periods of time.

Alexis Sanchez has been plagued by injuries since arriving on loan from Manchester United, while Stefano Sensi has figured sparingly in 2020 due to a number of issues, the latest being a pulled thigh muscle.

However, despite having to cope with depleted attacking resources at times, Conte has been pleased how others have seized their opportunities.

"This is something we've unfortunately had to deal since the start of the season," the Inter boss told the club's website when asked about injuries. 

"After a bad injury to Sanchez's ankle, we were without Alexis for four to five months, while it's also been a tough year in midfield due to recurring injuries.

"Just thinking about Sensi, he's a player who we've had for so little time, or the bad injuries to (Roberto) Gagliardini and (Nicolo) Barella, (Matias) Vecino too, who has had constant trouble with his knee.

"These are two areas of the pitch that have caused both me and us problems, but looking at the glass as half full, those who have played have shown and are continuing to show big responses.

"I'm talking about players like Gagliardini, (Marcelo) Brozovic and Borja Valero, then we've got (Christian) Eriksen, whose settling in. I think that there are definitely positives to be taken."

Romelu Lukaku was not involved in the 4-0 win over SPAL on Thursday but could return to face Roma, who are in need of points in the battle to finish fifth.

Conte is concerned that those who featured last time out have had little time to recover before the clash at the Stadio Olimpico, though the SPAL performance demonstrated the improvements made by the squad.

"We're talking about a well-equipped side, a squad full of excellent players and a great coach," the former Chelsea boss said. 

"It's a very difficult game that arrives just two days after our away game with SPAL, so we've had to deal with the travelling and one day less to recover.

"But from a positive point of view, we're full of enthusiasm after seeing that the work we're doing is starting to be recognised."

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    Eriksen curled in a wonderful 25-yard free-kick in the 97th minute to lift Inter to a 2-1 victory in the Coppa Italia quarter-finals on Tuesday.

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    "I am sure [the goal] has given energy to [Eriksen] and to us. I pushed him to take that set-piece because he is really good at that," the Inter head coach told a news conference.

    "He is a good lad. Everybody loves him, we love him. He fitted well [in the team]. He is a bit shy.

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    Eriksen's free-kick settled an explosive derby, in which Zlatan Ibrahimovic opened the scoring before being sent off, having also been involved in an earlier confrontation with Romelu Lukaku.

    Ibrahimovic was red-carded in a game played in Europe for the first time since March 2015 and Inter took advantage, Lukaku levelling from the penalty spot before Eriksen's winner.

    Of players in Europe's top five leagues, only Lionel Messi, Hakan Calhanoglu, Miralem Pjanic and Cristiano Ronaldo have scored more direct free-kick goals than Eriksen's 13 since 2013-14.

    Inter had 27 shots to Milan's five and 10 on target to their rivals' one, and Conte said his side needed to be more clinical.

    "The squad was in full spirit and energy since the beginning of the game. I think it was not fair to be one goal down against Milan. We had many chances even 11 against 11," he said.

    "If I have to find a negative thing, it will be the chances created without goals. We have to be more clinical, more pragmatic.

    "Milan's goalkeeper [Ciprian Tatarusanu] has been the man of the match. He made incredible saves."

    Inter, who are two points adrift of Milan in Serie A, host Benevento on Saturday.

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