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Mourinho expecting Sassuolo to provide stern test

Jose Mourinho held his customary pre-match press conference on Saturday afternoon at Trigoria.

Roma face Sassuolo in Serie A this weekend, with the game at the Mapei Stadium getting underway at 18:00 CET.

Here's what the Portuguese had to say about the contest...


Are you expecting a response from your players in Reggio Emilia? And just how disappointing was it to go out of the Coppa Italia in the way you did?

“In what way do you mean? For 12 minutes we played terribly but then after that we deserved much more than we got, we played very well. The biggest frustration stems from the fact that we were able to go toe-to-toe with the best side in Italy – or, if you don’t agree with me on that, then at least the reigning Italian champions – and we did well. We did well and we deserved a lot more than we ended up with. We are frustrated because for 12 minutes we played terribly; we conceded a goal but it could have been two or three.

“When you face a super side like Inter, if you get the impression over the 90 minutes that you don’t have a way to hurt them then you leave the stadium telling yourself that, ‘They are a really good side, we didn’t have a chance … thank you and goodbye’. Instead, from the 12th minute until after they made it 2-0 we were in the game and could have scored; we could have scored three goals at San Siro against Inter.

“So, for that reason, the feeling is negative because we were laughable for 12 minutes, but there is also some positives and reasons for confidence there because we also produced a good performance. Tomorrow’s game is a different story; we don’t have the cup anymore, it’s all about the league. Tomorrow it’s back to league action.”

There have been a lot of rumours and reports about your outrage in the changing room after the game. There are some people in Serie C who have been hurt by what you are reported to have said. I want to know how you respond to that – and also, given you did something similar after the game against Bodo and then went on to exclude four players for the games that followed, will we see something similar tomorrow?

“First of all, in terms of what you have called my ‘outrage’, it’s always been my rule that what is said in the changing room, stays in the changing room. For this reason I won’t discuss what I said. Having said that, I am not in a position to say that it’s not true that we spoke in the changing room after the game. But I won’t reveal what was said.”

Some [players] were offended by it, based on what’s been reported…

“I can only say that is a huge lie. No-one was offended. This is what the Roma [media] environment is…”

They say you offended a Serie C side as well…

“I agree with that. There’s a player out there [Romano Perticone from Cittadella] who also said that you need a backbone to play in Serie C as well … some of my players told me he is a terrible player, but I told them that I’m not bothered about that – he said the truth. To play in Serie C, or Serie B, or five-a-side, or whatever else, you need to have a certain type of personality.

“If they were offended than I apologise because they are truly right. I was thinking that, based on the stories that came out, you were all expecting me to turn up today with bruises across my face. That’s the lie of it all.

“Actually, the players have told me that they are really enjoying how I am working with them. That’s what they’ve said. They’ve told me that throughout their careers they have had coaches who communicate with them in a totally different way. There are no secrets with me; I speak to their faces and give my players a chance to respond to me. When I speak, I am not interested in delivering a monologue. I wouldn’t change even if they asked me too, but the players have told me that they don’t want me to change, this is what they want.

"What you call ‘outrage’, to me that’s work. It’s coaching. It’s to tell them where they have gone wrong.

“Do you really think that I shouldn’t analyse the first goal we conceded on Tuesday? You think that I shouldn’t hold Roger Ibanez accountable for that pass? That I shouldn’t tell Rick Karsdorp that the way Ivan Perisic reacted is something he should also have been able to do? That I shouldn’t say to Gianluca Mancini that he can’t stay half-there and half not, and that he either has to go out to Perisic or stay on the near post? That I shouldn’t say to Chris Smalling that we are playing with three central defenders; he needs to track the forward that runs into the box?

“The space does not score goals – the players score goals. They marked the space and not the player. I have to coach them on that and my players have told me, ‘Yes, boss, this is what we want’.

“For this reason, in terms of the reports that emerged this week about issues between me and my players, I could have used a few ugly words like I used to when I was at Inter – but I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to repeat them. Twelve years is a long time. But they are complete and utter lies, okay?

“We lost a game, we have analysed that game. We have spoken after that game. We have spoken here [at Trigoria]. We have worked on it and we’ve analysed everything that did not go as well as we wanted. This is the work. Everything else, it’s total b*******.”

I also wanted to know if there will be an exiled players, like after the Bodo game.

“No, they will all be called up. The only one out is Nicolo Zaniolo, but it’s the referee who exiled him.”

