Roma manager Luciano Spalletti spoke today ahead of Roma’a pivotal match against Fiorentina at the Franchi, here are his words.
“Mario Rui, [Antonio] Rudiger and [Abdullahi] Nura are out. [Thomas Vermaelen] was carrying a knock after the Cagliari game. He went with the national team, trained with them, sat out the first friendly then took painkillers to play against Cyprus because he still had some pain. When he got back it was causing him real trouble. We rested him for Samp, then tested him in the week before Plzen and it was clear that he wasn’t yet ready to play. We kept him out of the team but he’s still in pain now. If we play him it will put him back and he’ll never get over it. Rudiger will start building up his fitness by doing some non-impact work with the Primavera side in the coming weeks, then after a few proper training sessions he’ll be back with us.”
The trip to Fiorentina is perhaps your first big match of the Serie A season. You were full of praise for them last year – do you think their biggest strength is still their control of possession and their biggest weakness their defence?
They’re just like they were last year – a good team with a manager who has the respect of everyone in a demanding city like Florence. The fact that he can win over a place like Florence shows that he knows his stuff. They play good football based on possession and creating attacking moves to score goals and win games. The consequence of that is that they play with a high line and sometimes find it tough when defending – that’s inevitable and happens to all teams that play proper football and want to flood the opposition box with players. There will be a good atmosphere at the stadium, but we’re used to that. There are no easy matches in this league. For example, Samp produced another good performance against AC Milan last night and that’s another illustration of how difficult and even this league is. I believe that Fiorentina will be up at the higher end of the table come the end of the season. We need to find a good balance and avoid the ups and downs we’ve been struggling with recently.
You seem to be struggling with the final ball at the moment. Is that a tactical problem or a mental one?
I re-watch all of our matches and I think the team was having the same old problems against Plzen. We couldn’t find any consistency or put our stamp on the match, managing it and dictating the play. That said, we played some good football at times and did the things we needed to do for some periods during the game, more so than I thought at the time. At times we’re finding it hard to produce what’s needed in a specific match. The most important thing is that we improve our precision when it comes to the simple things. We’re struggling to make the kind of easy passes that would allow us to manage games better. It’s almost as if they’re too easy and the players avoid playing certain passes, maybe because they think they’re boring. We need to strive to put together a whole string of passes to consolidate our position in the opposition half.
How is Mohamed Salah feeling ahead of the game? Is he one of those players that can change the game?
Salah is always the same. He’s the perfect guy, always smiling. Sometimes he pretends not to understand so I say something in Florentine dialect and he whips round like a shot! He understands everything and he’s really switched on. He liked Florence but he wants to perform well for Roma. I have no doubt that he’ll prove his quality on the pitch. He’s a really unpredictable player who runs at the defence with the ball between his feet – he can get out of sticky situations single-handedly when you’re expecting him to lose it. At times it’s better not to burden that type of player with too many instructions because you risk clipping his wings. He’s really good at getting in behind the defence. Then you have a guy like [Juan Manuel] Iturbe, for example, who needs more direction in terms of what he needs to be doing. Salah has more instinct, more talent, so he needs to be left alone a bit more. When you look for him with his back to an opponent, he usually manages to get free using his movement, but even he can still improve with the ball. He’s a reliable player.
Do you still believe Rome is the perfect place to work?
I haven’t changed my opinion on the team or on Roma as a place to work. I’ll change my mind at the end of the season if I have to, but for now I won’t. We have a strong team. I believe in my players and will continue to do so. I’ll continue to sow the seeds. When you sow your seeds well, sooner or later good things grow and we’ll need to pay attention to what does. I criticised Iturbe the other night, but I didn’t say I was giving up. I’m happy with these players from now until the end of the season. This is the squad that I wanted and I’m happy with it. I’m sticking to that. Roma is the perfect place to work. Obviously you need to build up a wave of enthusiasm to support you. Players give that little bit extra when there’s enthusiasm around the place. It’s harder to deal with doubts, tension and frustration, but that’s when you need more character, more personality. People know that but sometimes they don’t show their opposition in the right way and need to be showed how. The tensions and frustrations are there. We need to win – that’s the expectation, but I think there’s another way. We need to work hard and achieve milestones along the way to show that we’re going in the right direction. We need to have a way of working, of thinking, of doing that determines our future achievements.
