Vincenzo Montella says it was important to win and secure the qualification and thinks this team is better than what the Serie A table shows at the moment.
Milan have won Group D of the Europa League group stage with one match to spare as they beat Austria Wien 5-1 last night, while AEK Athens and Rijeka drew.
With Kaka watching from the stands together with Marco Fassone and Massimiliano Mirabelli, Montella played a 3-5-2 formation using André Silva and Patrick Cutrone from the start.
Milan had the stronger start but against the run of play, Christoph Monschein (21′) managed to take advantage of a (funny) double Gigio Donnarumma-Bonucci howler to give Austria Wien the lead.
However, the reaction of the Diavolo came right away: in the 26′ minute, Fabio Borini found Ricardo Rodriguez on the opposite side of the box and the Swiss beat goalkeeper Patrick Pentz. 10 minutes later, a Rodriguez free kick found the feet of André Silva and with typical composure, the Portuguese gave Milan the lead. In the 42′ minute Cutrone got on the scoresheet as Borini, who had a great performance, bagged another assist and found the head of the 19-year-old striker.
In the second half, Austria Wien continued to give Milan tons of space and defend poorly, and the Rossoneri took advantage of it: in the 70′ minute, Hakan Çalhanoğlu found André Silva inside the box and the summer signing with a turn and finish made it 4-1. Cutrone scored again in the last kick of the match after a one-two with Luca Antonelli and the scoreboard – as it did in Viena – showed 5-1.
While the level of Austria Wien is far from the level of most Serie A sides, it was important for Milan to win this match as they now have a favorable schedule in front of them in Serie A until January.
“It was an extremely positive evening, we won the top spot in the group,” Montella told Sky Italia after the game. “We can focus on the Serie A and on the Coppa Italia and we will honor the final game in the Europa League group phase, as that is what our history demands.
“Qualification from top of the group was the minimum objective, we achieved it, and now we turn our focus to making up lost ground in Serie A. In the last 4-5 games we have shown growth in respect to the level of the opponents. Milan are in the process of gaining the right mentality, but unfortunately we were improving right as we came across sides like Juventus and Napoli, who are ahead of us now.
“We must improve and we are working on it. I have clear ideas on the players at my disposal and what they can give us. Now I want to focus on Serie A, because this squad deserves more than it has achieved so far, considering the performances [Milan are currently in 7th place in the league].
“The positive and negative aspects of the match on Thursday? The thing I liked the most was that the team didn’t lose its head after going behind. It didn’t get too frenetic in a difficult moment for our season and that gives me the confidence the team believes in what it is doing. Obviously, what I didn’t like was the lack of consistent tempo and aggression throughout the 90 minutes.
“Kaka [who met the management yesterday]? He is a fantastic player, it was a pleasure to meet him and I’m glad to have seen him. Fassone? I see him particularly serene and he transmits his serenity.”
Montella also held a post-match press conference: “It’s an important win, we have reached the first mini-objective of the season. This first place gives us the opportunity to be back playing in Serie A more relaxed although we won’t underestimate the last game in the Europa group [Rijeka away].
“I am happy with how my team played because after conceding the first goal we didn’t lose our head and we kept attacking. I’m happy to have won after conceding, it never happened before [this season]. We played an intelligent game. The strikers scored too. It’s really a positive night.
“If we scored so many goals because of the opponents? I don’t know, I think this team is improving. Although it’s normal that playing against Austria Wien gives us more chances to score than against Napoli, to name one. We have to always be competitive, in the league we scored too few goals.
“The Cutrone-André Silva offensive duo? They played a great game, but they’re really young. I can’t quantify how much they can actually still improve. Silva’s goals in Europe [he is currently the Top Scorer in the competition with 6 goals]? Italian football is different, there’s less space and less time to think and choose what to do. I am sure he will get used to it, soon: he has enormous qualities and he will manage to do what he’s doing in Europe and with his national team in Serie A too.
“Two strikers from the start against Torino? So, without Suso [who missed this match due to a physical problem]? Let me understand… I’m not convinced that the fans want two strikers with Suso behind them – the fans want to win, no matter who plays. We have to keep the team balanced, we have to be careful. When I play Suso near the box you’re hammering me saying that’s all wrong.
“Borini’s process in the new role? He adapted perfectly to this new role, it’s like he has always played wingback. He’s improving a lot, it would be great if he could take it to the next level from a physical standpoint. Bonucci’s condition [he was replaced by Gustavo Gomez in the 80′ meeting seemingly for a physical problem]? It’s nothing serious, even though I have not yet deepened.
“How many points from the next 6 matches in the league? How can you make predictions? We have less than 48 hours to prepare for the match against Torino which can be a tricky one. I am fully focused on this game. I don’t do predictions ever, and those who do are usually wrong.
“Kaka in the club? He’s an extraordinary guy, he was great for Milan. I don’t know what his future will be. It was really moving to see him again, when he smiles he always gives sympathy and purity.”