UEFA Champions League


Coach Eusebio Di Francesco sat down to face the media on Monday afternoon, to preview the Champions League match with Qarabag on Tuesday night. The game at the Stadio Olimpico gets underway at 20:45 CET, with the Giallorossi well aware that a victory will guarantee their place in the knockout phase of the competition.

Can you give us an update on the fitness of Radja Nainggolan and Diego Perotti?
"Both will be in the squad and available to play, which we’re really happy about. We’re going to be having a look at [Aleksandar] Kolarov today. He’ll have one last training session. He was really feeling it after the SPAL game but I’m sure he’ll be in the squad too."

Are you expecting Atletico to do you a favour and allow you to finish as group winners?
"We’re just focused on this game and on our own ability. It’s what I always tell the lads in the league too: our destiny is in our own hands. What will be will be, but the aim is to win tomorrow night and go through to the last-16."

What are the biggest risks involved in tomorrow’s game?
"We need to get at them right from the off. It’s important we play with the same mentality we’ve shown thus far – we can’t give Qarabag any time to breathe. If we play with determination from the start, there will definitely be fewer risks involved. We’re up against a team that has always played very well away from home. They played with ten men for half an hour against Atletico in Madrid, showing that they’re not the same team that lost in the first game against Chelsea. We need to grab this one by the scruff of the neck and if we play to the best of our ability we can get the win."

How much has your team changed since the away match against Qarabag?
"The team has changed a lot, but we deserve great credit for that win at Qarabag. It was underestimated at the time but it’s never easy to win away from home in Europe. It gave us the belief that we are a good side – the team is getting to grips with what I’m asking of them. It’s up to the lads to prove that on the pitch, not me."

Is getting through tomorrow to be expected or an overachievement?
"I’d rather speak about that after we get through. There was a lot of pessimism around us at the start so getting through would validate the work we’re doing. Let’s just wait and see. If we get through we’ll celebrate. I’ve always been optimistic and I’ll continue to be."

You made your first post on social media yesterday, asking the fans to sing for the team. How do you feel about promising to sing in front of the crowd if you get through?
"It would be a pleasure. I always sing in private, before and after games. I wanted to get involved on social media myself because there are a lot of fake profiles about me out there. I’ll be very restrained. I wanted to say thank you to the fans for all the support they’ve shown us thus far."

Alessandro Florenzi played against SPAL even though Bruno Peres is suspended tomorrow and won’t be able to play. How come you decided to take that risk?
"Coaching is about taking risks. Alessandro’s fitness was looking great and he was improving, so I wanted to keep him playing and allow him to build confidence in that position. We’d been working on some importance concepts in defence and I wanted him to put them into practice in a game. We took a risk but I was really keen to do so."

Now that you’re on the cusp of such an important achievement, do you feel like you’ve managed to overcome a big obstacle in the season?
"Not really. The biggest obstacle is inside the dressing room. I wanted to get into my players’ heads and now, hearing them speak, it’s clear that they believe in what they’re doing. That gives me real satisfaction. I think we’re in a good place."

(Photo LaPresse)