Stefano Pioli has stated Milan showed ‘character and quality’ in their 3-1 win over Celtic but he doesn’t believe the Rossoneri are Scudetto contenders.
Milan extended their unbeaten run to 21 games last night in all competitions, as they beat Celtic 3-1 away from home on the first Matchday of the Europa League.
The first 10 minutes weren’t very good by Milan but Samu Castillejo’s cross found Rade Krunić’s head in the 14′ minute and the Bosnian scored his first goal in a Rossoneri jersey. The Diavolo dominated the rest of the half and in the 42′ minute, good link-up by play Brahim Diaz, Zlatan Ibrahimović and Theo Hernández ended with the Spaniard beating the Celtic defense to make it 2-0 at the break.
Milan took their foot off the gas pedal in the second half and allowed Celtic some more space. In the 76′ minute Mohamed Elyounoussi was left free on a corner and scored passed Gigio Donnarumma. There were some moments of scare but Jens Petter Hauge closed off the match in the 92′ minute with his first goal for Milan. Stefano Pioli’s boys won 3-1 and got the three points.
“It was a match that we conducted well with character and quality, in the second half we made more technical errors, we lost a few balls and ran a few risks,” Pioli told Sky Italia at the end of the match. “It was very important to prove that we are not a ‘normal’ team. A normal team shows less motivation and determination after such a thrilling victory as the derby, but we proved that we are taking it one game at a time, we want to try to win every single match.
“The secret behind the streak of positive results? There’s no secret, it lies with that we’ve all been working in the same direction for some time now. The club, players, staff all feel like an integral part of this project and we all work together to keep improving. We are a very young team, we still need to improve and there is the pleasure of working together but the secret is in daily work, you need to sacrifice and grow. It all starts with the ownership that for continuing the work we’ve been doing and bringing in some talented young players who can add more to the mix. We are very well at Milanello and we use every moment to grow.
“What comes ahead? Good results boost self-belief, but we know full well the difficult moments will come and we’ll have to work our way through them. It’s a young squad, but even a player like Donnarumma is 21 and yet already a mature person and player with plenty of experience. We are starting to have important personalities both in the dressing room and on the pitch who will helps us in delicate moments. We must also take advantage of difficult moments. I think we’re doing well because we don’t waste a moment of the time we have together and always consider the next match to be the most important. On Monday we’ll play against Roma who are an incredible team, we will train well to try to continue our positive period. The turning point? It came in January, when we brought in players who were more suited to our style of football and filled the gaps that we had in the squad. We started our journey there, 10 months have passed but it’s still the beginning. Due to the cohesion that exists, I think we’ll also know to overcome difficult times.
“The Milan-Roma game of three months ago? Against the Giallorossi last year we found one of those wins that we were missing, just like against Lazio and Juventus. We used to have good games also before but we were lacking the win. Monday’s game is very difficult for me, Roma are second to a few teams in terms of attack, so it’ll be another big test between two teams who want to play positive football, score more goals than their opponents and take the initiative. It will be a very good match, we will have to be very good with and without the ball.
“People are starting to dream of the Scudetto? We think that we are at a good level, we know where we want to end up, as we are ambitious, but must also not be hasty or try to cut corners in order to get there. We continue to work on every detail, technical, tactical, physical, dietary, but it’s clear that the quality of the players makes the difference. The more we raise the quality, the more we’ll have the chance to win, perhaps also with new additions in January or the next summer mercato. We must not be in a hurry and rather think about the next match. I’m convinced that there are 3-4 teams stronger than us, but the predictions aren’t on the pitch and we are showing that we can play against anyone.”
Speaking to MilanTV, Pioli said: “It was definitely a match we controlled well, but we could’ve played more precise football in the second half. This is proof that you play to the end in Europe; teams have quality, they run and fight. It’s normal to be out of possession. We have been a team with clear ideas, we are strong from a mental point of view. The important thing that we showed our way of playing. The team didn’t underestimate the game and had a good approach. It was a deserved victory and it’ll be a difficult group. Our strength is that the next game is always the most important one.
“The second-string players? The club has been good at making a team ready for two games in quick succession. Playing every three days means we lose a lot of physical and mental energy. We also have a lot of international; our new players made themselves ready. The important thing is the attitude and availability, without ever sacrificing the level of the team.
“The positions of Krunić and Brahim in the match? I was thinking that in the middle of the park we needed a player who works a bit more defensively, Diaz on the other hand has more offensive qualities.
“The ability to hold out? I prefer to defend higher up the pitch. We did well out of possession but maybe allowed them to get too many shots off. We can’t dominate for 95 minutes; all of our wins have been hard-earned with sacrifice, generosity and desire. We’ve become more accustomed to winning.
“How much better it is to work in harmony? It’s much, much better. We need to carry on with this mentality. You work a lot better in harmony. The Club has made sure we’re not lacking for anything. This has given us an atmosphere of calmness and has allowed us to work with great seriousness, allowing us to grow. I always tell the players to enjoy every moment and to keep improving because, in football, the tests never end. You always need to show yourself.
“Roma? On Monday, we have a difficult game against a quality opponent, especially going forward. We’ll give our all to continue this positive run.”