Vincenzo Montella explained his squad rotation and said ‘the quality of the individuals made the difference’ in the second half after the bad first 45 minutes in the 4-1 win against Empoli last night.
Milan arrived to Stadio Carlo Castellani last night to face 17th-placed Empoli and despite what the 1-4 score-line indicates, it wasn’t an easy win by any means.
In the 15′ minute, Suso’s cross found Gianluca Lapadula in the box and the striker – who was given the start due to Carlos Bacca’s injury – made it 1-0 for the Rossoneri. The lead only lasted two minutes, however, as a mistake at the back allowed the ex, Riccardo Saponara, make things even in the 17′ minute.
The Florence-based side had a very good first half and created numerous chances, which they failed to convert to into goals and Milan, who had lost Mati Fernandez to injury already after 10 minutes, could have found themselves trailing by a few goals at the end of the first 45 minutes.
But everything changed in the second half, as Milan began to play a lot better. In the 61′ minute, a lovely play from the Diavolo ended with Ignazio Abate passing the ball to Suso who from inside the box gave Milan to lead back. Three minutes later, Giacomo Bonaventura got passed everyone with his great dribble and his cross hit Empoli’s Andrea Costa and went to the back of the net. In the 78′ minute, Lapadula completed his first ever brace in Serie A, beating goalkeeper Łukasz Skorupski after another Suso assist. At least until Roma play later on Sunday, Milan are second alone.
“The way I saw it was we struggled more than necessary in the first half,” Montella told Sky Italia after the game. “We were too negative, we had to be more proactive, we were too lazy, didn’t trust ourselves and the preventative marking was just awful. Empoli were good at constructing moves and we were below our standards in all aspects in the first half, so that’s why I got very angry at half-time.
“I liked the second half much more, we saw the other face of the team and I’m happy. We created chances from the back, proving that we are capable of doing that even with other players. If we’re the anti-Juventus? Honestly, I don’t have these thoughts [Milan are currently -4 from them].
“My only thought is to help the team grow and improve, so there is a lot of work to be done. The players can grow more and I’d like to see us be consistent over 90 minutes, regardless of the opponents. We must work on ourselves and not set limits, we have to improve every day.
“The growth of the team? I think we’re growing, we need to have continuity, we are in a good place although the standing shows that we have to be stronger than what we are. We are a bit penalized by the standings in regards to the growth process that the team should have.
“Lapadula now has three goals in 250 minutes? I was good in mathematics, my son is amazing at it… but I don’t know how to solve these problems… between him and Bacca that’s a problem for the opponents to solve. Bonaventura and Niang [the Italian played instead of the Frenchman on the left wing]? The choices were made because many players have played a lot recently, like Niang, Paletta or Kucka, who were a bit down psychologically and there was a turn off. I wanted more quality and cover in midfield and it’s a shame for the injured Mati and that affected our plan a bit.
“Jack [who according to Montella suffered a muscular injury last night]? He’s a transition player with great skills, and he’s able to skip his man better than Niang. But they are both useful players.”
Speaking in the post-match press conference, Montella said: “Lapadula? He played a great game and he helped the team a lot. I didn’t like the first half, both the transitions and the quality of Empoli’s game. We were unsure, perhaps a bit lazy. In the second half, however, we always came out of their first line of pressure and we did well. The quality of the individuals made the difference.
“Empoli is a very organized team and I think that Martusciello is doing very well. And maybe we’ll give them some presents in January… The performance? We need to have continuity for 95 minutes. Our goal is to always improve, both in game and in training. We can do more in terms of consistency.
“The exclusion of Paletta [the center back was given rest and Gomez-Romagnoli played together]? I made my assessments. Paletta, Kucka, Niang and maybe also Jack played so much recently. Gustavo Gomez has quality and it seemed like the right time to give him consistency. I was disappointed when Mati’s injured arrived. Unlucky, because he wanted to show his qualities. He has unique qualities and I’m sorry for me and for the boy. Mati and Bonaventura will be evaluated in the coming days.
“The ‘closing’? I don’t know anything. I only talked with Galliani about the game. Now I’ll rest for two days and give you an update next Saturday [in the next pre-match conference]. Federico Bernardeschi [a reported Milan target]? Is Bernardeschi from Milan’s youth? We need some old players [laughs]. Federico is an important player, he made his first bench with me and he’s a complete player.”
“Empoli put us in trouble in the first half and it was a tough game. All teams suffer, even Juventus win many games while suffering,” the former striker added in an interview with Mediaset. “In the second half, our quality came out. The character of the group? The boys go out to win, knowing that you have to suffer, and it’s like that in Serie A. Sometimes you need to have a bit of provincial thinking.
“The future? I don’t look too far ahead. I’m going to enjoy the next two days off with family and friends, completely detached from football because us coaches we to rest too. Lapadula [who joined from Pescara this summer]? He faces every training session at 110 per cent. If he managed to use his energy better, then he’d probably be even stronger. He is an added value for this team.
“If I’ll cheer for Lazio in the Rome derby next week? Unlikely… I will support Milan and the important thing is that we win the three points,” concluded Montella, who faces Crotone next Sunday.