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    De Rossi: "Strength in depth is advantageous”

    Daniele De Rossi delivered his pre-match press conference on the eve of Roma’s fixture against Cagliari in Serie A Matchday 23.

    Here’s what the coach had to say...

    Roma have been busy with training this week which isn’t often the case. What have you learnt? What have you seen from your players? How are the new signings Angelino and Tommaso Baldanzi settling in?

    “It’s been a busy week – and as a coach I’m delighted for that. We’re happy that European football is coming back and we want to stay involved for as long as we can.

    “We’ve worked on our tactics as well as fitness, within the scope of what can be achieved during the week. Obviously it’s not like a proper pre-season level of preparation but you can implement certain things which can be built upon over the course of the week.

    “If you’re playing a game every three days the matches themselves serve as training sessions. Then you’ve got to make an extra effort away from games with the lads who don’t see any action. We’ve put in a lot of effort this week and my players have responded well, both mentally and physically.

    “As for the new signings, I think one word best sums up what they can bring to the team - quality. They’ve got quality – in possession, out of possession, in choosing the right pass, and in their overall footballing ability. They’re two top players and I’m happy that they’ve joined Roma.

    “In terms of them bedding in and gelling with the team, it’s what you’d expect after three days. From what I’ve seen of them with their team-mates I think they seem pretty switched on and have settled in as well as you can in such a short period of time.”

    Let’s talk about your Europa League squad. What criteria did you use when it came to picking players?

    “I didn't draw up the full list myself - I just made three changes. I couldn't go through and select 25 players - I could only make three modifications from our Europa League squad as that was the maximum number permitted.

    “My priority was having a set of players with back up options in every position. Previously we only had one wide forward in Paulo [Dybala] so I brought in Baldazini, and given that [Andrea] Belotti has left and we’re unsure of when Tammy [Abraham] is coming back I’ve added [Sardar] Azmoun to the squad.

    “I could only include three out of five players. There are many centre-backs at the club so Dean [Huijsen] was the unlucky one not to make the cut, and the same went for Rasmus [Kristensen] as a full-back because we’ve got [Mehmet] Celik and [Rick] Karsdorp. The latter two are important players for me – they played in the early stages of the competition and they’ll have further involvement as well.

    “Unfortunately I had to make these calls – two out of these five had to be left out.”

     The transfer window has just closed and Roma seem to have a balanced squad, with two players per position. Then there are those two players who didn't join in January but who are still not available - Renato Sanches and Chris Smalling. How are their recoveries progressing? The Portuguese seems to be closer to a return.

    "You called it - Renato Sanches is a little ahead of [Chris] Smalling. They both trained with the team, but for Chris we alternated his workload -  he took part in one exercise, then sat out the following one, then was involved in a lighter exercise, before resting up.

    “On the other hand, Renato was involved in the full session. He followed a similar plan to Smalling on the first day but then he was signed off from his recovery plan. He’s training as per normal with the rest of the lads now. We still have to take it steady with him given that he was out of action for a few weeks. Renato is closer to a return than Chris and will be called up, while Chris will probably return to action against Inter or Feyenoord. In short, his return is imminent.”

    Further to the aforementioned, Renato Sanches has also done some work with a club psychologist. It had been said that his problems weren’t just muscular.  

    “I don't know about the past. When you go to the doctor, he asks you how you are, not how you were. From what I see he looks like he’s in a good place, mentally-speaking. However, I can’t comment on what’s come before. He’s been through a tough time with injuries in the past and his fitness over the last year or so.

    “He’s been keen and the staff were obviously treating him before I arrived. As soon as he was ready he immediately made himself available. From what I see he looks at ease but I can’t comment on anything else, including what’s gone on before my time.

    “I psychologically manage all of my squad – they all need it. Players who are frequently starting and those who are rarely playing have different requirements and a good coach knows what to do and the right time to take certain courses of action.”

