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'Conte makes you play better than you think you can' – Pirlo unsurprised by Inter resurgence

15:34 GMT+3 09/02/2020
Antonio Conte Andrea Pirlo Juventus 2011-12
The Italy legend played under Conte at the end of his career and enjoyed a renaissance under him, winning three Serie A titles at Juventus

Inter’s Serie A title challenge under Antonio Conte has come as no surprise to Andrea Pirlo, who says his former manager brings the best out of all of his players.

Conte took Pirlo to Juventus for free at the beginning of the 2011-12 season, and the pair won three consecutive Italian titles together.

Now, Conte’s Inter side face Pirlo’s former club AC Milan on Sunday evening knowing that a win would take them back level on points with Juve in first.

Asked by the Gazzetta dello Sport if he had been surprised by Inter’s title challenge, Pirlo was typically nonplussed.

“Not at all, because I know him too well,” he said.

“I knew Inter would be at this level, fighting for the league title until the end.

“He always leads you to give your best, to play better than you think you can.

“He is addicted to winning, if he loses you can’t talk to him. He becomes a devil!”

With the title race having been neck-and-neck for much of the first half of the season, Juve had looked to be pulling away since the New Year.

Now, two defeats in three league games – away at Napoli and Hellas Verona – have handed Inter the opportunity to get back into it.

Their good season so far hasn’t been a one-man show, but Pirlo believes most of the credit has to go to Conte.

“Him especially,” he said. “Then the club spent well on players that fit well with the coach’s ideas. A serious club does the rest.

“Today Juventus are so strong because they have quality in every position – the team was built by getting one player at a time better than the last. But I am sure Inter will fight to the end.”

With Alexis Sanchez returning to fitness and the January signings of Christian Eriksen, Ashley Young and Victor Moses bedding in, Inter will be hoping to step up their form as Juve falter.

“He is an excellent player,” Pirlo said of Eriksen.

“He will raise their level. He needs time because he is coming from a very different championship.”