Antonio Conte has plans to utilise Christian Eriksen in a deeper role for Inter, despite speculation linking the midfielder with a return to former club Tottenham. 

Eriksen looked poised to leave Inter after the club's CEO Giuseppe Marotta revealed he had been placed on the transfer list before the mid-season break. 

That followed a difficult start to the season for the Denmark international, which saw him start just four league games and fail to claim an assist. 

Reports suggest a reunion with Spurs, where he scored 51 goals in 226 Premier League matches, could yet happen during the January transfer window, but it appears there may still be a future for the 28-year-old at the Nerazzurri. 

Deployed at the base of Inter's midfield for Wednesday's Coppa Italia win over Fiorentina, Eriksen enjoyed a fruitful outing. 

No player on the pitch made more than his four key passes, while he completed the most passes in the opposition half of any Inter player (45) and gained possession a team-high nine times. 

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While Marcelo Brozovic is likely to return to that position for Sunday's Derby d'Italia with Juventus, Conte suggested he could look to use Eriksen there more frequently. 

"We must get the best out of our squad," Conte told a media conference. "It is inevitable to have him [Eriksen] behind Brozo [Brozovic] because we do not have this kind of player in the squad who can be a playmaker in front of the defensive line. 

"We are trying to get the best of Christian in that position, even if he played both as an attacking and an inside midfielder already. 

"It is good for the team and myself having the opportunity to use him in different roles in the midfield."

Second-place Inter go into Sunday's clash four points ahead of Andrea Pirlo's Juve, who are fourth. 

Juventus may not be leading the way in Serie A but they continue to be the benchmark in Italian football, according to Inter boss Antonio Conte.

Juve have secured the title for nine successive seasons in the top flight but face a battle to stretch that streak into double figures under Andrea Pirlo's leadership.

Milan lead the way in the table having lost just once in 17 league games so far, while Inter and Roma also sit above the reigning champions in the table.

However, as far as Conte is concerned, the Bianconeri remain the team to beat in the competition.

"We know Juventus are a benchmark. They are the side we must look to, one that have dominated in Italy," he told the media ahead of Sunday's showdown with Juventus at San Siro.

"They are a side that could show us where we are at - Juve are a reference point for us."

A former player for Juve who went on to win Serie A three times while in charge in Turin, Conte praised the way his old club have always looked to build from a position of strength.

He pinpointed the additions made in the transfer market - including Alvaro Morata and Dejan Kulusevski - as a major reason for Juve continuing to set the standard.

"The gap has been narrowed but no one has done it definitely in Italy," Conte said.

"In the past nine years they have dominated. They have done well in all areas. They have managed to change and adapt, they have made the squad younger and fresher.

"This year they have a structure which has always won. Plus they have added Morata, for example. Each year they do a great job of trying to improve.

"I do not think in Italy there is anyone at that level yet. Sides have improved but not cut out the gap to Juventus. We cannot think anything else than that."

Inter have achieved five consecutive home Serie A wins – the last time they managed six in a row was back in December 2018 - but have not beaten Juve at San Siro in the league since September 2016.

Conte has yet to register a Serie A win in games against his former employers, losing all three past meetings.

Andrea Pirlo says Antonio Conte is the person who inspired him to move into coaching and is fully aware of the mind games being used by the Inter boss ahead of Sunday's Derby d'Italia.

Midfield great Pirlo worked under Conte for Juventus and Italy during his illustrious playing career before retiring in 2017 and taking up his first managerial role with Juve last August.

Pirlo has made an inconsistent start to life in the Allianz Stadium dugout, but his side have won their last three league games to move to within four points of second-place Inter with a game in hand.

Despite being a further three points behind leaders Milan, Conte suggested ahead of Juve's trip to San Siro that the reigning champions remain the Scudetto favourites given they have won it nine years in a row.

The first of those title wins came with Conte in charge and Pirlo a regular in midfield, and the latter is not reading too much into the comments of his former head coach, who he still admires greatly.

"He likes to do this, I know him well," Pirlo said at Saturday's pre-match news conference. "He tries to take the pressure off his team and put it on us. 

"We have no problems, we are Juventus, we have been winning for nine years and it is normal that we have more pressure. 

"But they too have been built to win, and they are no less than us. It will be a great match between two teams that have the same ambition."

