Jose Mourinho held his customary pre-match press conference on Saturday evening, as Empoli prepare to visit the Stadio Olimpico.
Sunday's Serie A game gets underway at 18:00 CEST, with the Giallorossi looking to get back to winning ways in the league ahead of the international break.
Here's what Mourinho had to say about the contest...
You’ve already said on a few occasions that Italian football has changed, that it is more attack-minded and ambitious now. But the teams ahead of you in the table have all conceded fewer goals – most notably Napoli and AC Milan. So what’s the right balance?
“The result is the most important thing. If you play attacking football and lose 5-4 then it would have been better to play for a 0-0 and take a point. That balance is at the base of everything. In my opinion it is impossible to get to the top of the table if your team isn’t well-balanced. They need to defend well, not concede many goals, yet at the same time you need to be able to score in order to win games.
“More than the standings, more than the results, what you need is a quality of football, a conviction about the way of playing. Coaches want their teams to play good football. You could say the ideal is to play well and win and I’d agree with that.
“You all know that I am ‘results-oriented’, that the result is really the key thing. But you can try to blend results with playing with that right balance. It seems to me most Serie A teams want to do that and want to play good football.”
Are you thinking about sticking with Ebrima Darboe tomorrow, especially considering Bryan Cristante could be suspended with another yellow card?
“I don’t look at those sort of details in order to decide who will or won’t play tomorrow. But I think Darboe has gone through an important process during these last two and a half months.
“Last year he played in the first team, but without any real pressure – the side were struggling a bit, Paulo [Fonseca] did not have many other options because of all the injuries. He came in and, without that pressure, played really well in those first two or three games. But when I arrived, I got the sense – even from speaking with him – that the expectation had started to get to him a little bit. He would say, ‘I’m not a youngster from the Primavera anymore, I’m one of those with expectations and responsibility on me’. He was one of those putting a bit of additional pressure on things.
“In the first few weeks he was working really hard, as always, but without that quality of play that distinguished him in the first place. Over time, however, he’s freed up a bit; he’s learned, he’s grown, and that confidence has gradually come back. Against Zorya we had a lot of options. We could have gone with [Amadou] Diawara’s experience, or [Gonzalo] Villar, or another youngster like Edoardo Bove – but we went with him because it was the right moment for him.
“And the response was really good. Defensively he did really well, he was very focused. On the ball he was great. I really was impressed. You can’t say that we’ve ‘gained’ a player, because he was already here, but absolutely both his confidence in himself and my confidence in him have grown after a game like that.”
Were you surprised to see Nicolo Zaniolo and Gianluca Mancini were not called up to the national side this time?
“That’s not my job. The Italian national team have a coach carrying a great responsibility, with a lot of really good players to choose from. I respect that task, whether 10 of our players are called up or just one. It’s his decision. The players definitely want to go on international duty, because for them it is an honour and an extra motivation too. But if they stay with us they are looked after, they are fine, they don’t have games to worry about. So both sides have positives and negatives to them.”
Empoli have conceded fewer shots on target this season than Roma. What’s the reason behind that?
“The easiest thing in football is to defend well. It’s the easiest thing. You can do it by sacrificing your attacking intent. But that’s not something we want to do. We want a team that plays, that creates, that scores – and then one that defends well too.
“Obviously I care about how the team defends – I don’t want to be a hypocrite. We have lost two away games despite scoring twice in each of them. A team that defends well, beyond any individual errors that can always happen, does so because it has balance and because all the parts work together. We need to find our balance. That always takes time, but equally it’s just two games. We’ve had other games where we have not conceded.
“That being said, six goals in two games is too much. Today is the second recovery day after Thursday’s game, so the intensity was a bit lower because it’s hard to train at a high intensity after a game on Thursday, but we’ve worked on it nevertheless.
“We know how Empoli like to play. We know they’ve put in more crosses than anyone in Serie A after six games, and that they have had the second most shots from outside the area. We know their style and we’ve worked on that. Defensive organisation is a key thing for us.”