There have been several errors at the back recently. Do you need to focus your work on the defence?
We’ve conceded a few too many goals but we’ve played well too, though I’ve not heard anyone say that. The defence has an important role in our team’s play and in us getting results. In terms of the goal we conceded against Plzen, I want to point out that Juan Jesus has played two games when we’ve had to ask him to make a real effort physically. He was available but he definitely wasn’t at 100%. Before then he’d performed much better. It’s nothing to do with our defensive line or how good the players are. We need to think about the future – that’s my job. We need to identify things that we can build a future around. My players need to focus on that too. It needs to be a constant for everyone working at Roma. Creating strength for the future. Juan Jesus has a good left foot and can make a pass. Pulling off a through ball and dribbling round a man is something else altogether. He’s brilliant at marking up in the box. That should be one of his main strengths, his forte.
Will you continue with the same front three or are you considering bringing Edin Dzeko back into the side?
You’re the ones making that division, not me. The line-up we used last year proved itself by securing results for Roma. Dzeko is in my thinking too because he is a more physical player, more powerful, and he gives us another option. I left him out the other night to have him fresh for Florence. Salah and [Stephan] El Shaarawy have performed well in the past. We don’t always play to the same level, but we have our squad and my job is to build up confidence – that’s what I’m doing. I’m sure that having confidence will bear fruit and then we can go from there. Right now we just need to get a better balance within our matches, without falling into a cycle of highs and lows where we’re unable to play like a great team aiming for big things. To do that we need to keep it simple and string passes together constantly, making the easy decisions that will get us to our opposition’s defensive line. We played well in spells in our last game. We played fantastically for the first part of the first half against Samp and then fantastically again for the entire second half. It was the same against Plzen – we had a good first 15 minutes but then when we conceded we dropped off and lacked consistency. The key is to do the simple things, to keep our possession nice and simple. We need to do the invisible work, to make those simple passes that seem like they’re worth nothing. Simply passing the ball more is enough.
Will you go with Alisson or Wojciech Szczesny?
In my eyes goalkeepers are just like any other player. This is modern football. Obviously the keepers would prefer to know if they’re starting or not. The player that performs best will start. Period. Sometimes you might make a change, wrongly perhaps, but then you draw your conclusions. We had a tough time, getting knocked out of the Champions League, but our job is to leave Roma in a better position than it was when we found it.
Roma looked a different side against Sampdoria and Plzen when Francesco Totti came on. What chance does he have of starting the game?
He has a chance of starting. He did his job well when he came on. That’s the situation in general terms.
Is this squad more competitive than last year’s?
It’s more competitive. I prefer it to last year’s squad. I won’t change my mind on that until the end of the season.
Have you changed your mind on the way you plan to use Totti?
I’ve always had the same idea on Francesco. Sadly I think he gets used, and he says that too. I don’t want to take anything away from the players. Let’s start from the situation last year. I spoke openly with Francesco in my office and then we embarked on a journey over the course of the season. The team started off playing well and he had an injury. My goal is to find other key players, unlike you in the media, who are only interested in one thing – you talk about all this to create a divide within this club. Francesco gets used to harm Roma. I don’t hear any positive talk about anything – the club’s no good, the general manager’s no good, the fans are no good, the club employees are no good, the cars are no good, nothing is any good. Is nothing about Roma any good in your eyes? We’ve built a new dressing room, [James] Pallotta has given himself plenty of work to do, he’s spent money to build new facilities. Can we give Roma some credit? What do you want me to say about Francesco, if not that he’s a genius? He’s 40 years old. He needs to help me to find other players. He’s helped us win matches, but last year the rest of the team got us into the Champions League too. I can and must show that I’m moving in a specific direction. Francesco is an extraordinary player, but if we only focus on him we’ll win nothing. He alone is not enough. This is not about passion – our job is to bring all the players together and ensure there is enthusiasm, willing, professionalism. But Roma has to be more that. I. was talking to him about it this morning over breakfast. I let him train early so he could go to his aunt’s funeral. I have nothing against Francesco. In my first interview this year I said it wasn’t Francesco’s last season. That will be decided by what he does on the pitch. You’re trying to foist a responsibility onto me that I don’t want and that I don’t have – to retire Francesco. I can say is that I’ll continue to be the coach of Roma if Totti’s here. If he stops then I stop too.