See what Jose Mourinho had to say ahead of Wednesday's Serie A meeting with Sassuolo...
The game at the Mapei Stadium gets underway at 18:30 CET.
What response are you expecting from your players tomorrow? And, considering Lorenzo Pellegrini is now injured, could Cristian Volpato replace him in the starting line-up? What do you make of his decision to decline Australia’s call-up for the World Cup?
“Volpato could play tomorrow, but the only player I will confirm is starting is Ibanez. The side for tomorrow will be Ibanez and 10 others.
“In terms of Volpato’s decision with the national team, first and foremost that is a personal decision and not a club matter. As a coach I would refuse to get involved with something like that.
“But what I understand is that this is just the start of his career, and the fact that he is developing here at Roma and playing more minutes – playing in successive games, unlike last season where he played against Verona and that was basically it – means that he is currently in a development phase where he needs to focus on building his future, and not on certain decisions that perhaps others want to bring forward to speed up a process that should not be sped up.
“As for tomorrow, I expect the same reaction I always expect when this team loses a game. It’s a group made up of good people, of people who take it badly when they lose. We know that whenever we lose a player we struggle a bit and have difficulty finding the right solution, but in the end we always come up with something.
“I am expecting a very difficult game, against a very good side who gave us two really tough matches last season. And this season they have even more talent than they did last season. But I expect my lads to bring all the energy possible to ensure we get back to smiling again because we haven’t done that for the last two days.”
To go back to the subject of Roger Ibanez…
“There’s nothing to return to. I have already spoken about him. Tomorrow it’s Ibanez and 10 others. Beyond what your question might be, that’s the answer. I have a lot of respect for someone that, from the first day I got here, has given everything he has. And, on more than one occasion, even when he has had a few issues.
“Last year we went through a spell where he was the only central defender, with Chris Smalling injured and Gianluca Mancini and Marash Kumbulla suspended. He was there every single game. When we went to Seville to face Real Betis earlier this season, the morning of the game I saw him and thought it was going to be impossible for him to play. And yet he played. He’s one who always fronts up.
“When we win, we all win together. When we lose, we all lose together. For me he is untouchable. There is nothing more to be said. I think it helps that I hardly read the newspapers and never check social media. Because other than my Instagram, where I publish nonsense just for fun and a few laughs, I don’t read anything. That helps me - but he is untouchable, in my opinion. Tomorrow it will be him and 10 others.”
Is there an explanation for why Roma currently have a better record on the road than at the Olimpico this season?
“At home there have been three games where we have not scored: Napoli, Atalanta and Lazio. I can have a little cry now, can’t I? The other coaches just cry, cry, cry and I never do it: so I need to be allowed to do it occasionally too. All three of those games took place without our most creative player [Paulo Dybala], who has scored the most goals, created the most from setpieces and has the most vision on the pitch. The player who knows how to unlock a deep-sitting defence, just like how Atalanta played that day.
“I won’t even talk about the Lazio game, because that is just a perfect example of a side that plays in a way that, if my team played like that, they [the media] would kill me for doing so. But the main thing is always to win and I have won a lot of games during my career playing that way. For us, when we lack that particular player, it is tough.
“The Napoli game was a bit different. Napoli came to us trying to win the game. Of course they also defend well, they have good defenders. But that game we also had our chances. It’s just not always easy for us with the characteristics our squad has.
“If you look at our last game, if I am not wrong then we played with more or less the same side as last season, with Mady Camara in the place of Henrikh Mkhitaryan. That shows that the great transfer window we had, thanks to so much hard work, effort, dedication and sacrifice, thanks to a lot of good work from the general manager and the club itself, that transfer window isn’t on the pitch right now.
"Dybala, our fundamental player – I have to cry a bit, too – has not played in how many games? Against all these other top sides he hasn’t played a match.
“He played against Inter, though, and he scored a goal and we won the game. He played against Inter, though, and he made an assist and we drew the game. But he doesn’t play in any of these three home games and that put us in trouble.
“And then there is Lorenzo, who is a bit more versatile and can play in the centre of the park when needed. But he is the other one who has that spark that gets things going on the pitch. He plays too much, too many minutes, and ran into trouble. He plays every single game. And so occasionally, for any player who has a bit of a history with muscle problems, then sometimes you are going to hit an issue.
“He hasn’t been at 100% in every game either. But we have also had matches where, once we’ve scored, it becomes very difficult for us to lose because we are a team with stability and solidarity – other than a few matches, like for example Udinese, which was a total disaster.
