Inter showed how much they have grown with win against Sassuolo, says Conte

By Sports Desk April 07, 2021

Inter showed just how much they have grown this season with their 2-1 win over Sassuolo on Wednesday, according to head coach Antonio Conte.

The Nerazzurri moved 11 points clear at the top of Serie A with the victory, sealed through goals from Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez in each half – their only two on-target attempts of the contest.

Hamed Junior Traore deservedly pulled one back for Sassuolo with a late strike, but the league leaders held on to become the second side in Serie A history – after Milan in 1989-90 – to win their first 10 games in the second half of a campaign.

Inter recorded their lowest possession rate (30 per cent) in a Serie A match since Opta records began in 2004-05 and were outdone on shots by Sassuolo 15 to seven.

But Conte was happy with the manner of the victory, insisting that points are more important than the performance, as Inter learned the hard way when exiting the Champions League in the group stage.

"I congratulate Sassuolo as they came here to play their game and this performance shows how much we've grown," he told Sky Sport Italia. "With this attitude, we'd still be in the Champions League.

"Sassuolo make possession their main strength, so we chose to close the gaps in the centre more than anything else. We knew that we'd have to cede possession.

"Aesthetics are fine, but the Scudetto is too important. We played beautiful football in the Champions League and all anyone said was that we were eliminated, so we have to focus on the results now.

"We are trying to press high, without running too many risks, so we can make the most of players like Lukaku, Lautaro and [Achraf] Hakimi who can hurt teams when running into space."

Lukaku's 10th-minute opener came from his only attempt and he added to that with the assist for Martinez's goal midway through the second half.

The Belgium international has now scored in five successive outings for club and country, with this his first headed goal in Serie A since July 2020.

"You can see the work Romelu has done and I don't forget when people said he was overrated. I immediately said that with his potential, he could do extraordinary things here," Conte said.

"The great thing about our strikers is that they are all willing to do the dirty work, too. Christian Eriksen has also grown. We knew it would be difficult for him to adapt to a very tactical league like Serie A. He can do much more, but we are counting on him.

"It's a pity we conceded that late goal, but we are more balanced and mature as a team now. If you want to win league titles, solidity is important."

Despite boasting a healthy lead over closest challengers Milan, and a 12-point advantage on champions Juventus, Conte does not feel there is much difference between the clubs in terms of quality.

"I'm amazed by that," he said of the points gap. "To regain so many points over the past two seasons against the team that has dominated for the past nine years was difficult even in the best of dreams.

"But it doesn't mean we are better than Juventus. They have a strong team and they demonstrated that by beating Napoli."

Inter have won 11 home league games in a row and host relegation-threatened Cagliari on Sunday, but Conte is not ready to celebrate a first Scudetto for Inter since 2009-10 just yet.

"There are still many games to go and each victory is worth six points," he said. "By winning we have put on more pressure and can see the satisfaction in everyone's eyes.

"We want to do something wonderful for a club that hasn't won for 10 years. It's be wonderful if we were the ones to remove from the pedestal those who won for nine years non-stop.

"But there will be tension from here on – it'll feel like the ball weighs more at our feet, perhaps more than for those teams who no longer have the same objectives."

Related items

  • Premier League data dive: Top three fail to win as Brighton lodge comeback and Chelsea close on Champions League Premier League data dive: Top three fail to win as Brighton lodge comeback and Chelsea close on Champions League

    Chelsea edged towards Champions League football for next season, but Leicester City's fate is now out of their hands.

    The Blues gained swift vengeance for their FA Cup final defeat, running out 2-1 winners over Leicester at Stamford Bridge, meaning the Foxes are now reliant on results elsewhere as Liverpool have a game in hand to play.

    Champions Manchester City surrendered a two-goal lead against Brighton and Hove Albion, meanwhile, and Edinson Cavani's stunning goal was not enough for Manchester United. Elsewhere, Leeds United defeated Southampton.

    We take a look at the best facts, courtesy of Opta, from across Tuesday's Premier League games.

    Manchester United 1-1 Fulham: Cavani delights Old Trafford crowd, but Cottagers hit back

    United have now dropped 10 points from winning positions at Old Trafford this season – their highest ever such total at home in a Premier League season – after Joe Bryan cancelled out Cavani's sensational opener.

    Cavani became only the third United player over the age of 33 to reach 10 goals in a single Premier League season, after Teddy Sheringham in 2000-01 and Zlatan Ibrahimovic in 2016-17, with a sublime 36.4-yard effort in the first half.

