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Mourinho: With the stadium behind us we can get the win we need

See what Jose Mourinho had to say ahead of Thursday's decisive Europa League meeting with Ludogorets at the Stadio Olimpico...


How will you handle tomorrow, given that only a win will do for Roma? And how is Nicolo Zaniolo doing?

“If we don’t win tomorrow then we will go to the Conference League. But we want to go into the next round of the Europa League. And, if we think like that, then only one result is good enough for us: a win.

“It’s a difficult game, because there is that pressure on it, but it’s there for the opposition as well – who beat us last time and did so in a match that we took seriously, changing only the goalkeeper from among our starters.

“But the stadium will be sold-out once again and if we can recreate the atmosphere of a knockout game, like we did last season against Leicester and Bodo and Vitesse, then with that atmosphere, and with the desire our players have to continue in this competition, then we can do it.

“As far as Zaniolo goes, justice has been served a bit because he was originally banned for three matches for an offence that, in my opinion, deserved at most a one-match ban. UEFA accepted our appeal and that’s important for us: both for the sense of fairness and because it will help us with our attempts to win.

“Right now, before our final training session, I don’t know if I can tell you whether he is in condition to play or not, because he’s got a big bruise to his leg and was in a fair bit of pain. Let’s see how he is feeling today, but I would be pleased to have him available.”

What are you expecting from Ludogorets tomorrow, and how might their approach differ from the first meeting?

“I expect them to come and be playing for one of two results. Because two results are good enough for them tomorrow, whereas only one will do for us. That makes a difference. They are a dangerous side on the counter-attack and have some quick players. And a team with quick players can defend a bit deeper, because even when you are getting overwhelmed you always have that ability to create dangerous chances. But the main difference is that we have to play to win and they can play for a draw.

“But perhaps that is better for us: that we need to take a few risks, knowing that we have a pretty loud and big stadium behind us. Our players are not focused on winning the Conference League but going through in this competition – even if we know that in the Europa League there are sides whose targets were winning the Champions League, not the Europa League. Having said that, that’s where we want to go and we will go out on the pitch tomorrow focused only on that – without thinking about other matches or what went on in Bulgaria. Tomorrow we have to focus solely on the fact that we have a game to win.

“The win in the league on Monday was important, because coming back home after the defeat to Napoli is different to when you return after a win; there is a different sort of positivity there. It won’t be an easy game for us – but neither will it be for them.”

The question is about Tammy Abraham. How does an experienced coach like you help a player who doesn’t seem to be in the best of form right now?

“I always tell my players that if the goalkeeper makes a big mistake, if the striker doesn’t score goals, if the defender messes up … that’s a secondary concern. The key thing is always the attitude; that you think about the needs of the team, that you work hard, that you don’t cry during tough times and that you have the courage to keep pushing and trying.

“For example, Lorenzo Pellegrini missed a penalty against Empoli that could have been crucial. But the next one, another important penalty, he had the courage to step up again and take it. And that time he scored. But if he had not scored, it would not have been a problem. Because he was strong enough to want to take the penalty.

“As for Tammy, I’m not sure what expression you thought you saw on my face [when he missed on Monday], but it was not the face of someone who was angry. Actually, I was really pleased with his performance. Did he miss two great chances? Yes. One was in front of an open goal and the other worked out nicely, because it became an assist for Zaniolo. But that’s not a problem.

“The problem was at the start of the season, when in a few games Tammy did not look to be fully focused. That’s not the case now. Now he works hard for the team, he creates a lot of problems for the opposition. He’s doing his job for the team.

“My players still do not know who will or will not play this week, but he will be starting.”

Are you proud of the number of young players you have been able to bring up to the first team squad – and do you think that is a vital part of your role? And, with all these young kids emerging, are you confident about the extra quality they will bring to the table or are you still worried about those established players who are not scoring?

“I’ve never really been in a position where I needed to bring through lots of young players – but that doesn’t mean I agree with those people who say that I have not given many young players a chance during my career: there have been quite a few and a lot of them were very good.

“Here it’s a bit of necessity and a bit of a consequence of the way we are approaching things. As you have seen with Volpato. I am not a hero because I give players an opportunity. A hero in this instance is stupid if he puts out players who are not prepared.

“It’s a process: a player may start as just a Primavera player, then he becomes a Primavera player who occasionally trains with the first-team, then he becomes a first-team player who occasionally turns out for the Primavera to get minutes in his legs, and then he becomes a full-time first-team player who has to wait for his chance. That’s the process, and so when the moment comes for a player to come on I am confident that they can do it, a confidence that can help overcome the nerves or anxiety that a player might have when he is making his debut or playing one of his first matches.

“I enjoy that process. Obviously for the club it is also important. It’s also important for all the young players, because it tells them that the door is open and that their chance could also arrive eventually. The first-team players are happy about it too, because everyone is always happy when a young player makes his debut, makes an impact – just as Volpato did in scoring the winner. This group helps the young players to improve and develop. Seeing that is something I really enjoy.

“But, for me, I want to win matches and I’m not really bothered about whether it’s Method A or Method B. It’s different when we lose but when we win I am happy. Obviously I am pleased that the young players are doing well and I am also pleased at the attitude my forwards are showing, through a period where they are not scoring as many as they should do.

“Take, for example, Belotti in Verona – he didn’t score the winner but if you look at his attitude, at the issues he caused the defence, the courage he showed to take a big blow to the head and still carry on playing.

"The attitude is always the most important thing. When the attitude is good, things slowly change and the forwards score. It would not surprise me if Tammy scored tomorrow. Because, aside from the chances he missed in Verona, he played well for his teammates. And that’s the cornerstone of everything.”

Is Nemanja Matic ready to start tomorrow? And what sort of impact has he had on the young players?

“Players like that are the ones that youngsters learn from, for better or for worse. A player who is 34 or 35, that is injured – but that still wants to help the team. He gets injured again and still wants to be there to help the team. And he did help. For a young player it’s an advantage to have players like that alongside them.

“When Nemanja joined, he joined because I know him well: I knew exactly what he could offer not just on the pitch, but also in situations like this.

“If Volpato is already talking about the connection he has with Matic, then imagine what it is like for Benjamin Tahirovic, who speaks the same language as Nemanja and plays in the same position. They are together before and after training and you can get an idea of what it means for Tahirovic to train with him.

“We will see how he is today, whether he can start or not, whether he feels he can start or not. But, definitely, if he’s capable of being there then he will be there.

“I already told you that Tammy Abraham will start tomorrow. Stephan El Shaarawy will also start, considering he is doing the press conference today. So now you only have nine more names to guess…”

 
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