Conte credits mental change at Juve
Antonio Conte believes a new mentality is what has turned Juventus from abject under-achievers the last two years into title pretenders this season.
Two seventh-place finishes in a row had seen usually sky-high expectations in Turin dissipate, but Conte has rejuvenated the northern giants since arriving as coach last summer and they currently lead the Serie A table by a point from AC Milan.
Conte - who got the job after taking Siena to promotion to Serie A last season - puts down the quick turnaround to a new approach. "This year we've worked a lot on the head, to rediscover a winning mental attitude and in fact we always go onto the pitch to win," said the 42-year-old, who played over 400 games for Juventus winning five Serie A titles and the 1996 Uefa Champions League among other trophies.
"I found a group of lads who have proved very willing," he added. "It's a continual process of development, a few weeks ago we were seven points behind Milan [with a game in hand], then it was five [also with a game in hand] and now we're in front.
"We always have the obligation to win and we even had it at Palermo [on Saturday] having known Milan had lost," he said. "Whatever Milan do [against Chievo on Tuesday] we still have to play to win against Lazio [on Wednesday]. That's the way it's always been and that's the way it will be to the end."
Conte still likes to keep his ambitions low key, though, seemingly wary of getting above his station. Juve are the most successful team in Serie A history with nine more titles than both Milan and Inter Milan. They have also spent heavily since returning to the top flight in 2007 following their relegation to Serie B the year before for match-fixing.
Their side is filled with internationals including half the first-choice Italy team. But to hear Conte speak it would be easy to assume he was in charge of one of the country's minnows.
"We have to play without regrets. We're proud to be fighting against a battleship such as Milan with seven games left," he said. "From the beginning of the season I've never spoken about the title, it seemed crazy to me. But I don't want to blow smoke in everyone's eyes, we'll give everything and then see where that takes us."
Juve take on third-place Lazio on Wednesday and Conte is still insisting his aims are more modest than those expected of the league leaders. The Old Lady of Turin are 11 points ahead of Lazio and if they beat them they would only need another five points from their last six games to ensure they go straight into the Champions League group stages next season.
"We're playing the third-place team. Lazio have been in the upper echelons of Serie A for many years, which is the fruit of excellent work," said Conte. "It will be a tough match, difficult, we'll need to be at our best to win. They have a very important objective which is Champions League qualification.
"We also have a fundamental aim and winning tomorrow would guarantee us second place and direct access into Europe [the Champions League group stages]," he said. "At the beginning of the season the club asked me to get us back into the Champions League after two seventh-placed finishes.
"We're a lot further ahead of every prediction, we've improved exponentially given that at the start people were thinking we'd finish fifth or sixth," he said. "Even if we don't win, it wouldn't be a disappointment, the important thing is to give our all."