Jose Mourinho confronted a journalist ahead of Roma's visit to Sampdoria on Sunday, saying the reporter "s***" himself in front of him. 

Journalist Alessandro Austini recently criticised Mourinho on Italian radio and the former Manchester United and Real Madrid boss took him to task at his pre-match media conference on Saturday.

Mourinho, 59, said he expected a tougher line of questioning from Austini and accused the journalist of cowering in front of him.

In response to his question, Mourinho said: "I was expecting a much more aggressive question, more negative and violent after I listened to you on the radio.

"I didn't expect such an easy question. My conclusion is that you are much more aggressive and violent on the radio but when you come here you s*** yourself a little bit in front of me."

Roma sit seventh in Serie A ahead of Sunday's visit to Sampdoria, having amassed 51 points from their 30 games.

They are unbeaten in their last nine Italian top-flight matches (W5 D4), winning three of their last four. They last went 10 unbeaten in a row in a single campaign in 2015-16 (17 back then, under Luciano Spalletti).

Barcelona have re-established themselves this term after a strong January transfer window.

Barca head coach Xavi, appointed in November, has overseen a major form reversal culminating in last week's 4-0 Clasico win.

The Blaugrana have their sights set on more additions as they continue to re-build after Lionel Messi's exit last year.

TOP STORY - BARCELONA SET SIGHTS ON SALAH

Barcelona boss Xavi is determined to land Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah , claims Mundo Deportivo.

The cash-strapped Catalans have switched their attention from the race for Borussia Dortmund's Erling Haaland.

Salah is yet to re-sign with Liverpool where he is out of contract in 2023.

Barcelona president Joan Laporta said he will not put the club at financial risk in order to sign Erling Haaland, per Fabrizio Romano for Mundo Deportivo.

 

ROUND-UP

- Liverpool will not pursue West Ham United's Declan Rice amid interest from several clubs in the England international midfielder, claims Football Insider.

- Leeds United has rejected a £29million bid from  Barcelona  for 25-year-old Brazilian winger  Raphinha , whose release clause is set at £60million, according to Sport.

- Arsenal midfielder  Granit Xhaka  remains a transfer target for  Roma head coach Jose Mourinho, per the Gazzetta dello Sport.

- According to the Daily Mail, Wolves and Portugal winger  Pedro Neto  is on  Paris Saint-Germain's  wanted list.

Jose Mourinho has challenged Tammy Abraham to build on his performance in the Rome derby after the former Chelsea striker netted twice in a 3-0 win.

Abraham opened the scoring for Roma in the first minute of Sunday's clash with Lazio. That was the fastest goal ever recorded in a Serie A Rome derby.

It also made Abraham only the second English player to score in the match, after Paul Gascoigne, who did so for Lazio back in 1992.

Abraham doubled his tally with a volley in the 22nd minute to take his tally to 15 league goals for the season, with Lorenzo Pellegrini adding a third for Mourinho's team before half-time.

Since the start of 2022, only Robert Lewandowski (12) has netted more goals in the big five European leagues than Abraham (nine), but despite the 24-year-old's sparkling form, Mourinho remains typically hard to please.

"Great performance," Mourinho told DAZN. "Today was really special because it seemed that everything we had planned was put on the field, Lazio in the second half tried to play with pride but we never lost control.

"No doubt, the boys deserved the victory.

"When you say Abraham is fantastic I disagree, he can do even more. I demand a lot of him because I know his potential, I'm not talking about goals but he must play every game with this attitude."

 

With Roma in such control before the break, their supporters in the Curva Sud began chanting "ole" at every pass, though Mourinho was visibly frustrated by this.

There was a curious moment just before half-time when Mourinho was furious with the Roma ultras in the Curva Sud, demanding they stop making mocking ‘ole’ chants at every pass.

"I don't like 'ole' things, I don't like how they are interpreted by the players on the pitch. You always need respect for your opponent," Mourinho explained.

