Stefano Pioli has stated ‘we are angry and disappointed, but we have to build on this performance because there were a lot of positives to work on’ after the draw against Lecce last night.
Pioli’s 54th birthday celebrations were ruined on Sunday night in the 92nd minute as Marco Calderoni unleashed a fantastic strike to the back to Gianluigi Donnarumma’s net to make it Milan 2-2 Lecce at the final whistle of the referee.
It was Stefano’s first game in charge of the Rossoneri, and for 45 minutes, the fans saw the best Milan of the season: Pioli started with an attacking trident of Suso, Rafael Leão and Hakan Çalhanoğlu, and it was the Turkish – together with left-back Theo Hernández – who ran the show. Leão had two excellent early chances which he missed, but the goal arrived in the 20′ minute, after Lucas Biglia found Çalhanoğlu who made a great run and then finished it with a terrific goal.
The Diavolo had their chances to increase the lead, but were wasteful in front of goal. In the second half, Lecce were a lot of organized and Milan seemed to have taken their foot off the gas for no reason whatsoever. They paid dearly for it. In the 60′ minute, Andrea Conti touched the ball with his hand in the box. Lecce were awarded a penalty, Khouma Babacar’s shot was saved by Donnarumma, but the former Fiorentina striker got on the rebound and equalized the score.
Pioli brought on Krzysztof Piątek for Leão in the 67′ minute, and in the 81′ minute, the Polish striker finally found the back of the net again. Çalhanoğlu, the Man of the Match, provided a sublime assist for the ex-Genoa man, who couldn’t miss. However, this was not enough for Milan to win the game, as they made a lot of mistakes in the last minutes and Calderoni’s goal took the win away.
“In the first half, we were more balanced and better ordered in terms of ideas and positions we’d planned on,” Pioli told MilanTV at the end of the match. “In the second half, we lost cohesion and misread some situations when not in possession: like when to press and when to wait, we were less precise in that. That allowed Lecce, in certain situations, to put us under pressure. On the other hand, we never stopped attacking and creating good chances in attack, we shot on goal 20 times. It’s a pity that following a generous performance and one of good quality, in my opinion, and with the right attitude we weren’t able to win. We are angry and disappointed, but we have to build on this performance because there were a lot of positives to work on.
“The team? On Saturday, I tried to hide my curiosity because the squad hadn’t trained much with only a few players available. In the end, we only had two complete training sessions to prepare for this match. So, I clearly didn’t know exactly what to expect from my team. I’ve been pleasantly surprised, even though there are clearly some difficulties over the course of matches which we need to read better, get to know each other better and do so as quickly as possible. But I think this match shows Milan can play a certain type of football, a proactive and attacking type of football, and if we sort out a couple of things we can win a lot of games.
“The change of position between Kessié and Paquetá? I fielded a deeper mezz’ala to help in the build-up, which provided us with a numerical advantage in that stage, whereas the other mezz’ala was used to link-up midfield and attack. Clearly, between the two, Paquetá is more suited to the latter role than Kessié, but with each match the situation changes and so might the positions, only our principles must not change, which is to seize territorial supremacy so we can build up and dominate the game so that we have more attacking options. That is something we managed to do but there are clearly a lot of things we need to improve on.
“What needs to be done? We reacted after the equalizer and we got back in the lead. There was a lack of ability to read some situations, but it’s normal because we’ve worked little together. We did some things wrong in the second half. The fullbacks? We conceded a counterattack in the penalty move with Theo a little high, but I don’t think we suffered situations of numerical inferiority. The fullbacks have to play like that, they have to commit themselves forward. If they advance then the midfielders have to cover for them. They should speak and help each other on the pitch.”
Speaking to Sky Italia, Pioli said: “I struggled a little with players who I used to work with, Babacar and Calderoni. It’s a pity, there were positives, but we wanted the win and didn’t get it because of our mistakes. I saw some good moves, quality and spirit. We had to close off the game because otherwise things like that of what happened in the end can happen.
