Bottom of their Champions League group and already five points off the lead in Serie A, Inter Milan have made an erratic start to the season, yet coach Antonio Conte believes they are firmly on the right track.
Inter, beaten 3-2 at Real Madrid on Tuesday, visit Atalanta, another team smarting from a European setback, on Saturday where they will hope to avoid the slipups which Conte believes are undoing their good work in attack.
Seen as the biggest challengers to the dominance of Juventus before the start of the season, Inter have won only one of their last seven games in all competitions, scoring 10 goals and conceding 10.
Yet, Conte, whose side are sixth in Serie A with 11 points, refuses to be discouraged. “In the good and the bad, this is my Inter,” he said after Tuesday’s match.
“This team is growing in all aspects. Unfortunately, the results aren’t rewarding us but these sort of performances have to give us more confidence and strength. There are no shortcuts, we just need to pay more attention to the small details.
In Conte’s defence, COVID-19 infections have deprived him of central defenders Milan Skriniar and Alessandro Bastoni for some games while leading scorer Romelu Lukaku has been troubled by injury and Lautaro Martinez has suffered a dip in form.
Inter, who had the best defensive record in Serie A last season with 36 goals conceded, may also be paying for the decision to offload central defender Diego Godin to Cagliari.
Conte, usually one of the most animated coaches on the touchline, appears to have mellowed somewhat this season, saying that he needs to “enjoy the journey” and the Gazzetta dello Sport wondered whether this could also be a problem.
“Is this new anaesthetised Conte good for the team?,” it asked. “Isn’t there the risk that, by dint of repeating ‘it’s just a matter of details, we are the best’, then the team will believe it and go on repeating the same mistakes?”
There was certainly no complacency from his opposite number Gian Piero Gasperini after Tuesday’s 5-0 mauling at home to Liverpool.
“We don’t have the intensity we did in the past and we have to change our style to compensate for that,” said Gasperini, whose side are fourth with 12 points.
“We are conceding too many goals, regardless of the value of the opponent, we don’t score as much and we definitely don’t run as much or as quickly.”