Luciano Spalletti wants his team to go out and grasp their destiny when they face Porto in the Champions League on Tuesday. The two teams meet at the Stadio Olimpico with their play-off tie locked at 1-1 after the first leg, meaning either side will progress to the competition’s group stages with a victory. A goalless draw will also be good enough for the Giallorossi but, despite the temptation to sit back and defend as a result, Spalletti wants his squad to attack the Portuguese side.
“We want to take the game to them – we’re not going to leave it down to fate, we want to determine the result,” Spalletti told reporters. “We need to go out there with our heads high and try to win the game from the off, not wait for them to play it around our box looking to score.”
The coach was asked whether he feels his team will be nervous, considering the stakes surrounding the match: “If we struggle dealing with fear, risk and danger then that means we’re afraid of dealing with success too,” Spalletti responded. “And if that’s the case for a player then they don’t belong at Roma. If they get nervous about a match they’ve wanted for eight months then they don’t belong at Roma. They should want to play it. They shouldn’t feel stressed about trying to manage the result. If they’re scared, they’re not for us.”
Roma sent out a clear message to the rest of Serie A TIM on Saturday, but how important is the match that awaits you tomorrow?
“Talking about the match is easy. It’s not a case of the match awaiting us – it’s us that are looking forward to the match. It’s us that have been looking forward to it for eight months. It’s us that have worked hard to be there tomorrow. It’s what we wanted, what we longed for. It’s here now but it’s meant everything to us since last season. It can be the key to unlock the door to the biggest stage in European football and we’re ready to play it. We’ve been waiting for tomorrow night’s match for eight months.”
How important is it for the players to forget about the first-leg result?
“That needs to be the way we think in our preparation and in the way we go about our work. Obviously, the players involved will have to keep a number of things in mind. Getting our preparation wrong or hedging our bets too much could have an adverse effect on our strength and on how well we play. We have to do our job, which is trying to win tough matches. And this is going to be one of them.”
This is going to be your third game in a week. Will that have a bearing on your decisions?
“Tomorrow I’ll pick the best team I have available and I’ll try to choose those players with the quality we need to achieve our objectives. The only thing I’m worried about is the players I don’t have available. The situation is clear.”
Was there anything in the first leg that you want your team to avoid this time around?
“Given our experience and ability in managing games, we weren’t good enough after we took the lead. We played below our level after the break, but even though we were a man down we still pressed them in their half of the pitch. I expect to see that again. It needs to be a trait we display every time we get the chance to wear the Roma colours.”
Will you play with two wingers pushing on tomorrow or will you ask one to hang back a little?
“I’ve only got one decision to make tomorrow and if I don’t do it from the beginning it’s something I’ll do during the game. I’ll make my decisions as I always do, depending on the team’s mentality. We want to take the game to them – we’re not going to leave it down to fate, we want to determine the result."
Do you think the team knows how good it is?
“We can improve on what we’ve done so far. We’re not moving the ball around as well as we could. Obviously we need to strike a balance, but we want to be pushing forward. We need quality and speed.”
How big a factor will experience be when you pick the team?
“We’ll rest up tonight because we’ve been preparing for this match for eight months. They all know how hard we’ve worked to be here. We play at our stadium tomorrow – we were desperate to play this match and we’re the home side. The lads showed me what I wanted to see against Udinese. Emerson [Palmieri] was a bit tense at the beginning, looked a bit indecisive for his first two or three touches, but after half-time he did what he was supposed to do. The only reason I took him off was to enable the team to push forward. Udinese were a very physical opponent and that’s true of Porto too – in the penalty box we were up against some big guys. I won’t tell you who’s playing in goal or who’s at full-back as all options are valid. There are only two decisions to make, so you could almost predict the starting line-up.”
Is Kevin Strootman able to play a third match in succession?
“My plan was to have him play 30, so he has another 27 to go.”
This is the most important match of the season for Roma. Have you spoken to Mr Pallotta? What has he said to you?
“President Pallotta is in regular telephone contact with us – he sends messages to me, to you and to everyone. I’ve spoken to him. He’s our president and therefore I speak to him. He’s happy that we’re in this situation and can’t wait for the game. We need to have as many people at the stadium as possible. We thank those that give their money to see us play and we need to make sure there are even more people there than usual. We must act with dignity and show respect every time we play at the Olimpico.”