“The team? Milan players are well aware of their capabilities and the fact they are wearing a prestigious jersey. They will be able to judge their own performances and we’ll analyze them carefully, but in a way we paid for our generosity, as we ran after the ball and didn’t keep an eye on other players. I think we didn’t win a game that we deserved to win it.
“If I got answers? We must always build from behind, strategies can vary from one game to another. Some of the positions we took were positive, others not so much. We tried to build from the back with a three-man defense, but that can change with a different opponent such as Roma next week. After only a few days of training, I did see some of the ideas we had worked on and that bodes well for the future, even if there is a lot of work to be done.
“My birthday was ruined? I expected the most beautiful gift from the game… but the spirit and interpretation were there, this is the most important thing. The game will help us understand our mistakes. The tactics in the end? When Rebić came on, I kept Theo more behind, he was struggling on a physical level. We lacked a little collaboration on the final equalizer. Calderoni hit it well, but we had several opportunities to close that Lecce move earlier and if we had, we’d be here talking about a deserved victory and not a draw that doesn’t give credit to my team’s performance.
“I was looking forward to this game with curiosity. In the press conference on Saturday, I was asked many questions about how I found the team. I tell you after this match, there are many positives. The big error was that a side like Milan has to kill games off. We could’ve even held on for 2-1 and kicked the ball out of play rather than misplace those passes. But the team did everything to win the game.
“This match will help us learn a lot, for what we did and what we should’ve done, and understand how to improve these situations. The action that led to the Lecce penalty? There were too many of us going after the ball and we left gaps. We weren’t set out well at all. It’s a mistake and we paid a high price for it.
“Playing Leão and Piątek together? They can play together when overall we are a more balanced team and I have a better idea of their characteristics. Why I took off Leão and brought on Piątek? I replaced Leão because at the end of the first half, the medic told me he had a slight muscular stiffness and we didn’t want to risk any further damage. I also saw Paquetá less on the ball than in the first half and tired.”
Pioli also held a post-match press conference: “The team suffers from anxiety in decisive moments? There is certainly work to be done, but I’m not afraid of that. This game will give me a lot of ideas to work on. Many of these are positives, are some are not. We need to understand it’s time to push forward and when it’s not. Either you have the strength to close off the game, or if you don’t then you can win games, like we deserved, even when suffering. We need great determination for 96 minutes, and we need determination to close off games.
“The players who made mistakes on the goals conceded? We deserved to win for the performance, but if the three points didn’t arrive then something happened. We’re not going anywhere if we condemn individual players. Playing football means making mistakes. I was anxious about the game, I had positive feelings and the answers were positive from the point of view of the approach. All that was missing was a bit of lucidity and it cost us the win.
“The mistakes were made by the older Milan players? It’s time to stop talking about a young Milan or an old Milan, we are Milan, we’re a team and if we sacrifice ourselves for ourselves and for our teammates then we’ll benefit and play good football. Some situations on the pitch needs to be improved, but it’s nobody’s fault. We have to make the best from our youth and experience. We’re Milan, it’s a heavy jersey and it has to be worn with pride and we must carry on values. But if we are here – the players and I – then there’s a reason.
“The Leão-Piątek sub and if they can coexist? Leão seemed sharper than Piątek, I chose him for his characteristics, to go deep. At the end of the first half, the medic pointed out to me a muscular stiffening at the level of the flexors. Kris has different characteristics in certain situations. I don’t prejudge anything, it will be depend on the individual game. Those who enter the field must give more and we must continue.
“The problems from the physical point of view? We have to work on all areas we have available: tactics, mind and body. I understand that the requests I have are different from previous coaches. I appreciate the fact that the team created a lot, shot a lot, but in the end the supremacy doesn’t bring you the final result. The offensive and defensive areas lead you to results. There we made mistakes and we didn’t win for that. However, we tried out a lot in a few days and the change can’t be understood quickly. I tried to do the simplest things possible.”