This is what the boss had to say...
What's your view of Real Sociedad?
“They're an excellent team. It's hard to find any weaknesses. Imanol [Alguacil] is a great coach. His team are in great form and are well organised. It's very hard to score against them. They're good going forward too. There are lots of highly gifted technical players in Spain and to be up there in fourth place in La Liga with the giants who are always there is a huge achievement.
“We haven't had a very lucky draw but there's a lot of quality in the Europa League, especially this season. I'm sure they'll be looking at us with the same level of respect we have for them.”
Mikel Oyarzabal tends to grab the headlines but is it fair to say Real Sociedad are a team whose main strength is the collective?
“If you ask me about Oyarzabal, I have to say that he's a very good player, but they are much more than just him. They have several high-quality individuals. However, the main point is how they play as a team. They're well drilled at the back and up front they don't just rely on individual brilliance; they work together as a team. They can switch from a diamond formation to a 4-3-3 with very mobile attacking players. They're a wonderful side and I tip my hat to them.
“The financial means of the three teams who are always up there are on a different level to the others but there's a lot of competition for fourth place: Betis, Bilbao, Villarreal, Real Sociedad are always in or around that area and this year Real Sociedad have been there since the start. They won their Europa League group, they won at Old Trafford and they missed the play-offs so have played two games less. I have nothing to say except credit to them.”
You've mentioned before that Tammy Abraham has improved in 2023 in terms of his performances and not just goals, but he doesn't look like the player of last season yet. Was that the real Abraham? What does he need to get back to his best?
“There's only one Abraham I'm interested and that's the team player. The team player who was on the bench in our last match against Juventus and celebrated [Gianluca] Mancini's goal as if he'd scored it himself. That's the Abraham we need.
“I understand what you're saying and I realise that he could score more goals and reach the sort of numbers he hit last term, but the most important thing is that he contributes to the team. In the last 15 minutes against Juventus he toiled for the team and gave us what we needed. Tammy is fine and [Andrea] Belotti is fine. Often a striker's performances are a reflection of the team's. They didn't play well against Cremonese because we were poor as a team. Both put in a huge shift for the team against Juventus.
“That's what I expect from them tomorrow. Not if or how many they score, not them displaying their skills or not, but that they toil for the team. This is a special week for Tammy as the birth of your first child brings immense joy. He really wants to play and if possible score for us but if the two of them work well for the team, that's all I ask.”
Roma aren't able to maintain the same intensity when there are back-to-back games, as the recent Cremonese display showed. Have you worked on that at all? And do you hope to be in the dugout against Sassuolo?
“I'll start with the last one. I don't expect anything and I'm not going to talk about it until the proceedings are over. When it's over, I'll be happy to answer a few questions about it. But right now it's only right to respect the investigation and not say anything.
“We're in excellent hands from a fitness perspective. We have a fitness coach and other top-level coaches who work alongside him. The way Salvatore and I work, there's always a physical objective. I think we're doing a fantastic job fitness-wise.
“You can't alter the DNA of individual players. Some footballers are capable of playing every day, like Javier Zanetti. It's in the DNA. Others find it harder. A lot of it is mental - being able to play every game with the right level of pressure and desire to win every match and achieve the team's goals.
“I think that's part of it. Talking about Roma's recent league finishes, that doesn't help either. Last year we finished sixth, the year before seventh. That's the sort of position where a point more or less doesn't make much difference. You don't feel the pressure of having to win at all costs, so the mind and the body get used to the sort of situation where you don't feel pressure, but I think we're growing in lots of ways.
“In my first year we lost twice to Juventus, twice to Milan, twice to Inter. This year we've beaten Juventus and Inter and drawn with Milan so we've improved mentally when it comes to the big games. But we still struggle a little when it comes to winning three games in a week.”
Paulo Dybala's performances have been extraordinary. Do you think he's a better all-round player this year? Who is that down to?
“It's down to Paulo, his team-mates, his fans. He's come into a very empathetic group here. He feels the love of the fans. I just try to help him manage his body. He's still young but he had lots of injuries recently at Juventus.
"He came here highly motivated and determined to play at the World Cup, which he then won. He feels important because he is important for us. All of these factors have combined to give Paulo fresh incentive.
“Personally I'm very happy. Besides being the great player everyone knows he is, he's also a wonderful lad. He's humble, simple and he deserves all the love.”
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