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    De Rossi: “We showed courage and defensive ability”

    Roma came away with another win in the first leg of the Europa League quarter-final against Milan on Thursday. Once again, a Gianluca Mancini goal gave the Giallorossi their victory.

    Read what head coach Daniele De Rossi had to say after the match.

    Paulo Dybala assisted Mancini once again tonight, and we saw some more tactical decisions compared to the derby: Stephan El Shaarawy on the right, Chris Smalling hypnotising Olivier Giroud. What did you like the most?

    “Everything that you mentioned. We controlled the ball well for 65-70 minutes. We kept possession of the ball, and not just to keep it but to draw them out and run into those empty spaces.

    “We know that when they come at us hard, we have to go vertically. Today was maybe Romelu [Lukaku]’s best performance since I’ve been here. He helped us, he pushed the team, he did well on the lay-offs.

    “We tend to praise strikers if they score, but I always want to see Romelu playing like he did tonight. We spoke about it today and that was what I wanted.”

    The lads are playing with more and more personality. It’s not easy to pass the ball as well as they did at the San Siro.

    “We’ve had a few matches in which we haven’t been as good. We were a bit slow against Lecce, a bit less lively, whereas Fiorentina attacked well. We started moving the ball around better in the derby and we improved on that even more today.

    “Sometimes you think that the more difficult your opponent is, the harder it is to keep the ball. However, in some cases, it can be the opposite because you can get put off by the atmosphere. Great attacking players can sometimes leave space at the back, so you need to keep your cool and not get scared.”

    Today we saw more character, more courage, more passing, more technical skill. What did you enjoy the most?

    “A bit of everything. Whether it’s the courage to keep the ball, or the courage and the strength to defend in the final few minutes, because that’s part of football too. When you come up against opponents this good, sometimes you need to have that ‘small team’ mentality and hold on to what you’ve got in the final ten to 15 minutes. The lads need to know how to do everything.

    “I told them that after Lecce, I won’t accept even a little less than the attitude they had during the derby. We might lose, we might get a pass wrong, I might mess up, but we can’t just have that derby mentality against Lazio and Milan. If I don’t see the same ferocity and focus in Udine and if we don’t play like a real team there, it’ll mean that there’s still lots of work to be done and that my players haven’t understood the attitude needed to play football, especially when these games are so important. These matches against the big clubs prepare themselves, but we need to play like this in smaller stadiums too. I was upset after Lecce because we played badly.”

    Playing El Shaarawy on the right helped the team stifle their left flank. You also did a good job in terms of blocking the usual triangles that Milan create on the left and with the man-marking switches. Bryan Cristante did brilliantly out there. How much is your team improving off the ball? You’ve spoken before about problems with defending against crosses, but Roma seem to have significantly improved now. Could you explain the path to get here?

    “The path is primarily about research, although there’s no need to study AC Milan too closely, especially with regard to the top players that they have down the left. They have great footballers all over the pitch, but that’s effectively the chain that has led to them dominating, both when they won the Scudetto and in the last few years in general. I thought the right thing was to do a bit more.

    “We usually have Paulo [Dybala] and Bryan there and they do a great job, but going up and down with Theo Hernandez would’ve been a bit much for Bryan, so we tried to make the right choice. I’m pleased that you mentioned Bryan because he was always there, ready to double up and he stifled [Tijjani] Reijnders, who is another top player.

    “Sometimes players get hung up on things mentally. They may think that can’t play in a certain position. I said to Stephan that I wanted to play him down the right and his response and body language were super positive, so I felt calm about that. The players did well out on the pitch.”

    We’ve seen you at your best this season. Are you proud of the way you prepared for the game and then saw the results on the pitch? Or was it more important in terms of the rebirth of this Roma side to have confidence in the players? I’m thinking of Zeki Celik, who wasn’t in contention much previously and today kept Rafael Leao quiet.

    “The players are full of confidence and you can see that from their attitude in training which brings them into matches with the same attitude. It’s a shame that’s linked to the mental aspect as well as the technical and tactical side. Before the game, I said to them that I was calm, had belief in them and was so proud of their attitude on the pitch and the way they showcase their personality. This also goes for the biggest names because they also know how to battle.”