Luciano Spalletti recently agreed with a comment suggesting that national teams are a blight for club sides. Do you, as a fellow club manager, agree with that? And do you think there is too much football these days?
“I don’t want to comment on what my friend Spalletti has said, that’s his opinion. We are where we are, so of course the interests of our club are what are most important to us. Others are over working with national teams, and so those interests are most important to them. There are definitely things that can be improved, but I don’t think a world without national team games is the answer.
“I don’t understand how they can play games in South America on Thursday evening, which for us is Friday morning. I don’t understand that. I thought they had done away with that. Another thing they could change is the national teams that call up 35 or 40 players for two or three games. Loads of them don’t play, they don’t train at the same intensity, and it would be better if those players stay with their clubs.
“So those are the small details that could be improved. As for the other part, if there is too much football or if the World Cup should be every two years … that’s not for me to say. I can talk about these smaller details, because they would make a difference for us.
“When we talk about the upcoming game against Juventus, for example, I’m watching that closely. For that game we have Matias Vina, Rodrigo Bentancur and Juan Cuadrado who will be playing in Brazil on Friday. There are things some people don’t want to take a proper look at.”
Neither you or Empoli have drawn this season – is that just a concidence?
“I think so. A lot of the time the difference between a win and a draw isn’t about philosophy or ambition. It’s just in the details. It’s one thing when a team goes out there from the start to try and get a draw. Their only aim is not to lose. But that’s not us, and that’s not Empoli either. So for that reason sometimes it’s just moments that change results. For example, against Sassuolo we scored in the 90th minute.”
How important is it for a team to be able to respond to changes in tactics and setup during a game?
“It depends a lot on circumstances. I’ve made those changes before and I’ll do it again. The scoreline is always very important and during a game both sides can think about changing things – that’s completely normal. It can also be a Plan B for the coach and the team that make a switch.
“For teams that are behind it becomes necessary to take a few risks, and you need to not be scared of conceding another as you go in pursuit of a positive result. Sometimes you don’t play the way you want to not because of something you’ve done, but because of the way the opposition is playing. You all will say that teams have dropped too deep, but sometimes that’s because the opposition has forced them into that. That’s the language of the game, the beauty of the game.”
Despite the derby defeat, the fans are going to pack out the Olimpico once again tomorrow…
“I can only thank them. I thank them for the passion they have shown from the very first day. It’s a clear example of what Romanismo is all about.
“I always say it is easy to cheer on a side that wins all the time, it’s a little bit harder when it’s a team that doesn’t win a lot. So I think it’s an example of how much they believe in this team. What can I say about that? From our first 10 games we’ve lost two, but in both of those two we showed heart and desire and quality and tried everything to get back into it. I think the fans appreciate that. And I think that is what should be at the base of everything this team tries to do.
“Both those games we ended up with two strikers up top. I hope Roma fans can understand that it takes time, it’s a process and that we don’t need to listen to the criticism from elsewhere. It could be a period where we develop as a club and also as a way of following the club. We are heading in the right direction. Time is clearly important, because there was a huge difference in how many points we got last season and how many points the top teams got. And that gap won’t be easy to close.”
Lorenzo Pellegrini has renewed his contract until 2026. What’s your reaction to that?
“It’s what I’ve already said before. He’s a quality player, a talisman, a Rome kid and a Roma fan who has grown up here and become captain here.
“From the moment I heard the ownership say they didn’t want to lose him, from the moment Lorenzo told me face-to-face that he would definitely stay, even before any agreement, then from that moment it was all part of a process. It was in the hands of Tiago Pinto and Lorenzo’s agent. It took a few weeks, but we knew it would finish as it has done.
“It’s the right decision for the club and also for Lorenzo. We talked about it. For us as a club stability is important. I am here for three years, he’s here for good now. There’s a tough core here, an Italian one too – Mancini, Cristante, Pellegrini – so there’s a core there from which you can also build the right mentality.
“We are united, we are working together and, eventually, we will all get to where we want to be.”