UEFA Europa League


Read everything Jose Mourinho had to say after Thursday's 5-1 win over CSKA Sofia in the Europa Conference League:

So many positives to take from this game – seven new starters compared to Sassuolo, a big victory. Does it mean everyone feels part of what’s going on?

“Except we didn’t play well. We were united, the group is really together. We are really building a true team here. But we’ve already spoken about it: if we are a real group now when we win, then we need to be even more of one when a defeat comes. That’s the moment when it’s really important we are a team. But tonight we didn’t play well.”

You aren’t pleased with the result? What didn’t you like?

“I’m happy with the result. The quality of play I didn’t like. We didn’t keep the ball in the way we had trained over the last couple of days. The midfield lacked intensity, the two full-backs didn’t push forward enough and we lost a lot of defensive duels.

“I think Eldor Shomurodov and Lorenzo Pellegrini worked really hard, trying to press high up the pitch, with a really good dynamic between them. I can’t say that we played badly, but we didn’t deserve to win 5-1. It’s a harsh result for CSKA: We deserved to win, because we were better and more organised, but I wasn’t happy.”

Lorenzo Pellegrini has made a huge leap forward – is that down to you?

“We are all improving together – I’m improving as well. That’s something you need to ask him, really, because he’s a player with a lot of quality, with amazing potential. I don’t want to say much more than that.

“Yesterday he told me that he will sign his contract extension in the next few days – I think even that will give his rapport with the fans even more of a boost. He’s a great player, he’s the captain and now he’s signing a new contract. This creates a bond with the fans and that is very important for us.”

Didn’t you think, going up against a weaker side, about making different changes to the team? And could we see Roger Ibanez at full-back again in the future?

“The five substitutions we are now allowed means I can manage the game in different ways. Tonight we had a strong substitutes’ bench, which would have allowed me to change things even if we were losing at half-time. I had a lot of attacking options there. So that meant I felt comfortable starting a few different players.

“I’ve already said that the big difference between us and the other big sides in Italy is that they have different options in every position and we don’t have that at the moment. That’s the reality of the situation.

“The players need to grow, they need to be given time to go from being young boys into hardened professionals. We finished the match with four centre-backs on the pitch. That never happens.”

Does the enthusiasm around this team now need to be carefully managed?

“Of course. That’s true. The other day I was joking around with my coaching staff and I told them that we are the sort of team that needs to go to Saint Peter’s Cathedral every day and pray we don’t get any injuries. We are a team with our limitations – and the season is a marathon and we need to manage all the emotions.

“I will continue to repeat one thing: I’ve said that five wins are not the same as 50 and today I will remind you all that six wins are not 60 – and if we get to seven, then seven is not the same as 70. We need to stay calm.

“We are really, really pleased with what we are building – the spirit first and foremost. At the same time, tactically the group needs to improve. But we need to stay calm.

“The bond between the team and the fans is a key thing for us. But when the boos come, which they will, then that is the moment when we need to be even more of a team and even more of a club. At the moment I am very happy with what we are doing, with how the team is responding, even if we didn’t play brilliantly tonight.

“The player showed the right attitude, they showed they wanted to win and get through this group as soon as possible. I think we need to get to 12 points for that – so we need nine more.”

(Photo LaPresse)