“This is how it is. It’s not a criticism, it’s the reality. If we’d gone out of Europe in December, we’d be second or third in the league now. We would be in second or third place because we wouldn’t have that tiredness and we wouldn’t have this many injuries. If we weren’t part of a real battle in the league and were lower in eighth place, I’d have put everything into the Europa League and maybe we’d be in better shape.
“We’re victims of how well the lads have done throughout the season. We’re in a situation in which we could win a trophy. We might reach a final, we might not. In your eyes, if we didn’t get there, there might be talk of a not-so-good season. I’ll certainly tell the lads it’s been a fantastic season regardless of the results in the last three weeks.”
We all know José Mourinho is a straight shooter and he didn’t beat around the bush in his pre-match presser on Wednesday ahead of today’s Europa League semifinal first leg against Bayer Leverkusen. Mourinho acknowledged that injuries happen to everyone and that Roma’s roster isn’t constructed to deal with as many injuries as the team has suffered while battling on two fronts.
And in the middle of this injury crisis, Mourinho and Roma’s attention turns back to the Europa League. With a European trophy within reach and the added bonus of a Champions League place on the line, the final judgment of Roma’s 2022-23 campaign will likely be determined based on if Roma can get past Bayer and eventually win the final in Budapest.
For that to happen, Mourinho will need his best players to contribute over the next two weeks against the German side. And in his presser, Mourinho gave updates on two of his most important players: Paulo Dybala and Chris Smalling.
“As for your questions. I don’t know if Dybala will start. Let’s see tomorrow. I don’t want him to play tomorrow and for you then to say I’m a liar. I’ll now say no because I think it’s a no.”
“He’s [Smalling] fit enough for the bench tomorrow. As for the return leg, we’ll have to see. I don’t expect him to feature in the next two or three games. I’m not expecting that. Something unexpected may happen. Let’s see if we go to Budapest. He’ll be coming with us if we do.”
With that in mind, things don’t look optimistic for either of them or Gini Wijnaldum to start. And while he could be playing coy, we’ll take Mourinho at face value on the Dybala quote and believe that the Roma CT will err on the side of caution over this two-legged affair.
If that is indeed the case, then a dual striker pairing of Tammy Abraham and Andrea Belotti is likely, given Stephan El Shaarawy’s injury and Ola Solbakken’s exclusion from the European roster due to FFP regulations. Meanwhile, the absences of Smalling and Wijnaldum mean that it’ll be Edoardo Bove in the central midfield, with Bryan Cristante sliding back into defense.
ROMA (3-4-1-2): Patricio; Ibañez, Smalling, Mancini; Spinazzola, Matic, Bove, Çelik; Pellegrini; Belotti, Abraham.