UEFA Champions League


Coach Eusebio Di Francesco faced the media at the Santiago Bernabeu on Tuesday evening, to preview Roma's Champions League opener against Real Madrid. The game in the Spanish capital gets underway at 21:00 local time - as Group G in the competition kicks off with a huge clash between two of last season's semi-finalists.

Do you feel enthusiasm around the team has waned a bit [after the start to the campaign]?
“We haven't even started the Champions League yet so I think it's a bit early to suggest enthusiasm is on the wane. In any case, it's up to us to reignite enthusiasm by producing great performances and playing with the belief and determination we had before. I want to see a strong, aggressive side intent on hurting the opposition.”

Julen Lopetegui said he expects Roma to play an aggressive game. What do you think of Real? Will they be different without Cristiano Ronaldo?
“It's too early to get a clear idea of how different they are but I get the impression they're more of a team and put more pressure on opponents without Ronaldo. They slow the tempo down less and are more consistent throughout the game. They have just as much quality and can easily switch from 4-3-3 to 4-2-3-1. I'm not going to tell you how we'll play tomorrow, other than we must improve our shortcomings. I thought we were better going forward against Chievo and we played well for longer spells. Where we came up short was defensively because we weren't aggressive enough. We must defend better than we have done recently. We can't know now if Real are better or worse. All I will say is I like the look of them and I'm a big fan of Marco Asensio. I think he's the future of Real with the ability he has. He's a different player to Ronaldo but he works really hard for the team and gets involved in their play. Let's not forget that Real Madrid were Real Madrid long before they were 'Real Ronaldo' and I'm sure they'll enjoy just as much success in the future. Just not tomorrow, hopefully.”

How do you improve defensively?
“The defensive side is where we need to improve the most and we're all working on it. We must be stronger when we defend and defend as a team, not think it's just the goalkeeper and the defenders. It's a problem we must solve together.”

Which player would you take out of the Real side tomorrow if you could?
“I think Sergio Ramos has lots of qualities. I see him as a defender, a midfielder and an attacker rolled into one. He does everything well. He's a fantastic player.”

What formation will you play?
“I could surprise everyone because I have lots of thoughts and ideas but you have to take decisions calmly. It will be a great game – the sort we all want to be involved in. I want to see us playing with the Roma spirit tomorrow regardless of the system we play with – which some people think is the root of our problems at the moment. But it's more about our approach.”

Can Steven Nzonzi and Daniele De Rossi play together?
“They can play in the same team and they've shown they can do that in two games already. Nzonzi can play a bit wider and we might see that tomorrow. I picked them both at the weekend to break up Chievo's play in midfield and it worked.”

You can only name seven subs tomorrow. Who will be left out? How is Diego Perotti doing?
“Perotti will be on the bench. Lots of others will have to take their place in the stands and it's my job to make choices. They're important choices because they can help players to grow. Sometimes watching a game from the stands can help players who perhaps think they've already made it to become more mature.”

Do you think Justin Kluivert can play a big part in your Champions League campaign?
“I'd rather talk about his development as a whole. He has to keep working and he must improve tactically. He's an instinctive player with amazing ability and I'm sure he'll be a success. It's too early for me to sit here and say he's going to have a great season but he does have the ability. And let's not forget he's still only 19.”


Do you think Roma have what it takes to go on another Champions League run like last season?
“We have to keep improving. No one asked me this question last season so why shouldn't we believe? We have to pull everyone along with us. We achieved an extraordinary result last year. We don't want to do the ordinary but the extraordinary. I think it's only right that we should believe and we should go for it.”

(Photo Getty Images)