Jose Mourinho acknowledged his side’s struggles in front of goal on Sunday night, insisting things will turn around soon enough as Roma edged past Lecce at the Stadio Olimpico.
The Giallorossi ran out 2-1 winners thanks to goals from Chris Smalling and Paulo Dybala, although an injury to the latter – seemingly picked up in the process of taking that decisive penalty kick – added a sour note to the evening.
With Lecce also reduced to 10 men midway through the second half, the Giallorossi nevertheless struggled somewhat to make their numerical advantage count.
Here’s what Mourinho had to say after the contest…
You started well, you took the initiative and then the lead. You could have even scored the second goal … but then, after they went down to 10 men, they closed the spaces. Even at 2-1 it wasn’t always comfortable…
“I don’t remember many games in my career where it was 11 against 10 where I wanted the game to be wrapped up as soon as possible. There was tiredness tonight. Definitely physically, perhaps mentally a bit as well – it’s tough playing Thursday and then Sunday.”
“Watching Udinese against Atalanta today, you could see the difference when you don’t play in midweek – there was a different intensity to that game. But that’s not a justification because, as you say, we started the game well, with ambition and intensity, putting pressure on them and winning the ball back well.
“You are suggesting that it was more difficult against 10 because they shut up shop. But I think it was tougher because we managed the game poorly. My feeling was that, when we are tired, we seem to make things more complicated for ourselves rather than play simple. I didn’t see any fear in my players, but the way they made things tougher for themselves … with an extra player you need to move the ball more and find the spaces.
“We launched long diagonal balls against an organised, low defensive line … why are we giving the ball away like that? And when we did get the ball into the forwards only Belotti was solid on the ball. The others all took a touch here or there and then lost the ball. I didn’t like the way we managed possession.
“I expected Lecce to wait for the last five minutes or so to start throwing caution to the wind with the result in the balance. It’s true that we had chances to make it 3-1 but, on another night, they could also have grabbed an equaliser from a corner or a lucky ball into the box. A draw would have been a disaster, so lucky that didn’t happen.
“Against Atalanta we played really well and we lost. Today we did not play well and we won. The league table is based on points, but obviously I would have liked it if we had played well tonight as well. But, as I said at the start, tiredness played a part. But despite the tiredness we could have managed things better.”
How is Paulo Dybala?
“I’ll say it’s not looking good, rather than say it’s looking bad. Unfortunately, it’s probably looking closer to bad than it is to not good.”
Is there a risk that Roma fans will only see him again in 2023?
“I am not a doctor and I have not talked with the doctor but, from experience and from what I’ve understood from speaking with Paulo, it’s difficult [to see him again before then].”
Can you work on that cutting edge in front of goal, or is it all in the mind?
“It’s a bit of both. You can work on it in training and we do that a lot, both individually and as a group, but I think at the moment it’s more of a mental thing.
“Even in training, when one of the forwards makes a mistake, they are very critical of themselves and they start thinking negatively. That worries me a bit. Clearly we need to score in order to win games, but their goals will arrive: for both Tammy and Belotti. They will end up scoring more than Zaniolo, even if he needs to score a few too.
“What worries me, beyond the tiredness – which is real, it’s not an excuse – is the poor management of the game. Two touches, one touch, changing the rhythm, waiting for the opposition to come out of their shape. We study the opponent a lot and we know how they want to press and where we can find spaces.
“A few times, watching the game, I started to think that my Italian must have become really bad – because the players really must not understand me, because they do exactly the opposite of what I tell them. But perhaps that is also a consequence of tiredness.
“We need to push through this difficult period. When Mkhitaryan and Veretout left at the start of the season, we signed Wijnaldum to be the man to play in the middle, to give the team a different rhythm and a variety of options in the middle of the park. When we lost him, we started to have more issues there.”