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Di Francesco and Fazio Talk Tactics Ahead of Barcelona Match

Di Francesco and Fazio take over the Nou Camp mic.

SSC Napoli v AS Roma - Serie A Photo by Francesco Pecoraro/Getty Images

Most (if not all) of the difficult Roma losses this season have been book-ended by the club rolling out Fazio in front of the post-match microphones. The man is not only a wall on the pitch but apparently off it, too. Fazio has made small press career out of giving nothing but stonewall answers, almost driving a RAI presenter to exasperation with his rhetoric last month.

With all that in mind, anything to be learned from Roma’d mindset after landing in Barcelona was largely left to Roma’s coach himself, Eusebio Di Francesco, in the Nou Camp pressroom.

“Jordi Alba says Roma is a tough opponent because the team plays compact football. How will you play against Barcelona?”

EdF: “Barcelona have the right mentality, and it’s what Roma should have and where we have to grow a lot further. It’s essential to respect all opponents. We have to play the kind of game that takes nothing away from our identity and play carefree. We have to pay a lot of attention to specific situations against a team where, in the Champions League where they may not have taking as many shots as others, they’ve made sure to take the ones they do have with great precision. It means they have great quality. We have to give them very little and, obviously, if we let them closer to our goal they will be sure to have more chances.”

Are the doubts on Nainggolan starting now over? Have you decided on who starts on the right?

EdF: “Today, Nainggolan has a 50% chance of starting. We’ve also recovered Pellegrini, who will do the warm-up training session today with us but hasn’t trained with the team at all. I wanted to keep everyone on their toes, especially for a game like this, so the only thing I’ve told them is: tomorrow, Roma plays. I haven’t let any of them know who starts and haven’t decided myself. The message I wanted to get across is we have to play this match as a team.”

What kind of game do you picture and how important will it be the score, with the return leg in mind?

EdF: “Barcelona have conceeded only one goal at home in the Champions League this season. We have to have a positive and proactive attitude, hoping to tire them out and hurt them.”

What will it change for Roma if El Shaarawy plays instead of Defrel?

EdF: “Maybe neither of them plays, that’s also a possibility, no? Just wait for it... no I’m kidding. But beyond that, they’re different situations. Certainly, Defrel has less matches and less training under his belt right now, and that can be a factor for me. It affects for he can manage the game either from the start or coming off the bench. Stephan has had more continuity this season and for that he could manage the game better for a whole 90 minutes. One is right footed, the other is left footed. Playing on the right means they position themselves completely differently in searching for the ball, maybe one being better at coming inside to get the ball and the other much better at attacking the goal. That will be a part of my thoughts when picking the players for that position.”

“Have you studied Barcelona and found a weakness?”

EdF: “Barcelona’s weakness is the same as Roma’s, with different proportions to it. They’re very aggressive and will want to win the ball back immediately in our half. If you’re skilled at breaking past their first line of pressing, maybe you can really gain some truly important and threatening situations. But what I also noticed in all of their games, including the last game against Sevilla, Barcelona’s shown they fight for every single ball in a truly impressive way, even when they’re under pressure. They’re a team that’s never beaten. They have this great ability to welcome 1-on-1s all over the pitch. I think that’s a sign of self-assuredness and the quality of their players. We have to be good at exploiting their desire to play 1-on-1s. To do that, we’re going to have to win a lot of duels.”

“And for Fazio I’d like to ask something else instead: at the beginning of the season, it was said you’d have difficulty playing in a back four and high line. On the contrary, you’d done it and you’ve done it well. Tomorrow you’ll play the high line against a more fearsome opponent, but I imagine you will play the game in the same manner as always without parking the bus. Is there some personal pride for you having played this way to get this far into the competition?”

Fazio: “No, no, no. The fact is I’ve always played in a back four, so I don’t know who started up with this but I can play in a back four, back three, on the left, on the right, in midfield like I’ve played before. There are no problems and I’m always available for the coach.”

How do you explain, to non-Italian spectators, the lesser performances of Italian teams in the Champions League in the least few years?

EdF: “The others were just stronger. Juventus, compared to all the other Italian teams, have done well for themselves. The English and Spanish leagues have stronger players who can change the outcome of a match for their team, and we have to counter that by focusing on the tactical side and the team rather than individuals. Then you have highly organised teams like there have always been, Manchester City and Barcelona, who bring together the great quality of those very same players with a very precise tactical identity and that makes all the difference.”

Before it hit me that you used one word: carefree. How important will it be to be carefree and loose psychologically to be able to do those very things you were talking about tactically: being aggressive, pressing high, not losing your identity?

EdF: “Look, this is a game that today is saying one thing - and maybe tomorrow it will be totally different - but in front of us is a team who will force you to drop deeper. I’m saying it today, before anything, I know. Because the numbers say it, the attitude of their team says it, a team that has the quality to make truly impressive passes. But the difference it to make them do less, if they usually string together ten passes then we have to force them down to 5. Being carefree has to be part of a player’s character, especially those who want to be part of a big team and want to play football, not just clearing the ball. Mentally, you have to be strong, carefree and get something out of your game that’s just that little bit beyond your limits. I don’t want ‘carefree’ to mean ‘what will be, will be’. I don’t like to reason things in that way and I’ve never told my team what will be, will be. We prepare for the game to be competitive because that’s what we’ve been up until now to get to the quarter finals. That has to be our attitude in general.”

You’ve always played with three forwards, but because of the strengths of Barcelona, do you have any doubts about that and will you surprise everyone by playing 4-4-2?

EdF: “I like that question, now we can confuse Valverde a little... no, if we watch the game against Sevilla it would have been 4-2-3-1 for how the game went. However at the end of the match there was a certain gentleman on the pitch, Messi, who changed the game a little. I’d say we would play 4-4-2 with difficulty because, as a coach, I’m not used to doing things on the fly but preparing my players to play in certain way. To do that, you have to create a certain mentality. Changing things at the last minute would signal a lack of faith in my players, in my view. Maybe I can use a winger with more defensive qualities than attacking ones, but always with the same team identity.”