And just like that, Roma are right on the cusp of qualifying for the knockout rounds of the Europa League following a 2-1 victory over HJK Helsinki yesterday. A Real Betis win over Ludogorets earlier in the day meant that Roma go level on points with the Bulgarian side, while Betis wins the group, leaving it all to play for at the Olimpico on the final match day.
José Mourinho caused a bit of a stir with his line-up, giving Christian Volpato, Matías Viña, and Stephan El Shaarawy a start and setting Roma up in what appeared to be a 4-3-3 formation to start. While dropping points would’ve likely raised a few eyebrows towards Mourinho for his team selection on the day, his gamble paid off, and Roma did just enough to secure all three points.
Let’s see what The Special One had to say following the match:
Was it a fair result tonight? Did you enjoy it, are you satisfied with everything?
“Enjoy it, no, satisfied – yes. Before the game we already knew that whatever the result everything would end up riding on next week because of the result in the Ludogorets-Real Betis game, but still there is pride; you want to win, you don’t want to give away the game. We lost our last match, even if it was in Serie A and not this competition, but tonight we played well for large parts of it.
“It was Volpato’s first game as a starter, Faticanti made his debut with the team he loves, today we did not pick up any injuries -other thank Ibanez. We always seem to face one surprise on the day of the game. And today it was Ibanez, who stayed at the hotel because of illness.
“As I’ve said before we need to dig in and overcome all these issues right now. And digging in in this competition means taking things to the final game. We’ve done that and now next Thursday we will be at home and we are hoping for an Olimpico atmosphere like last year against Bodo. We need to get the win.”
Watch out, Ludogorets. For the second time in as many press conferences, José makes reference to the demolition of Bodø/Glimt at the Olimpico when speaking about hosting the Bulgarian side on the final match day to qualify for the knockout rounds. We all remember how that match went, as Roma empathically vanquished their Bodø demons that night, and it appears as if Mourinho is anticipating a similar performance from his team when Ludogorets come into town.
Could the experience of last season, and that run through the knockout rounds, be valuable this time as you face another decisive game?
“It’s helpful. But playing in a game like that only adds to the tiredness factor. After our defeat in the first game against Ludogorets we put ourselves under pressure, and then the unfair defeat against Betis only increased that. We went to Seville with the knife between our teeth. Today it was a bit different, because Betis had already won.
“But there was still a moral obligation to win: in the dressing room we talked about the fans that came here from Rome, that save their money to follow their team. So it was important to win for them. We’ve done that – and now we need to try and recover quickly.”
You know, it’s easy to say that any “we do it for the fans” talk is just your standard press conference talking point, but we’ve seen how the bond between the fans and the squad has strengthened since Mourinho came into town, so I genuinely believe José here when he talks about the fans being a motivation for the Giallorossi.
On the right wing tonight you had Zalewski and Volpato, who don’t have 38 years of age between them. Is that youth good for Roma and Italian football?
“It’s good for me too. Because for my entire career I’ve coached sides where it has been difficult to allow the young players to play, because I had so many top players and big squads.
“So it’s also a pleasure to help these boys develop and see their excitement – on the bench tonight, Luigi Cherubini was so happy. And his chance will come, just like it will for Claudio Cassano.
“Benjamin Tahirovic was on the bench last week – not tonight, because he is not on the UEFA list – and he will be there again against Verona.
“For me, like for everyone at Trigoria, it’s a pleasure to watch these ‘babies’ come through. The important thing is that they do not lose their heads, because with this generation it’s too easy for that to happen. For us, for our youth setup, it’s so important that they keep their feet on the ground. In that sense their families are also really important.”
This is the good stuff right here, folks. Given how do-or-die every Roma match seems to be these days—between keeping pace in the top-four race and having to qualify for the Europa League knockout rounds by the skin of their teeth—in addition to dealing with a severe injury crisis, it’s easy to lose sight of those small, wonderful moments, like a Primavera product finally making their first-team debut. And as we saw with Nicola Zalewski last season, these youngsters can make a significant impact when given the chance, it’s just a matter of giving them that opportunity first.