Pirlo previously described Conte as "the best coach he has ever worked with" and has opened up on the part the 51-year-old has played in his career.

He said: "Antonio was the first one who made me think about studying as a coach. I am grateful to him because he taught me so much as a player and from there I thought about a future as a manager. 

"He is making a career of the highest level and has a great human depth but tomorrow we will be opponents. We have two different characters and maybe that's why we get along.

"There is still great esteem and great affection. He gave me a lot and made history at Juventus."

Juve are the only team against which Conte has always lost as manager in Serie A (three out of three), with the Bianconeri unbeaten in nine of their last 10 away league meetings in this fixture.

However, Inter have won five in a row on home soil in the league - the last time they won six on the spin was in December 2018 - and Pirlo is anticipating a tough match against an expensively-assembled side.

"Initially I expect an aggressive Inter who will want to give rhythm to the match," he said. "We have prepared ourselves for this must not be afraid, even in such an important match. It will be a tactical match but we must also be free of our heads. 

"A victory can give us an important boost because it is Inter-Juventus. It is a game that goes beyond three points. It is not only important for the championship standings but for everything else. 

"There is great attention and great concentration because we compete against a great team with great champions. They have strengthened during the summer, while we have made a journey towards the future.

"They have put players in the team for the present. We are two teams that will fight until the end for the victory of the championship."

Matthijs de Ligt, Alex Sandro and Juan Cuadrado will play no part after recently testing positive for coronavirus but Aaron Ramsey, Giorgio Chiellini and Weston McKennie are all in contention to start.

Juve have yet to lose a league game in which De Ligt has not started this term, drawing four and winning three, and Pirlo is happy with the options available to him at the back.

"De Ligt is important but let's remember that we also have other champions behind us," he said. "We will field players of great depth who have been at this level for many years. 

"This is certainly an absence that we would have done less willingly but we feel even stronger with the return of Chiellini and with [Leonardo] Bonucci."

Romelu Lukaku hopes Inter are learning as they continue to struggle to perform consistently over 90 minutes despite sitting second in Serie A and reaching the quarter-finals of the Coppa Italia.

Lukaku headed an extra-time winner to see off Fiorentina 2-1 in the Coppa on Wednesday, his 119th-minute goal settling a tie in which Inter had led at half-time through Arturo Vidal's penalty.

A dominant first 45 minutes had seen the Nerazzurri attempt eight shots to Fiorentina's one, while having 56.6 per cent of the possession.

But Christian Kouame equalised after 57 minutes, prior to Lukaku's introduction as a substitute, as the Viola outshot their visitors nine to six in the second period.

For Inter, it was a second successive match in which they lost the initiative, even if Lukaku's goal this time meant they advanced to face Milan in the last eight.

At Roma on Sunday, despite trailing at half-time, quickfire goals from Milan Skriniar and Achraf Hakimi had Antonio Conte's men in front before they conceded a late leveller.

Ahead of the Roma game, Conte had bemoaned Inter's inability to make fast starts, having led at the interval just four times in Serie A this term.

But Lukaku is now concerned by his team's displays from half-time onwards, a period in which they have scored an impressive 30 goals and conceded just 12 in the league.

"I don't know why it happens," Lukaku told Rai Sport. "We already said it after the draw against Roma that it shouldn't happen, but it happened, even if we still won this time.

"We are young, we must learn from these things, but we want to improve."

Having booked the meeting with Milan, a fixture he was reluctant to immediately discuss, Lukaku acknowledged there were still positives.

"We are happy to have won a difficult match against a great coach [Fiorentina's Cesare Prandelli]," he said. "We are happy and we want to continue like this."

Turning focus back to Serie A, Inter face champions Juventus next on Sunday, with the Derby d'Italia rivals determined to win to keep the pressure on leaders Milan.

"I expect a tactical match between two teams who are doing good things," Lukaku added. "Juventus are a big team. We want to prepare well for this match."

Romelu Lukaku has power like NBA great Shaquille O'Neal, according to his Inter team-mate Nicolo Barella. 

Inter are just three points adrift of city rivals Milan at the top of Serie A ahead of a key week that sees them face Fiorentina in the Coppa Italia and champions Juventus in the league. 

Lukaku has made an impressive impact at San Siro since joining from Manchester United in 2019. 

He scored 34 times in all competitions last season and has already racked up 16 goals in 2020-21. 