Roma's win lifted them to fifth in Serie A, putting them in prime position to secure a Europa League place. Lazio, meanwhile, are two points behind in seventh.

Maurizio Sarri was furious with his side's reaction to conceding after 56 seconds.

"The goal immediately cut our legs and we didn't have the strength to react," he told DAZN. "We immediately lowered our heads and I'm sorry we lost a derby like this, I know how much the fans care.

"We got nervous right away, making mistakes. We immediately lost our minds, we weren't lucid because there would have been time to straighten it."

Roma will seek redemption against Bodo/Glimt in the Europa Conference League quarter-final, while Leicester City will face PSV.

Jose Mourinho's Roma were hammered 6-1 at Bodo/Glimt in the group stage of this competition, and the Norwegian side now stand in their way of a potential semi-final meeting with Leicester or PSV.

Brendan Rodgers' Leicester overcame Rennes 3-2 on aggregate in their last-16 clash, while PSV ran out 8-4 aggregate victors in a thrilling tie with Copenhagen in the last round.

Another two teams that met in the group stages will face off on the other side of the draw, with Feyenoord hosting Slavia Prague in the first leg and the winners will meet Marseille or PAOK in the other semi-final.

The two-leg quarter-final clashes are set to take place across April 7 and April 14, with the semi-finals to follow on April 28 and May 5.

Europa League quarter-final draw

Bodo/Glimt v Roma

Feyenoord v Slavia Prague

Marseille v PAOK

Leicester City v PSV

Semi-final draw

Leicester City / PSV v Bodo/Glimt / Roma

Feyenoord / Slavia Prague v Marseille / PAOK

Roma head coach Jose Mourinho has sparked the build-up for Sunday's Derby della Capitale remarking Lazio were "smoking cigarettes" while his side progressed in the Conference League on Thursday.

The Giallorossi edged past Dutch outfit Vitesse after Tammy Abraham's 90th-minute goal earned a 1-1 draw and 2-1 aggregate victory at the Stadio Olimpico.

Mourinho said Roma would quickly switch their attention to Sunday's derby with his side in seventh, one point behind Maurizio Sarri's Lazio in fifth in Serie A.

"Obviously, I am not happy that we played today with many players who will also have to be there on Sunday while tonight Lazio are home smoking cigarettes with Sarri, but it’s because Vitesse are really good," Mourinho told reporters after the game.

Mourinho fielded a strong Roma outfit against Vitesse and given the situation of the tie, with Maximilian Wittek's 62nd-minute goal levelling it on aggregate, he was unable to rest any key players with a quick turnaround for Sunday's derby.

"Now Sarri is at home smoking his cigarette while I go home trying to think how we can recover from this for Sunday," Mourinho said.

He added: "We never came into this to control the result or aim for a draw to get us through. We worked with one objective, preparing to go for victory.

"It was a bad performance on a technical level, it might seem tactical, but it was technical. We defended well and showed character, but we also pushed hard at the end with El Shaarawy as a third striker, not a wing-back.

"I don’t want to say we 100 per cent deserved to go through, but over the two legs did a little more."

Roma head coach Jose Mourinho has sparked the build-up for Sunday's Derby della Capitale remarking Lazio are off "smoking cigarettes" while his side progressed in the Conference League on Thursday.

The Giallorossi edged past Dutch outfit Vitesse after Tammy Abraham's 90th-minute goal earned a 1-1 draw and 2-1 aggregate victory.

Mourinho said Roma would quickly switch their attention to Sunday's derby with his side in seventh, one point behind Maurizio Sarri's Lazio in fifth.

"Obviously, I am not happy that we played today with many players who will also have to be there on Sunday while tonight Lazio are home smoking cigarettes with Sarri, but it’s because Vitesse are really good," Mourinho told reporters after the game.

Mourinho fielded a strong Roma outfit against Vitesse and given the situation of the tie, with Maximilian Wittek's 62nd-minute goal levelling it on aggregate, he was unable to rest any key players with a quick turnaround for Sunday's derby.

