Stefano Pioli has stated ‘the first fixtures in our season might have seemed easy but every game is a battle that needs to be fought and won’ after beating Spezia, and reiterated the desire to sign a CB.
It’s now time for the first international break of the season and for Milan it’s the end of a very intense but very successful period: they have won 6 games out of the 6 played in all competitions and are sitting at the top of Serie A alongside Atalanta with zero goals conceded.
Today they beat Spezia 3-0 at Stadio San Siro with goals from Rafael Leão (56′, 77′) and Theo Hernández (75′). Pioli rested some key players in the first half but made some changes in the second which allowed the Rossoneri to get the win and go out to the break on a high.
“The first fixtures in our season might have seemed easy but every game is a battle that needs to be fought and won,” Pioli told MilanTV after the game. “We’ve managed to do that, with some difficulties but that’s normal. Being able to play 6 games in 18 days at the start of the season, picking up these results and putting in these performances and tempo, is an important sign the team is giving me. We set ourselves an objective at the start of the season: reach the break with qualification to the group stage and being top of the table. Having achieved our goal is very satisfying, but we know there is a long way to go and that there’s a lot to improve on.
“I field the best line-up I could and will always do so. There are times when the best line-up is not what one might expect… on this occasion, we were very tired, and have played a lot since the start of the season, some of the guys have had to play all the matches, we went to extra time and penalties, it was all very draining, especially in terms of mental energy. This is why the best line-up was the one that started the match, I think we performed well in the first half but missed some chances, we could have done better in our final passes. We did well. Then, in the second half, after breaking the deadlock we started to find the room that we didn’t have beforehand. All-in-all, everyone responded well, the starters and the subs, we must continue in this way. Luckily, we’ll also have five subs to use in the Europa League, which is an important factor, we have a lot of players. And if they’re always ready when called on, we can go far.
“I’m happy with Leão’s performance today, it’s not easy for him as he’s only been training for 10 days, this was his first start and he struggled but he was ready. He worked well on the flank and as the striker and that’s great because the more options I have the better. As I’ve said, our season will be very challenging and demanding, with all these games, the more options I have, the better the team’s chances of doing well. Hauge came on very well as well. Everyone performed well, even those who hadn’t played much, they gained important playing time and confidence, so now we need to rest and then we can think about the next game.
“It will be a bit strange to play on Saturday following the international break, so like our opponents we will only have two days to prepare the match. I’ll only have all my players back on Thursday and I think it’s the same for them. Nonetheless, we’ll be in touch with all our players, 15-16 will be away. I don’t think there will be much pressure from me, it’s a game that a coach doesn’t need to hype and my team is so responsible and determined to continue our positive streak. I will only need to focus on the game-plan, how to face our opponents and who to field from the start and the possible changes to improve the team. However, there’s time for all that.”
Speaking to Sky Italia, Pioli said: “We hoped to have a start to the season like this, having succeeded is already something very positive that gives us confidence for the future. Milan have become a team, we have certain characteristics and we can play matches with our qualities and with a lot of trust. We know very well that there are many expectations for the results we are getting and for our badge, and it’s normal. We will soon have difficult and challenging matches but we will get there with the right enthusiasm. We have done great things in 20 days with 6-7 absences and I have had great response from everyone. I have forced a lot of players to play all the time. I hope to recover the injured guys and then we’ll play it game by game to continue to improve.
“The hand of the coach is evident in the growth of the team? The disaster of Davide [Astori] in Firenze allowed me to develop a more complete relationship with the players in trying to understand them as they are and not just for what they do on the pitch. Everyone has an access key: for example Kessié is very sensitive and very positive… we had some frictions at the beginning, there were some discussions and then we understood each other, we confronted each other. When you can understand how to relate I think you can get the most out of these players who are young.
“The unavailable players? For Rebić next week will be important, he still has some pain to his elbow. Romagnoli could be available for the derby while for Musacchio it will take a bit longer. As for Ibra and Duarte we have to wait because it’s not up to us.
“The current moment? I like this team, this club, we are good together, we are a very young group and we have to work hard and well… we have to try to improve. We know very well the difficulties that we will encounter, in Italy there are seven very strong teams and at the end of the year only the first four will be happy because they will have reached the Champions League. We must do everything we can for the best positions.
“Rüdiger and Kabak? I’m satisfied with tonight’s match. It’s true that we are looking for a central defender because we have several injuries and a demanding schedule. We’re looking for one, there’s not much time left.
“The Juventus-Napoli situation? I’m a bit worried but there are some professionals who are trying to make everything work. There are rules to be respected and we are respecting them. We are privileged, we take the swabs every 2-3 days, and we are calm. We want to play, possibly in front of the fans, we hope it can happen as soon as possible.”
Pioli also had a post-match press conference: “What effect does it have on you to come to the derby from the first place in the standings? There is satisfaction, we have achieved what we had set for ourselves before the start of the season: to enter the Europa League and win all the games before the break. It has no effect to be in the lead, it’s a very long league campaign.
“What caused me to play Leão from the first minute despite Thursday’s performance? The trust in my players. I believe that this is my job from the psychological point of view and Rafa responded well. He knows very well that he’s not 100% but he has the qualities to do well and help the team.
“If I expected a match of this level from my team? Yes, I always expect the best possible match. In the first half we played well, but maybe the ball wasn’t moving fast enough. The performance was there. It’s quite normal to relax a bit after such a tiring round. We were mature today, we managed to stay focused and intense.
“If I think we need a more ready Ibra-deputy than Colombo? I think that if you take away the two best offensive players from any team, even the strongest go into difficulty, it’s normal. It was a very important start to the season, even more so considering the absences. Leão has shown that has can be a center striker, even if he has different characteristics.
“What impression has Hauge made on me? He only arrived on Friday. I like him because he plays between the lines, he’s fast and technical. He has some characteristics that will help us.
“If I still expect an effort from the club on the mercato? The club knows very well what to do. If there is a chance to improve the team then we’ll do it, otherwise we’re already doing well. I have just met Dalot and gives us other characteristics.”