Antonio Conte says Juventus have restored their credibility after a flying start to the season that has seen them remain unbeaten after 12 games. Two seventh placed finishes in a row saw Juve fail to even qualify for Europe last season and when this campaign began, they weren't expected to be challenging for the title.
But they were two points clear at the top until AC Milan's 2-0 win at Genoa on Friday night. Juve can return to the top if they beat Cesena at home on Sunday and Conte believes his side are now ready to compete with Milan.
"They won the title last year and have started from a good base whereas we came into this campaign on the back of two seventh-placed finishes," said Conte. "At the beginning of the season I set us an objective: to become competitive again while recuperating credibility in the eyes of our fans and opponents. We've reached that difficult aim and now the second step is to remain competitive with the right desire, concentration and organisation to stay at the top of the league."
Milan won for the seventh time in eight matches against Genoa and Conte admits they are starting to look ominous. "Milan have left me astounded by how they have won many matches, they've been strolling," said Conte. "Milan's strength has surprised me but I'm not discovering hot water. They held their heads up against Barcelona and that's a matter of pride for Italian football, which is struggling."
While Juve have impressed this season, their undoubted star has been free transfer signing Andrea Pirlo, who was released by Milan at the end of last term. However, for the first time this season, Juve will have to make do without the midfilder schemer. "We all know how important he is but I prefer to talk about the man rather than the footballer because his strengths on the pitch are well known," said Conte.
"Pirlo is important for us from every point of view but I'm convinced that whoever takes his place won't allow us to miss him. Andrea is an important point of reference but I have a lot of faith in his replacement. Given his absence the team will give 120 per cent to put his replacement in the best conditions."