"Now Sarri is at home smoking his cigarette while I go home trying to think how we can recover from this for Sunday," Mourinho said.

He added: "We never came into this to control the result or aim for a draw to get us through. We worked with one objective, preparing to go for victory.

"It was a bad performance on a technical level, it might seem tactical, but it was technical. We defended well and showed character, but we also pushed hard at the end with El Shaarawy as a third striker, not a wing-back.

"I don’t want to say we 100 per cent deserved to go through, but over the two legs did a little more."

Jose Mourinho was sent off after kicking away a ball in Roma's 2-2 draw with Hellas Verona in Serie A on Saturday.

The Giallorossi, who were depleted due to injuries and a COVID-19 outbreak, had fought back from 2-0 down after goals from youngsters Cristiano Volpato and Edoardo Bove.

But Mourinho was not satisfied, given his marching orders by referee Luca Pairetto in second-half stoppage time.

Mourinho and Pairetto had clashed numerous times during the game, with the final straw coming when the Portuguese kicked a ball into the Stadio Olimpico crowd.

The former Chelsea, Tottenham, Manchester United and Inter boss declined to complete his post-game media duties and instead posted on social media.

"I love these people and for them, I fight," Mourinho wrote on Instagram. "I don't talk is better to go home and have a nice dinner. Have a good Sunday."

Cristiano Ronaldo ended a run of six matches without scoring in Tuesday's win over Brighton and Hove Albion, but the Manchester United forward's future remains uncertain.

The five-time Ballon d'Or winner's second spell at Old Trafford has not gone quite to plan and a number of European clubs are said to be circling should he depart.

If reports are accurate, it may well be that a reunion with former boss Jose Mourinho is on the cards for Ronaldo in the coming months.


TOP STORY – ROMA IN FOR RONALDO

Roma are one of three clubs currently in the running to sign Ronaldo should he depart United in the next transfer window, according to The Sun.

Giallorossi boss Mourinho previously managed Ronaldo at Real Madrid and is eager to bolster his squad with a superstar signing.

However, it is not known if the 37-year-old would welcome a return to Serie A, where he previously spent three seasons playing for Juventus ahead of rejoining United.

European heavyweights Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain are reported to be the other two sides to have expressed an interest in Ronaldo.


ROUND-UP

- Fabrizio Romano claims Chelsea are now solely focused on signing Jules Kounde from Sevilla after being told that top defensive target Marquinhos will not be sold by PSG.

- According to The Sun, Armando Broja's form on loan with Southampton has seen the Chelsea youngster's name added to Bayern and Borussia Dortmund's list of targets.

- Manchester City have bid £5.5million (€6.5m) for Atletico Mineiro's teenage winger Savio, suggests The Guardian, with the intention of then loaning him out to PSV.

- Juan Mata will depart United as a free agent at the end of the campaign, claims Nicolo Schira. The midfielder may look to see out his career in his Spanish homeland.

- Ralf Rangnick is eager for United to bring in Christopher Nkunku from RB Leipzig, according to ESPN. Madrid, Liverpool, Man City and Arsenal have also been linked.

Jose Mourinho has reiterated his commitment to Roma saying he could not be happier at the Italian club.

The former Manchester United, Chelsea and Tottenham manager has been linked with the vacant Everton job following Rafael Benitez's dismissal on Sunday.

Mourinho was appointed Roma head coach on a three-year contract in May, with Giallorossi currently seventh in Serie A.

Roma qualified for the Coppa Italia quarter-finals on Thursday with a 3-1 win over Lecce, with Mourinho pressed on his future after the game.

“In terms of emotion, passion, empathy, of being happy working with Roma, I say I am 11 out of 10," Mourinho told Sport Mediaset.

"I am truly, very, very happy to be at a club where I feel the people trust me. I couldn’t be happier than this.

“In football terms, playing to finish between fourth and eighth place is obviously not what I want, but this is a moment of a different project for me and we will be better off next season.