“We are a compact side that picks up points. With the points we have, right now we have the same number as we did after 15 games last season. That means that, if we pick up some points against Sassuolo or at home to Torino, after 15 games we could have two, one, four or even six points more than we did at the same stage last season.”
Right now you have three more than this time last season…
“I’m talking about the 15th match, which is when the break starts. And, considering all the difficulties we’ve had, we will be there. We are doing our jobs. We are trying to overcome our problems. But we cannot hide the fact that we have a few.”
"Ibanez is a player who always fronts up. When we win, we win together. When we lose, we lose together. For me, he's untouchable."
Are you pleased with the way individual players have progressed since the final in Tirana? It feels like some, Smalling aside, have not really kicked on…
“I am not completely in agreement with you. I think Mancini is doing better this year than last season: he’s more balanced and controlled on the pitch and is getting fewer yellow cards now.
“I also think Ibanez, other than that mistake in the last game, has been much more consistent. I think there is something that has had a general influence on things: we lost three midfielders [since Tirana]. Three. And all three of those you could call starters: Mkhitaryan, Jordan Veretout and Sergio Oliveira.
“Gini Wijnaldum has not even played one full game. So in central midfield we have just two, not three. And of those two, one is a boy who only joined on the last day of the transfer window [Mady Camara]. A boy who is improving little by little but is still getting to grips with the team’s playing style, offensively and defensively. He’s improving but he’s still learning.
“The other one is Nemanja Matic, who did not come here to play alongside Bryan Cristante but has often found himself alongside Cristante.
“Unfortunately we have had these unexpected problems, both this summer and last summer. Because when Spinazzola hurt himself at the Euros we had to respond to that unexpectedly and, in the transfer window, go in a direction that we didn’t really want to. Unfortunately we have had those sorts of injuries.
“But I am crying a lot now and I don’t like to cry so much. I prefer to say: Okay, all these issues have opened doors for others. To Volpato last year, to Zalewski as well, and over time to Edoardo Bove too. And I will tell you now, so it’s not a surprise, that Benjamin Tahirovic will get his chance soon enough and it might even be by starting a game – because I’ve seen him improve a lot since he started training with us. We are looking at things in a positive light.
“But let’s see, we still have two games until the break. Let’s see how many points we can get and see what the table looks like at the break, even if it is not quite the halfway point of the season. It would have been more logical to have a break at the halfway point in the season.
“Going back to your question, so I don’t avoid it – are there players that I’ve expected more from? Yes. I can’t hide that, I can’t say that I am satisfied with the evolution, or indeed regression, of some players.
“But what I can hide is which players those are – because as a coach I need to speak to my players individually when I have things to tell them…”
Also in terms of behaviour? For example, Rick Karsdorp heading straight down the tunnel when he was substituted on Sunday…
“He came back. He was back two minutes later. You don’t know what he was dealing with.”
He needed to relieve himself, then…
“No, you don’t know what he was dealing with. You don’t know that he got ice, because he’s in constant pain – he’s a boy that, if he doesn’t have a knee injury, or a hip problem, he has a fever. I saw him there, two minutes later, on the bench. I didn’t see any attitude issue. That’s not the issue.
“The issue I see, that can and needs to be improved, is the acceptance that this is all a different challenge to last season. The improvement in mentality, in taking responsibility, in increased ambition … the need to not be satisfied at having reached this level and being content at just trying to keep hitting that level.
“And we are not talking about Karsdorp, but in general. At this level, that’s the task. For example, if I had been satisfied with my career in 2010…”
You would have retired then.
“And perhaps I would have had good reason to be satisfied with everything I had achieved up until that point. I think for a player it has to be the same: you have to always find ways to get more out of yourself, up until the final day.”
Are you thinking about changing the formation at all – perhaps even tomorrow? You have just said that Nemanja Matic and Bryan Cristante are not a pairing you had in mind, so why did Camara come off during the derby?
“Good question. Because Wijnaldum wasn’t there, because Mkhitaryan wasn’t there. You play with what you have. Unfortunately we do not have too many players and when we have issues within the squad we run into more difficulties. That’s it. The shape is not down to me, it’s down to the players and the characteristics they have.”
Tammy Abraham is often talked about in terms of his goal return, but last year he had scored about the same number as right now. This year, however, he seems to be less involved in the play in general…
“That could be a good question to put to him. He is the ideal person to answer to you: ‘Yes, I have a problem, no, I don’t have a problem, yes, I’ve been missing, no, I haven’t been missing, I’m thinking about the World Cup’ … I don’t know. He is the right person to answer you. You need to wait for him to do a press conference so you can ask him that question.”