UEFA Europa Conference League


Jose Mourinho held his customary pre-match press conference on Wednesday to preview Roma's Europa Conference League showdown with Zorya Luhansk.

The game at the Stadio Olimpico gets underway at 21:00 CET.

Roma know that a victory will send them into the next stage of the competition - here's what Mourinho had to say about that, and much more too...

What sort of game are you expecting? The group hasn’t been as straightforward as expected…

“It’s very clear. If we win we are through, if we lose we are out. A draw leaves everything still up in the air. We will still have our destiny in our hands if we draw or win in Bulgaria on the final matchday. So that’s it, it’s all very clear.

“What does that mean? It means that it is a final for us and for them. It’s a really important game. It will be tough to keep playing in two competitions for months, the league and the Conference League, but it’s a problem that we want to be having. We don’t want to go out. And that’s why tomorrow we will put in maximum effort to win the game.”

You suggested at the weekend that Zaniolo will start tomorrow – what do you want to see from him?

“There’s nothing in particular I want to see from his performance. I expect all of the players to work for the team. Like how the team won in Genoa; as a team that looks to dictate the game, that looks to do everything possible to find a way to win. And so I don’t expect anything different to that from him.

“It’s as I already said after the game in Genoa. Even if he didn’t play in the game, I liked the way he celebrated [Felix’s goals]. It was as if he had been out there too for 90 minutes. So I just expect a team player, like I do from all my players, and nothing else from Zaniolo.”

In the cups it has become customary for the back-up goalkeeper to play. Will you be sticking with Rui Patricio in this competition?

“Yes, he will play. It’s not just that Rui has been one of the best goalkeepers in the league this season, as a team we have found a way to build a solid defence, a few lapses apart. Daniel Fuzato is training really, really well. Fantastically. If he had to play in a game, either in the league or the cups, I would have total confidence in him. It would absolutely not give me any sleepless nights. But tomorrow Rui will be in goal.”

Are you satisfied with how Tammy Abraham has been playing?

“Yes, I’m satisfied. When you are a forward for a side that creates lots of chances and looks to play with an attacking intent, then perhaps he could have scored a few more goals. But he works really hard for the team, in the build-up phase. So for me there is no issue.

“In terms of the team dynamics he is a team player who makes the right movements off the ball both when we are attacking and when we are defending – to close the spaces, to press, to make life hard for the opposition. He’s added a new dimension to the work he does for the team that perhaps he didn’t have before. And sooner or later the goals will come too – then he will have everything. He’ll have the team work and he’ll have the goals too.

“So right now I am not worried at all. He started really well, he left a great impression on everyone including the fans, and then after that there was a slight dip in form. But that seems normal to me, especially considering he picked up a knock while away with the national team.

“I’m really pleased with him. He will play tomorrow too – Zaniolo, Tammy and Rui all will. So now you just need eight more names…”

The experiment with a three-man defence is something we could see again, or was it just an emergency move? It seems like it even changes how the midfield functions…

“I don’t like playing with five at the back. It’s one thing to have a three-man defence, another to have five. I don’t like to have five at the back. We were without our left-backs and so we decided to go with three at the back, with El Shaarawy on the left – someone who is not a full-back and means the side absolutely is not playing with five across the back.

“This solution worked really well in terms of our standard of play, but perhaps not in terms of the result – if we look at the game in Venice. It fared better in Genoa.

“But this squad was not built to play a three-man system. When you are building a squad to play with a three-man defence then you can’t have just four centre-backs. You wouldn’t have as many attacking midfielders as we have. So this setup is well suited to some but not for others.

“But that’s how we played and the players made the sacrifices asked of them. And they did that well. It’s something that we should always have in our back pocket as an option. The target is to go back to a formation that we want to build upon over time – but it’s important that we have now developed this as an option. It looks good to me.

“For El Shaarawy, as a example, it’s easier for him to be the wide man in a three-man attack than be the wide option in a four- or five-man midfield. But that’s okay, we will find the right balance. I won’t tell you what setup we will use tomorrow but I will give you another name who will start tomorrow: Veretout.”

Will Matias Vina and Riccardo Calafiori be in the squad tomorrow?

“We will decide today in our team meeting with the rest of the staff. Just like we decided what to do with Chris Smalling before we travelled to Genoa at the weekend, we will follow that again today. They are ready, they trained with the group this morning – so I think it’s a possibility.”

What have you learned so far since you arrived in Rome?

“I know my players better now. For example, seeing El Shaarawy playing as a wing-back – it’s something I didn’t think he could do. I saw him last season as a player who had lots of highs and lows. There were fitness issues, problems adjusting to the intensity of the games. I always thought he was a great player, but perhaps a good option for one game and better left out for another, or just to use off the bench. But now he has improved and can now be a 90-minute player.

"And, on Sunday, he was the one to make the block in Genoa’s only chance of the game. That’s an El Shaarawy that I didn’t know before. And that’s just one example of how I am learning more about my players now. The years can go by but you can always learn new aspects of these players.”

How hard is it going up against a team that you do not know much about?

“Zorya are not a side we don’t know much about. They are unknown sides up until the point that we are drawn to face them. Then we study everything there is that we can possibly study – we have watched lots of Zorya matches, both in the league and in the Conference League.

“There’s no reason not to study them and to analyse them like we would for any other opponent. We always have huge respects for the teams we face and that’s why we need to make sure we prepare fully if we want to win the game.”

(Photo LaPresse)