Roma director Tiago Pinto is confident Jose Mourinho will remain as head coach of the Serie A club, despite being strongly linked with the vacant Portugal job.

Portugal are on the lookout for a new boss following the departure of Fernando Santos after last month's disappointing defeat to Morocco in the World Cup quarter-finals.

Mourinho is one of a number of names reportedly in the frame, while the 59-year-old has also been touted as a possible target for Brazil after Tite stepped aside.

However, Pinto expects the Portuguese to stay at Stadio Olimpico, where he is under contract until the end of the 2023-24 season.

"When you get a coach like Mourinho, you must be accustomed to rumours," he told La Gazzetta dello Sport. 

"This was the first time in 18 months that a club or a federation were interested in him. We had no distractions at our training camp in the Algarve, we were only focused on work. 

"I am Portuguese and every time we change coach, Mourinho is mentioned, but we count on him for the future."

Mourinho led Roma to the inaugural Europa Conference League title last season – the Italian side's first European trophy in more than 60 years.

That was Mourinho's fifth continental triumph, having won both the UEFA Cup/Europa League and Champions League on two occasions.

Roma are struggling down in seventh in Serie A ahead of their return to action against Bologna on Wednesday, though, after winning just one of their past five matches.

Mourinho and Roma have also recently come in for criticism from footballers' trade union FIFPRO over its "mobbing campaign" of defender Rick Karsdorp.

The defender was labelled a "traitor" by Mourinho after November's 1-1 draw with Sassuolo, albeit without specifically naming the player, for supposed unprofessional behaviour.

But Pinto has sided with Mourinho and confirmed Karsdorp is up for sale in the January transfer window.

"After Sassuolo and Mourinho's words, the player committed serious professional misconduct by not showing up for training and travelling to Japan with the squad," Pinto said.

"We avoided controversy by working internally with the player's entourage. Ricky is back, he has trained and played.

"FIFPRO made a statement without even talking to Roma. Karsdorp has never been frozen out of the team, despite not showing up twice.

"These things happen in football, but many have forgotten about the best version of Karsdorp, who has started 60 games in 18 months under Mourinho. 

"We accept criticism, but I can't accept that a player makes the most of the situation to affect Roma.

"He is on the market, but he will never leave for free. If he goes, we must find a way to keep the team balanced, but not necessarily by signing a new full-back."

Tammy Abraham is unsurprised by reports suggesting both Portugal and Brazil are interested in Roma coach Jose Mourinho, who he views as an "uncle" figure.

Mourinho led Roma to the inaugural Europa Conference League title last season, his fifth major continental triumph after winning both the UEFA Cup/Europa League and Champions League on two occasions.

However, the Giallorossi boss has been linked with an exit in the aftermath of the World Cup, with both Portugal and Brazil searching for a new coach following quarter-final exits in Qatar.

Speaking to La Gazzetta dello Sport, Roma striker Abraham said any side would be fortunate to have Mourinho, crediting the 59-year-old's methods for his own development. 

"Jose is a great coach, everyone wants him," Abraham said. "It's also an honour that an important national team like Portugal is looking for him, but I'm sure the coach is focused on the team. 

"We've read the news on social media, but we haven't discussed it. We're all focused on Roma.

"He's a point of reference, I consider him to be like my uncle in Rome. He wants the best for me, when I don't express myself at my best, he pushes me. 

"Even when I play well, he's never satisfied and that's what I need. I'm not the type for pats on the back, but I need that trust he shows in me every day."

Jose Mourinho is a man in demand at international level, with Brazil reportedly rivalling Portugal in pursuit of his signature.

The 59-year-old is currently employed by Serie A club Roma, having joined in 2021 on a three-year contract.

There are reports that Mourinho is not entirely happy in the Italian capital, specifically regarding player attitudes and the club's financial limitations.

TOP STORY – BRAZIL TO MAKE SHOCK MOVE FOR MOURINHO

Brazil will make a sensational swoop to make Jose Mourinho their new national team boss to replace the departed Tite, according to la Repubblica.

An intermediary of Brazil's national setup will fly into Italy to meet up with the Roma head coach – who has also been linked to the Portugal job – and begin negotiations face to face.

Brazil had been linked with Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola, having reportedly turned to super agent Jorge Mendes to aid their pursuit of a new head coach.