The Belgium international's 12 league strikes this season are second only to another former United star, Juventus forward Cristiano Ronaldo (15). 

Barella has relished the chance to play alongside Lukaku with Inter. 

"He has physical power like Shaquille O'Neal: they make power their greatest strength," Barella said to DAZN. 

"Nobody can move him - even in training, three players are needed to stop him. But he is also so much more [than power]. 

"Romi is a great leader: he manages to have a good word for everyone, he has a good relationship with everyone and then on the pitch he is decisive like no other.  

"He arrived and it was incredible: he already spoke Italian! But for him it must be easy, he knows all the languages of the world!  

"He is a force of nature." 

Inter improved to second place in Antonio Conte's debut season last year, though they are still waiting for their first trophy since 2011 after agonisingly losing the Europa League final to Sevilla. 

"Losing the Europa League final was the biggest disappointment of my football career," added Barella, who went on to praise the coaching of Conte. 

"We deserved it, deserved to win that cup. 

"At home I am very ordered and now I'm becoming a little bit like that on the pitch too, all thanks to Antonio Conte. 

"Before I was more free-spirited, now the coach has given me many ideas, he taught me to choose the moments. I study a lot on the pitch. 

"Playing with great champions I try to steal something from each of them, I observe them and I try to make the best parts of their game mine."

Antonio Conte defended his late substitutions after Inter were held to a 2-2 draw at Roma on Sunday.

The Nerazzurri looked set to secure three precious points in the battle between two title hopefuls at Stadio Olimpico, but Gianluca Mancini denied them with an equaliser after 86 minutes.

Lorenzo Pellegrini put Roma in front in the first half, but two goals in the space of seven minutes after the break from Milan Skriniar and Achraf Hakimi gave Inter a deserved lead.

Conte withdrew Hakimi, Lautaro Martínez and Arturo Vidal before Mancini struck in the closing stages, and the Inter boss explained why he made those changes following a result which leaves second-placed Inter three points behind leaders Milan.

He said: "Vidal asked to be replaced due to injury, Lautaro gave a lot in those 75 minutes, also because I asked him to lower himself next to Vidal in the non-possession phase.

"Hakimi also ran a lot and was losing important balls. This is the third game in seven days. Inter must have an important squad to aspire to something important.

"I don't see why [you should] not use players from the bench. I think that in the end the anxiety of the important result also takes over. That mentally leads you to lower yourself.

"But from the bench we asked [the players] to press high, because going deeper is not a good thing."

Conte said he was pleased with the way his players responded to a midweek defeat to Sampdoria.

Asked about Inter's second-half display, he said: "I think that we played well, in the first half too. Let's not forget that Roma are fighting for the same thing we are and are just three points behind us.

"Going away to the third-placed team in the league and playing like this means we're an organised and strong team.

"We had the chance to kill off the game but couldn't manage it and let Roma back into it late on - because we were out of energy. It's a shame because, with two minutes to go, we were beating a strong side."

Matteo Darmian was replaced by Ashley Young in the first half and Inter revealed the full-back suffered a suffered a severe contusion to his left hip bone.

Antonio Conte is at a loss to understand why Inter struggle to get going in games this season as they look to get back to winning ways in Serie A.

Inter were 2-0 down to Sampdoria by half-time in their previous outing and, despite Stefan de Vrij's header in the second period, could not complete a comeback. 

With Milan losing to Juventus in midweek, Inter sit just one point behind their league-leading city rivals, though have a tough visit to third-place Roma to come on Sunday. 

Inter had more attempts, more possession and attempted more passes in the second half against Sampdoria than they did in the first – continuing a trend which has been prevalent throughout the campaign. 

Across their 16 Serie A games, Conte's side have managed 13 goals from a total of 116 attempts - of which 36 were on target - in the opening 45 minutes of proceedings.

In contrast, when looking at their second-half numbers, Inter have scored 28 times having attempted 133 shots, with 57 of those hitting the target. 

Inter have also crafted more chances and more big opportunities after the break, while their passing accuracy remains similar (86.10 per cent in the second half in contrast to 86.87 per cent in the first). 

Conte, however, is unsure as to why his team are having such issues. 

"I don't know if there is an explanation, last year it was the opposite," the Inter boss told a news conference.  

