Team news ahead of PAOK?
“The last problem is Moses. I spoke with the doctor 10 minutes ago and Moses has a back problem this morning. I think he will not be able to play tomorrow. And Hazard, of course, is not a serious injury but he will not be able to play tomorrow. I think we will be able to recover him for the next match, the Premier League match.”
Did Saturday change your mind about the importance of the PAOK game?
“I don’t know. I have to think about everything because Saturday we played very badly, a match without determination. But we lost one match after 110 days, I think, so the team did well, generally. But we have to understand why we played against Tottenham without determination. It’s not normal. But, of course, tomorrow for us is an important match. First of all I want to see a reaction, but I want to see a reaction in the next Premier League match as well. I want to see that we have learned our lessons.”
Will you still make lots of changes for tomorrow?
“I think so because, in December, we have to play 10 matches. So now we need to change. Not only from the last result, but we have to change in this competition. We had two targets: the first was qualification, which we’ve taken; the other one was to win our group. For this we need one point. But, of course, we cannot think about playing for one point otherwise it’s very easy we will lose the match. So the target for tomorrow is to win the match and be the first in our group. But, of course, we can do this also if we change seven or eight players.”
Can Jorginho and Kante play together in midfield?
“I think, as you know, I want to play a central midfielder as a very technical player – a Jorginho or Fabregas. I don’t want Kante in this position. Kante, in the last match, wanted to solve the match after the first 15 minutes but in the wrong way. He lost his position. He attacked too much the other box. And I think this is not one of the best characteristics of Kante, but it was only a reaction to the difficulties.”
Does Kante understand what you want from him?
“Maybe. Maybe it’s only a question of time. But Kante has to stay near to Jorginho, especially when the ball is on the other side. When the ball is on the left, he has to stay very close to Jorginho.”
But you have said before that you want Kante getting further forward…
“But it depends on the action. If we are on the left, no. If the ball is on the left, with Marcos Alonso and Hazard, Kovacic or Barkley. In that situation, he has to stay very close to Jorginho.”
How did you deal with the first training after the Spurs defeat?
“I talk to them player by player. I have a meeting of five or 10 minutes with the individuals, individual meetings with the players. But, as I said before, we lost one match after three and a half months. We have to understand why, especially from the mental point of view. It’s very difficult for me to understand why. We played without determination in such an important match. If you don’t have determination, you have no motivation. If you have no motivation, maybe you don’t have clear targets in your mind. I wanted to understand this.”
Did you find out the reasons?
“I hope so. The targets are very clear in my mind: in the short period, to win something (also for you). And in the long period, to become the best team in Europe.”
Does your team still have a mental block?
“Their problem was with the approach to the match in the last three matches. If you go to the pitch with that approach and the opponents are very strong, like Tottenham, and determined like Tottenham were, the problem is bigger. So they were able to destroy us in 15 minutes. But I saw the same problems also in the match before.”
Did you get the answers you wanted from your players in the meetings?
“It’s very difficult for them, I think, to tell me why. Very difficult. Somebody told me that, maybe, the international break was a problem. A problem to be immediately ready at 100%. But I don’t know. Maybe for Tottenham it was easier because the players of Tottenham played here in London, played on Sunday (for England). On Monday they were all together, but the situation was similar. So, maybe, it can be true. But only for a small percentage, I think.”
No goals for Hazard in nine games for club and country, worried?
“I am worried because 25 days ago he had an injury, a back injury. Now the ankle. So I think that he has lost a lot of training. So it’s normal he wouldn’t be top of his physical condition. One week of training and a couple of matches and he’ll be back at the best level of physical condition.”
Is it difficult to rest him?
“But I think that this week is useful for him in training. Then we will see. Of course I think that he cannot play 10 matches in 29/30 days, so sometimes he has to rest.”
Is it too difficult to catch City already?
“It’s difficult. The points average of Manchester City is, I don’t know… more than 100, I think. So it’s very difficult to stay very close. It’s better not to look at the table for us at the moment. We have to improve. First of all, our target is try to be in the first four positions because we want to play in the Champions League. As you know very well, in the Premier League, it’s not very easy to finish in the top four. The target, at the moment, is this. We cannot look at City. At the moment, City are a step ahead.”
Why has Callum Hudson-Odoi not played more?
“He has to improve. He has to improve a lot. First of all, the defensive phase. He has to work. He has to improve on the offensive phase – he’s very good one against one, but he has to learn to move without the ball. He is potentially a very good player, and now he has to study and improve and work.
“But I think that’s really very normal. He’s 18, so that’s normal. I want to find space for him. It’s not really very easy because, at the moment, we have 28 players so, for me, it’s not easy. Not easy to put him in the starting XI because, maybe, on the bench in the Premier League matches there was Moses or Pedro, so it’s difficult not to put that kind of player in the starting XI for Thursday. So it’s difficult, but I’ll try to find a space for him. He is in the 18 players for the match. I don’t know if he will start or not.”