 

ROUND-UP

– Journalist Bruno Andrade claims Manchester United have "overtaken" Liverpool in the race to sign World Cup winner Enzo Fernandez from Benfica. United boss Erik ten Hag is willing the trigger his €120m release clause.

Manchester United have commenced talks with PSV winger Cody Gakpo, reports The Daily Mirror. Gakpo netted three goals in three World Cup group games.

– Fabrizio Romano claims that Barcelona have no intention of selling midfielder Franck Kessie or full-back Hector Bellerin in January.

Paris Saint-Germain are interested in Real Madrid winger Marco Asensio, reports SPORT. Arsenal have also been linked with the 26-year-old, while Ara claims Barcelona are monitoring the situation and may swoop.

PSG are also interested in signing Manchester United's Brazilian midfielder Fred, claims The Sun. That is despite United recently triggering a 12-month extension on Fred's contract.

Bayern Munich have added Leeds United's French goalkeeper Ilhan Meslier to their transfer targets, reports MediaFootMercato. Bayern are looking for cover the injured keeper Manuel Neuer.

FIFPRO has condemned Roma for a "mobbing campaign" of Rick Karsdorp after head coach Jose Mourinho labelled the defender a "traitor".

Mourinho made the comment following a 1-1 draw with Sassuolo in November, albeit without directly naming Karsdorp, though reports quickly identified the former Feyenoord man as his target.

Mourinho said there was one player who "betrayed his team-mates" and urged them to leave the club in January.

Karsdorp initially refused to train following his coach's comments, though he was later present as the club held a training camp in Portugal during the World Cup.

FIFPRO, the global union for professional football players, hit out at Roma's treatment of Karsdorp on Thursday.

FIFPRO said in a statement: "FIFPRO strongly condemns AS Roma's treatment of Rick Karsdorp, who in recent weeks has been the victim of a mobbing campaign.

"Karsdorp has been accused in public of being a 'traitor', a hurtful and baseless term that club management has failed to address or apologise for, and fans have repeatedly used to confront him and his family.

"Furthermore, he has been made the subject of an unjustified disciplinary case.

"These acts apparently are a way to deflect from the club's poor recent performances and are aimed to put unjustified pressure on the player.

"Such behaviour is incompatible with the FIFA regulations on the status and transfer of players.

"Rick Karsdorp has the full support of both FIFPRO and Dutch players' union VVCS."

Jonas Baer-Hoffmann, FIFPRO's general secretary, added: "It cannot be stressed enough that players are first and foremost employees of their clubs and that, as such, clubs have a duty of care towards them.

"We call on AS Roma to immediately comply with that duty of care and ensure that Rick Karsdorp is treated fairly, and that his rights are respected."

Stephan El Shaarawy says Jose Mourinho remains fully committed to Roma despite reports he could replace Fernando Santos as Portugal head coach.

Mourinho is contracted to Roma – who he led to the inaugural Europa Conference League triumph last season – until 2024, but the former Chelsea and Real Madrid boss has been linked with an exit.

Portugal parted company with the long-serving Santos after suffering a shock World Cup quarter-final defeat to Morocco and Mourinho has been linked with the role.

It has since been claimed that Mourinho wants guarantees of substantial investment before deciding whether to remain in the Italian capital beyond this season, but winger El Shaarawy expects him to stay. 

"We have never talked to him about this possibility [of Mourinho leaving]. We think the coach is very focused on Roma, on the goals we have, on doing well here as we all are, as always," the winger told Il Messaggero.

"He is always present in every situation. Even in the way he talks to us in the locker room, in the match, in giving us the right indications. 

"We see him serene, he is a person of the heart, instinctive, so the important thing for him now, I think, is Roma. We all hope he can stay here for a long time."

Roma sit seventh in Serie A, three points adrift of a top-four place ahead of the resumption of the season on January 4.

Jose Mourinho says Japan's shock World Cup win over Germany was "not a crazy surprise," criticising European football's "big focus on individuals and egos."

The Samurai Blue produced an inspired comeback from 1-0 down as second-half goals from Ritsu Doan and Takuma Asano stunned Hansi Flick's side at the Khalifa International Stadium.

