Stefano Pioli has spoken ahead of the game against Napoli tomorrow, which he considers ‘hugely important’, and stated that he doesn’t think about the future.
Milan have been on a roll since the restart of the season post-lockdown as they have beaten Roma, Lazio and Juventus, failing to get points only against SPAL.
Tomorrow, the Diavolo face Gennaro Gattuso’s Napoli in a very important head-to-head. With a win, the Rossoneri will leapfrog the Partenopei.
“The fact that after the lockdown Milan have always picked up points and the number of goals has increased exponentially and how have I been able to bring this out of the team and what triggered this? We weren’t lacking opportunities prior to this but we did struggle to take our opportunities,” Pioli said in today’s presser. “The fact that we have been consistently putting the ball in the back of the net in recent matches is giving us a lot more benefits, we’ve been a lot more accurate, we’ve made better decisions in the final third and we’ve also been more determinant when it comes to finishing. That has been significant and we need to try to push on from that.
“If the fact that Kessié and Bennacer have now formed a unit in the middle of the pitch and are now more on the same page as opposed to when we were playing with three at the back an important factor? Clearly, the midfield unit is very important, both going forward and tracking back. Bennacer and Kessié are both playing very, very well and I think they’re also comfortable in those positions, in those match situations and they really are producing excellent performances.
“My management of Leão? Rafa has a lot of talent, he’s an innate talent. But even if you have inherited talent, then you have to train and develop. I’m pleased with the job that Rafa is doing, he’s doing very well and he’s also contributing significantly to the team. I keep telling my players that it’s not important how many minutes they play, but ultimately what they’re able to produce in terms of quality in the minutes they play. If Rafa keeps on from this then naturally then he will achieve a great deal because he has a lot of potential and soon he will get his opportunity from the start.
“If Saelemaekers deserve to keep his place in the side? Everyone deserves so. Based on how my players are performing, on how we’re playing, I’ve got a lot of options… but I need to choose from one match to the next based on what my players are telling me. Occasionally I’ve actually asked them to actually be very open and stretch the pitch – Saelemaekers is a good option then. But maybe then I want someone to wander inside, work both with the ball and defensively from a more central role and that might require a different profile. But the players are proving that they can play their part in the team.
“Regret over not being able to coach Milan in the first seven games of the season considering how things are going now and Ibrahimović’s statements that if he’d been here from the start Milan would’ve won the Scudetto? It’s pointless looking back. Clearly I joined in October, we began working. We didn’t necessarily have the consistency that is intrinsic to the fact that we did work a great deal together, it takes a lot of time to build something significant, to build a footballing philosophy, a working methodology with players, not only from a technical-tactical perspective, but also in terms of character. You need to get into their head, it takes time to do so, but we need to finish the league season well – 7 matches in 20 days has never happened before, there are a lot of games coming up, a lot of points on the line and big games to play. We’ve got a hugely important match coming up tomorrow night against a tough opposition, Napoli are an excellent team, their coach is doing a terrific job, they have a great mentality, they’ve won the Coppa Italia, they’ve won all of their matches apart from the fixture against Atalanta, so we’re up against a very in-form team, just like we are. But we need to think about we can do between now and the end of the season as opposed to what we could’ve done earlier in the campaign.
“What message would Milan send out in we can also produce a great performance against Napoli, considering we beat Roma, Lazio and Juventus? We need to do so, we need to produce a big performance because we have the quality and the ability to do so, we will respect the opposition for sure but we need to play with the belief and knowledge that we are a good side. We need to make the most out of this moment in time, we need to play at 100%, maximize our opportunity and try to stay in the game and do well tomorrow night.
“If I feel similar feelings to what Gattuso was experiencing at Milan last year? It’s very difficult to make comparisons. Gattuso started the campaign from Day 1, I didn’t. Gattuso did a great job here, there’s no doubt about that – just like he is doing in Naples, and he is really proving just what a good coach he is, that he’s able to get teams playing well, he gives them the right mentality, and that’s what I am trying to achieve here at Milan as well. But I always thought, and I still believe, now more than ever, that ultimately it’s the time to draw conclusions only at the end of the season, we still have a lot of work to do.
“The fact that Gattuso’s Milan and my Milan improved in the second half of their seasons? Yes, it’s a big test against rivals in the league table but we’ve only actually pinched one point from Napoli since the break. They’ve only lost one game, they won the Coppa Italia and their personnel has changed compared to last season. We have definitely improved our team between January and now and now we’re coming up against a very strong side, but we’re going to do so with a lot of self-belief and determination, because we have to push on. What I’m most pleased about is that none of my players are thinking about August 3rd, they are just thinking about giving 100% between now and the end of the campaign.
“The fact that I said before the Lecce game that we’d be fighting with Roma and if I think that this duel would go until the final line? It’s quite probable. If we were to finish the league season we’d have finished 7th pre-COVID after the Genoa defeat. Even though we’ve produced 4 wins in 5 matches post-lockdown we’re still 7th in the table. Neither my players nor myself would be happy to finish 7th in Serie A, so we have to try to catch up the sides ahead of us. It’s a massive game tomorrow. Roma are within a touching distance but we’ve already played them, we deservedly defeated them, and now we need to try to get more points in the league table, so we can improve our league position. We are not where we want to be coming the end of the season.
“If this is one of the most rewarding moments in my career as a coach? Your question only goes so far. It’s up until this moment in time and that doesn’t matter, that counts for nothing. Ultimately it only matters when we draw conclusions at the end of the season, based on the work that we’ve done. I know that we’ve worked very hard, I know that we’ve done a quality job without a doubt, with a group of players that want to achieve great things. And this mentality and spirit needs to go with us until the end of the season, and if we’re able to reproduce that then we’ll be able to make a more comprehensive review of what we’ve achieved, on who’s done more, and who’s done less, based on what the final result is.
“If I think that some decisions have been made too prematurely and why are some conclusions not actually drawn at the end of the season? I don’t know, I don’t know if the club has already made decisions, if they’re still yet to make a decision but that’s not something I’m concerned about in this moment in time. No one is worried about that in terms of my staff, all we’re concerned about is performing well. We’re doing a good job at Milanello, we’re working very hard and it seems now that we’ve only been working well since the lockdown but that’s not the case. We’re actually reaping the benefits of the process we started in October. We need to do everything in our power to make sure that we, and the club, are pleased with the job that we’ve done and that ultimately those who make the decisions will do so, just like we have to do.
“Has there been a pact between Milan and I to give 100% until the end of the season? You don’t need to make a pact by any means, because we are professionals, we are very passionate about the job we do and all of us have personal ambitions, and we know that we can only achieve these goals if we’re working together as a team and that is what we’re trying to do.”