AS Roma coach Luciano Spalletti has diagnosed the cause of the Giallorossi's troubled start to the season as "psychological" ahead of the UEFA Champions League Group A visit of table-toppers Chelsea FC.
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AS Roma coach Luciano Spalletti has diagnosed the cause of his team's troubled start to the season as "psychological" ahead of the UEFA Champions League Group A visit of table-toppers Chelsea FC.
After being pipped to the Scudetto last term by FC Internazionale Milano, Spalletti has come in for criticism following four straight Serie A reversals, including a 2-0 defeat at Juventus on Saturday. The Giallorossi, UEFA Champions League quarter-finalists in each of the last two campaigns, are also in danger of failing to make it out of the group stage, having lost at home to CFR 1907 Cluj on Matchday 1 and away to Chelsea two weeks ago.
"More than technical or tactical, I think the problem is mental," said Spalletti. "Our players need to maintain their self-belief. Producing fear is not the answer ... I don't have to intimidate my team to get results – that's the worst thing a coach can do." The 49-year-old added: "The Chelsea game is crucial because, depending on the result, it will affect our performances in the coming matches against Bologna [FC] and [S.S.] Lazio. I've had tough times before in my career, but my future is at Roma."
Spalletti has received words of advice from an unlikely source – Chelsea manager Luiz Felipe Scolari. The Brazilian, who describes Spalletti as a friend, suggested the Italian "work harder". "As a coach, I know these things sometimes happen," he said. "I say to him 'work, work and work harder'. Maybe tomorrow will be the first opportunity to get something back."
In contrast to their opponents' 17th position in the Italian table, Scolari and Chelsea are sitting pretty at the top of the English Premier League. They have scored 27 league goals, although their manager, who replaced Avram Grant in the summer, attributes their long awaited free-flowing football to a solid defence. "It's very important for us to have confidence in our defence," he said. "We have very good players in midfield and attack so we know if we don't concede, we have a good chance of winning."
Despite the Londoners' impressive results both domestically and in Europe – where they have seven points from three outings – Scolari refuses to accept that Chelsea are better than last season when they finished runners-up in the two main competitions. "We are not better, because to do that we have to get to finals and win them," he said. "I think Chelsea are one of the best ten teams in the world, but not yet the first." Nicolas Anelka, hat-trick hero of Saturday's 5-0 home thrashing of Sunderland AFC, should lead the line at the Olimpico. Ashley Cole has succumbed to a calf tear, yet there may be another runout for Didier Drogba after his weekend substitute appearance.
Francesco Totti, who has a knee problem, remains Spalletti's one major doubt. With or without his talismanic captain, however, the trainer anticipates a performance to rival that delivered at Stamford Bridge. "Until the last 15 minutes, when John Terry scored, we matched them," the Tuscan said of the 1-0 loss. "It's not about counterattacking, we need to be solid and play as a group. That is the way to stop Chelsea."