UEFA Europa League


Luciano Spalletti sat down with the media on Wednesday afternoon to preview the club's Europa League last-32 tie against Villarreal. Thursday's game at the Estadio de la Ceramica gets underway at 21:05 CET, with both sides hoping to progress further in the competition:

“We want the kind of excitement that a match like this one against Villarreal brings," Spalletti said. 'These are the games we want to be playing. We had a good group stage and now we face another great side. It will be a big test as to whether we can advance in the Europa League – they’re a strong team. They’re well organised and have some top players. They’ve been dealing with some injuries recently but the players are coming back and I think [Roberto] Soldado will be available. They don’t concede many goals at all, they keep it tight and then press you hard to win the ball back. In their half they stay very compact, almost on the edge of their box. It’s not easy to play through that and then they break with speed and technical skill, characteristics shared by many Spanish teams.”

Will it be a case of rational rotation ahead of tomorrow’s game, with the upcoming period in mind?
“Rational rotation is the right term for it, but let’s not forget that the players that have been involved less can all come in and do well for us without compromising the quality of the team. We’ll need to mix it up a bit over the coming period because when you only have two or three days to recover it’s quite different to when you have four or five. In terms of rotation, I’m more worried about the league game – that’s where I’ll need to take action. The team has already recovered for tomorrow’s game.”

Fran Escriba says that Roma are one of the favourites to win the competition, alongside Manchester United. What do you make of that?
“I think this match-up would have been more fitting later in the competition rather than at the Round of 32 stage, given the calibre of the two sides. Their coach can’t hide behind the weight of the name Roma – he replaced Marcelino and has his own responsibility against the ambitions of the club. It’s a tough tie to come through because we’re both good sides. We have to show that we’re up to the task tomorrow night – we need to show what we’re about and get the result. Nobody – not the coach and not the players – can hide. The fans will be cheering their team on and that’s why we want our own stadium too.”

Will you bring in Alisson instead of Wojciech Szczesny again tomorrow night? Will it be that way all season?
“My only answer is that Alisson will play tomorrow night. We’ll see in the future.”

Despite the threat that Villarreal carry on the break, will you continue to play your expressive game?
“We will try to win the match, not just play attractive football. Given how good Villarreal are at keeping it tight and closing the space down, we could find it tough going in the return leg, so we want to perform well and play our own game tomorrow night. We’re a good side and we need to show that. If we want to win the match we need to score goals, and in these ties if you can score more than one then that’s even better. We need to try to play the way we always do, while staying alert to the fact that they’re very dangerous on the counter.”

Is Edin Dzeko the only player you have that can play in that centre-forward position, or do you have other options up top?
“We have options. Now that [Mohamed] Salah is back we have the ability to mix it up in attack and that’s something that will happen depending on the need to rotate over our coming games. Dzeko is irreplaceable because he’s a physical player that can win balls played forward by his team-mates. The idea of playing with three less imposing strikers who look to receive the ball to feet is another option and could have even better results than playing with Dzeko – last season we did very well using that system. I always ask Edin to be the aerial focal point of the team, while last season we were more about passing it around and keeping possession. We don’t need to worry. The only thing that worries me is that I need a player like Florenzi on the right flank, so I hope that’s possible.”

(Photo LaPresse)