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AC Milan

Nobody has bridged gap to Juventus

Inter Milan head coach Antonio Conte has said Italian champions Juventus remain the team to beat in Serie A ahead of their meeting at San Siro on Sunday.

The Turin club have won the league title for nine consecutive years but haven’t enjoyed their usual domestic dominance this term, as Andrea Pirlo oversees a transitional period in his first season as coach.

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Juventus are fourth, four points behind Inter in second and seven points from leaders AC Milan, with a game in hand over both.

“It’s inevitable that Juventus represent a yardstick for everyone, for years they have dominated in Italy,” Conte said at a news conference.

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“When you want to know what level you are at, you compare yourself to Juventus.”

Sunday’s “Derby of Italy” offers Inter the chance to leave Juventus with a mountain to climb in their title defence.

But former Juve midfielder Conte, who won three Serie A titles as coach of the Turin club from 2011 to 2014, underlined that no team can claim to have shifted the balance of power.

“I don’t want to state who are the favourites. We have great respect for a team that wants to continue its domination for a tenth consecutive year,” he said.

“Last year we reduced the points gap and we hope this year to do the same. Beforehand, Juve were 20-25 points ahead of the rest, that wasn’t good.

“No team in Italy can say they have bridged the gap to Juventus. For nine years they have dominated and done important work, managing to change things and rejuvenate the squad without sacrificing experience.”

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Conte was also asked about Christian Eriksen, who started in a deep-lying playmaker role in a 2-1 Coppa Italia victory against Fiorentina on Wednesday, despite rampant speculation that he will be sold this month.

“We need to get the most out of the potential of the squad,” Conte said.

“Behind [Marcelo] Brozovic we don’t have another playmaker, so we’re playing Christian there and looking to get the best out of him in that position.

“He’s played as a trequartista, central midfielder and now as a playmaker. Having an element with these characteristics can definitely be useful to the team.”

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