Stefano Pioli was pleased at the end of the Shamrock Rovers win, saying ‘it was a positive performance that will help us improve our condition’.
The season of Milan officially began yesterday as they beat Shamrock Rovers 2-0 away from home in the second preliminary round of the Europa League.
The Diavolo used the strongest XI they had available and even though Gigio Donnarumma had to make some fantastic saves, Milan were generally in control of the game. Zlatan Ibrahimović (23′) and Hakan Çalhanoğlu (67) scored the goals to send Milan to the next round, where they’ll face Norway’s Bodø/Glimt next Thursday at Stadio San Siro.
“I’m definitely satisfied because this wasn’t an easy match, the first official match is always full of pitfalls,” Pioli told MilanTV at the end of the game. “I knew we’d be prepared well but I also knew we were up against a good team in better condition. We played with control and the right clarity of mind, we could have played more directly in the first half but it was a positive performance that will help us improve our condition. There are more positives than negatives.
“The attitude? We knew this was a game of a lifetime for them, but we had to treat it the same way after all we did last season. If we fail to reach the group stage, it’d partially throw away our work. I’m happy with how we approached the match: careful and determined. We controlled the game and conceded very little and Donnarumma was always ready when needed. I’m pleased with how we played and how we behaved, and how the players kept to their positions and movements, so I’m very happy. I’m well-aware we need to improve, of course, but we handled this insidious match well.
“The debuts of Brahim and Tonali? They are in good shape, but have only been with us a week so they still need to a bit of time to settle in, but they are strong players, serious and intelligent guys and they’re ready and willing, they just need to build up their match fitness to integrate into the team, especially for the upcoming games because we hope to be playing often, a game every 3 days… so we’ll need the full squad.
“The fact that it was important to start like this? Winning was our goal and we managed it, and played well, too. I don’t think people realize that we were a bit unlucky in the draw, because Shamrock Rovers are top of their table and have won a lot of matches, next up we’ll be playing an even stronger team; they’ve got a 14-15-point lead in the Norwegian league, and they’re winning all their games and have played 17-18 already. We’ll have to be at our best once again, and we have the quality to do so. Now we have to focus on recovering our strength, the first game always saps more than usual, in part because all the pressure was on us on Thursday.
“We have to manage it well and feel privileged to have this pressure because it means we’re on a high level, and we have to learn to live with it. However, now we must focus on the first league match, starting the league well is another important objective. We know the game won’t be easy, Bologna is always capable of creating threats. We need to recover our strength, focus on Bologna and then we can think about the Norwegians.”
Pioli also spoke to Sky Italia: “I must say that on Wednesday I presented myself confident at the press conference but inside I was also a little concerned. They are a good team and they have better physical condition than ours. Playing such an important game after three weeks of training was not easy but I knew we were ready and we proved it with a serious, careful performance. We commanded the match and we did well, I’m satisfied because it was a positive performance.
“I was not concerned about not being able to see my team, but rather the concern was for playing such an important match very well. I had no doubts about the qualities, principles and identity of this team. This team has proven to be of a high level since January, but we have to continue, this is just the first step, we have to grow and continue, pass the round and tier to improve ourselves in every single match. Bodø/Glimt are very strong, they have been playing for 20 Matchdays but now we think of starting well the league against Bologna and that will not be easy.
“Ibrahimović? Zlatan is so intelligent on the pitch, he knows where he has to position himself to create advantages. In my opinion he was coming too deep at the start, so we pushed him further forward. Zlatan is a champion, I expect this and even more from him.
“The performance of the individuals? I believe that the performances are growing and we must continue because the opponents will be difficult, we have our ambitions and therefore we must keep the level as high as possible. We are Milan and we must play to win and we will do that because now we have the conviction of being a team that can compete with anyone.
“If I’ll go call Chiesa now? I’m going to the hotel, I’ll call my family and wish them a good night.”