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.”
— Inter (@Inter_en) April 7, 2021
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.”