"If now the opposite is happening, I don't know why. The approach has always been the right one, even against Sampdoria, we dominated and then we went down by two goals. 

"The attitude must be considered and ours has never been wrong."

Conte also reaffirmed that there will be no business done by Inter in the January transfer window, seemingly casting doubt over whether Christian Eriksen will, as previously expected, leave the club this month. 

Inter's chiefs have confirmed that Eriksen is free to depart Inter, with the Denmark playmaker having created just six chances from open play this season, failing to register either a goal or assist during his nine league appearances. 

Asked if speculation over Eriksen's future was impacting his squad, Conte said: "I'm not talking about it, whoever wants to is free to do so. We must try to do our best on the pitch, from here until the end of the season."

Antonio Conte felt Inter were hard done by as their Scudetto ambitions suffered a blow with a 2-1 defeat at Sampdoria. 

Alexis Sanchez missed a first-half penalty before Antonio Candreva converted from the spot for the hosts at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris. 

Keita Balde doubled Sampdoria's advantage in the 38th minute and, although Stefan de Vrij reduced the deficit and Romelu Lukaku - short of match fitness - came off the bench, Inter were unable to pull level. 

Milan host champions Juventus in a mouth-watering San Siro clash later on Wednesday, where victory would increase the Rossoneri's advantage over Inter at the summit to four points. 

The result halted an 11-match unbeaten run for Conte's men and he refused to be too harsh on his players after they failed to overcome a chastening first half. 

"We found ourselves going from the missed penalty to having a penalty against us. There was this one-two from Sampdoria that clearly created some difficulties for us," he told reporters. 

"At the same time, the team was doing well, in the first few minutes they created a lot of scoring situations. Sometimes you lose games you deserve to lose, other times there are situations where you can score and you don't." 

Despite those missed chances and struggles in attack for Lautaro Martinez, Conte refused to blame Lukaku's recuperation from a thigh strain for Inter falling short.

"It wasn't the first time we played without Romelu, we know that he is a player with certain qualities, but he wasn't 100 per cent and you saw it when he came on," he said. 

"Sorry because I think we deserved something more." 

Christian Eriksen was also introduced from the bench, despite being told he can leave Inter this month. 

"I always try to exploit the players according to the situations that arise and I am at the club's complete disposal on every decision," Conte explained. 

"I get to work, as I have always done since I have been at Inter, but every decision will always be shared." 

Inter return to action with a crunch clash against third-placed Roma on Sunday.

Antonio Conte called on Arturo Vidal to improve after conceding a penalty that gave Inter brief concern in their 6-2 win over Crotone.

The Nerazzurri were ultimately comfortable victors at San Siro on Sunday as Lautaro Martinez scored their first perfect hat-trick since Mauro Icardi's against Atalanta in March 2017.

However, Inter had been level at 2-2 at half-time following Vidal's needless error.

After Martinez's first effort and a Luca Marrone own goal turned the match around following Niccolo Zanellato's Crotone opener, Vidal charged towards Arkadiusz Reca and stepped on his foot in the area to concede a penalty, which Vladimir Golemic converted.

Inter coach Conte was worried at that stage the setback might affect his side, looking to win an eighth successive league match for the first time since 2008.

But Vidal was replaced at the interval and an assured second-half display saw Martinez score twice more either side of an excellent Romelu Lukaku effort, before Achraf Hakimi completed the scoring.

Conte told Sky Sport Italia: "We did well to turn it around, then the naivety on the penalty could have created anxiety and nervousness.

"But we did well to get back on track and bring home another win.

"We had good answers today, also because we had started in the right way. Then there was this corner where they surprised us [for Zanellato's goal]."

The penalty was the only foul Vidal committed before his premature withdrawal, but he won just two of his five duels and Conte was not impressed.

"Arturo has important margins for improvement," Conte said. "He definitely needs to work. Keep your head down and keep working.

"Nobody is guaranteed a place here and he has to prove he deserves to play. He must do much better than what he is doing.

"From what we've seen so far, there are too many ups and downs, and we can't afford them. He knows this, he knows he has to train harder.

"Maybe when you play in big teams, sometimes this aspect takes a back seat. Here instead you have to raise the level, he knows that. We'll give him time."

Far more impressive was Lukaku, who created the first Inter goal for Martinez, had a hand in the next two and then scored the fourth before he hobbled off with an injury.

