Stefano Pioli has spoken at length ahead of tomorrow’s Lazio match, saying his players are still not in top physical conditions as he prepares for a very difficult stretch of matches.
After beating Sampdoria and Cagliari on the first two Matchdays, Milan are now set for a very difficult period: tomorrow they face Lazio at San Siro, before visiting Anfield for a Champions League match against Liverpool, and then face Juventus away from home the following Sunday.
Today, coach Pioli held a press conference at Milanello, where he answered the various questions of the journalists. Read his statements, as they were reported by Milannews.it and Sky Italia:
How was the international break?
“It was good enough and I say enough because we didn’t need Krunić’s injury. It’s a shame because he was fine and now there comes a time of the season when we’ll be playing every three days and I wanted to have everyone available. Krunić will not be there tomorrow and Giroud will not be there, he stopped for two weeks and we’ll meet him again on Monday.”
How are Ibra and Kessié?
“They are doing well. They’ve been working continuously in these last two weeks, they are available to play tomorrow.”
Speaking of Ibra, do you find him older and more mature compared to his last appearance, considering his age? Have you talked about how you’d manage him?
“He’s a great man, he knows very well that four months away from the pitch is a long now. He’s worked hard, he has sacrificed a lot in this period, especially when he was not with the team he was working hard from morning to night to come back soon, always showing great professionalism and motivation. How he’s fine. I think he is doing well. I believe that no player would be able to play all 7 games that await us in these 21 days. Ibra is not in the best condition and will certainly need to be managed, I hope he can have that continuity that he we were lacking last year.”
How indispensable is Kessié for you, considering he’s the center of renewal rumours?
“I would like Kessié to sign. But it’s a situation that concerns the club and his agent more: when there is a negotiation that goes on for a long time then it’s normal that this is the case. With Franck I only talk about issues related to the pitch and I always see him very motivated, serene, positive and concentrated. At the moment there are no problems.”
Tonali scored his first goal at San Siro and he played two great games with the U21 side wearing the Captain’s armband. How important is it to become a leader in the U21 category?
“I think his growth is there for all to see, he is a complete player, he has great technical and physical skills and now they are showing. He’s a serious guy and these certificates of esteem from Paolo Nicolato can only please. Sandro knows that there is great competitiveness this year in this team. He knows that it’s not the number of minutes but the quality that will be decisive.”
Do you think you have a deep enough squad for this season?
“Absolutely yes, we have improved in terms of depth and composition of the squad. Then it’s clear that Messias is still a bit behind [in terms of fitness], he needs some individual work and he’ll need time. Bakayoko has also recently arrived and he’s still a bit behind. I hope to have them all with a more homogeneous condition, but at the completeness level, we are a team that gives me the opportunity to make different choices and be competitive.”
Milan-Lazio is a challenge between technical continuity and a new path. What game should we expect?
“On paper, because on the field it can be proven wrong, it’s a match between two teams who try to play the game, who have quality and a purposeful style. It’ll be a spectacular match. Lazio is a very strong team in all departments, combining technique and physicality, they started the season strong, and they are the team that scored the most goals in the first 2 Matchdays. We are doing well, we want to try to win tomorrow as well. Both teams will try to create difficulties for their opponents.”
With the open situation of Kessié’s renewal, is there a risk of discontent on the part of the fans? And also could Luis Alberto’s non-arrival be considered your only regret from the summer?
“Our fans are too intelligent to not put Milan in front of everything, and they will give us all of their support. San Siro will be full tomorrow night as well. The renewal is being talked about too much and it’s out of proportions. What should interest the fans and the coach is to field a team that gives everything to win and gives their soul. Franck does it. All Milan players will have to be supported like the fans have always done, I’m not worried. As for Luis Alberto, I’ve never had any requests, I’m happy with my team. I see players eager to grow. I’m happy with what I have and I have nothing else to add.”
Is Romagnoli instead of Kjær a possibility? And is the Lazio-Liverpool-Juve triptych the most important test of maturity yet?
“I will field the best possible formation considering the condition of my players and what I have seen and then we’ll think about the Champions League. For us all games are tests of maturity. Each test will tell us the level we have reached and where we need to grow and improve. Very challenging and stimulating games await us, we must face them as great opportunities to demonstrate our level.”
What kind of minutes will Ibra have tomorrow? Will it be useful to manage him to have his leadership in the Champions League at 100%?
“I believe that tomorrow Zlatan can play a part of the game and not the 90 minutes and this will help him find the best condition and be readier for the next matches. We will see what choices I’ll make from the start.”