The four-time champions, who led through Ilkay Gundogan's penalty, lost a World Cup match after opening the scoring for the first time since a 2-1 defeat by Bulgaria in the 1994 quarter-finals.

Mourinho, who coached South Korea's Son Heung-min at Tottenham, was not overly shocked by the result, saluting the collective mentality demonstrated by Asian footballers.

"Of course, it's a fantastic achievement but, to be honest, it was not a crazy surprise," the Roma head coach said. "Japan is a good team, has good players, [and] is getting an accumulation of experience at these events. 

"The majority of the players, they play in Europe where they develop faster and understand better what is the high level. 

"I think the mentality of the players and the team can also make a difference. At this moment, in European football, there is a big focus on individuals and egos.

"When I look to your profile as people, your profile as a country - I never coached Japanese players, but I coached Asian players.

"In my case, I was lucky because I coached the best Asian player, and I understand that the mentality is really special. The team is the most important thing. People play for the team, they don't play for themselves."

Jose Mourinho says he was "humble enough to apologise" to referee Antonio Rapuano after accepting he deserved his latest red card in Roma's late 1-1 draw with Torino.

Roma head coach Mourinho was sent to the stands in the 88th minute with his side a goal down for repeatedly protesting decisions made by the official in Sunday's fiery contest.

Mourinho watched on from the Stadio Olimpico stands as Nemanja Matic rescued a point with a 94th-minute goal – Roma's latest at home in the league in 12 years.

The 59-year-old is no stranger to being given his marching orders and did not react kindly to being banished from the sidelines, but he later held his hands up for his actions.

"It was the right decision – my words to the referee deserved a red card," he told DAZN. "I spoke to him after and apologised, but I don’t want to talk about his performance. 

"I was humble enough to apologise, but I will leave his performance and the hypothetical influence on the match to you. 

"I don't want to talk about what we said, that was private. My words deserved a red card, but I will not judge the referee's performance."

Matic's dramatic late leveller came immediately after substitute Paulo Dybala had hit the frame of the goal, while former Torino striker Andrea Belotti missed an injury-time penalty just moments earlier in an exciting end to the contest.

 

Mourinho's side enter the World Cup break seventh in Serie A after winning just one of their past five matches.

The 10 points the Giallorossi have collected from their opening seven home league games this term is their lowest return since the 2005-06 season, when accruing eight.

Roma's disappointing form has coincided with Dybala's month-long absence from the side, with the Argentina international making a difference on his return against Torino.

"There are two games tonight – one until the 70th minute and one after," Mourinho said. "Until the 70th, Roma fans wanted to just go home.

"But in the final 20 minutes we created more, perhaps more than we have done in the last four or five games. Why? Easy, because Dybala came on.

"When you have a player like Paulo and he doesn't play, it's different. How many extra points would we have now if Dybala hadn't been injured? 

"The break is coming up, it will be the right moment for certain players to look at themselves and try a little self-criticism.

"Despite all these problems, we are a united group. A team that misses a penalty at the 92nd minute is usually dead, but not us, we kept going."

Roma host Bologna on their return to action on January 4, before travelling to reigning champions Milan four days later.

Cristian Volpato's decision on his international allegiance is a personal one that "should not be sped up", Roma head coach Jose Mourinho has said.

With the 18-year-old scoring two goals and contributing one assist in just 106 minutes of Serie A football for Roma, a fierce battle for Volpato's services at international level has emerged.

Born in New South Wales, Volpato is also eligible to represent Italy and has featured at youth level for the European side.

Australia had hoped the lure of World Cup football, with the Socceroos tackling France, Tunisia and Denmark in Group D in Qatar, would persuade Volpato to select his country of birth – with European champions Italy not qualifying for the tournament.

However, Volpato rejected the call-up, not wishing to rush into a decision, and Mourinho believes it was the right call.

"I think it is a personal decision and the club has not been involved. As a coach, for example, I would refuse to call up a player, even a young one, in a situation like that," he said in a press conference.

"What I understand is that he is at the beginning of his career and that he's growing with Roma by getting more minutes in consecutive matches.

"It's not like last year where he played just one game against Verona and then he didn't play again, I think he has now played four games in a row.

"He is in a development phase where I think he has to focus on building his future and not on certain decisions where maybe someone else wants to accelerate a process that should not be sped up."

