First off, Patrik Schick’s post-match interview at the weekend... damn his Italian has come on a shedload. When he arrived late late last summer, he didn’t speak a word. Last game, he impeccably handled questions from the pitchside reporter without a translator in sight. Just a view into how much the kid is doing to fit in and strike up some understanding.
But this evening was all about Roma landing on Merseyside, where Di Francesco and Kolarov elected to give the team’s thoughts on the eve of Roma’s biggest game for well over a decade. EdF drew particular attention to the need to stay tight on the pitch, and avoid getting picked off by Liverpool’s quality in their fast counters and vertical play.
You’ve just done the ‘walkaround’ at Anfield. What comes to mind when setting foot on this pitch? What does Roma need to compete tomorrow?
EDF: “Above all, the beauty of English stadia. You can already imagine the atmosphere awaiting tomorrow evening. Italian coaches aren’t used to having the fans immediately sat behind us and that’s a beautiful thing about English football. We’re facing a side that plays different from Barcelona in terms pace and intensity, and we need to match them for intensity.”
Against Barcelona the key was to stop Messi through a collective effort. Do you see similarities tomorrow with Salah? Have you spoken to anyone at City about stopping Salah and if so what advice have you been given?
Kolarov: “We played a great match against Barcelona by playing together as a team. We weren’t just focused on Messi, just like tomorrow we have to play as a team and that’s the only way we’ll pull off big things. They’re not just Salah, they play at very high pace and we have to give full focus to all their players.”
The last match against SPAL was arguably Roma’s best performance on many tactical points. Could it be crucial, tomorrow, to play a more elaborate passing game and make Liverpool players run until empty, gambling on the greater energy of Roma’s players given that the Roma players seem to have hit peak physical condition?
EDF: “We’re facing a different opponent to SPAL, in the sense that there’ll be very little standing off of us and they’ll be very aggressive. Liverpool have shown they are the squad - of all the eight teams in the quarter finals - with the most ability to play vertical immediately after winning back possession. For that, just one stray pass from us can play into the hands of the pressure they put on their opponents. It’s not a given that having the most possession against them gives any kind of advantage. We’ve come here to play football, looking to make the most of the space they give on the pitch while avoiding falling into the traps they want us to play into. The only comparison we can make with the SPAL game is the greater mental approach we showed in executing our ideas and I hope we can carry on showing that same focus tomorrow.”
Can the formation with three at the back be an answer against a side like Liverpool? And will Under start over Schick, given that the former was rested at the start of the match in Ferrara?
EDF: “Let’s start from the assumption I won’t talk about anything to do with the formation before the match, in general. As for Under, he has a 50% chance of playing and so does Schick. They’re both vying for a starting place. This team has absorbed two styles of playing, whether it be with three or four at the back, and I only have to decide which is best on a game-by-game basis. The thing that will make the most difference tomorrow is for team to defend and attack in the same way, staying compact in both phases of the game, against an opponent that can really be dangerous if we let them counter immediately with their vertical play.”
To Kolarov, you are one of the most experienced players in this squad. Do you feel like this Roma team can win the Champions League?
Kolarov: “If we’ve gotten this far, we have to try. Definitely the good times come at a moment like this, but so do the hard times. Therefore we’ll see tomorrow. We’re here on merit and we owe it to try.”
Klopp was asked about the similarities between you both. Is there this feeling that whichever one of the two of you that advances to the final represents ‘the new breed’ in football against the old breed?
EDF: “Well beyond the generous comments Klopp made about us both having similar taste in facial hair and glasses, I have to say that I like his footballing philosophy very much. I’m happy but also worried to be facing a coach who holds a certain kind of mentality. But he’ll also find, on the other side, a coach that has or is close enough to his idea of football. He’s shown a lot more than me so far in his career, and I have a lot more to do. It’ll certainly be a good matchup.”
With such an emphasis on their vertical play, is there a chance Roma can give up some of the pitch to Liverpool to stop them from playing that way?
EDF: “Basically you mean will we play deep?”
Just a little...
EDF: “They will have to be very good to force us back. That’s our mentality. There will be moments in which they will push us back and we will have to be great in defending together. The fundamental theme of this game is our ability to stay compact. Where on the pitch we’ll be playing is up to the ball to decide.”
Strootman mentioned that the team had already prepared a gameplan for stopping Salah. Would you have liked to have coached Salah when you got to Roma?
EDF: “I think Strootman has become more Napoletano than Dutch, you know, he’s been sly. Because we’ve never prepared a gameplan against Salah. We’re prepared for Liverpool, which I’m repeating for the umpteenth time. Salah was at Roma and had a personal desire to return to the Premier League. I’m happy right now to have young players in my team like Under who, for me, is someone with very big potential. For that, I don’t think about it anymore and I never thought about it from the moment I arrived at Roma. Because I have only one thought that I tell the boys all the time: Look at what we have to do now, don’t look back. We didn’t prepare the match looking out for only one player. Obviously we will have to pay attention to the best players, like Messi is and like Salah is, but as are other names in their team.”
Speaking about football in general, would you like to coach in the Premier League?
EDF: “In my line of work, before everything, we’re professionals. But right now my main thought, as I’ve said many times before, is to stay close to Roma. Then, one day in the future, never say never. Because I believe it must be fulfilling for everyone to be playing in the English stadiums, just as I imagine it would be beautiful to coach in an English stadium. But right now it’s absolutely not something in my plans. It’s a bit like how Klopp said he only knows how to order spaghetti in Italian, no? I only know how to order a hamburger in English, so maybe we’re even on that one.”
Does Anfield strike fear in you or give you a boost? What do you tell your teammates in terms of facing a match like this?
Kolarov: “A Champions League semi-final will always bring its own kind of atmosphere. It’s true that Anfield is a unique stadium from every point of view but as a kid I think anyone dreams of playing games like this. Tomorrow they’ll have that support from their fans here just like we’ll have it from our own fans in 7 days’ time. For any of our players, I believe they’re all aware of exactly where we are and, on board the team bus, I’ve already seen them more than focused on what awaits tomorrow.”