Here are the highlights of the pre-match press conference before Roma face Liverpool at the Stadio Olimpico. Eusebio Di Francesco and Radja Nainggolan were elected to face the press questions.
EDF: “Strootman will have a lot of difficulty being involved in the game tomorrow.”
(Update: Much later today, it was confirmed Strootman has not been called up to the matchday squad and is out of the semi final.)
Are you aware that Liverpool’s assistant manager is not going to be working again for them this season? And is that a benefit that there are problems behind the scenes at Liverpool?
(Radja laughs, smirks and takes a perfectly timed sip of water at the question while EDF answers).
EDF: “No, I think these are things that aren’t my business. And we can’t possibly prepare a game based off the idea that we won’t be seeing Klopp’s assistant. We’ll be facing a strong team that’s invested a lot into itself to do well in both their league and the Champions league, and a team that has history in this competition. I don’t think one piece of their staff missing could make a difference tomorrow. Those are internal problems for them, not us.”
BBC journalist: Are you aware that one of the Liverpool fans was almost killed by a group of your ultras outside Anfield last week? And why does Roma have such a problem with the behaviour of their fans? On several occasions now, over the last few years, English fans of England clubs have been attacked here in Rome. Do you expect the same to happen here over the next 24 hours? What’s your message to your fans, please?
EDF: “I think in general there’s been a bad element to every fanbase. And I think a minimal part of the fanbase, or even less, has done things that shouldn’t be done. I’ve already said before in the build up to this game that I’ve stayed very close to Sean Cox and his family and I’m against any form of violence, both personally and in our surrounding environment. I assure you at Roma there are true, passionate and respectful fans. I think we’re talking about a very small part of them that are also present on your side, no? In general, there’s that element present everywhere that can ruin a beautiful sport and a beautiful game like the one tomorrow should be. I take advantage of this game to make an appeal: that tomorrow is really a joy to come to the stadium, a good time regardless of the final score.”
For the first leg, Klopp complimented your approach for making an effort to play the game. In this phase of growth for the team, is it just an acceptable part of the process to have these bad evenings at the expense of not giving up on the team’s nature?
EDF: “As part of the growth process, it’s understandable. I’d like to remember we’re in the semi-final of a Champions League and that’s a big goal but it’s not a goal that would shift me from my way of seeing football. What was missing was the consistent focus during the game. And don’t think that the players hadn’t prepared well for the game because it’s inevitable that a Champions League semi-final was prepared thoroughly. But in the game itself, the match is shaped by where the ball is. And after 25 minutes, for us, losing the middle part of the pitch is something where we’d have to say we were behind Liverpool. And that’s where we’ll have to react faster in this game. That’s what I hope to see sorted from the delayed reaction that was too long in the game at Anfield.”
Your season has seen you score less and assist more. You came up with an assist in the game against Liverpool and also against Chievo. Are you enjoying this new side of your game? And how is it possible, in 25 Champions League games, that you’ve never scored a goal?
(EDF says something to him and Radja laughs, looking nonplussed at the question).
Nainggolan: “What can I say... Personally, I’m one of those players that doesn’t live only for goals. In the sense that it definitely makes me happy when I score goals but I’m more happy to be decisive in the final result. In the sense that, in this year I’ve been making the assists and it’s been a pleasure to be part of other players scoring the goals. At the end, what makes a difference is what makes a difference. As far as comparing it to last season, I don’t know, it’s kind of a completely different ballgame. But I’m happy with where I’ve been put to play and I’m able to give the maximum of myself. As for as scoring in the Champions League, maybe tomorrow we’ll see. Anything is possible. We will see.”
Daniele Lo Monaco: After 25 minutes last week, Roma went lights out. You were maybe the only one in that moment that managed to keep making some key actions throughout. In that sense you were the one to keep your head on the gameplan the team was trying to play. Your teammates, on the other hand, fell into a tough spot. For that, there will always be questions of what could have been done better technically and tactically but - from your point of view on the pitch - is there always something else that can be done that isn’t easily explained?