“I won’t deny in the first half I did feel frustrated, as our performance was horrible. Having said that, I am happy right now and would not change this Roma project for any other.

“I gave my word for these three years and I will not leave before the three years are up. This is my project too."

Roma have been drawn against Italian champions Inter in the Coppa Italia last-eight.

"There’s a long way to go, we have a few more games and for me there’s no doubt Inter are the strongest team and overall squad of the league and the Coppa Italia," Mourinho said.

"We therefore got the worst possible draw, but we will go there and try to cause a surprise. We’ll see if it’s possible."

Jose Mourinho questioned his Roma side's personality after the Giallorossi blew a two-goal lead to lose 4-3 at home to Juventus on Sunday.

Goals from Tammy Abraham, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Lorenzo Pellegrini had put Roma 3-1 up after 53 minutes, with Paulo Dybala having equalised early strike in the first half.

However, a dramatic collapse from the hosts saw Manuel Locatelli, Dejan Kulusevski and Mattia De Sciglio all find the net for Massimiliano Allegri's men between the 70th and 77th minute.

A miserable end to the game for Mourinho was complete when Pellegrini saw his 83rd minute penalty saved by Wojciech Szczesny, and despite Juve being reduced to 10 men when Matthijs de Ligt was shown a second yellow card for the handball that led to the penalty, Roma were unable to force an equaliser.

Mourinho was left stunned after watching his team suffer a "psychological breakdown".

"For 70 minutes there was absolute control. The team played really well, with the mentality of making the game," he told reporters. "Even the approach at the beginning of the two halves was okay, with that desire to press them high, to be in control.

"We did very well for 70 minutes, then there was a psychological breakdown. The 3-2 killed us. Felix [Afena-Gyan] made an extraordinary game for a 'child'. I changed him and the player who enters the first minute [Eldor Shomurodov] who plays wrong, 3-2.

"For a team with a strong personality, 3-2 would not have been a problem. However, fear came out, some of our complexes.

Mourinho added: "The problem with Roma, is that it is made up of 'good people'. In this dressing room there is just good people. 

"If the match had ended at minute 70 we would have said of an extraordinary match, unfortunately it didn't end there and all our limits had gone out, even on the bench, of spare parts."

Roma appeared to be cruising at 3-1, and still ended the game with more shots (19-14), more shots on target (seven to five) and superior expected goals (2.52-1.42) to their opponents, but showed a weak underbelly once Locatelli scored Juve's second.

Mourinho has vowed to recruit a midfielder "with more physicality" during the January transfer window.

"I'm here to help the boys grow," he continued. "I never thought my personality was enough, never thought it was easier to work here.

"I want to use all three years of the contract to affect this team, obviously I need help from the club. Now we will bring in another midfielder with more physicality."

Arsenal utility man Ainsley Maitland-Niles has joined Serie A side Roma on loan until the end of the season.

The 24-year-old will link up with fellow England internationals Chris Smalling and Tammy Abraham under Jose Mourinho at the Stadio Olimpico.

Maitland-Niles has made eight appearances for Arsenal this season but has not featured since coming off the bench in the 4-0 defeat at Liverpool in November.

Mourinho has reportedly been seeking reinforcements at full-back, with Italy international Leonardo Spinazzola missing since suffering an Achilles injury at Euro 2020.

Maitland-Niles, who can play at full-back or in midfield, spent the second half of last season on loan at West Brom, where he made 15 appearances for the ultimately relegated Baggies.

The player appeared to try and force a move away from the Gunners in August when he took to Instagram to say: "All I want to do is go where I'm wanted and where I'm going to play."

However, a reported move to Everton failed to materialise and Maitland-Niles eventually agreed to stay at the north London club until January.

Roma boss Jose Mourinho raged at the performance of his side and the officials after a 3-1 loss to Milan at San Siro, before revealing he turned down the opportunity to manage the Rossoneri in 2019.

Roma were 2-0 down inside a dismal opening 15 minutes, while a shambolic end to the match saw their defenders Rick Karsdorp and Gianluca Mancini sent off.

