Wednesday’s game at the Stadio Renato Dall’Ara gets underway at 18:30 CET.
Here’s what the boss had to say heading into the contest…
Opportunity is sometimes born out of emergency – and we’ve seen that for a few players in recent games. Will those moves be consigned to history once the emergency is passed, or are they elements you could continue to employ in future?
“It starts with having a strong mentality. This is a close-knit group, a good group, who want to help each other out. The credit goes to my players, especially those who have not played much so far – like Diawara, who had only played a couple of minutes [before].
“There are players who work really hard during the week, despite probably knowing they are not going to start the game at the weekend. But the way they work, the professionalism they show, gives me good problems. And then there are those who do play, and do so with relish – like Kumbulla, who came on at the weekend for a minute but in that minute stopped a dangerous attack, took a yellow card, and then marked a giant like [Torino goalkeeper Vanja] Milinkovic-Savic from the final corner. He does the job he needs to do in that final minute and finishes the game happy. He did that for the team.
“So more than positions or tactics or my work, the credit really goes to the players – for their mentality and the sort of group they are.”
It seemed like perhaps the current top four would be unassailable this season – but in recent weeks some of those teams have dropped a few points. Are you still hoping you can take advantage of their stumbles and finish in the top four?
“There are a few reasons why those teams are where they are. Obviously any league campaign is not a highway, where you start and put the pedal down for 500km and then finish. It’s not like that. You drop points, you lose players, you have injuries and suspensions. But those teams are there for a reason. You look at Inter, Atalanta and Milan; they were there last season and they are again this time. And Napoli were in the hunt until the last day too.
“So if we can stay close to those teams then that is obviously better for us and gives us a bit more motivation. It would be different if we were 30 or 20 points behind, but when it is just six, seven or eight it gives us a positive feeling.
If Rick Karsdorp needed a rest, do you think Stephan El Shaarawy could play on the right like he has been done recently on the left?
“I don’t know; we’ve never tried that one. But if we do run into problems with our options down the right then I am sure that El Shaarawy would do well in that position too. Because he’s in good form right now, physically and mentally.
“He hadn’t played 90 minutes for a long time. He was in China, players don’t lose their abilities but sometimes you lose a bit of sharpness. But he’s improving every week this season. He’s doing really, really well. And I think if he had to play on the right, then he could play on the right.
“But it is true that, with Matias Vina back and available, Stephan could play in a more attacking role again on the same flank or he could be an option to substitute Karsdorp.”
Does Chris Smalling need to be managed through the current period or could he play in every game? And could you also say something about Sinisa Mihajlovic, who had a lot of kind words for you in his press conference this morning…
“Sinisa has no need to thank me. What I did, it came from the heart. First and foremost, he’s one of us [a manager]. But beyond that, he is also a close friend of one of my best friends. And a close friend of one of my best friends automatically becomes one of my friends.
“Beyond that, public figures like us, when we do something wrong, we can have a poor influence on people – but when we do something notable for the right reasons, we can really have a positive influence on lots of people.
“In my opinion, Sinisa has had a huge impact on so many people who have had, or do have, the same illness that he had. He showed incredible strength and courage and you couldn’t help but really root for him in his battle. He has my respect and admiraiton, because people like him encourage so many other people. He never hid, he wanted to keep working. He set an incredible example. So he shouldn’t thank me; it should be me thanking him for the courage he showed in his battles.
“As for Smalling, right now he’s a great player and an important player for us. But we also have him, Kumbulla, Mancini and Ibanez – we don’t have a problem at centre-back right now and, as a result, we don’t have to rush Smalling. We have alternatives.
“So we will manage the situation, speaking with him as part of that. We will decide tomorrow. The opinion of the player is always very important to me, along with the checks we do and the GPS and technology we have for these things. But the player’s feeling is very, very important.
“So, for Smalling, if tomorrow morning he tells me that he is feeling really good then he will play. But if he tells me that he’s feeling 99% but not 100% we will protect him.”
Roma have kept nine clean sheets in 21 games so far – how important has Rui Patricio been in that streak?
“The statistic is important, Rui Patricio is important … but it’s the team that is more important than Rui Patricio. Obviously he is one of the best, most experienced goalkeepers in Europe – there is no doubt about that.
“But, having said that, we also had him in goal when we conceded three in Verona and three in Venezia. When the team is playing well, when they are defending as a team, then things are easier for Rui. Beyond that, then of course, in some games there will come a moment where the team cannot find the right response and the goalkeeper is called upon to make a crucial save.
“In the last few games Rui has not had a lot to do. But whenever he has been called upon he has answered that call. So clearly I am very pleased with him.”
On Sunday we saw a good performance from Amadou Diawara – could we see him start alongside Jordan Veretout tomorrow?
“Let’s see if we have Bryan Cristante and Gonzalo Villar, or one of them at least, available. We are waiting to see. But it’s a possibility.
“They are coming up on 13 or 14 days [since the positive test] and have not shown any symptoms for a number of days. Since the beginning, almost. They have been training really well, at home, but with our monitoring in place. So we are trying to understand whether one or both will be able to join up with us tomorrow.”
In this new system you have, could Nicolo Zaniolo also be used as a central midfielder?
“I will go back to the first question today: in the toughest moments, it’s important that the players are available to do whatever is asked of them. But we also need to make sure we are able to distinguish between the things that are possible and the things that aren’t. If you ask me if Zaniolo, because he’s left-footed, could play as a left centre-back on occasion, then obviously not.
“He can play as a No. 10, as a central midfielder, as a loan forward. He can do all of that: with heart and desire and an eagerness to help the team out. We’ve worked with him for a long time as a winger, with a specific type of freedom to his role and this new position is similar for him. A second striker, almost.
“But in an emergency it’s a bit like Carles Perez; at the start of the season he was purely a right winger and yet in the last two games he has filled in at central midfield and played at the same time as Nico – something that had not happened before.
“We need to take things day-by-day. Now we have lost Lorenzo Pellegrini until the start of 2022. So we will have to see what further difficulties emerge. Perhaps something good will even happen! Perhaps, having lost Pellegrini, we will get back Cristante soon. I don’t know. We have to just manage things as they come.”