“If we don’t win tomorrow then we will go to the Conference League. But we want to go into the next round of the Europa League...only one result is good enough for us: a win.
“It’s a difficult game, because there is that pressure on it, but it’s there for the opposition as well – who beat us last time and did so in a match that we took seriously, changing only the goalkeeper from among our starters.
“But the stadium will be sold-out once again and if we can recreate the atmosphere of a knockout game, like we did last season against Leicester and Bodo and Vitesse, then with that atmosphere, and with the desire our players have to continue in this competition, then we can do it.
And just like that Jose Mourinho set the stage for Roma’s last Europa League group stage fixture this evening against Ludogorets at the Stadio Olimpico. The two sides enter the match level on points after Roma defeated HJK in Helsinki last week and Ludogorets fell to Real Betis. However, with Roma losing the opening group stage match in Bulgaria the road side holds the tiebreaker, so nothing other than a win will be good enough for the Giallorossi to progress to the knockout rounds of the Europa League. Anything less and it’s a return to the Conference League.
What To Watch For
How Will the Sides Approach the Match?
“I expect them to come and be playing for one of two results. Because two results are good enough for them tomorrow, whereas only one will do for us. That makes a difference. They are a dangerous side on the counter-attack and have some quick players. And a team with quick players can defend a bit deeper, because even when you are getting overwhelmed you always have that ability to create dangerous chances. But the main difference is that we have to play to win and they can play for a draw.
“But perhaps that is better for us: that we need to take a few risks, knowing that we have a pretty loud and big stadium behind us. Our players are not focused on winning the Conference League but going through in this competition – even if we know that in the Europa League there are sides whose targets were winning the Champions League, not the Europa League. Having said that, that’s where we want to go and we will go out on the pitch tomorrow focused only on that – without thinking about other matches or what went on in Bulgaria. Tomorrow we have to focus solely on the fact that we have a game to win.
“The win in the league on Monday was important, because coming back home after the defeat to Napoli is different to when you return after a win; there is a different sort of positivity there. It won’t be an easy game for us – but neither will it be for them.”
As Mourinho pointed out in his press conference, Ludogorets enters this fixture knowing that a draw is good enough for an unlikely progression to the knock-out rounds. And that will likely dictate the way they approach this match. There will certainly be an onus on the Giallorossi to find the back of the net early and often.
That’s something you’d tip a roster like Roma’s to do at home in a match against a side from a smaller league more often than not. However, with the struggles that Roma has had in front of goal, breaking down stubborn defenses, it’ll be interesting to see if Ludogorets dares Roma’s attack to try and penetrate its lines of defense.
Mourinho noted the pacy players the Bulgarian side has on its roster, which seems to favor Ludogorets focusing on the counter attack.
Normally, Mourinho’s side cedings the majority of possession in matches and looks to hit on the counter. Tonight will likely be the opposite with Roma needing goals to get the three points.
That could all change though if Roma gets one early and forces Ludogorets to have to score to get back in the match. It’ll be interesting to see how the two managers approach this critical match tactically.
Will Youth Be Served Again?
“I’ve never really been in a position where I needed to bring through lots of young players – but that doesn’t mean I agree with those people who say that I have not given many young players a chance during my career: there have been quite a few and a lot of them were very good.
“Here it’s a bit of necessity and a bit of a consequence of the way we are approaching things. As you have seen with Volpato. I am not a hero because I give players an opportunity. A hero in this instance is stupid if he puts out players who are not prepared.
“It’s a process: a player may start as just a Primavera player, then he becomes a Primavera player who occasionally trains with the first-team, then he becomes a first-team player who occasionally turns out for the Primavera to get minutes in his legs, and then he becomes a full-time first-team player who has to wait for his chance. That’s the process, and so when the moment comes for a player to come on I am confident that they can do it, a confidence that can help overcome the nerves or anxiety that a player might have when he is making his debut or playing one of his first matches.
“I enjoy that process. Obviously for the club it is also important. It’s also important for all the young players, because it tells them that the door is open and that their chance could also arrive eventually. The first-team players are happy about it too, because everyone is always happy when a young player makes his debut, makes an impact – just as Volpato did in scoring the winner. This group helps the young players to improve and develop. Seeing that is something I really enjoy.
After Cristian Volpato’s heroics in Verona just a few days ago, Mourinho was asked about the emergence of some of Roma’s Primavera players. Edoardo Bove, Nicola Zalewski, and now Volapto have all broken into the first team under The Special One. He also tipped Serbian youth Benjamin Tahirovic as the next player to break into the first team. That’s something not many would’ve expected under Mourinho’s leadership given his reputation not playing youngsters.
But, it’s said necessity breeds invention, and the talented youngsters have filled a need for Roma over the last two seasons. With players like Tammy Abraham struggling to find the back of the net and Leo Spinazzola out injured there could be a need yet again for young players to contribute today. And it’s being reported that both Zalewski and Volpato could go from the opening whistle.
While Mourinho wasn’t forthcoming with his line-up for today’s match, he did confirm his faith in Tammy Abraham and the fact that the Englishman will lead the line despite his struggles. He also confirmed Stephan El Shaaraway.
“I already told you that Tammy Abraham will start tomorrow. Stephan El Shaarawy will also start, considering he is doing the press conference today. So now you only have nine more names to guess…”
Gianluca Mancini is suspended for this one, while Spinazzola and Paulo Dybala miss out through injury. In a bit of good news, Nicoló Zanolo’s suspension was reduced by UEFA making him available. He will more than likely come off the bench though after training just once this week after taking a knock against Verona.
ROMA (3-4-2-1): Rui Patricio; Kumbulla, Smalling, Ibanez; Karsdorp, Cristante, Camara, El Shaarawy; Zaniolo, Pellegrini; Abraham.