Volpato used social media on Wednesday to issue a comment on the matter.

"I've seen lots of speculation about decisions I have supposedly taken at international level: the truth is I am just at the start of my professional career and I am totally focused on continuing that process at Roma," he posted on Instagram.

"Making any sort of rushed decision about my international future at this early stage risks being extremely premature.

"There will be plenty of time for me to make the decision that feels right for me, but right now I know my focus needs to be continuing to work hard each and every day in order to continue improving as a player."

Jose Mourinho has taken aim at misfiring Roma striker Tammy Abraham, suggesting the England international may be distracted by the World Cup.

Abraham enjoyed a prolific debut season with the Giallorossi, scoring 27 goals in 53 appearances during the 2021-22 campaign, but he has only netted three times in 18 games this term.

The Roma head coach appeared to question the focus of the former Chelsea forward, whose last Serie A goal came in the 2-1 win over Empoli on September 12.

"You should ask him what’s the problem," said Mourinho during his press conference ahead of Wednesday's clash with Sassuolo. "If he is distracted, if he has a problem or if he thinks about the World Cup."

However, Mourinho defended Roger Ibanez, who was subjected to criticism after his error culminated in Felipe Anderson's winning goal during the derby defeat by Lazio on Sunday.

"Respect is due to somebody who has always given his best since day one," the coach added.

"When we played in Seville [against Real Betis in the Europa League last month], I saw him in the morning and thought it was impossible for him to play, but he made it. To me, he is untouchable."

Roma travel to Sassuolo without Lorenzo Pellegrini, who is the latest player to join their lengthy injury list that already includes Paulo Dybala, Georginio Wijnaldum and Leonardo Spinazzola.

"Pellegrini has been playing too much and is struggling. He is fragile and doesn’t end many games being 100 per cent fit.

"We lost three starters in midfield [in the transfer window], [Henrikh] Mkhitaryan, Sergio Oliveira and [Jordan] Veretout. Wijnaldum hasn't played yet, then we have [Mady] Camara and [Nemanja] Matic.

"Unfortunately, we faced unexpected problems this last season. When Spinazzola got injured at the Euros, we had to take a direction we didn't like.

"I am crying a lot, but I don't like to do so, I like to say that we have had these problems that opened the door to [Cristian] Volpato and [Nicola] Zalewski. [Edoardo] Bove is improving and [Benjamin] Tahirovic will play soon."

Jose Mourinho bemoaned Paulo Dybala's absence after Roma slipped to a 1-0 derby defeat against Lazio, but revealed his hope the Argentina international will return before the World Cup.

Felipe Anderson capitalised on an error from Roger Ibanez as Maurizio Sarri's team clinched a crucial win over their arch rivals on Sunday, moving to third in the Serie A table.

While Lazio were without influential duo Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Ciro Immobile at the Stadio Olimpico, Roma only managed two shots on target as they toiled in the absence of Dybala – their top goalscorer with five league goals this season.

"We talked about Milinkovic-Savic and Immobile, we didn't talk about Dybala," Mourinho said at a post-match news conference.

"I think he is more important, because he's the one that assists us with goals. When certain players are missing, we go into difficulty."

Dybala has been absent since October 9 after sustaining a hamstring injury, but Mourinho hopes he will return against Torino next Sunday, in what would also be a boost for Argentina ahead of their trip to Qatar.

"Obviously he wants to go to the World Cup, it is difficult to say no to that," Mourinho told DAZN. "If there is a good evolution of his injury, we hope to have him back on Sunday against Torino."

Roma have suffered narrow defeats to several of Serie A's leading lights recently, but Mourinho believes they have not always got what they deserved.

Asked about the Giallorossi's poor record against top opponents, Mourinho added: "Roma lost those games, in my opinion, undeservedly. 

"Atalanta made one shot on goal and won 1-0, Napoli had difficulties like never before and won with a great goal from [Victor] Osimhen, and Lazio won with a half-goal. 

"I think the game they played was the consequence of being 1-0 up, in a low block, compact. In our cultures, it is said that this was a cynical, intelligent game. In England, people would go home after 20 minutes.

"The playing time was definitely very low, the intensity and continuity of the game was very low. We dominated, but there was a lack of creativity."