    On Monday you’ll be crossing paths with Claudio Ranieri once more. You and him have had some big moments – the thrills of the 2009-10 season, the famous derby exclusion, and him overseeing your farewell appearance in 2019. What memories, feelings and bonds do you have with Claudio? 

    “We’ve got a beautiful bond. I shared two of my most emotional moments as a Roma footballer with him – the season in which we came so close to winning Serie A and my last few months as a Roma player when he took over from [Eusebio] Di Francesco. We lived out our last days as Roma coach and player together.

    “It’s always positive to spend emotional moments with a man like him. With his elegant and distinctive Roman manner, as well as his acute intelligence, he’s always capable of giving you an insight of a concept which perhaps you hadn't grasped. You go away from a conversation with Claudio feeling enriched. It’ll be a pleasure to come together – I’ve got so much time for him. It’ll be nice to lock horns once more, like I did last season in Cagliari with SPAL. It’ll be even more of a pleasure if we win this time around. Beyond my reverence I have of him as a coach, I have a deep respect for him as a human being.”

    You’ve got midfield selection headaches ahead of this Cagliari clash – [Leandro] Paredes could feature as a deep-lying playmaker, [Bryan] Cristante is undroppable, [Lorenzo] Pellegrini is your captain while [Edoardo] Bove offers something different with his pace and aggression. How did you evaluate matters? What conclusions did you reach?

    “There’s also Renato Sanches, who obviously won’t start given he’s been out for a while, and [Houssem] Aouar, who can play both further forward and as a midfielder. 

    “It’s obviously an advantage being blessed with great players. Inter, for example, are one of the best teams out there and [Davide] Frattesi and [Kristjan] Asllani can’t get in the team – they’d be starters in every other Serie A side.

    “It’s a plus being able to choose between them and make rotations. Choices are determined by who we’re up against but also our workload – our starting line-up for our upcoming game factors in the following fixtures as well. Sometimes the selections are based on purely the next match or factor in what’s to come. It’s a nice challenge, but it’s not nice to leave players out. That goes for players like [Nicola] Zalewski, who had regularly featured but who hasn’t seen much action since I came into the fold.

    “It’s not a nice task. However, I know that I can count on great backup options. Top teams always have many top players – with a strong starting eleven you can win games but with a deep squad you’re able to achieve things in the long term. However, you can only name eleven players so rotations are necessary.

    “It’s also positive that my players offer different things. They’re all vital to the cause but since we can’t include all of them for every match we hope that we make the right choices when it comes to leaving our certain individuals.”

    I wanted to ask you about Dybala's positioning on the pitch. In Salerno, he was dropping deep into midfield to make things happen, which is one of his hallmarks. If we look at Roma’s second goal in that game we can see how vital he is to the side. Are you trying to rein in his desire to float back into midfield - even if it does benefit the team – so that he can do more damage in the box, or is it something he’ll always do regardless?

    “There are certain players who have a talent and an ability to read what’s going on there and then in a match. You’ve got to give such players more freedom. If you stop Dybala from dropping deep, if you tell him he can’t do that, then you’d maybe miss out on a situation in which he finds himself in midfield – even if you think he’d be better off staying up front – and then starts off a move which leads to a goal by a team-mate who’s further up the pitch.

    “What’s important is that if he comes into midfield someone else must push up to occupy his position. I consider occupying spaces non-negotiable in football – it’s about having someone there, even if it’s not their position, per se.

    “Obviously our aim is to occupy spaces well, escape the press and get the ball close to the penalty area so that Paulo will find himself in the position he found himself in for our second goal against Salernitana. Aside from that – and certain instructions we give him – he’s free to improvise. When most players are within 20 yards of goal they have to have two or three touches – only then they’re able to find a solution. Players must be willing and able to follow unwritten rules and rely on instinct, rather than just what a coach tells them.

    “I was [Francesco] Totti’s team-mate for 20 years and nobody told him where to go or what he had to do in the final third. We just knew that we had to focus on getting into a good position in front of goal so that he could set us up. If you see that you’ve got a player with this type of talent, which Paulo also has, you’ve got to make the most of it.”