Mourinho, while furious at the nature of Roma's collapse, also sought to apportion blame to the officials, who awarded Milan two penalties. The first was scored by Olivier Giroud, while the latter saw Rui Patricio save from substitute Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

"The quality of the performance was not good," Mourinho said. "We gave away the ball so easily, our performance level was so low, but we were still in the game [until Karsdorp's dismissal].

"But if we talk about our errors then we also need to talk about the referee and VAR. I have not seen a single image where you can clearly see that the one [penalty] given to Milan in the first half was a penalty. I cannot see it. 

"You can see that Tammy [Abraham] makes a movement with his arm, but you can't see any sort of clear contact with the ball.

"[Gianluca] Aureliano [the VAR official] was at home, but clearly he wanted to be here, given that he was the one that stopped the action."

Mourinho was left even more frustrated when Nicolo Zaniolo and Roger Ibanez saw their own second-half penalty appeals denied.

"We just want consistency in the decisions," he added. "As I said, we played poorly, but in terms of the refereeing, we always seem to be the unlucky ones."

The former Inter coach then revealed he turned down the opportunity to manage the Rossoneri in 2019, before his ill-fated tenure at Tottenham.

"Three years ago, Milan wanted me, and I said 'no'," Mourinho claimed, before calling attention to the less-than-welcoming reception he was given by Milan's supporters. "After what happened I am doubly happy with my decision," he added. "They came, but I said, 'go home, I'm not coming'."

Mourinho has now won just four of his nine career clashes with Milan, losing both league fixtures this season, and his Giallorossi side now trail their conquerors by 13 points. 

Jurgen Klopp might consider the Christmas and New Year programme an "impossible" task for his stricken Liverpool team, but the Premier League has challenged its clubs to get games on over the coming fortnight.

These games can throw up season-shaping drama, with the packed calendar meaning the stakes are high and stress levels higher, and any manager that chooses to rotate his squad does so at his own risk.

Nobody wants to offer up gifts, despite Santa delivering three goals for Blackburn Rovers in 2007 – Roque Santa Cruz scoring twice in a 2-2 draw with Manchester City on December 27, and adding another in a 2-1 win over Derby County three days later.

Manchester City lead the way in the English top flight this season, ahead of Liverpool and Chelsea.

The 12 days of Christmas are traditionally considered to run from December 25 to January 5, and Stats Perform has looked at that period, assessing prospects for some of this year's games, along with a lesson or two from history.

You're top of the tree, but what makes you think you'll stay there?

In the first 10 seasons of the Premier League, from its launch in 1992-93, the eventual champions were only top at Christmas on three occasions – Manchester United in 1993-94, Blackburn Rovers in 1994-95 and United again in 2000-01.

Norwich City were the leaders on Christmas Day in that inaugural campaign, but Mike Walker's classy Canaries finished in third place in May as champions Manchester United and Aston Villa swept past the Canaries. Norwich had lost to United and derby rivals Ipswich Town in their two games leading up to the Christmas run, and back-to-back goalless draws with Tottenham on December 26 and Leeds United two days later further stifled their progress. The winless run ultimately extended to six matches, with the high-flying Canaries having their wings clipped just as the title began to look possible.

Kevin Keegan's Newcastle United famously led by 10 points on Christmas Day in 1995 and looked for all the world like runaway champions-in-waiting. Yet a 2-0 defeat at Manchester United on December 27 was an omen of what was to come as the Magpies were barged off top spot by the Red Devils come the end of the season.

Aston Villa were top at Christmas in 1998 but fell away to finish sixth, the lowest final position by any team to have sat top of the Premier League tree on December 25. They lost 2-1 at Blackburn on Boxing Day in that year, Tim Sherwood scoring a late winner, and although Gareth Southgate and Ugo Ehiogu netted to earn a 2-1 victory over Sheffield Wednesday two days later, Villa's form was far from championship-winning from that point on.

