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Mourinho: It's going to be a tough game - for both sides

See what the boss had to say ahead of Sunday's eagerly-anticipated showdown at the Stadio Olimpico...


This is a big game for Roma, with potentially significant consequences. How are the side looking going into it?

“We are without Dybala, Wijnaldum, Darboe and Celik. Maybe Celik will be available for the next game we have in the league. But we are in decent shape; after so many games in a row we’ve been able to work on things for a week – to allow those who have played a lot of games to recover but also to prepare well for this match.

“There’s not a lot more to say really, other than we are playing top of the table. Perhaps it doesn’t mean much to be top after two or three games, but being top after 10 – with 30 points to play for – has a value. But we know that, and we know we are going up against the leaders. We have the right to play and the right to believe that we can play the game our way.

“The general opinion seems to be that Napoli are the favourites. That might be the general consensus, but sometimes the favourites lose.”

Playing with five in midfield, including three central midfielders, it feels like the team looks better out there on the pitch. Is that the system you are going to stick with? And, going on from that, could Zaniolo also be an option in one of the roles – not tomorrow, necessarily, but further down the line?

“I think that Zaniolo is still in a phase of his career where he needs to develop, he needs to understand his game, he needs to improve his decision-making. So, in that regard, when you are an attacking player you are usually more instinctive. When you are a midfielder though you need to be a bit more cerebral, you need to understand the moments in games and know the best choices to make. He is in a spell of his career right know where he needs to understand that aspect better.

“What I really like about Nicolo, even during the game against Sampdoria, is that he is showing me that he is improving from a mental perspective. Often the Zaniolo that doesn’t start games is a sad player, a bit more selfish, thinking more about himself than the team. But when he came on against Sampdoria he played with just one idea in his head: ‘I am a Roma player, I want my team to win, I understand why the coach has made these decisions’.

“He looked calm to me, and that shows signs of growth that I really like. I don’t know if I will get this question anyway but I will answer it now: his three-match ban in Europe seems a bit excessive to me. I don’t understand it. The red he got could easily have been a yellow. If the linesman decided it was worthy of a red card, then a one-match ban is already a significant punishment. Three matches seems excessive.

“Everything seems to go against this lad a bit. In this case I feel I have to defend him. I didn’t want to say anything before the decision was reached, but now it has been announced then I can defend him. It’s not just that we will now be without the player for two important matches, it’s more about the reaction of the player. The feeling it will give him. But that is in Europe – tomorrow is a different matter.

“As for the setup; we think about different things but we have to make changes based on the situations presented to us. There are teams where there is only one idea of how they want to play, but in our case if we lose a player then we need to rethink things and find different solutions. Without Dybala available to us tomorrow we have to come up with something different. Playing with three or two [in attack] might seem the same thing, but in reality it’s very different. It’s a matter of finding the right tactical balance.

“Camara is an example for that. One of his issues with us initially was the defensive side of things. Then there are tactical elements that a player needs to learn when they are playing with us. I feel like when we play with three in midfield the team is not necessarily comfortable, but it definitely feels balanced.”

Napoli are one of the sides that have scored the most goals this season, whereas Roma seem to take pride in their defensive solidity. Will Roma sit back and invite Napoli onto them tomorrow, or try and take the game to them?

“That’s your opinion. If the statistic is just about goals scored, that’s one thing. But if the statistic is about chances created, then maybe it’s another perception. If a team does not score a lot, but creates lots of chances, then you can’t say that it is a defensive side.

“Napoli have clearly scored a lot of goals, but you can’t say that we aren’t an attacking side. We are the eighth best attack in the league at the moment, it’s true, but that’s because we’ve missed lots of chances rather than because we are a defensive side. Have you ever seen us invite another side onto us? Or have you just seen us miss lots of good chances? If we have missed chances, then how can it be that we are defensive or waiting for the opposition?

“Right now there is a discrepancy between the number of chances we are creating and the number of goals we are scoring. But that needs to be analysed. Against Atalanta we took 20 shots but we lost to the one shot on goal they had. I think that sooner or later an opponent is going to pay the price – we are going to have four chances in a game and score four goals, winning 4-0. I think that will happen.

“But tomorrow we will go out there to play our game, with the aim of winning the match. Napoli are favourites, Napoli are a great side, Napoli score a lot and Napoli defend well. It’s all about Napoli. But we will go out there and see what we are able to do.”

How do you go about addressing the issues in front of goal? Is it a mental problem, a issue with technique … how do you address it?

“First and foremost, we work on it a lot. That’s the first thing. I don’t think it’s just a mental thing, a confidence thing or a technique thing. It’s also about the types of player we have. There are players that aren’t natural goalscorers, without a record of scoring much in their career. We have a lot of players like that. But we also have natural goalscorers.

"Tammy, he’s a goalscorer. Belotti, he’s a goalscorer. Pellegrini, another goalscorer. We have players who are natural goalscorers. That’s what I’ve been saying; the teamwork is important because the goals will come. My suspicion is that one day an opposition is going to pay the price. We might score five from five chances. And that day people will say, ‘Roma are amazing, what an attacking side’. No, it’ll still be the same Roma.

“That day everything will go in; with the knee, off the back, off ... whatever. But just think if against Sampdoria the young Quagliarella had scored to make it 1-1 at the end – everyone would have said that Roma are too defensive. That’s not how it is. We play the games with the quality that we have.”

Luciano Spalletti had plenty of nice things to say about you and Roma in his press conference. Is that part of the mind games?

“I have still not listened to his press conference, but I doubt you are playing games with me. He’s a friend of mine, it’s true. There’s a lot of respect between us, that’s true. He’s a really great coach and I am not bad either. So there’s no games there, I think it’s the truth.

“He knows that his side can win tomorrow, but they can lose as well. He knows his side is in great shape but he also knows these games aren’t easy. So it’s likely the truth. You think that he would go into the press conference and say that they can win the game easily? They may be first, but we are in the top four after 10 games as well. And the team in fourth isn’t bad. Luciano knows that.

“We’ve already played away games in Milan, against Juventus, against Udinese. So they know it won’t be an easy game for them. And I think that too.”

Were Roma interested in Khvicha Kvaratskhelia in the summer? How do you stop a player like that – what can we expect from you in that regard?

“From me? Nothing from me. Maybe I’ll give him a kick if he runs past me… [laughs]. But, jokes apart, now it’s too easy to say if this team or that team were also interested in him. The only thing that matters is that Napoli made a good purchase, and clearly he made a good choice for himself too in going to Napoli. They now have a great player on their hands.”

 
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