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Mourinho: We need to focus on finishing as high as possible

Jose Mourinho held his customary pre-match press conference on Saturday afternoon, as Roma resume Serie A action against Sampdoria this weekend.

Sunday's game at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris gets underway at 18:00 CEST.

Here's what the boss had to say ahead of the contest...


The action resumes against Sampdoria on Sunday. Is everyone available, including the players who have been away on international duty? And can you give us an update on both Nicolo Zaniolo and Leonardo Spinazzola?

“The updates about Spinazzola are good, although it seems to me like you guys are trying to find out exactly when he will be back out on the pitch and I think that’s impossible to say. It’s been a number of months now since he last trained with the squad. Now he will start training with us again, little by little, as we slowly build things back up.

“But we are all pleased [with things]: the player, the medical team … nevertheless, let’s be calm. We cannot and we do not want to say that he will be back in action tomorrow, or next week, or the last week of the season. We are calm. The player is really happy [with the progress] and that is the most important thing.

“Zaniolo is injured, he came back from international duty injured. He returned on Thursday with a muscle injury and he has not trained over the last three days. So, obviously, the result of that is he is not available tomorrow.

“For all the rest of them, there are no issues. The only thing is how we manage Gianluca Mancini, but he returned early, on Monday, and by Thursday he was already back training with us. Even those who have arrived back pretty late, like Matias Vina and Felix Afena-Gyan, are all okay.

“Jordan Veretout has not trained with the squad this week or today either. There is no need to say what I can’t say anyway, but he won’t be available tomorrow.”

Staying on Zaniolo, how is he coping right now? He was on the bench for the derby, he was in the stands for the Italy match against Macedonia and then only played 45 minutes in the next game…

“I knew that the second question would be about him. I only want to talk about us, I don’t want to talk about what has happened with the national team. That’s how I like to approach things.

“If you have a couple of questions about the World Cup, then I will get ahead of those and simply say that I am very sorry that Italy will not be there. If Italy had faced Portugal in the final play-off, then obviously I would have been happy to see Portugal progress to the World Cup finals. But I am working here in Italy, I respect the country’s history in the game, and I am very sorry that Italy will not be there.

“When my players go away on international duty, I don’t want to comment on what happens. As far as Zaniolo goes, the only thing I can say is that there are a lot of players that sit on the bench every so often for their clubs. It’s normal, it’s natural. But I don’t see this type of question at other clubs and with other managers.

“Zaniolo was on the bench against Lazio because we decided to go for a different approach; the aim was to win the game and we managed that. There’s nothing more to it. After that he went away with Italy and I won’t comment on that. He came back to Trigoria on Thursday morning with this flexor problem. We can’t control what happens with the national team – I could say something about that, but I don’t want to.

“He didn’t train on Thursday, or Friday, or today and he would be the first to say that as a result he’s not available for this game. There’s no story here. I knew that it would be the second question, but I don’t want to say anything else about it.

“I don’t see questions being asked of Allegri about why Bernardeschi doesn’t play, or Inzaghi if Edin [Dzeko] spends a game on the bench. It seems to me that you have this obsession with Zaniolo. But it’s very straightforward, there is not much to said.

“Call Zaniolo, speak to his entourage … they will tell you, I hope, the truth. And the truth is that he came back from the national team with this injury.”

Can you explain why Italian football is struggling at the minute?

“I have an opinion, but I don’t want to share it. It’s based on my experience working here over two different spells, along with working in countries like England and Spain – but I don’t want to share that. It wouldn’t be fair.

“If someone, with an institutional role within the Italian game, asks me my opinion in private then I will be happy to speak about it with them, because I’ve spent three years in Italy and I have always been very happy here. So I am available and willing to give my perspective. But I won’t do that just to feed a public debate.”

This season Roma have often seemed to follow up good results – like the wins over Atalanta and Empoli – with draws in the following game. Is this something you are worried about after the derby, and how are you working on it?

“Sometimes drawing a game is not a disaster. Sometimes it’s even the consequence of facing an opponent who makes things tough, who looks to ‘steal a point’ and finds a way to do it. So sometimes drawing is not the disaster you think it might be.

“But, nevertheless, I agree that sometimes this sort of thing happens to teams that have not quite absorbed the mental approach needed if you really want to win something. But when you have had this mentality, you understand how important each point is and that, if and when you have a slip-up in concentration or focus and drop points, then that can end up meaning you can’t reach your targets in the end.

“Yesterday with the squad we talked a little bit about that and how the only derby that we should think about now is next season’s. We need to focus on the next game. We are thinking about Sampdoria, about that great stadium and the difficulties we will face – including a good coach and a home support that really loves their team.

“They are a side that still need points in order to be sure of staying up this season. So if we want to win, it’s certainly not a place we can go and play below the levels we know we are capable of. We need to go there and play really well if we want to win.”

Given the performance in the derby, could the two behind Tammy Abraham become a permanent setup? And are you thinking about sticking with three at the back even next season?

“After listening to you on the radio yesterday, I was expecting a much tougher and more aggressive question. I wasn’t expecting such a straightforward question. It seems like on the radio you are very aggressive and violent but here you are scared to ask your questions.”

I am here, there’s no problem. We can talk about the radio instead..

“No, it’s fine. Playing with three at the back is something that has given us stability and has fitted in quite nicely with some of the players we have – for example El Shaarawy and Zalewski. Neither of them are full-backs but they can play as wing-backs in this system. The team looks comfortable with three at the back and that has given us a solid base that we haven’t had for a while.

“Tomorrow, yes, we will play like that. Next season though I don’t know, because it depends on so many things.

“And it’s not that we played with two players behind Tammy: it’s a dynamic that changes based on the situation and how the opposition are trying to deal with us. In that game [the derby] we did a good job of analysing the opponent and we decided to have Sergio [Oliveira] and Bryan [Cristante] in a position where they could try and contain two great players like Luis Alberto and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic. So we decided to play Mkhitaryan and Pellegrini in that role but we have others who can do it too, like Felix and Shomurodov. And that’s without mentioning Zaniolo, who won’t be available tomorrow. But we have a few different options there.”

How important is it for you that the team keep fighting as long as possible in order to try and finish fifth?

“It’s not something that changes my mentality or my approach to the job with the players. For the players it is very clear that we can finish fifth, sixth, seventh or eighth this season. Finishing fifth of finishing eighth comes with it some very big differences: fifth means the Europa League and eighth would mean no European involvement next season. So that’s why we need to make sure we keep pushing to pick up as many points as we possibly can and finish as high up the table as possible.”

There’s a virtual table for expected goals that puts Roma in third spot at this stage of the season. That suggests the team is pretty dangerous going forward – what do you make of it, though?

“You said it yourself, it’s virtual. Unfortunately it’s only virtual. But, having said that, those statistics can be interpreted and can help you to think about things in a different way. We know we are a side that creates chances, that can be dangerous in attack and that could have picked up some different results already this season.

“But that’s all virtual, whereas football is a very objective and simple thing: if you score more, you win more and you get more points. We need to look at things like that. There are statistics out there that give you different insights but that isn’t really news to us. We try to win, we try to play well. Sometimes we manage that and sometimes we don’t.

“What we really need is consistency. And we are starting to put that together; it’s nine games in a row now we are unbeaten in the league. Perhaps we could have picked up a few more points here and there, turning draws into wins. But, that’s okay, there’s lots to do and lots to work on.”

 
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