Roma coach Claudio Ranieri has backed his side, down in eighth in Serie A after successive defeats, to bounce back when they take on Shakhtar Donetsk in their Champions League round of 16 opener.
Claudio Ranieri, Roma coach
Some months ago I asked my players: ‘Do you want me to stay on for the rest of the season?’ They told me they did, so even though the club is in a strange situation [with uncertainty over their new owners and several players out of contract in the summer], we have to carry on. I have been here for a year and a half. I’m here and I want to fight for good results because this is my team.
It hasn’t been hard to prepare for the match against Shakhtar. We are professionals and know that it’s possible to win or lose, but I’m optimistic, very optimistic. I know Mircea Lucescu very well – I faced him a lot in Serie A and the UEFA Champions League.
Shakhtar are a big club. A lot of Italian journalists were happy when we got them in the draw in Nyon, but I knew we were up against an excellent team. We will have to play a great match. We take a lot of care when it comes to this competition.
Mircea Lucescu, Shakhtar coach
It’s hard starting to play again after more than two months. In fact, our last official match was on 8 December against Braga in the UEFA Champions League. That was a great performance, and was followed by a long holiday. After a break like that it’s not easy to find your match fitness and you have to work a lot to get the team right.
During the last month we’ve played tournaments in Dubai and Spain – in Spain I again saw the team I had against Braga. After the international matches last week we decided to come to Rome on Saturday as there’s a very big difference between Donetsk (-12C today) and Rome (+11C).
AS Roma are not used to losing three successive matches, because I think the draw against Brescia was the equivalent of a defeat, and their pride will have been hurt. We will be better organised tactically than Roma, even if they have a lot of good players, but we know that the game will be played over 180 minutes and not only 90.
Ranieri said Doni will deputise for injured goalkeeper Júlio Sérgio (ankle), while David Pizarro (knee) will be rested after telling his coach he is “still in pain and needs another week” to be back to his best. Nursing a minor injury, Francesco Totti only came on for the final minutes of the loss to SSC Napoli but should be fit for the Shakhtar match.
Fernandinho returned to training at the start of February after breaking his right leg on 10 September but is not in contention to play. Neither is Olexandr Kucher as he nurses a knee injury sustained playing for Ukraine against Sweden last week.
Roma lost for the first at home in nine months when they lost 2-0 to Napoli at the weekend, while Shakhtar will be playing their first competitive match in 70 days.
Not having played a competitive game in over two months is such a huge disadvantage for Shakhtar. It might take them until the second leg to get adjusted to playing again, and by that time I expect them to be behind.
Score: Roma 2 Shakhtar 0