Whenever Manchester United come up against a team managed by David Moyes, it provides the perfect opportunity to look back on the Red Devils' rather turbulent recent history.

Moyes was, of course, the original successor to Alex Ferguson. The 'Chosen One', as the infamous banner read, and, to many, a harbinger of mediocrity.

That's slightly unfair on Moyes as although United won the title just before he ascended the Old Trafford hot seat, he was left with an aging squad that needed replenishing, plus the club's deep reverence for Ferguson ultimately stopped them moving with the times.

For years, Ferguson essentially operated as a head coach, recruitment director and sporting director rolled into one. The Scot was so effective and influential that, once he'd left, United were suddenly unprepared to meaningfully challenge the best teams.

This past year has arguably seen that gap reach its widest point in the Premier League era, with United posting their worst points total (58) since the competition's foundation in 1992 last season.

But in Erik ten Hag, United might finally have the right manager at the right time.

The succession

While United's woes of the short-lived Moyes era weren't just down to him, nothing over the past eight years has suggested the club was wrong to get rid of him in 2014.

Nevertheless, Moyes and every other post-Ferguson United manager had their strengths.

Moyes had an intimate knowledge of the league; Louis van Gaal brought a defined 'philosophy' and vast experience; Jose Mourinho had the name recognition and a track record of winning trophies; Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was already deified by supporters and his management style allowed players to be more expressive than under his pragmatic predecessor; Ralf Rangnick came in with 'club-building' expertise at a time when United's structure was spoken about as their biggest area of concern.

But none of them ever looked likely to be a long-term success for United. Obviously that was the hope for Moyes when he signed his five-year contract, though it quickly became apparent his personality was at odds with much of the team and his lack of tactical imagination made the side predictable, boring and ineffective.

Van Gaal did at least try to put a modern stamp on United, with his possession-based approach initially lauded upon his arrival after presiding over a fine World Cup campaign with the Netherlands. But again, the football was tedious to watch, with the Red Devils often accused of keeping possession for possession's sake rather than being able to work openings.

He's since been very critical of how United are run, perhaps casting light on why he was never quite right – maybe he would've been if there was a credible recruitment structure in place, but there wasn't.

Mourinho might argue recruitment issues were behind his downfall as well. Certainly, if you believe the media reports, United routinely missed out on players considered to be his primary targets.

But fans called his exit two years in advance. The prediction was that he'd be in charge for two seasons and then get the boot in his third, which of course came to pass.

Solskjaer arguably got the most freedom to build a team in his image, which was ironic given he was by far the least experienced of the managers to arrive after Ferguson. Harry Maguire, Bruno Fernandes and Jadon Sancho were all desired by the Norwegian and they duly arrived, but the manager's coaching methods were widely derided from outside the club with few players appearing to improve under his tutelage.

Then the Rangnick-led rebuild ended up being a red herring. Results and performances weren't much better than under Solskjaer, and while his honest appraisals of the club's structure were appreciated by fans, the hierarchy clearly felt differently and swiftly ended his two-year consultancy shortly after Ten Hag's appointment.

Ten Hag's impact

So, what's changed?

Well, in reality we're obviously only going to really know how much United have changed in terms of the general running of the club a few years down the line.

They do at least now have a genuine sporting structure. Granted, it was questioned in pre-season when Ten Hag came in and immediately started demanding players he knew or had previously coached, but all pre-season signings have at least looked encouraging.

As for Ten Hag's management, there have been plenty of examples of him avoiding the mistakes of his predecessors.

Like Van Gaal, Ten Hag has looked to implement a more possession-focused style of play, but this United seem to be playing more on the front foot when out of possession than the LVG vintage.

And yet, Ten Hag's shown the sort of adaptability the likes of Solskjaer and Mourinho were accused of failing to embrace. He's already ditched the insistence on playing out from the back with David de Gea after the Spaniard's struggles in their first two games of the season, while the experiment of playing Christian Eriksen in defensive midfield didn't last long either.

But, arguably most important of all, Ten Hag's shown he's not shy about making tough calls. He dropped Luke Shaw and captain Harry Maguire after two games, and his exclusion of Cristiano Ronaldo from the squad to face Chelsea last weekend after the striker's refusal to come on against Tottenham was a real show of conviction and leadership.