As the Premier League has evolved and an elite crop of teams has developed, it has been a safer bet that the pace-setters by December 25 will go on to capture the trophy. In fact, over the past 10 seasons, the future champions have held top spot on that date on seven occasions, with Liverpool the only team to fall away from the summit in that time, dropping to second place in 2013-14 and 2018-19, and to third in 2020-21.

They climbed the mountain as snowflakes fell

Manchester United were fifth at Christmas in 1996-97, seven points behind leaders Liverpool, but Fergie's fledglings went on to win the league, and their results in late December were a big factor. They had beaten Sunderland 5-0 on December 21 and followed that with a 4-0 win at Nottingham Forest on December 26 (goals from David Beckham, Nicky Butt, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Andy Cole), before sinking Leeds United two days later at Old Trafford thanks to an Eric Cantona penalty. A New Year's Day goalless home draw with Aston Villa followed, but United had a verve about them again and swept past Liverpool's 'Spice Boys' in the closing weeks.

Arsenal were sixth at Christmas in 1997-98 and 13 points behind United, but it was the Gunners who pulled off a startling comeback in this season. They launched an 18-game unbeaten run as they beat Leicester City 2-1 on December 26 and followed that by coming from behind for a 1-1 draw at Tottenham two days later. Arsene Wenger's team did not lose again in the league until their final two games of the campaign in May, to Liverpool and Villa, by which time the title had been secured. That remains the biggest Christmas Day deficit to be overhauled by a team that went on to be champions.

Manchester City were eighth on December 25 last year and still won the league, but Pep Guardiola's team were only eight points behind leaders Liverpool with a game in hand at that stage, with no team having played more than 14 games due to a delayed start to the season. City were 2-0 winners at home to Newcastle on December 26 and followed up with a 3-1 victory at Chelsea on January 3, their charge to glory gathering pace.

Merry Christmas? It's no guarantee of a happy new year

This year, there are three rounds of Premier League games spread across the 12 days of Christmas. In the past there have been as many as four, and there have been 13 occasions when teams have snaffled 10 points or more during this period.

Liverpool were the first to win all four of their games in this hectic spell, as they saw off Leicester, Manchester City, Leeds and Norwich by a combined 10-1 aggregate in 1994, only to trail home fourth in May. Jose Mourinho's Chelsea then achieved 12 days of Christmas clean sweeps in their title-winning 2004-05 and 2005-06 seasons.

All the other teams to rake in double-figure points hauls from their four festive period games managed 10 points from three wins and a draw.

Only one of those 10 sides went on to capture the title: Manchester United in the 2010-11 season. United also had a 10-point tally from 2004-05, and two other sides have hit that mark twice: Arsenal (1993-94 and 2004-05) and Sheffield Wednesday (1993-94 and 1994-95). Tottenham, Wimbledon, Liverpool and Manchester City are the other teams to have done so.

They delivered the goods

Manchester United have the best per-game record at this time of year, pulling in 2.19 points on average in the Premier League era. Of teams to have spent more than one season in the top flight, Arsenal are next (1.99), followed by Liverpool (1.96) and, surprisingly, Blackburn (1.88). United's legendary former manager Alex Ferguson reeled in a league-leading 135 points from 61 games during the 12-day run, with a hearty plus-74 goal difference, while his great rival at Arsenal, Arsene Wenger, earned 132 points from 62 matches.

Ferguson and Jose Mourinho lead the way with an average of 2.21 points per game over the 12 days, among managers with more than 20 such games behind them.

Befitting his status as the Premier League's all-time top scorer, Alan Shearer is ahead of all the rest in the goals stakes, having hit 23 during this period, five clear of next in line Robbie Fowler.

A bad Christmas? It doesn't mean your goose is cooked

A diabolical 12 days of Christmas can be a retrievable mid-season mishap.

