Stefano Pioli was happy with the ‘mature’ performance Milan gave at Old Trafford, and hopes to have some players back from injury against Napoli.
Milan came out to Old Trafford last night to play Manchester United in the 1st leg of the Europa League Round of 16.
Despite having 5 starters out with injury, the Rossoneri managed to dominate for large parts of the game away from home and were overall better than the boys of Ole Gunnar Solskjær.
The game started with two disallowed Milan goals as Rafael Leão (offside) and Franck Kessié (a questionable handball) saw their goals being revoked. Manchester United had a tremendous miss through Harry Maguire but then found the back of the net thanks to Amad Diallo (50′). However, Milan fought back and got a much-deserved equalizer in the 92′ minute with a Simon Kjær header.
“The team played with personality, that’s what we wanted to do,” Pioli told MilanTV at the end of the match. “We wanted to control the game and not be on the back foot but were aware our opponents are strong and fast and are good at attacking deep so we took some calculated risks but played as a team the whole match and deserved a positive result. It could have been better but still, it gives us confidence for the return leg even though nothing is decided yet, our opponents are very strong and fast and we’ll have to perform very well again.
“Where to improve? It’s a shame we conceded in a situation we know that they are very good at playing long balls. We should have done better. The goal and the one with James were the only chances but we opened up more trying to equalize. The team was very solid and cohesive, with the right distances between the lines which allowed us to defend well and go forward well and create threats. Now we have to recover our strength because we have a very important game to focus on against Napoli in the league on Sunday. Then we’ll think about the return leg.
“We are Milan and are we fully committed on all fronts, we want to give our all and be satisfied with our work and give satisfaction to our fans and the Club. When we manage to do so, we’re very happy. This is the mentality we must have, the team played with personality and the team approached the game well, aware our opponents could cause us problems but also knowing that being active in both phases with all players would allow us to use our characteristics to create chances. We must continue doing that, we can be satisfied with tonight’s performance but the round is far from over and we have a lot to do in the league. The result must give us a boost for the future, to finish the season well because it is giving us important moments.
“My ideas? A coach has ideas and concept of play in his mind, and when you’re convinced then it’s easy to pass them on to the players. And I’m very lucky to coach a great group, a group I’ve often said is special. My guys are more than normal: technically and morally. I can demand a lot from them because I know I have their commitment and conviction. When you have quality, commitment and conviction the performances will come. And when you perform, most times you’ll get the results.”
Speaking in the post-match press conference, Pioli said: “If it was the mature performance that I was looking for? I like the definition of mature… we played with personality, we were a team in both phases of the game. The result is positive, it does not close the qualification. Today’s game is the continuation of the matches in Rome and Verona. I hope to get some players back by Sunday. It is a crucial moment for the season, we have a season in which we have to push through because we have important matches like Napoli, Manchester United and Fiorentina and we’ll have time to catch our breath.
“If the substitute of Calabria was because of an injury or a technical choice? Davide is doing some exceptional things. He was suffering from some pubic pain, he’s out but I don’t think it’s anything worrying. The health staff is looking after him well and I hope to have him available for Sunday. He always wants to play.
“The disallowed Kessié goal? He swore to me that he didn’t touch it with his hand. But I haven’t seen it yet.”
Pioli also had an interview with Sky Italia: “My players played a great match, the team played with personality. We suffered in the difficult moments. We knew they have quality, but this performance is important and it will give our players another boost in our self-confidence.
“Being drawn against Manchester United? I thought they were the right opponent for us. We are working to improve and try to win again. We want to take Milan where we belong and these are the games where you can improve, grow and put yourself in question. It was a great performance but the round still needs to be won, the opponent is strong and fast. In order to eliminate such an opponent, we’ll need another high-level match. The job is not done. They are a great team. Now we are throwing ourselves on the league, there is little time to recover but the guys are determined.
“The disallowed goal of Kessié? I didn’t see anything from the bench, aside from a great goal. It could’ve been very important, we had been playing well. That goal would have given us even more strength, especially on a mental level. Franck is convinced he didn’t touch the ball with his hand, but the referee thought otherwise.
“The goal of Kjær in the last minute? There is a lot of satisfaction. I keep repeating to my players that I’m not coaching a normal group – it’s an exceptional group, from a technical, professional and human point of view. When I see that the guys give their soul then it is right to be satisfied. It’s probably a result we would have accepted before the game. After it, I can say we may deserve something more, but it’s a good result. We have shown that we are up to such a strong opponent.
‘Leão’s performance? He needs performances like this, to keep playing and feel the opponent’s penalty area more. He has quality and he wants to stay focused on the game, more so than last season.
“What to take away from Old Trafford? The team spirit of playing the game, of trying to dominate. We must have a high level of application to play as we do, I can only be satisfied. We’ve been playing one game every four days since September, but these guys never give up. We must continue, it’s a defining moment for the league and the Europa League.
“Now, we have three big games coming next: Napoli, Manchester United and Fiorentina. Then we’ll have time to rest, at least those who won’t join the national teams.”