Is it possible that starting tomorrow you’ll alternate between Florenzi and Saelemaekers? And how has Brahim Díaz matured?
“I repeat that I will think over the formation until tomorrow morning, I will choose it based on what I’ve seen in these days. Everything is possible but we will not change our attitude. It is a match against a direct rival, we want to try to win and stay in the lead. As for Brahim, he’s very strong and he has grown a lot. He came a different league and now he’s complete. He’s a trequartista, he has to look for difficult plays and he must continue to work for the team also when we don’t have possession.”
What player did you find in Messias? Can he play as a trequartista?
“He is a very available and intelligent guy who wants to show his qualities. I think he can definitely play on the right wing, he has the one-on-one and I think he can do well also as a trequartista. Now he has to recover his physical condition, then he’ll have his chances.”
Does the match against Sarri’s Lazio stimulate you? What are you particularly afraid of?
“Our motivation is always at its highest. We are talking about a very high-level coach who has won in Italy and in England, and when you face such capable colleagues you measure yourself at a high level. But it’s not a match between Sarri and Pioli but between two teams that want to prevail one over the other with a proactive game. They have many offensive solutions, but we are not inferior.”
You have trained Felipe Anderson at Lazio. What do you think about him? Do you think he has improved?
“I hope he can be marked tomorrow and I think that we have the players who can do it. We have defenders suitable to counter the Lazio offensive department. Felipe had an exceptional season with me. He’s a quality player: every now and then he seems to come out of the game but then he has important flashes. I hope he can continue to do well, but from the next game.”
How important is it to be back to winning, and how do you face big matches?
“Each victory gives you confidence, conviction and morale. But it is the attitude that must be maintained during the match. It’s the availability, the sacrifice, the extra attention and communication with your teammates that can always be decisive. Winning is good but we must always remain very humble, aware of how much we have to put into the game.”
As soon as you arrived at Milan, you hung up a picture of the league standings, last season you hung up a group photo from Rio Ave. Has something significant already happened this year?
“Certainly, but these are things that the longer they stay inside Milanello, the better. The important thing is to have a very available group and I’m proud of it, seeing them work fills me with satisfaction.”
Do you think that the match against Lazio can also give indications for the match against Liverpool?
“I think the characteristics of the two teams are difficult to compare. Lazio play with a true center-forward, Immobile, while Liverpool play with a False 9 like Firmino or Jota. The matches are too different, we have our way of being on the pitch and we have confidence in it. The Champions League will give us a lot of motivation but we’ll think about it from Monday; today we are focused on Lazio.”
Can a three-man midfield become an idea?
“It can be an alternative, but all the midfielders would need to be at their best. Now we have Kessié back, Bennacer played for the national team for 90 minutes and he hadn’t played a full 90 minutes for quite a while before that. Bakayoko is working well but he’s still not at 100%. When I have everyone in good condition then there are the qualities and characteristics for a three-man midfield. The important thing is to have everyone in the best possible condition as soon as possible.”
What is the condition of Pellegri? Can he be called-up for tomorrow?
“Pietro is fine, he is working well and he is taking care of his situation. I think he can be called-up for tomorrow.”
What would you like to see this season from the Milan side of last year and what more would you like?
“We had great performances for more than half of the season, then the quality dropped a bit, especially in the last quarter of the pitch. Now we have to show that we understood the lesson and that we have this consistency. I still think that the Top 7 teams of the league are all very strong, I expect a balanced league. I believe that the differences will not only be made in the head-to-head matches but also by making as many points as possible in all the other matches. We have to keep thinking that the next game is the most important one, then it’ll be up to me to keep the attention level high. We will have to be consistent both in the league and in the Champions League.”
Is it an advantage to play against a team that has just changed coaches?
“No, I don’t think it can be an advantage. Lazio have shown in the first two games that the work done this summer has already been assimilated. They are a team that knows how to take the pitch, it’ll be a level match and it’s a game in which technical quality on the pitch can make the difference.”
Could there be more rotation this year?
“Last year, unfortunately, some rotation was skipped due to injuries. In my head it’s normal that there are changes between one game and another. I have many strong players and I have to give them the opportunity to prove it. There are many close matches. I will always try to field the best formation match by match, which may be the same one on Sunday and Wednesday or maybe with 4-5 new novelties.”
How will the two midfielders face Luis Alberto and Milinković-Savić?
“There will be important duels: winning or losing them will give us you to take advantage of certain game situations. We will have to be very careful because they are very strong, but so are my players.”