Ronaldo was welcomed back into the starting XI against Sheriff on Thursday, though, evidence of Ten Hag finding the balance between authority and forgiveness, areas that Solskjaer, Mourinho and Rangnick all seemed to fall short in in different ways.

Of course, results are key. While it's still too early to draw any major conclusions here because who's to say they don't lose every game between now and the World Cup, there have undoubtedly been positive signs with wins against the likes of Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham. Even the draw at Chelsea was morale-boosting.

Crucially, United need to give Ten Hag time. If Solskjaer can be given three years, Ten Hag surely needs at least that long as well.

The first few months of his reign have certainly suggested United are on the right track with their latest 'Chosen One'.

Xavi is refusing to give up hope of reaching the knockout stages of the Champions League, even if he accepts his side face an almighty challenge to advance to the last 16.

Barca face being eliminated from the competition in the group stage in successive seasons heading into Wednesday's home tie with Bayern Munich.

Xavi's side will be unable to progress should they lose or if Inter beat bottom side Viktoria Plzen, while they will also be eliminated should both games be drawn.

The Catalan giants will be aware of their fate ahead of kick-off at Camp Nou as Inter host Plzen earlier in the day, but Xavi insists that result will not impact his team selection.

"We will all watch the game together in the locker room," Xavi said at Tuesday's pre-match news conference. "Regardless of what happens, we want to show we can compete.

"I already decided on the line-up on Monday, except for any injuries that occur. This is all regardless of what happens in the Inter game."

Barca's dramatic 3-3 draw with Inter two weeks ago effectively leaves them needing wins over Bayern and Plzen, while requiring favours elsewhere.

They have lost nine of their 12 Champions League games against next opponents Bayern, who are already through to the last 16, including the past five in a row.

Indeed, only Bayern themselves against Real Madrid (10) have lost more games against a single opponent in the history of the Champions League.

"It's not so much that we require a miracle, because we have a slight bit of hope," Xavi said. "We know it doesn't all depend on us, making it an uncomfortable situation.

"But we know that regardless of what happens in Milan, we face an important match. We have to beat Bayern to show we can compete at this level.

"While there is a little hope we must not lose it. We have done our homework. This competition is being cruel to us, but it's the reality we face."

Jose Mourinho last week labelled clubs that drop into the Europa League in the next round as a result of finishing third in their Champions League group as "failed sharks".

However, when asked for his response to Roma head coach Mourinho's remarks, Xavi said: "There's nothing to answer. If we have to play in that competition, we will compete.

"The [Europa League] is not something we're thinking about yet but if we do compete in that competition we'll go out and fight like lions to win it."

Barcelona have lost their past two home games against German opponents in Europe – against Bayern and Eintracht Frankfurt – but have never previously lost three in a row.

Until now, Napoli have pretty much risen to every challenge this season as they aim to win the Scudetto for the first time since 1990.

They sit top of the Serie A table after 10 games and are one of just two teams to not lose a game, with Luciano Spalletti's men already beating Lazio and Milan away from home.

While their past three league games – wins over Torino, Cremonese and Bologna – would have always been expected to yield Napoli victories, a slightly trickier run begins this weekend.

Before the break for the World Cup, Napoli still have to face Rangers and Liverpool in the Champions League, plus high-flying Udinese, second-placed Atalanta, Sassuolo and, first up, Jose Mourinho's in-form Roma in Serie A.

Sunday's trip to the capital poses a real threat to a historic achievement that is…

… within touching distance

While Napoli's Champions League exploits – hammering Liverpool, Rangers and Ajax, twice – have attracted plenty of praise, the true extent of their form doesn't appear to have really registered outside of Italy yet.

However, they are undeniably on a remarkable run across all competitions.

 

Napoli have won each of their past 10 matches, meaning they are just one victory away from equalling the longest such run in the club's history.

That 11-game winning streak was recorded between April and September 1986, the Diego Maradona era.

Although the run ended in September, that was still the season Napoli won their first Scudetto.

Kvaradona

Napoli may not have a player of Maradona's ilk this time, though supporters have certainly taken to Khvicha Kvaratskhelia.

The Georgia winger only joined in pre-season, but his impact has been phenomenal.