    The Uruguay forward is the 25th different United player to reach double figures in a Premier League campaign, but it was not enough for the Red Devils as relegated Fulham gained a point from a losing position at Old Trafford for only the second time in their history in the competition, previously doing so in February 2014.

    United have conceded 28 home goals in the Premier League this season – they last conceded more at Old Trafford in a single league campaign back in 1962-63 (38) – with Bryan's first top-flight goal, in his 43rd such appearance, snatching a share of the spoils.

    Southampton 0-2 Leeds United: Bielsa's charge continues

    There could feasibly still be a European place for Marcelo Bielsa's Leeds, who are just three points behind seventh-placed West Ham heading into the final game of the season after a 2-0 win over Southampton.

    It was Leeds' 10th league win on the road this season, their best effort in a top-flight campaign since 1973-74, when they won 12 on the way to winning the title.

    Southampton are without a clean sheet in their past 10 home league games (15 goals conceded) after keeping shutouts in six of the eight before that.

    Patrick Bamford netted his 16th goal of the season, which is the most by a player from a promoted side since Charlie Austin scored 18 for Queens Park Rangers in 2014-15, with Tyler Roberts' maiden Premier League goal rounding off the success.

    Leeds are only the second team in Premier League history to finish a campaign without a single away draw (W10 L9), after Tottenham in 2018-19.

    Brighton and Hove Albion 3-2 Manchester City: Seagulls seal famous comeback

    Brighton picked up their first ever Premier League victory over City, and their first in the league since 1989, as they came from two goals down to win 3-2 at the Amex Stadium.

    Graham Potter's side fell behind to Ilkay Gundogan's early goal – the 10th City have scored in the opening two minutes under Pep Guardiola in the Premier League – but were buoyed by Joao Cancelo's red card.

    Timed at 09:03, Cancelo's dismissal was City's second-earliest from the start of a Premier League game, after Dedryck Boyata was sent off after 04:28 against Arsenal in October 2010.

    This was just the second time in Premier League history a team starting the day top of the table has led by two goals and lost, after City themselves did so against Man Utd in April 2018.

    Their possession figure in this match was just 37 per cent – the lowest recorded by a side managed by Guardiola in a single top-flight match.

    Phil Foden has scored 15 goals in all competitions this season. Among players in the top five European leagues currently aged under 21, only Erling Haaland (39) has scored more, but his stunning effort was not enough.

    Leandro Trossard and Adam Webster pegged City back, before Dan Burn's first Brighton goal, and his first in the league for any team since April 2018, completed the turnaround.

    Chelsea 2-1 Leicester City: Tuchel's team clinch Champions League qualification

    After their FA Cup disappointment, Chelsea took a step towards Champions League football, getting revenge in the process.

    Jorginho's penalty sealed the win, with Kelechi Iheanacho's goal ultimately proving a consolation, though the Leicester striker is the first player in Premier League history to score a goal on all seven weekdays within a single season. 

    No player has scored more Premier League goals in a single campaign with 100 per cent of them coming from the penalty spot than Jorginho's seven this season (level with James Milner in 2016-17). 

    Leicester have won just two of their past 30 away league games against Chelsea (D11 L17), winning 1-0 in December 2018 and 2-0 in September 2000.

    And the win for Thomas Tuchel's men means that City, United and Leicester, the top three teams starting the day, all failed to win. It is the first time it has happened since January 2017 (Arsenal, Tottenham, Chelsea).

  • Werner: This is the unluckiest season ever and I'm still in the Champions League final! Werner: This is the unluckiest season ever and I'm still in the Champions League final!

    Timo Werner acknowledged he could not have too many complaints despite again rueing his luck as he played a key role for Chelsea without scoring in their 2-1 win over Leicester City.

    Just four days on from losing to the Foxes in the FA Cup final, Chelsea leapfrogged their opponents into third at Stamford Bridge.

    The Blues retain control of their fate in the race to qualify for the Champions League, a competition in which they will play this season's final later this month.

    Werner will no doubt have a big role to play in the showpiece against Manchester City, but his personal fortunes showed little sign of turning in this match.

    Before Antonio Rudiger's opener, Werner had two goals disallowed – one for offside, the other for handball – and a big penalty appeal waved away.

    The striker did eventually win a spot-kick, a league-high fifth of the season, that Jorginho dispatched, meaning Kelechi Iheanacho's response counted for little for Leicester.