How are Tammy Abraham and Lorenzo Pellegrini doing?

“Pellegrini is okay and obviously needs to find his rhythm again. Abraham is doing okay too.”

You will have read what Edin Dzeko had to say to the Daily Mail…

“I don’t want to know, I don’t want to comment. I haven’t read it.”

After 34 competitive games, it seems like you are still searching for the right recipe for this Roma side. Do you think you will find a consistent tactical formation for this group of players over the final part of the season?

“No – we will continue to look for the best solution for us, for the players we have available and in consideration of what we need to do to win the next game. If tomorrow we go out there with a completely different setup it will be because we think that it is the best way to win the game. There’s no issue with adopting a different approach.”

Beyond what happened at San Siro, are you really content with what Roma are doing at the moment? Shouldn’t we be expecting a bit more? Is Mourinho really content with this Roma team?

“Content with this Roma? I don’t understand. I would have loved to find myself 2-1 up after 45 minutes on Tuesday night. I would have loved it if Zaniolo’s chance had ended up in the back of the net. I would have loved it if it had been 1-1 at the end of our good spell in the second half, rather than 2-0. So if you ask me if I am content, then obviously I am not.”

You have seen a number of ‘blackouts’ already this season: how do you go about trying to eliminate those?

“By analysing the games. By sleeping here. Working here 24 hours a day. Doing everything possible to prepare the players. Trying to do everything out on the training pitch, and analysing things with the players when we don’t have much time to work on it on the training pitch or none at all. What else would you want me to do?”

I am asking you, I am not a coach.

“But you are a journalist. And of course, you never write lies, never! You always write the truth.”

Sassuolo boss Alessio Dionisi said in his press conference that there is a difference in tactical quality between Roma and Sassuolo and that Sassuolo will have to overcome that by showing more desire than Roma.

“A difference in technical quality? I don’t agree. He’s a colleague but we can have different opinions on things. I don’t have the option to build the play from the back in the way he can with Maxime Lopez and GianMarco Ferrari. Those players have more technical quality, they are very, very good.”

How do you strike the right balance between closing the gap to the top four in Serie A and competing to win the Conference League? How do you get to May still performing to a high level in the league? Not that I am saying there are 14 pointless games left in Serie A, but…

“No, they are not pointless. For me, finishing 9th or 10th is a big difference, just as it would be between finishing fifth and sixth. Finishing with 40 points or 41 points is different to me. That’s why every game means a lot to us: every game gives us a chance to finish in a better position. So they are all important.

“Then, when you get to the knockout stage of the Conference League, it’s a survive or die scenario. If, now we are in the knockouts, we go to Rennes, Marseille or Leicester and we start the game with 10 awful minutes – that could be it, we could be out. If we play well but we conceded two goals in the last 10 minutes, we could be out. You need to improve, you need to overcome the issues you have. Think about what happened in Sofia: it was 3-0 and then it finished 3-2. That’s why we need to focus on working hard and getting better.

“There are some things it is difficult to improve, because they are tied to the attributes of the players or of the quality of the squad. As a group, we need to be better. You seem to be heading in the direction of a question similar to your colleague’s: no, I am not happy and yes, I expect more.

“When we play in the Conference League, which is a much tougher competition than I think people think, there are some great sides there. We are talking about good sides – there is not much difference with the Europa League. We need to improve, because if we make mistakes like we have done in a few games already then that could cost us.”

Are you pleased with how training has gone this week? And what can we expect tomorrow – will Felix Afena-Gyan be up front with Tammy Abraham?

“I won’t tell you who is going to play, I won’t tell you what system we are going to play. This is at least a football question, but I don’t want to answer it. Clearly Zaniolo won’t play and therefore someone will have to take his place, or we will play with three forwards. If we play with three forwards then Tammy will be the No. 9 and the other two will play a bit wider.

“We have studied Sassuolo, we’ve seen that it is hard to play against them. They have a really strong footballing identity and they build the action really well from the back. Dionisi is a great coach and it’s a group of players that have had a lot of time to work on the principles of his style. They have been a very stable group and that will make it a very tough game for us.”

Are you pleased with how your players have trained?

“We’ve only been able to train as a complete group today, because those who played at San Siro have been following a recovery program and the others have been working on the training pitch. Those who didn’t play in Milan played in a friendly game against the Primavera.

“So we only trained together today and, as you can imagine, it was more of a tactical session than an intensive physical one. Nevertheless, we’ve worked on what we want to do against a side that really play good football.”

 
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