This is what the boss had to say...
Last year you played three games with two centre forwards from the start. Against Sampdoria, against Betis in Seville, and at home against AC Milan. As part of your rotation, is it possible that we’ll see Romelu Lukaku and Andrea Belotti together tomorrow?
“If the aim of your question is to find out who’s playing tomorrow, I don’t want to say who’s playing tomorrow! All I’ll say is that [Rick] Karsdorp is playing because [Rasmus] Kristensen can’t play. Without [Chris] Smalling, our fourth defender is [Zeki] Celik. I need to have a defender on the bench.
“[Gianluca] Mancini, [Diego] Llorente and [Evan] Ndicka will play, with Celik on the bench. I’m not going to say who’ll play up front. If you’re asking me that question from a strategic point of view, I prefer having two forwards where one is more creative. That’s why we’ve played Belotti-Dybala, Belotti-El Shaarawy, Dybala-Tammy. That’s what I like.”
After the final in Budapest, you’re starting this tournament from scratch. What’s the mood like starting over? Given that you’ve spoken about the defence, can you tell us whether Mile Svilar will play?
“It’s a different season to last season. It’s also a different competition to last year. I’ll keep saying that we didn’t lose the final in Budapest. But this is a new tournament, we’re starting from scratch and the aim is to qualify for the next round.
“Last year we started with a defeat and that defeat made it difficult for us to qualify. We had to play a Champions League team in the playoffs. If we can top the group this time, it won’t be as bad.
“As regards the question about Svilar,you travelled a long way here from Rome, so you deserve an objective answer. Svilar will play. He’ll play because Rui [Patricio] played very well in the last game against Empoli and didn’t concede. There’s been no criticism towards Rui. If things had gone differently, Rui would be playing.”
Sheriff look like a fairly modest side – not a top team anyway. Is it harder to motivate your players for a match like this?
“No. We respect all our opponents. Two years ago we were beaten 6-1 in a game we should have won. Last year we lost our first group match to Ludogorets. We know it's never easy in Europe, especially when you're away from home.
“We're playing against our opponents, we're playing against the stadium and we're playing against a coach who has special motivation. Our goal is to qualify for the next round. Sheriff are a team who made Champions League history just two or three years ago. It won't be easy and that's why we're putting out a strong line-up. Mancini, Llorente and Ndicka are first-choice players.
“We've brought along some kids, like [Mattia] Mannini and [Francesco] D’Alessio, who have never been with us before, but they won't start the game. We'll be taking it seriously.”
Is the fact you can't be in the dugout to help the team a problem?
“Of course it will be a problem for me because I can't be there alongside the team during the match. I won't be able to have any direct contact with them.
“At the stadium I'll sit where Sheriff allow me to sit. I have confidence in my players and in my staff. They'll help us to win.”
Is it easier to qualify for the Champions League through Serie A or the Europa League?
“Honestly I don't know. Last year it felt like we could do it via the league and through Europe. After 30 games we were third and in the quarter-finals of the Europa League. Then we had injuries to key players like Smalling and [Paulo] Dybala and it suddenly became more difficult. We made it through to a very difficult final against a team that wanted to win it just as much as we did. We were there or thereabouts.
“I don't know whether it will be easier this year. There are some excellent teams in Serie A. But there are excellent teams in in Europe too: Liverpool, Brighton, West Ham, Leverkusen, Atalanta. I couldn't say which will be easier. And I can't even choose one competition because in my mind the next match is always the most important one. For us, the Europa League is more important today. Today.
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