Simon Kjær spoke ahead of tonight’s match against Liverpool, saying Milan are better than last season while he is playing the best football of his career.
Milan visit Anfield tonight at 21:00 for the first time in the history of the club, as the Rossoneri mark their return to Champions League football after 7 long years.
Yesterday Kjær, one of the undoubted leaders of this Milan squad, faced the press at Milanello for a pre-match press conference. Read his statements here:
The last European trip that we took was in Manchester, I remember you spoke prior to the game and you spoke about mentality, the desire to go out there and play those matches, the beauty involved in matches such as these. Given how much the team has kicked on since then, I’m sure that you are able to actually repeat this message on the eve of the game against Liverpool, which is not far from Manchester…
“Yes, we need to show that same mentality because we’re up against a Liverpool side that is a terrific football team. However, I think we are in a better place from a physical perspective, mentally speaking, I think we have really improved a great deal since our last match. We went to Manchester and played very well indeed. It will be a very tough match at Anfield, but we can also talk about the head coach and his mindset – we need to go out there and play as Milan. We have the utmost of respect for them but we are not simply on a holiday – we are in the Champions League because we want to produce something.”
Kaká won a great deal with Milan and he pinpointed three players who can really put across to the rest of the squad how you can play well at Anfield. One of them was Zlatan Ibrahimović, who won’t play on Wednesday, another is Olivier Giroud, and then he also mentioned Simon Kjær. How does it feel to have had that faith in you from someone who’s a great of the unbeatable Milan side in the shape of Kaká?
“That’s a great source of pride, it’s wonderful to hear that Kaká has something like that to say. But ultimately I do my job day-in day-out, it doesn’t change. It’s a very special game because we’re back in the Champions League but it’s also a game that we go into with a great deal of desire. We have to show why we’re back in the Champions League with Milan.”
I’d like to bounce back on the question that you were asked about Milan’s progress: both in terms of Europa League last season and your domestic form in the last two years. Do you think that Milan are ready to play in an area like Anfield?
“Absolutely. We’ve prepared very well for the game and we really are at a good stage in our development, we really have improved a great deal and now it’s time to prove how much we have come on. Matches like these are reasons why we play football. In theory, you’ve got everything to win and everything to lose as well. Our mentality is not the case that we haven’t been in Europe for 7 years so we can’t necessarily play a good game against Liverpool. But we will have the utmost respect for the opposition. We want to play as be fitting Milan, we’re sure they are a top side but we need to show a great deal of heart, we need to a cool mind and we need to be able to come up against any type of opposition.”
After the draw, a lot of fans were grumbling a little bit about what a difficult group it is. But you’re a leader in this Milan squad – how did you react to the draw? And in terms of character – mentally, how do you prepare for the match?
“We’re playing the Champions League and we’re coming up against the best sides and it’s always the best to come up against the best teams, it allows you to improve even more. It’s very special when you can play these teams in the Champions League. I’ve been involved in the competition on a couple of occasions, I had some great experiences in that time. And we’ll begin our European campaign on Wednesday with this particular Milan side. But it’s always wonderful, the Champions League is a unique competition but you always need to make sure that you go in there with your heads held high. We’re well aware of what we can do and we need to try and make the most out of this opportunity, enjoy ourselves and then we’ll see where we at come the end.”
You played really well in the EURO 2020 competition and you’re one of the most experienced members of this particular Milan squad when it comes to European appearances. Pioli has often said that his Rossoneri side is better than it was last year. From a personal perspective, do you think this is the strongest side that you’ve been in throughout your career and where you’ve contributed the most?
“Yes, we are definitely better-equipped than we were last year; from a physical perspective, from a tactical standpoint, mentally we have come on leaps and bounds all across the board. Personally, I think I am playing the best football of my career. However, I can only play well only if the team is operating and functioning well, if they put me in a position to be able to perform well; and the same goes for any player. And you are able to acquire all of that experience throughout your career which means you’re well-aware of your strengths and weaknesses. The same goes for every single player in the squad. It’s a case of making sure that all the players are in a position to be able to perform at their best and therefore the team can win as a result.”
I’d like to just follow-up the previous question: Simon Kjær, Fikayo Tomori and Alessio Romagnoli – the latter just came back and is performing well; a lot of people are saying in this moment of time that the Milan central defensive options are some of the strongest domestically. But of course you need to prove that in Europe as well. Do you guys also feel like that? Do you think you’re all at the peak of your powers – all three of you? And how do you enjoy playing with the pair of them?
“I really enjoy playing with both Tomori and Romagnoli. Our job is to give selection headaches to Pioli, so all three of us need to work well. The same goes for Gabbia, we need to cause headaches for the coach because he ultimately picks the team. But we’ve always got on well and we’ll always get on well. There’s a team that’s playing in the Champions League, when you want to try and compete for the Scudetto and all of that, you can’t only do that with 11 players. You need a team where you have at least two players per position. I think we’ve got 32 games between now and the 23rd of December, I won’t play that many matches on my own so we can only win as a team.”
Ever since you joined Milan, your role has really allowed the squad to kick on and you’re a significant figure in this squad. Do you think this team is mature enough to be able to secure these objectives for you in a very crucial moment of your career as an individual?
“Yes. However we still need to develop further. Every single one us. There’s always something we can learn, there’s always something to improve, in every area of the game – physically, mentally, whatever it may be. I think we’re at a good point given the start of the season that we have enjoyed. There will be a whole host of fixtures to play. There’ll be a number of wins, defeats as well… but the most important thing is that we’ve always been really good in terms of our team spirit, we’ve shown that work ethic day-in day-out, you win matches, you lose matches, but ultimately we’ve always had that great mindset of trying to get better. If that continues to be the case, I really believe that we will secure important targets this season.”