Nainggolan: “I don’t know, maybe it boiled down to it being the first time in a semi-final. A bit of emotion, many things... I’m not sure. I think we started off well and even looked to play the game but then we took a hit at 1-0, then 2-0 and maybe even as soon as the first moment they hit the ball just past our post. I don’t know, I’m not in the head of all of the players, and maybe one player can be mentally stronger than another. But I think, after this last game, we’re all shown an awareness of the mistakes made, the mistaken passes and the lack of attention paid to their long balls. I think there can be an improvement on so many things and we have to look to give our best for a lot longer in the match. Meaning for 95 minutes or more.”
Lo Monaco: And to Di Francesco, on the other hand, I’d like to ask - there was a lot of difficulty coming under the gegenpressing of Klopp that many squads have found this year. It’s the difficulty in taking the ball of them in counters. It was a difficulty your team came under where maybe there was a lack of quality in the middle of the pitch. There’s that very same risk tomorrow, so how do you ask for more quality from your players in the middle or how do you even open up that conversation to improve?
EDF: “It’s inevitable that if you play to score goals or want to create chances, you can end up moving how Liverpool moved. In the sense that they always attacked with a fullback and had only three other defenders left back there. If you’re playing with four at the back and attack through the fullback, at the most you have three left to defend. There’s a need to be more proactive and understand when there’s a threatening situation to exploit. However if we constantly lose the ball, like we did at Liverpool, we’re always end up having trouble noticing that. On that front, we have to look to make the least mistakes possible. It’s inevitable that a few mistakes will be made but we have to make the most of their mistakes and make as few as possible on our side. That’s a fundamental basic. But also, when you go into a game, you cannot drop 100 metres away from the rest of the team, giving 10 metres of space here or there. We’ve seen it in plenty of other games: when you drop too deep, you’ll never gain a big upper hand. For all of this, we’ll aim to keep the same philosophy while looking to make a lot less mistakes than the first game.”
I think of the 3-0 against Chelsea, or the 1-0 against Shakhtar, of the 3-0 against Barcelona. Can the game being at the Olimpico make the difference in this tie?
EDF: “Yes, we’ve done well to not give anything to those opponents at home. The home game in which we suffered the most was the first against Atletico. While, in the others, we gave away very little to our opponents and we were always clinical when it was time to hurt them. And I hope that will be the case in general moving forward, and in this match. That approach to the game with this crowd. The desire to reach another... miracle? Yeah, another miracle would go down very well.”
After the Barcelona game, the whole of Italy was moved by your feat. Plenty of fans of other teams were moved. Did you expect such support?
Nainggolan: “I think that when a team achieves a, quote unquote, ‘unlikely’ result of that nature then the whole world can root for the underdog because it’s not everyday a team hits a 3-0 at home against Barcelona. For me, supporting another Italian team would seem normal because even me, from a sporting point of view, that’s normal to shoulder that responsibility. I like it but we know if we manage it tomorrow, we’ll get the compliments all the same and if we don’t manage it, it would still have been a season unlike the others.”
Does Dzeko feel the weight of responsibility on his shoulders? Is this a weight or a reward for him to feel so important in a game like this?
EDF: “It should always feel gratificating to have an important role in games like these. There will be important roles played for every player in the middle of the pitch, and also for Dzeko. Which is normal for a player of his ability and potential. I hope he can be as much of a determining factor in this match as Salah was for Liverpool in the first game. I hope Radja can too, especially since you’ve all pointed out there’s always room for more goals.”
For Radja, reaching a semi-final is a positive thing for this club and would you say it’s enough of a positive for you to remain a Roma player?
Nainggolan: “Well I didn’t stay at Roma to judge whether we would reach a semi-final. I stayed at Roma because I think winning something here would be something truly unforgettable. I don’t prefer to take the path more worn. I’m looking to win here even if it’s not easy. And I don’t have the desire to leave a place where I’m good. I’m good here.”