There have been 49 instances of teams losing all of their games over this period in a season. Among those, Everton in 1993-94 and West Brom in 2010-11 have played the most games in the 12 days – four games each for a zero-point return. The snowballing run of defeats almost proved hideously costly for Everton, who needed a famous 3-2 win over Wimbledon on the final weekend of the season to survive, but West Brom finished in the relative comfort of 11th place after their bleak midwinter, albeit following a February change of boss as Roy Hodgson replaced Roberto Di Matteo.

The bottom three from Christmas Days past have gone on to be relegated three times, with Derby County, Leicester City and Ipswich Town suffering that fate in 2001-02, Wigan Athletic, QPR and Reading sliding into the Championship after the 2012-13 campaign, and last season’s turkeys – Fulham, West Brom and Sheffield United – also sinking into the second tier.

The good news for Norwich, Newcastle and Burnley – the current top three – is that clearly this rarely happens. Bottom side Norwich have history to wrestle with, given only three of 26 last-placed teams on December 25 in the 20-team era (since 1995-96) have avoided the drop.

There have been 37 instances of teams being in the Premier League relegation zone on Christmas Day but finding a way to survive.

Newcastle face Manchester United, Everton and Southampton in their festive games this year, and it may be a concern that manager Eddie Howe has a career points average of just 0.87 in games played from December 25 to January 5 (W2, D7, L6).

Burnley boss Sean Dyche can better that, taking an average of 1.12 points per game (W5, D4, L8) into assignments against Everton, Manchester United and Leeds.

Norwich will hope Dean Smith can summon his Aston Villa festive form, having achieved 1.67 per game at this time of year while in his former job (W3, D1, L2). Arsenal, Crystal Palace and Leicester await Smith's men this year.

Canaries knocked off their perch

A morsel from Norwich's Premier League past might serve as a salutary tale for mid-table clubs that feel secure about their Premier League status by now.

Norwich were seventh on Christmas Day in 1994, far from trouble, but their season imploded and they finished 20th, suffering relegation from the then 22-team league.

They had a crummy 12 days of Christmas, losing 2-0 at home to Tottenham and 1-0 at Nottingham Forest on successive days – December 26 and 27 – before undoing some of that damage with a 2-1 home win over Newcastle on New Year's Eve, only to be thumped 4-0 at Liverpool on January 2. They would not win another Premier League game until they beat Ipswich 3-0 on March 20.

Nightmares can occur after Christmas, as well as before.

Jose Mourinho feels ready for a big celebration and wants Roma to give him an excuse – but he is still not sure what will qualify as success this season.

The former Chelsea, Real Madrid, Inter and Manchester United boss has taken on a tough assignment in the Italian capital, as he bids to turn Roma into a team that can compete for trophies.

They are some way off being competitive in terms of the Serie A title race, just like Tottenham in his previous job were unable to mount a sustained Premier League challenge.

Mourinho was reminded on Friday of how he and his Tottenham coaching staff showed euphoria when qualification was secured for the second-tier Europa League in July 2020, prompting the question of whether he would celebrate in the same manner should Roma reach their objectives.

"There are teams that celebrate when they avoid relegation. That's the target they have," Mourinho said. "When people talk about coaches with lots of trophies, what about those who have not won many?

"It's about the targets they have. If Thiago Motta keeps Spezia up, or Andriy Shevchenko keeps Genoa up, or Salernitana stay up… then those coaches can and should celebrate the achievement. As for your question, if you are asking me if I am ready to celebrate if we win then obviously my answer is yes.

"This season we don't have a specific target in mind, beyond what the league table says because that is a more 'measurable' yardstick of progress."

Mourinho is 17 Serie A games into his Roma reign, and true to form it has been an up-and-down journey to this point. On Saturday, Roma will tackle an Atalanta side who are much further down the road with their project.

Although Mourinho is adamant his team can win in Bergamo and continue to progress, he makes no bones about his belief that expectations of Roma this season should be put into some perspective.

He also does not hide a certain envy that his touchline rival this weekend, Gian Piero Gasperini, has had almost six years to create his squad just as he wants it, with Atalanta third in Serie A and genuine title contenders.