    But Werner still only has six goals in the Premier League.

    Although the Germany international's finishing is a concern, with his chances worth 11.24 expected goals producing shots with a value of just 8.55 expected goals on target (xGOT), there has been an element of misfortune, as the player suggests.

    The 2.55 difference between his xGOT total and goals tally indicates opposition goalkeepers performing above their expected level.

    "I think the first half particularly was the picture of the whole season for me up to now," Werner, whose 27 offsides rank joint-fourth in the top flight, told Sky Sports.

    "I was, every time, close but at the end not really close. I think for me maybe [it was] the unluckiest season I have ever had and will have maybe, because it can't be worse.

    "For example, the offside, okay the 10th time, I don't know how close it was, then a clear penalty for us. Of course I was surprised [it wasn't given] because for me it was a clear penalty.

    "And then the first one, I want to make a header and I get a little push and put my arm out and then the ball goes exactly against my arm.

    "I didn't know [it would be ruled out] because I felt a touch on my hand but didn't realise how it was. You see it on the picture that I get a little hit from behind and then my arm goes forward and it touches.

    "Unlucky the whole season. When you have a season like this and you are so unlucky and you still in the Champions League final and maybe reach the Champions League next year, all good."

  • NBA Big Game Focus: LeBron and Lakers aim to stop Curry cooking for the Warriors NBA Big Game Focus: LeBron and Lakers aim to stop Curry cooking for the Warriors

    The NBA's play-in tournament will stage a must-see heavyweight clash when the Los Angeles Lakers host the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday.

    While there are no concerns of suffering a season-ending knockout, the one-off contest at Staples Center will dictate the next step for two teams who know all about making title runs.

    Few would have expected this scenario back at the start of a season played out amid the backdrop of an ongoing health pandemic.

    As the defending champions, LeBron James and the Lakers were viewed as a front runner in the stacked Western Conference. Coming up against a Golden State roster so heavily reliant on Stephen Curry was always a possibility in the playoffs, just not necessarily in this type of scenario.

    The winner will be slotted in as the seventh seed, meaning a best-of-seven series against the Phoenix Suns. The loser, however, will have to get past either the San Antonio Spurs or the Memphis Grizzlies – they meet on Thursday – just to get the eighth and final spot available.

    If the play-in games were set up to add an extra layer of drama, a match-up that pits two of the sport's biggest superstars against each other is an early gift to start the playoff stretch.

    TOP PERFORMERS

    LeBron James – Los Angeles Lakers

    James was firmly in the MVP conversation until an ankle injury on March 20. His first attempt to return to action led to a setback, but the four-time NBA champion featured in the final two outings of the regular season, scoring a combined 49 points.

    His fitness will be key to the Lakers' prospects of retaining their crown. They finished the regular season with a 42-30 record yet were 30-15 in games when their star turn featured. That kind of winning percentage across a full campaign would have made sure they did not have to worry about appearing in any play-in contests.

    Stephen Curry – Golden State Warriors

    Having missed the majority of the previous season through injury, Curry certainly made up for lost time with a dazzling regular season.

    He finished as the scoring champion, his 2,015 points coming in 63 games as he averaged 32.0 an outing. No one made (337) or attempted more three-pointers (801), while the point guard also shot 91.6 per cent from the free-throw line. MVP, perhaps?

    KEY BATTLE – STOP CURRY GETTING HOT

    The Warriors will sink or swim based on Curry, but he will need some assistance if they are to prosper in the playoffs. To that extent, as the Lakers focus on shutting down a player capable of catching fire in a hurry, Andrew Wiggins (18.6 points per game in the regular season) will need to step up, particularly as Golden State are still without the injured Kelly Oubre Jr.

    Draymond Green can help, too, albeit his average of 7.0 points was his lowest mark since the 2013-14 season, his second in the league when he started in just 12 games. It may well be his primary focus is on defense, though, considering both James and Anthony Davis – confirmed fit to play on Tuesday – will demand plenty of attention.

    HEAD TO HEAD

    The Lakers are a long way clear in the overall record (257 wins to 169), while they have also dominated in the playoffs – the Warriors have won just one series in seven attempts, with that success coming way back in 1967 when they were still playing under the San Francisco name.

    In the 2020-21 regular season, the team from Los Angeles won two of the three meetings. They were dominant in the most recent clash as well, coming out 128-97 winners in March despite several key absences.

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.