Antonio Conte is expecting a tougher second half to the season for his unbeaten Juventus side ahead of tomorrow's visit to Lecce. I Bianconeri are joint-top of Serie A alongside AC Milan, and haven't lost in 16 league games and one Coppa Italia match.
But while their main title rivals were juggling European and domestic engagements before Christmas, they will all be free of those for the best part of the next two months. And Conte also believes that Juve's unexpected early form will see them treated as more of a threat from now on.
"So far we've had a great season but we need to continue improving, starting with tomorrow," he said. "From now on I expect things to get more difficult in relation to the beginning of the season, because none of our rivals expected us to be so strong.
"Our first objective was to regain credibility in the eyes of our fans, and given the welcome we got in Dubai, and in Casarano, I would say that's been achieved. Now we have to maintain that credibility and that should be our first step."
Conte admitted, however, to having some doubts about how the team will react after the winter break. "We went into it on the back of a series of 16 useful results, but then we had to stop and so there's a question mark," he said. "But we've worked hard on our legs and head and I'm confident."
Starting the year against the league's basement team would seem ideal, but Conte won't be taking Lecce lightly, although he expects to win. He said: "They have quality in their squad with [Luis] Muriel, [David] Di Michele, [Ruben] Olivera, [Guillermo] Giacomazzi and [Juan] Cuadrado. But we're Juventus and we shouldn't be afraid of anyone."
Conte praises Matri, urges Borriello to fight for place
The Juve coach added former Italy international Marco Borriello to his squad earlier this week, but revealed the big striker will have to earn a starting berth. Conte insisted that current first choice Alessandro Matri and substitute Fabio Quagliarella have no reason not to believe they can keep him out.
"I'm happy he's arrived," said the 42-year-old. "Marco gives us another alternative but he still needs to enter into our mentality and our way of playing. It's up to him to work hard to unseat the current hierarchy and earn a starting place.
"As for Matri, he's having a good season, one a great player would. We'll keep five forwards, and I'm also happy with Quagliarella.
"I am happy with the way the team is progressing but we haven't achieved any objectives yet. All we know is that we're on the right path."