Luciano Spalletti is expecting a tough game when Roma come up against Olympique Lyon on Thursday - and has warned his side they will have to be tactically ready to counter the French side. Spalletti has experience against Les Gones - guiding the Giallorossi past them in the last-16 of the Champions League in 2007, in his first spell at the club - but believes they will be a tougher, more street-wise opponent this time around.
What sort of game are you expecting against Lyon?
“When they met Juventus earlier in the season they played very well in both games. It will be tough because the French league has improved in the last few years. When we played them in 2007, Lyon were the only really good team in the league; now there are sides like PSG, Monaco and Nice – it's more competitive. Back then you could sometimes catch them off guard but now they're used to playing top-level games, both technically and physically. They're clearly very talented and we'll need to be careful not to leave any open spaces because they have tremendous pace up front. If you let [Alexandre] Lacazette have space, he can really unleash his ability. You either go into their half and snap at their heels, or you let them have the ball and wait in your half for them. If you try and do half measures you could hand them a huge advantage.”
Is the team mentally tired with all these games you've been playing?
“When you talk about players being tired, it's about the mental side more than anything else. If you say the players are tired, you're giving them an excuse to lose games. We played against two top sides and perhaps we made mistakes but we had fewer things go our way than we deserved. We do have lots of games but I have faith in my players' ability. I'm not buying into all this negative talk about the team. We've worked hard to get where we are and to play the level of football we're playing – and it's precisely because of all the graft we've put in that we want to get back to where we were. This is a great team and our players are capable of delivering when the going gets tough. It hurt to lose those two games but that's all they are now – two defeats. When we reach the end of the season we'll see who was right. For now we'll keep pushing on because everything is still within our grasp. We've lost that small advantage we had – and it was reassuring – but when you're mentally strong you need to be able to deal with the extra stress.”
You won 2-0 here in 2007. What's your aim for this match?
“You have to play this sort of game with the second leg in mind. You have to think of it as 180 minutes. Having said that, getting off to a good start away from home gives you a big advantage, so we'll go out there tomorrow and we'll be careful and balanced but we'll also be looking to win it.”
Will you revert to three at the back against Lyon?
“We played the same way against Napoli as we have in lots of other games. Even when you start with three at the back, you defend with four because otherwise you find yourself coming under pressure. Players drop back or tuck all the time because it's what you need to do. It doesn't mean much to talk about a defensive line. If I play Bruno Peres on the right and I ask him to push up and get at their left-back, then [Antonio] Rudiger slides across to the right and when they attack we set up with four. We make sure the balance is there so that we have enough cover and also so that we can push our opponents back. The way we set up defensively depends on how the opposition attack.”