Having seen his outstanding number nine net his 35th goal in his 50th Serie A game, Conte will hope he does not have to face a spell without the striker.

Inter are in action again as soon as Wednesday, facing Sampdoria, and the coach was waiting to hear more on Lukaku's problem.

"He told me he had a small quadriceps strain," Conte said. "We'll see tomorrow if he's at risk for the Sampdoria game.

"We took him off straight away. I don't think it's anything serious."

Milan Skriniar bailed out goalkeeper Samir Handanovic and maintained Inter's winning run in a 2-1 victory at Hellas Verona to keep the pressure on title rivals Milan.

The Nerazzurri were made to work for their seventh straight Serie A success - a result that took them two points above their city neighbours, at least until the Rossoneri hosted Lazio later on Wednesday.

Skriniar's 69th-minute header proved decisive after Handanovic had gifted an equaliser to Ivan Ilic, cancelling out Lautaro Martinez's second-half opener.

The defender's first Serie A goal since February 2018 brought to a close a promising first section of the season for Antonio Conte's side, able to take in the Milan match and enjoy Christmas regardless, firmly back in the Scudetto hunt.

A stale first half did not produce a chance of note until the 26th minute when Federico Dimarco got in on the left but found Handanovic to be his equal from a tight angle.

Giangiacomo Magnani enjoyed his physical battle with Romelu Lukaku, but a slack pass set Inter away and the striker squared for Martinez to stab goalwards and draw a sharp save from Marco Silvestri.

Verona could not keep the Argentina international at bay again six minutes after half-time as he ran across Matteo Lovato to meet Achraf Hakimi's cross and aim a volley beyond the goalkeeper and in off the post.

An inexplicable error let the home side back into the match, however, as Handanovic dropped a simple Marco Faraoni centre and Ilic was alert enough to beat Skriniar to the loose ball inside the six-yard box.

If Handanovic looked to his centre-back to share the blame, Skriniar responded in impressive fashion with a towering header that left Silvestri rooted and restored an Inter lead they this time would not relinquish.

Antonio Conte has no explanation for Alexis Sanchez's fitness issues but is frustrated by the Inter forward's "constant" injuries.

Sanchez has been out of action since just his sixth Serie A start of the season - five of which have ended with a win - against Cagliari on December 13.

The former Manchester United flop has featured in nine of Inter's 13 league games this term, scoring two goals and providing two assists in 538 minutes on the field.

Chile team-mate Arturo Vidal, who has started eight times, returned from his own injury in the final 24 minutes of Sunday's win over Spezia.

Coach Conte was asked on Tuesday, speaking ahead of the trip to Hellas Verona the following day, if the national team had contributed to the pair's problems.

Reinaldo Rueda, the Chile coach, clashed with the Nerazzurri during the November international break as both players were called up for World Cup qualifiers.

"I don't know if it's a problem for the national team or the player," Conte told a news conference. "But the constant fact is that Sanchez is often injured."

Sanchez was signed on a free transfer from United in August following an initial loan spell and attention is now turning to what business Inter can do in the January window.

Reports in Italy suggest there will need to be departures - notably Christian Eriksen - if Conte is to be able to bring in attacking reinforcements such as Alejandro Gomez or Gervinho.

But the former Italy boss was reluctant to discuss plans ahead of a meeting with the club's board.

"My evaluation is not important now," he said. "What is important is what the club has done in these four months in which we have worked.

"We will meet in the days after the match against Verona, during the Christmas period.

"It is right to have a follow-up to the meeting in August after decisions were made that were accepted by everyone. It is right to sit down and understand what solutions we have in mind and whether we want to face them."

Inter will be top of the table at Christmas should they better rivals Milan's result against Lazio on Wednesday.

However, Conte is pleased for league-leading Rossoneri coach Stefano Pioli - previously at Inter - and recognises there is work still to do for his own side.

"[Milan] are doing very well; I'm happy for Pioli," Conte said. "At a football level, we are trying to make a path that will lead to Inter at the top of the table.

"It is a path that has begun and is continuing, a path made of work, alongside a parallel corporate one, about which you would have to ask the club."

Antonio Conte focused on Inter's consistency, rather than an unspectacular performance, after a 2-1 victory over Spezia saw them extend their winning run to six in Serie A. 

Inter struggled to get going at San Siro and created precious few opportunities in a first half that saw promoted Spezia actually have a greater share of the possession. 

