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Mourinho encouraged by progress as Milan arrive in town

Jose Mourinho held his customary pre-match press conference on Saturday afternoon, as AC Milan prepare to visit the Stadio Olimpico.

Sunday's big Serie A game gets underway at 20:45 local time, with both sides eager to continue their positive starts to the league campaign.

Here's what Mourinho had to say about the upcoming contest...

On Sunday you go up against Stefano Pioli. He took the reins at a struggling AC Milan about 18 months ago, and now they are at the top of the table. Are your objectives here the same? And what does tomorrow’s game mean for the team, especially after facing Napoli a week ago?

“I'll start with the second part of the question. I like to play against the best sides. And I think I have been able to transmit that attitude to my players too. It’s a pleasure for me to play those teams that are doing well, that are above us in the table and that have different targets for the season. All it does is give us motivation, so there’s no problem there.

“It’s true that I have never faced Pioli before in my career. He was not in Serie A during the two years I was a coach here before in Serie A, and so our teams have never faced one another. Tomorrow I will have the pleasure of meeting him, and getting to know him a bit both before and after the game.

“Perhaps the job he is doing does have a few similarities with what I need to do here. Obviously he deserves a lot of credit for the job he has done, although my feeling is that perhaps we are talking about a club-wide effort here. From afar that’s my perception, anyway.

"It seems to me that club has good men like Paolo Maldini working there. I see a stable structure, a squad that has been improved with each transfer window. If you compare the squad that Pioli had when he started and the one he has now then it is quite different. The club has enjoyed a positive evolution. They are top of the table, they are in the Champions League. That’s good for them.”

Could the players left out of the squad recently be back and included soon? Or is your decision now a definitive one?

“Are you more interested in who is not in the squad or who will be in the squad? The squad will be the same as the one for the last game – with the exception of Cristian Volpato, who played 90 minutes for the Primavera yesterday.

“Obviously the Primavera results are not the most important thing for us, but nevertheless I prefer not to disrupt that team too much, taking three or four of their players and then not playing them. I don’t want to take too many from the Primavera. So the squad will be the same as before.”

Henrikh Mkhitaryan seems to have been a bit less effective in recent weeks. What is happening, do you think – and is he still among those players you are counting on?

“I am counting on all those who are in the squad. But only 11 players can start each game. Unfortunately it’s often a problem to have 12 players on the bench. But things are fine. I can’t call everyone up.

“In terms of Mkhitaryan, he’s doing well. I don’t worry too much about the game, where I took him off at half-time. He’s not a boy anymore, he’s not 25, and he played against Napoli on Sunday and then on Wednesday in Cagliari another 45 minutes. I made the change; we went behind and then we needed that more direct threat from Stephan El Shaarawy, who is another player I really like.

“So Micki still has my full confidence, even if that wasn’t his most effective game. Will he start tomorrow? I won’t tell you that. But whether he starts or not nothing changes – he’s an important player for us. Daniel Fuzato is an important player for us, even if he is yet to play one minute this season. I have a lot of faith in him, and if he had to play it wouldn’t be a problem for us. The same goes for Micki. He’s definitely important for us.”

What line-up will we see against Milan?

“It won’t be the same, but it’s not going to change a lot either. You can look at AC Milan and say, 'Romagnoli might play and Kjaer might not. Bennacer or Kessie or Tonali could play. Zlatan or Giroud could play. Krunic or Brahim could play.' For us it is a lot more straightforward. I can change one or two, not five or six.”

How is Leonardo Spinazzola doing?

“He’s good, everything is going well. The specialist who operated on him was here for two days to check how everything is going, along with the medical team and our other specialists. Everything is going really well, there have not been any setbacks.

“I don’t want to say when he might be back playing again though. I don’t want to take any risks but there have been no problems with Spinazzola’s rehabilitation so far.”

In the last four games Roma have scored four goals and conceded just two. What’s changed in the approach?

“We want to score as many goals as possible and concede as few as possible. So looking at the number of goals conceded, two in four games, it’s a good statistic. Four goals scored in four games, less so. Even if we scored against Juventus too [disallowed by the referee]. The key thing is to play, fight, try to win every game. To do that you need to have the right balance and you need to defend well. It’s an easy thing to say but it’s true, to win you need to score and not concede. For that you need to be well-organised defensively. And we are improving in that respect, little by little.”

Do you need to win tomorrow both for the league standings and to finally beat a major rival?

“You always need to win. Not just against Milan, but against Cagliari, against Milan, against Venezia. You always need to win. And that’s what we want. Against Napoli you saw that desire. We wanted to win that game right until the final moments, right until the very last corner kick.

“We always want to win. Tomorrow the game is against Milan, and then after that we have Venezia. But nothing changes between the two. I understand your questions, based on the tables and the statistics and everything else. Perhaps tomorrow we won’t win the game, but no-one can stop up fighting to try and win the game. And I think that is what is bringing fans to the stadium too.

“After the defeats against Verona and Lazio, and then the shameful result in Bodo, the fans have still been coming to the stadium. Of course that is because of the passion they have for this club, but I think it’s also because of the attitude they are seeing from the team as they watch. And that is something that won’t change.”

In Serie A it seems that a lot of goals are being scored from deep crosses where the defenders lose their man. How do you defend against this inside the box? Tomorrow you might be going up against Zlatan Ibrahimovic…

“First and foremost you can’t leave space in the middle. And then if the crosses don’t come in, then there is no way that a goal can be scored in the area.

“It’s very hard for any team to control a game for 90 minutes though. Really hard. Perhaps in a few different leagues it is, but I don’t think Serie A is one of them. There is always a period in any game where you need to drop deep and dig in, because of the quality of the opposition.

“Milan, in this case, have two forwards in Ibra and Olivier Giroud who are physically very difficult to mark both in the box and in the spaces.”

Five of the 10 goals Roma have conceded so far this season have come in the 15 minutes after half-time. Is that just a coincidence?

“You could just as easily say that we are starting games really well and we are not conceding any goals in the early part of games. But you guys are always very good at finding the negative interpretation of any situation.

“As a coach it is always frustrating to concede a goal in the first five minutes of any half. But it can happen. What can I say, though? I can only congratulate you guys because you always do a great job of finding the most negative interpretation.

“It’s the same with the players that have not been called up to the matchday squad. It would be simpler to say, ‘Well, can a team like Roma really have six or seven players on the bench who are under 20 years old?’ And then I don’t call someone up and this is what happens. You are good at that, and perhaps now I understand why everyone told me that Roma is a difficult place to be. Because usually at other clubs you feel there is always a bit more protection and positivity from those closest to the club. At Roma it’s a bit different, but that’s fine. It’s funny in a way.”

 
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