Stefano Pioli was pleased after the 1-1 draw with Atalanta: ‘Given that it was our fifth match in 12 days, I can only be satisfied with our performance’, as he discussed the situations of Zlatan, Donnarumma, Çalhanoğlu and Leão.
With a few major absences due to injuries and suspensions, Milan faced the most in-form team in the league last night – Atalanta – and the boys of Stefano Pioli played a good match, extending their unbeatable run to 10 games.
Hakan Çalhanoğlu scored first in the 14′ minute with a terrific free kick but in the 34′ minute Duván Zapata took advantage of the confusion at Milan’s makeshift back-four and made things level. In-between the two goals, Gianluigi Donnarumma – who at 21 years of age wore the captain’s armband from the start for the first time in his career – saved Ruslan Malinovskyi’s penalty.
Milan boss Stefano Pioli, who earlier this week signed a two-year contract renewal with the club and will lead the club also in 2020/21, spoke to the press after the game to share his sentiments.
“We put in a good performance against a difficult opponent who were intense and played with quality. We too played an intense game and showed our quality,” Pioli said in an interview with MilanTV. “What impressed me the most was our desire to try and win the game until the final whistle. I believe we played better in the second half than in the first. Given that it was our fifth match in 12 days, I can only be satisfied with our performance, obviously we wanted to win to improve our league position. We needed three wins to finish ahead of Roma, this wasn’t the case, but we’ve continued putting in some high-quality performances.
“The environment? There is a goof dose of positivity and confidence within the team, our style of play is recognized by all now. We have gained a certain balance on the pitch and know how to read the game well. We have to push on as there are still two games left to play, let’s take advantage of having played this fixture early on to regain our strength before facing the last two games to improve our final standing. We need to gain as many points as possible before thinking of next season.
“Donnarumma? Such a top-class performance should not come as a surprise, obviously saving a penalty always adds an extra touch to his performance, Gigio’s performance this season has been exceptional and he has to continue working hard and be ambitious. One’s talent has to be nurtured and constantly put to the test and this is what he is doing. He has to keep it up, I wasn’t aware this was his first game as Captain. I’m happy for him, he honored the Captain’s armband so this is a good thing.
“The Milan of the future? We need consistency in our work. Now we know what to do, we know what we want, we know how to play our football, thus we have to take advantage of the fact that there won’t be any change but there’s continuity. Had the league started on January 6 and finished today we would be second in the league, meaning we have reached a high level, but these points won’t count for next season’s standings. It’s important to see how many points we’ll find ourselves adrift of fourth place this season, that’s the gap we have to try to fill. It’s not going to be easy and we have to work really well. We need to find consistency and take advantage of the fact that we have only 20 days before going back to work. There’s not even enough time to lose certain habits, this awareness… thus we have to take advantage of the fact that we’ll be working together.
“The gap we’ve bridged? The points we’ve won from January speak for themselves. Next season we all start from 0 points, but we have to play the way we know, with our idea of football and work method that can grant us consistency in results and performances. In the end, we are Milan and we have to work hard but we have to be ambitious too because we have strong players and they’re proving it, thus we need that pride and desire to take this club back to its highest levels.
“The affection of the fans? I like the fact that our work is held in great esteem and I can’t wait to thank the fans live and thank them by being up to the task next season.”
Pioli also had a post-match press conference: “Was it the real proof of my Milan’s maturity? I have to say that it was a difficult game, but I expected a performance like that. There is confidence, we must insist. I’m sorry that we were unable to win but considering that it was the fifth game in 12 days, we had an excellent game.
“If personality and character will also be seen next season? They will have to be seen. We have seen these characteristics since January. We must give continuity, it would mean building on what we did in the second round. If I expect Çalhanoğlu to renew his contract? He’s a great guy and a great player. I believe he will continue on these levels and can do even better, because he is gaining confidence and self-confidence.
“What mercato should we expect and what Milan will there be next season? It will be a Milan that will have to give consistency and if there is a way to intervene then we’ll do so. I hope that this team will grow, there are many young players who are acquiring personality. It is a great that I see growing steadily.
“If Atalanta have a good chance against PSG in the Champions League? Atalanta is a very difficult team, but PSG have important qualities. It’s going to be a great game, all to be enjoyed.”
Speaking to Sky, Pioli added: “The fact that Team Doctor Stefano Mazzoni was sent off in the game? We all have to fight and growl against a strong opponent. He is the most polite person in the world… a word had escaped him, it can happen…
“The moment? The team is doing well and everyone is available. We knew it’d be a difficult game, there was great respect for the opponents but the great thing is that we tried winning to the end, this is the most important aspect.
“My two-year renewal? I said every clearly that I’m delighted with this renewal but I have always been peaceful. I have always thought about working with great conviction, great serenity and quality work, and I will do so until August 2 and also later. We are Milan, we must grow and continue with what we are doing. We have to finish the league well, now let’s think about the next two games and then we can rest before we go again.
The Milan of the future? We want to give continuity to what we are doing, then if we can improve it, we will. Ibrahimović? Zlatan’s contribution to the league standing is clear, I hope I can work with him again, there are many things to put on the plate. He is a player who is doing well and can still be a driving force… then, it will depend on many other things. I believe Zlatan and the club have not yet talked but it can happen soon. Before, there was no certainty of who would have been the coach and certain situations had not yet been addressed.
“If it’s reductive to give most of the merits of Milan’s rebirth to Ibra? The correct thing to say is that we’ve all made an effort and the merit of the performances we’ve achieved is everyone’s. There were many young players who’d known each other little, it was normal that we needed time. The arrival of Ibra was fundamental, to help the young players grow around him. I’m very happy with him, other things will have to be put on the plate and it will take some more time.
“A lot is expected of Leão? It is right to have high expectations because he has incredible potential. He’s growing, this year he will be important for the next season. In training he does much better than he does during the game, but he’ll get there. On Friday he got in well but I think he can do more, he has the qualities to open the games, from the beginning or coming off the bench. He is a player who’s going to have to explode next year, or at least be more consistent. He’s got everything to become a player who makes us win games. If he’s a 25-goal striker? Maybe? For me he remains a winger, a second striker.
“What has changed after the lockdown? The awareness and confidence changed. The lack of consistency and wins in direct games had taken away some of our self-esteem. Instead, beating Juve and Lazio gave us great confidence. We have to end the season well, there are two more games. We played 5 games in 12 days so I can only congratulate my team.
“Celebrating the renewal? I celebrated it at dinner with the staff and my agents. I paid for it because the contract is high!”