But Achraf Hakimi struck to cap off a fine move early in the second half and Romelu Lukaku's penalty left Spezia with too much to do, even with a late consolation deep into stoppage time. 

It is the first time Inter have won four successive Serie A home games under Conte, while their 18 points from the previous six league matchdays is at least four more than any other team. 

Conte is grateful Inter are finally finding stability and dismissed the importance of the display as the Nerazzurri remained just a point behind leaders Milan. 

"We are at the sixth victory in a row and these wins are welcome, because by giving consistency you remain at [near] the top of the standings," he told Sky Sport Italia.

"We knew it would be complicated, Spezia are an organised team that has closed all the spaces, they have physically strong players. In the first half we did not create a lot. 

"It's a good win, considering that we play every three days and there is a bit of tiredness. It's useless to hide, now let's grit our teeth and try to finish this block [of fixtures] in the best way. We must have courage, without being fearful." 

Attention quickly turned to Atalanta star Alejandro Gomez, whose future remains a source of speculation after a reported row with coach Gian Piero Gasperini. 

Inter have been linked with the Argentinian, though Conte was unwilling to discuss the player. 

"I have too much respect for my players to talk about that," he said. "After Hellas Verona, we will also understand what the club expected from the team. 

"It will be right to make some assessments with the club, in an intelligent and serene way, to understand a little what can be done and what not." 

Antonio Conte was proud of Inter for grinding out an "ugly" 1-0 victory over Napoli in Serie A at San Siro on Wednesday.

Roberto Gagliardini's weak header was the only effort on target during the first half of a dour league encounter, with Inter only taking the lead when Romelu Lukaku converted a 73rd-minute penalty after David Ospina fouled Matteo Darmian.

That was the only other shot on target the Nerazzurri mustered across the entire game midweek, while Napoli – who had captain Lorenzo Insigne sent off for dissent after referee Davide Massa pointed to the spot – did not draw a save from Samir Handanovic until the 69th minute.

"The match was very tactical, the teams played with a lot of respect and it wasn't a great match, but it is an important victory against a rival. They are points that are worth twice as much," head coach Conte told Sky Sport Italia.

"These are games that are difficult because you can win them but also lose them. Napoli are an excellent team with great organisation.

"[Gennaro] Gattuso is right when he says that we coaches tactically made it ugly. We had already faced each other several times and we worked to make each other's attacks sterile.

"These are games that you have to win and when you do you put it in your pocket and you are happy."

Inter goalkeeper Handanovic did well to keep out Matteo Politano and Giovanni Di Lorenzo as 10-man Napoli pushed for an equaliser in the final 10 minutes.

Napoli's Andrea Petagna rattled the post in stoppage time as the visitors came up short in their attempt to secure a share of the spoils in Milan.

Conte admitted Inter had not had to cling on for the three points but was pleased they managed to do so, making them the first team to keep four successive home clean sheets against Napoli since Catania put together a run of six from 1961 to 2008.

"The team felt the importance and weight that these games carry [in the closing stages]," said Conte.

"Bringing these matches home is important for mental growth. We must learn to suffer and cope with these situations.

"We would prefer to suffer less, but winning against such strong teams is a good sign."

Inter are second and within a point of city rivals Milan, who have drawn back-to-back matches.

Antonio Conte was the coach who started Juventus' title-winning streak and as Inter boss he is determined to bring an end to the reign of the Turin giants.

However, Conte knows the will and planning on his part is not enough, and the onus falls on his team to beat direct rivals such as Napoli, who visit San Siro on Wednesday.

Seeing off such opponents could begin to tip the balance in Inter's favour, with the Nerazzurri prominent contenders to deny Juventus a 10th consecutive Serie A crown.

Inter sit second, with Napoli third, going into their midweek tussle, both keen to keep pace with early pace-setters Milan and stay ahead of fourth-placed Juve, who have yet to be beaten.

"Head-to-head matches are very important for the standings and from a mental point of view," Conte said at a pre-match news conference on Tuesday.

"Every game, even against teams that are not fighting to win or for a place in the cups, is still difficult. Winning head to head gives you more certainty and helps you feel stronger."

Assessing talk of Inter now almost needing to win the Scudetto, Conte pointed to the difficulty teams have had in dethroning Juventus over seasons gone by.