"There's a fundamental difference between us and Atalanta," Mourinho said in a news conference on Friday. "I've been here six months, whereas Gian Piero has been there six years. Six months, six years. And that difference is not just in the number of training sessions they've had together, but in the sharing of ideas and the identification of processes. They've had 12 transfer windows together whereas we've just had one.

"Atalanta are an amazing club, a very stable one, with a great level of collaboration between the club and Gasperini. When I was first here in Italy, they didn't have the same ambitions. But 10 years on they are now a Champions League side who are competing to win the title."

Atalanta are unbeaten in their past seven Serie A games against Roma (W4 D3), their longest streak without defeat against the capital club in league competition. 

Roma will have to overcome another aspect of their recent history if they are to come away with three points, having not won any of their previous 12 Serie A games against sides that started the matchday inside the top five (D6 L6).

They are under-performing on the expected goals (xG) front this season, with only Salernitana and Juventus having a worse differential between goals scored and xG than Roma.

Yet Mourinho's men have returned to winning ways since a stinging 3-0 defeat at Inter's hands left the Portuguese coach bitterly frustrated and facing criticism, with victories over CSKA Sofia and Spezia helping to lift the gloom.

They sit sixth heading into the weekend, with the halfway point in Mourinho's first season back in Italy almost reached.

If Roma are to succeed under his guidance, it is likely to be a slow process, and for Mourinho, previously regarded as a quick-fix boss, that may take some getting used to.

The 58-year-old has expressed frustration at the depth within his current squad, but he admires how Atalanta have built from humble foundations, and that may be a model to which Roma closely adhere.

"Theirs is definitely one that I admire, that I really like," Mourinho said, quoted on Roma's website.

"You know that I have spent many years at very different clubs. Clubs that are aggressive in the transfer market and spend a lot, because they are trying to compete right now and not just in the future.

"So, I have a lot of admiration for projects like that. That's their approach. And it has been six years. They have been smart in the market and built a really strong side while remaining economically stable. As I have already said, it's not just respect but admiration that I have for their project."

Roma have lost 12 away Serie A games in 2021 (W5 D3), including five losses out of eight under Mourinho. Only in two calendar years have they registered more defeats on the road in the top flight (16 in both 1949 and 1950).

By contrast, Atalanta have won 28 matches in 2021, at least seven more than they have managed in any other calendar year in Serie A.

For so long, Paulo Dybala has been tipped to extend his Juventus contract.

However, Dybala is yet to put pen to paper as his current deal winds down.

Liverpool are reportedly monitoring the situation and are ready to pounce.

 

TOP STORY – DYBALA EMERGES AS LIVERPOOL TARGET

Liverpool are interested in signing soon-to-be Juventus free agent Paulo Dybala, according to Calciomercato.

Dybala is out of contract at the end of the season and while there have been negotiations, the Juve star is yet to re-sign in Turin.

The situation has reportedly alerted Premier League giants Liverpool.

 

ROUND-UP

- El Nacional claims Real Madrid are eyeing Rennes sensation Lovro Majer as the successor to fellow Croatian Luka Modric at the Santiago Bernabeu. Modric is out of contract at season's end and has been linked with Premier League champions Manchester City.

Ousmane Dembele wants to rebuild his career away from Barcelona, reports Mundo Deportivo. The Frenchman has been linked with Manchester United, Newcastle United, Tottenham and Chelsea.

- United forward Edinson Cavani is an option for Barca as they look to bolster their attack, says Mundo Deportivo. Basel's Arthur Cabral has emerged as a possible January option.

Jose Mourinho's job at Roma is not in danger, according to Fabrizio Romano. Roma have only won three of their past nine Serie A fixtures.

- Ajax goalkeeper Andre Onana is still set to join Serie A champions Inter despite interest from Barca, per Romano.

- Former RB Leipzig head coach Jesse Marsch is an option to join Ralf Rangnick's coaching staff at United. Marsch was sacked by Bundesliga side Leipzig earlier this week.

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