Roma boss Jose Mourinho faced the media on Friday evening at Trigoria, in order to preview Saturday's Serie A showdown with Atalanta.
The Giallorossi travel to Bergamo for their penultimate encounter of 2021, with kick-off at the Gewiss Stadium set for 15:00 CET.
Here's what Mourinho had to say about the contest...
Atalanta have an impressive amount of depth to their squad – something that can’t quite be said for Roma. Will you need to raise your game to get something out of this one and, if so, how do you go about inspiring that reaction? Will Chris Smalling be available?
“I’ll start from the end [of the question]. Smalling is back, he’s ready to play without an problems.
“There’s a fundamental difference between us and Atalanta. I’ve been here six months, whereas Gian Piero [Gasperini, the Atalanta coach] has been there six years. Six months, six years. And that difference is not just in the number of training sessions they’ve had together, but in the sharing of ideas and the identification of processes. They’ve had 12 transfer windows together whereas we’ve just had one.
"Atalanta are an amazing club, a very stable one, with a great level of collaboration between the club and Gasperini.
“When I was first here in Italy, they didn’t have the same ambitions. But 10 years on they are now a Champions League side who are competing to win the title. We are a team with new ownership, who I think are doing fantastic work in all regards, and a coach who has been here just six months. We’ve been through one transfer window, where we were reacting to events rather than implementing the plan we had.
"There’s a significant different in the background situation of both clubs, which has had an impact on the two squads.
“However, there is one thing that I have no doubt about: and that is that we can win tomorrow. Because football is football. We have great players, a team spirit that, while I am sure other clubs also have the same spirit and empathy among the group, we nevertheless have a really fantastic group of guys at this level.
"It’s clear that, as you’ve said, when you look at the Atalanta bench they have a lot of quality and experience, whereas on the other side – partly because of the injuries we have been forced to deal with – there are a lot of young players who have not played many minutes in Serie A or at the highest level.
“But, in terms of the game tomorrow, we are going there to win. We are not going there to say, ‘Eh, you guys have six years of work behind you and we have just six months. You have a squad of 25 top players whereas we only have 14 or 15.’ No, we are going there tomorrow to play the game. If you told me now that I can have a draw tomorrow, that I don’t even need to go there and play the game and I can have a point from the match, then I would still say no. I don’t want that.
"I want to go there, I want to play this match. I want to measure my team against another really good side. Despite the respect – the admiration, even – that I have for the work that has been done in Bergamo, we are going there to win.”
Could tomorrow be a big game for Nicolo Zaniolo, especially considering the way Atalanta like to play?
“Nicolo is doing well I think, he’s playing well and has the right approach to things. I am not talking about his specific role on the pitch. What happened in Sofia [where he came off injured after coming on as a substitute shortly before] was clearly a consequence of playing in a game that seemed to be all over and one where he didn’t want to take any risks. But I’m happy with him. Even if the numbers seem a bit strange for him – the fact he hasn’t scored yet in Serie A, for example – I am happy enough with him.
“The goals will come. Leave him be, let him play his matches and let him develop naturally as he works out how to play in tune with the other players. I’m happy with him, I don’t have any worries – he can only improve. I won’t say that tomorrow is going to be his day, that he can win the match on his own – because that isn’t how it works. But he will start the game and I am really confident he can do well.”
Is it fair to say Atalanta have a model that could be worth copying? And what about Roger Ibanez, is he ready to play?
“There are different models that can be worth following. Theirs is definitely one that I admire, that I really like. You know that I have spent many years at very different clubs. Clubs that are aggressive in the transfer market and spend a lot, because they are trying to compete right now and not just in the future. So I have a lot of admiration for projects like that. That’s their approach. And it has been six years. They have been smart in the market and built a really strong side while remaining economically stable. As I have already said, it’s not just respect but admiration that I have for their project.
“As for Ibanez… the same way that I have told you that Smalling is okay, all I can say that it is touch-and-go for Ibanez.”
I was struck by a video I saw of you really celebrating when Tottenham qualified for the Europa League. Are you going to celebrate in the same way if Roma achieve the targets they are playing for?
“There are teams that celebrate when they avoid relegation. That’s the target they have. When people talk about coaches with lots of trophies, what about those who have not won many? It’s about the targets they have. If Tiago Motta keeps Spezia up, or Andrey Shevchenko keeps Genoa up, or Salernitana stay up … then those coaches can and should celebrate the achievement. As for your question, if you are asking me if I am ready to celebrate if we win then obviously my answer is yes.
“That is what we are working towards. This season we don’t have a specific target in mind, beyond what the league table says because that is a more ‘measurable’ yardstick of progress. There’s one thing that is crucial for me in a project like this: empathy. When you have a short-term project then it is not that important. But when you have a long-term project in mind, then you need to have empathy. You can’t have a long-term plan without it.
“It’s like, how can you live with someone for a long time if you don’t have that mutual empathy? You can do it for six months, maybe a year … but then you find you have to get out. But when you want to build something long-term then you need to have that atmosphere. Inside the club we have a fantastic atmosphere to work in. This type of project gives me a great feeling of calm to be part of.
"But, going back to the very first questions, we are going there to win. Maybe we draw, maybe we lose, but our aim is to go there and win.”
Would winning tomorrow in Bergamo mean qualifying for the Champions League is a very concrete objective once again? And, on the other hand, would defeat mean saying goodbye to that as a target?
“I don’t want to go into this game with that sort of thought in my head. I don’t want us to be playing this game thinking, ‘We have to win if we hope to achieve this…’ or ‘If we lose then there is no hope anymore’. I don’t want to set myself down that path.
“Perhaps the numbers themselves tell a story. It’s one thing to be seven or eight points back, it’s another thing to be 10 or 12 away. But tomorrow’s game is not about this or that. It’s really just a battle against a really good side, and it’s about seeing if we are able to win it.”
Atalanta can rely on their attacking midfielders to cause lots of problems. Will be defending in that area of the pitch be one of the keys to this game?
“I’m thinking back to our game against Spezia. Why did we have so many issues in the second half? Because we gave away the ball too easily. If we were playing a different team, perhaps with better players than Spezia have, then perhaps we would not have won the game. You talk about their attacking midfielders. Clearly they are very good. It doesn’t matter which ones among them start the game.
“Pasalic, Malinovskiy, Miranchuk, Ilicic ... quality players. But I need to focus on what we can do; how we manage the ball, the rhythm of the game, the decisions we make in different moments of the contest and what we do when we lose the ball. Yesterday we spent 30 minutes or so working on this. We need to make sure we do a better job of keeping hold of the ball.”