He led Juve unbeaten through the 2011-12 Serie A season as they began their dominance, helming the tirst three championships, and current head coach Andrea Pirlo has seen them put together six wins and five draws in their opening 11 games of this term.

Conte knows Juventus being present in a title race makes every other team's task all the more difficult, particularly being acutely aware so many see Inter's time as having arrived.

"If I hear of an 'almost obligation', it makes me smile," Conte said. "We all start with the ambition to be a protagonist and at least on my part there is always the intention of trying to win, but having said that, only one team wins and in the last nine years it has always been the same team."

Looking at Napoli, a team who under Gennaro Gattuso's leadership have taken a leap forward this season, Conte said: "It is a demanding challenge against a team who have the same ambitions as us. The result will be a gauge on which to make certain assessments."

Napoli have been a forward-looking team under former Italy midfielder Gattuso, who took the reins last December.

His first year has shown that he wants his team to attack, with their average of 17.4 shots per game during his tenure only beaten by Manchester City (17.5) in the top five European leagues.

Yet Napoli have not found the net in their last three away games against Inter in Serie A. The last team to keep a clean sheet in four consecutive home games against Napoli were Catania, whose feat stretched to six games and spanned from 1961 to 2008.

Inter did the double over Napoli in Serie A last season, with Conte bidding to become the club's first boss to win each of his three first league games against the Naples side since Alfredo Foni from 1952 to 1953.

Inter appear likely to be without Alexis Sanchez, however, due to an adductor muscle problem, and Arturo Vidal is another unlikely starter as he battles to overcome a thigh strain.

Wing-back Achraf Hakimi has a minor knock but could be involved, with Conte saying: "Of the three, he is the one I am most open to."

Antonio Conte wants to "raise the bar" for his Inter youngsters after Nicolo Barella sparked a late fightback in the Nerazzurri's 3-1 win at Cagliari on Sunday.

Inter peppered the visitors' goal only to find home goalkeeper Alessio Cragno in inspired form and trailed to Riccardo Sottil's 42nd-minute goal at Sardegna Arena.

Former Cagliari midfielder Barella levelled in the 77th minute with a sublime volley and it was his corner from which Danilo D'Ambrosio put Inter ahead before Romelu Lukaku rounded out the comeback in injury time.

In total, Barella had two shots on target, finished with an assist, completed 50 of 61 passes for an 82 per cent success rate and put in seven crosses - two of which were "good crosses" as defined by Opta.

Speaking to DAZN, Conte said: "Barella is a young footballer with important qualities, he needs some self-discipline to control all the energy that he has. He was playing for Cagliari two years ago, he is improving now.

"These players can become top players, we need to work with them and try to raise the bar and make them become players who leave the mark. You only leave the mark by winning, not participating."

It was not such a happy day for Christian Eriksen, who was handed just a fourth start in Serie A this term but hauled off before the hour.

The Denmark international, who only joined from Tottenham in January, continues to be linked with a January exit from San Siro.

Eriksen had two key passes in the match and completed 25 of the 29 he attempted but cut a desolate figure when brought off by Conte.

"I evaluate everyone's performance. I don't like to speak about single players, the general performance was positive, for what we created and for our reaction against a difficult team to face," Conte said when asked about Eriksen's performance.

Inter's fourth straight Serie A win was the perfect riposte to the midweek 0-0 draw with Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League that left Inter eliminated from European competition this season.

In truth, three points was a fair result for a team that had 23 shots, 11 on target and almost 58 per cent of possession.

After the Shakhtar game, some in the Italian media accused Conte of having no plan B, something he was asked about following the Cagliari win.

"I joked about plan B, which, for every coach, is represented by substitutions," he said.

"Sometimes you have to make the team more offensive, sometimes more defensive. When you do it, you give more space to improvisation and anything can happen.

"As I always say, you must have all the players available to do it. Some of them may be injured, or not feeling well, or they may stay on the bench just to warm it.  

"Most of times there are judgements from the outside and who stays inside can't say it all."

Barella came through the youth ranks at Cagliari and did not celebrate his goal against his former employers.

The midfielder explained: "I still have many limits, I can improve. I am really happy, and little bit sorry, because I scored against Cagliari, but I am mostly happy for the team.

"It's always exciting to come here, I am a pro and I need to play and give my best for the team I'm playing for."

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