 

Already he has been involved in 13 goals in 14 appearances in all competitions, which is more than any other Serie A player.

He heads into the weekend on a particularly effective run, too, having registered one assist in each of his past four games. The last Napoli player to have a better run (five games) was club great Lorenzo Insigne in early 2016.

The 'Kvaradona' nickname is seemingly here to stay.

 

Napoli's versatile arsenal

As good as Kvaratskhelia has been for Napoli this term, it wouldn't be fair to say they're completely dependent on him.

In fact, the Partenopei have earned themselves a reputation for being adaptable and versatile.

For starters, they've had 15 different scorers in Serie A this season, which is the joint-most with Bayern Munich across the big five leagues.

And on top of that, Napoli's 35 goals from set-pieces (including penalties) since the start of last season is more than any other Serie A team.

 

Omens on Napoli's side?

Mourinho has Roma in good shape. They're fourth in Serie A and go into the weekend having won each of their past three league games – they last managed four successive top-flight wins in August 2020.

But their recent record – for what it's worth – against Napoli is pretty poor, having only won one of their previous eight Serie A meetings, a 2-1 victory in November 2019.

On top of that, Roma are winless in their past 12 home league games against teams in the top four at the beginning of the matchday, losing the three most recent examples.

A Roma win will put them just a point behind Napoli, however. Regardless of the latter's fine start to the season, they won't be expecting a straightforward contest.

Roma head coach Jose Mourinho mocked clubs qualifying for the Europa League knockout stages via the backdoor as 'the failed sharks of the Champions League'.

Mourinho's side are in a battle to reach the knockout stages via Group C after a 1-1 draw at Real Betis left them third on four points, behind the Spaniards (10) and Ludogorets (seven). Roma will still hope to overhaul Ludogorets and advance with two games to play in the group.

The draw, however, meant Betis were assured of reaching the next stage and Mourinho was asked if they were the Europa League favourites, leading him to implicitly goad teams like Barcelona and Juventus.

"I see them [Betis] as candidates, but the failed sharks of the Champions League will arrive, and they will come in hard," Mourinho said, referring to sides who drop into the Europa League after finishing third in their Champions League groups.

"They shouldn't come but it's the reality. It's going to be fun. The failures of the Champions League."

Among the clubs currently third in Champions League groups are Barcelona, Juventus, Ajax, Atletico Madrid and Milan.

Should Roma fail to finish in the top two in Group C, they will qualify for the Conference League where they will defend the title they won under Mourinho last season.

The Portuguese added: "We want to go through and finish second, but if we finish third, we'll become candidates to retain the Conference League."

Jose Mourinho says the warnings against a hectic pre-World Cup schedule went unheeded after Paulo Dybala suffered an injury that has cast doubt over his participation in Qatar.

Roma were dealt a huge blow during Sunday's 2-1 Serie A win over Lecce, with Dybala limping out of the match with a thigh injury immediately after scoring a penalty.

In the aftermath of that victory, Mourinho said Dybala – who has scored five Serie A goals this season – could miss the rest of 2022.

While subsequent reports have suggested four to six weeks may be a more realistic timeframe for Dybala's recovery, even an absence of that length could represent a blow to the attacker's hopes of representing Argentina at the World Cup.

Speaking ahead of Roma's Europa League trip to Real Betis, Mourinho lamented the effects of a congested fixture schedule ahead of the tournament.

He said in a press conference: "It's something we have been talking about for a long time. 

"When we talked about World Cup four or five years ago, this was said. Now we live it and we live the situation. 

"I learned to cry less than I cried before. I learned to live with the reality of things. 

"You can say that you play too much or say that the richer clubs are privileged. There are the rich, the poor and the less rich. 

"The poor play once a week, the rich can play every day by changing players, and the less rich are those most in difficulty because they play as much as the rich, but with less chance to change and I'm living this situation."

Roma suffered a 2-1 defeat at home to Betis last week, and are in need of a victory after taking just three points from their first three games in Group C.

Mourinho called on others to step up in Dybala's absence as he told Sky Sport Italia: "I expect more from the team and even before Dybala's injury, we never played the most creative players all together. 

"Now, without Dybala, it will be even more difficult. But I trust the work and discipline of our game, I'm confident that tomorrow we will be able to make a result."

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