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Caught Offside: Can Antonio Conte’s Inter repeat history to defy his own creation?

In the summer of 2011, Antonio Conte gave his first of many speeches as Juventus boss and rallied his team to their first Serie A title since 2003.

“This squad, dear boys, is coming off two consecutive seventh-place finishes,” Conte said. “It’s crazy. It’s shocking. I am not here for this, so it’s time to stop being so crap.” 

Seven years on, Juventus have won seven consecutive Scudettos, leaving the domestic league a formality — one they are expected to win.

How fitting would it be for the very same Conte to finish what he started and end Juventus’ dominance in the Italian League with Inter Milan. Can he succeed where current Juventus manager Maurizio Sarri failed? 

On the one hand, Inter have had a spectacular start to the campaign, winning all of their opening six games including a comfortable derby win over Milan and a resolute 1-0 win over Società Sportiva Lazio, underlining their intent to challenge Juventus for the title. 

Unlike his start at Chelsea, Conte has immediately set his team up in his preferred 3-5-2/ 3-4-3 formation which allows his team to maintain defensive solidarity while still being a threat on the break with the wing backs and strikers up top. It also helps that Conte has some of the best central defenders in the world to call upon in this formation. 

The acquisition of Deigo Godin from Atlético de Madrid could prove to be the difference between a good defense and a title-winning one. Milan Škriniar also has the potential to become one of the best defenders in the world and at the age of 24 shows a level of composure and skill that one would associate with his Uruguayan partner. 

Finally, and most intriguingly, there is Stefan De Vrij, who has unassumingly gone about his business and has been Inter’s best defender so far, having played in this system before with Lazio. This trio are only going to get better as Godin and Škriniar get used to the new system and this will only make them harder to break down. 

In the midfield, Conte has a wide array of talent to choose from, especially with summer signings of Nicolò Barella and Stefano Sensi. And in Sensi, Inter might have just uncovered a hidden gem. His three goals and four assists in six appearances does not do enough justice to the quality he has. At 5’6”, he is almost always one of the smallest players on the pitch but always manages to impose himself on games. 

He has the ability to pick passes at will and can effortlessly switch the ball to the wing backs, stretching the opposition thin. His diminutive figure, impeccable first touch and solid ball control allow him to wriggle out of tight spots and move his team further up the pitch by breaking opposition press. 

He is always eager for a shot and has hit the post twice from free kicks already, showing his potential dead-ball expertise. In tandem, he has Barella and Marcelo Brozovic diligently following the tasks assigned to them, allowing Sensi to flourish and have an impact on proceedings. 

The only concern for Conte in their Scudetto challenge is the output from Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez. Questions continue to surround Lukaku’s first touch and he lacks the confidence that top strikers usually possess. Similarly, Sanchez has a lot of doubters to prove wrong after his disastrous spell at Manchester United. 

Conte’s Inter will host Juventus this Sunday at San Siro, in what could be a league defining game very early on. A win for Inter will give them a confirmation that they can truly challenge for the title and can even heap pressure on Juventus to keep up, a position they seldom find themselves in. 

Seven years ago, Conte created an Italian juggernaut in Juventus. Since then, many have tried and failed to bring this juggernaut down. It seems only fitting that Conte serves the final blow and destroys what he once designed.

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