Roma play a crucial match against Real Betis tomorrow; win, and the Giallorossi have a good chance at advancing to the knockout rounds of the Europa League. Lose, and it may be back to the Europa Conference League for another season. With all apologies to the trophy that Roma won last year, everyone from the groundskeeper up knows that playing in the ECL again will be a major failure on the part of the club; additionally, ignominiously dropping out of the Europa League while having this level of talent would be a black eye for Roma and Serie A on the whole.
With that in mind, it makes sense that José Mourinho was even more blunt than usual in his pre-match press conference today. The Special One honed in on several issues that are holding the Giallorossi back, the importance of team cohesion over blaming individuals for poor form, and more. Here are the highlights of that presser, including the return of several “Miotto’s Musings.”
Do you think it’s possible that the unusual nature of this season – with the break in between and everything else – has brought with it an elevated risk of injuries? And, as for tomorrow’s game, are Andrea Belotti and Stephan El Shaarawy in line to start?
“This is a good question. It’s a question where we can all have our own thoughts on it. We’ve been talking about it for a long time now; it feels like it’s already been four or five months that we’ve been talking about this World Cup. But the truth is that right now we have to cope with the circumstances it has created. I’ve learned to cry less about things and instead try and deal with the reality of them.
“You could say that there are too many games, you could say that today’s players have completely different careers and challenges to those of years ago, you could say that the rich clubs are privileged because they have squads that allow them to use their players in a different way to the less rich clubs, which have more problems.
“But the truth is that there are rich clubs, poor clubs and then the less rich clubs. The poor clubs play one game a week and can prepare for that game for the whole week. The rich clubs, with the squads they have, could play every day and still make 10 changes. The less rich, who have more moderate ambitions but still have to play the same number of games as the rich, are those who end up in difficulty. And that’s what I’m having to go through right now.
“As for Belotti and El Shaarawy, neither of them. It’s all open.”
Miotto’s Musing: I’ve been harping on the terribly scheduled nature of this season for months; I understand why the World Cup had to be in the winter this time around, but still, it’s likely to make both club competitions and national team competitions more injury-filled and less exciting. Those provisos are useless for Mourinho and Roma, though, because, as he correctly intuits, raging against the unfairness of Roma’s position is useless and won’t change anything on either the Europa League table or the Serie A table.
I think it’s interesting that Mourinho didn’t immediately peg either Belotti or El Shaarawy as starters for tomorrow’s match. That implies to me that we might see some more creative rotation - perhaps Primavera player Claudio Cassano was called up for a specific reason?
It feels like Tammy Abraham has been struggling a bit in the last few games – do you think his issues are physical or mental?
“The problem is with us, it’s a team issue. I don’t like to dig into this sort of analysis. I get that you guys want to. It’s easy enough to find top players in other squads who are going through similar spells, both in Italy and oversees. For you guys it’s all numbers and statistics. For us, the truth is that we need goals in order to win games.
“The key thing is that we focus on things as a team and we don’t put pressure on individuals like you want to. You guys have a different job. For us it’s not about Player A, Player B or Player C and how many goals they have or haven’t score: we face things as a team and, considering the chances we are making, we are not scoring enough. That’s the direction we need to move in – as a group we need to score more and be more efficient in front of goal. It will happen.”
Miotto’s Musing: Even if you’re frustrated with Tammy Abraham’s poor form to start the season, this is exactly what you want a coach to say, particularly a coach who is as revered by his players as José Mourinho. There’s no use in singling out underperforming players after a certain point, and especially with strikers, it’s critical to note that their perceived form (or lack thereof) does hinge on the play of the rest of the team. It’s a lot harder for Tammy to succeed if Lorenzo isn’t succeeding; it’s a lot harder for Tammy to succeed with the midfield double-pivot underperforming.
I’m confident that Tammy Abraham will rediscover his form sooner rather than later; he’s simply too good to have too long of a dry spell. This happens to most great strikers every now and then (remember Edin Džeko’s first season in Rome?), but eventually, they get over the hump. Scoring a goal or two against Betis could do wonders for his confidence; it would also make it highly likely that the Giallorossi advance to the knockout round.
What were you referring to when you said after the Lecce match that the players didn’t seem to be following your instructions? Have you seen improvements over the last few days?
“Well, it’s not easy as a coach to speak about matches 10 minutes after they have finished. Sometimes you say things that you end up having to explain. The gameplan you have always wins the match in your mind. But it’s one thing to have a plan and another for the players to be able to put it into practice. From the bench I had the feeling that what I had outlined in the video sessions had changed a bit.
“I will still say that we need to have more discipline in how we play: when even two or three players lose that discipline, both in attack and defence, then it has an impact on the rest of the side. So that is something we need to improve on, because all the best performances we’ve had over the last 18 months since I got here have been about great focus, respect for the gameplan and strong organisation of the team. There are very few matches where we’ve won because of individual brilliance or because players have done something differently to what we prepared in advance.”
Miotto’s Musing: A Roma squad that has difficulty with discipline? Where have I heard that before? Seriously though, mental growth is the hardest kind of growth to achieve; there’s a reason why therapists are in short supply, and there’s a reason why clubs with (to be frank) losing mentalities like the Giallorossi require a lot of work to get over the hump. The signing of Mourinho went a long way in getting Roma into a better state of mind, but there’s still plenty of hard work to do to get to the point where the mental toughness of the Giallorossi is on par with the expectations of Romanisti.
Until then, there will be lapses like the Lecce match and the Betis loss before it. They’ll be Incredibly frustrating; they’ll give me plenty to write about and plenty to talk about on Across the Romaverse. The great thing about this current moment in time, however, is that I have honest-to-god hope that the Giallorossi will finally get over their demons in the short-to-medium term future. With rumors insisting that the likes of Nicolò Zaniolo, Bryan Cristante, and José Mourinho himself are in line for renewals, I have a feeling that that hope is shared throughout the club.