Stefano Pioli has spoken at length ahead of tomorrow’s Juventus match, saying ‘I do not think we are favorites’.
After losing to Liverpool 3-2 at Anfield on their long-awaited return to the Champions League, Milan get back to Serie A tomorrow and they have an extremely difficult match in hand, against Massimiliano Allegri’s Juventus.
Today, coach Pioli held a press conference at Milanello, where he answered the various questions of the journalists, from Mauro Suma, through Sky and Milannews.it, and even questions from Twitch:
In big games and on big occasions, it’s acceptable to suffer and to have to dig in. But being able to hold on – is that a sign of growth?
“Yes. Even though we did get burnt against Liverpool. We got burnt at the start of the game and I think it was not just us, but the fans at the stadium too. Everything was at the top, everything was at the highest level and we did struggle a bit. But we saw that a team that was struggling was able to react against a very strong team in a very difficult situation. That shows maturity, growth, and strength. Yet, we need to be aware that there still is a difference. We won our first games in the league because we played with more quality and intensity than our opponents. But we lost to Liverpool because they were playing with more intensity and quality. I’m confident this will help us become stronger at what are concepts of play are. It was a game – I hope – that will teach us a lot for the future.”
This will be the first time for you as a coach to face Allegri’s Juventus. What is your relationship with Allegri? And did you expect such a slow start from them in the league? And perhaps will this be the first time in a long time that Milan are favorites ahead of this encounter, due to the growth of the club and of the team?
“First of all, it will be great to see Max Allegri again, I think he is a great coach and an intelligent person. Obviously, it was unexpected to see Juventus pick up just one point after three games. But they also had a lot of players out due to national teams, they had a lot of difficulties and challenges. And I do not think we are favorites for tomorrow’s game, even though we have 9 points in the league. Two very strong teams will be facing off – Juventus have great players, great tradition and I hope that the team will be well-balanced and that whoever plays the best football has the best chances of winning.”
We know that there are some doubts regarding the players’ fitness, like Calabria and the strikers. Can we talk about Ibra and Giroud and about Zlatan admitting he’s not Superman and that he’s listening to his body every morning? Is that a result of a conversation with you?
“Well, he would want to be Superman but he can’t be yet. We have spoken, we have discussed it, and we know his situation. He hasn’t improved too much compared to ahead of the game against Liverpool so he and Giroud will be out against Juventus. However, we are focused on the players who are available – which are many. We will be competitive and we’ll do our best to play well.”
In the game last season in May, two young players shone and scored – Brahim Díaz and Tomori – who this season have confirmed their form and the fact that they are promising stars. What do you see for them in the future?
“We are talking about two players with great qualities, and with great willingness to improve and to work hard, to find that extra that will help them grow. That is the attitude needed and that I expect, and which I find from all my players. We are talking about very young players and they made the best of their experiences last season in a new season, in a new league. It’s not easy moving from England or Spain and to adapt immediately. But they did because they are quality players and they are eager, serious professionals.”
What did the first games tell you, including the Champions League match? Looking at Inter who lost Lukaku and Juventus who lost Cristiano Ronaldo – they seem to be weakened, whereas Milan managed to hold on to most players and got a Champion like Giroud. Might it be fair to say that this year Milan could be one of the real favorites for the Scudetto?
“What we feel and what we know is that we are a strong team, we’re trained and prepared to win every single game. On Wednesday we encountered a team that was better than us, and that will be a stimulus, it will motivate us to do even better. We need to raise our level even more. Our level has certainly grown compared to last season, but I believe that the competition in the Italian league is very high, and that the Top 7 in the league are very close in terms of value on paper. But in the end it’s the field that determines everything. Tomorrow we must do our best to do better than our opponents.”
A question about an individual player who impressed at Liverpool and before that – Maignan. Would it be fair to see that Milan have already gotten over Donnarumma’s departure?
“We have no regrets over Donnarumma’s departure, we know what he gave to this team, we know what he brought to the team, to the squad, to the results, but we can say – in all honesty – that we have another great player. I really like the way Maignan works on a daily basis and the way he plays during the game. He is always focused, he is always inside the game and determined, always communicating. These things are not be taken for granted, he joined after the EURO’s, later than the team, with a new coach, with a different way of working, with a new language… so the fact that he’s adapted so quickly has shown great professionalism and always great curiosity – he wants to know about everything, he wants to be informed about everything, he wants to be able to put his skills at the team’s disposal. We have a very strong goalkeeper.”
The 10 minutes in which Milan played very well at Liverpool and scored two goals – it was 10 minutes because it was Liverpool and it was the Champions League – but, in Italy is it possible to stay at this level for the whole season?
“Well, I don’t think it was just 10 minutes because we were suffering until Liverpool’s penalty and then we played better and we started the second half better than they did. Looking at our disallowed goal, we can do nothing but congratulate the defenders on what they did, that goals to show just how important the slightest details are at this level. But we didn’t win the first three games in Italy by playing 10 good minutes – we played well for the whole match. At Liverpool we weren’t as aggressive and dynamic as we wanted to be. Partly because of our opponents strength and partly because we failed to do so. But if we want to win the Scudetto in Italy we need to play with that clearness of mind and that dynamism all season.”
Talking about Ibra and Giroud’s physical problems, there is curiosity about players that have yet to be seen – like Pellegri and Messias, who were brought in during the mercato to help the squad…
“Well, the moment will be when it’s the right moment, when they are in the right condition to help the team. Unfortunately Messias is not in condition yet, which is a pity, because I think he has shown he has the quality to help; Pellegri is available, he might be part of the game tomorrow, although he might not. However, he’s in a good condition, he is young, and he has good characteristics and a good attitude. He is a player who can give us a lot.”
When will Milan stand up and reject the interference from Raiola following his statements that Romagnoli could join Juventus next season, like they did in the case of Bakayoko and the racism? Secondly, Allegri has said that this match is more important for Milan than it is for Juventus and that is the job of the press to find out why…
“First of all about Bakayoko – I am proud to be at a Club that is in the frontline against every type of discrimination. We must continue on this path. As for Romagnoli, the agent does his job, I do mine. I can say that I’m very happy about Alessio’s performance as a player. I can agree with Raiola that Romagnoli is a great player, I’m happy to have such a good player at my availability and I will field the most motivated and determined players; at the moment they all are. As for the statements of Allegri, well he needs to give the answer… I think it’s a very important game for both teams because it is a head-to-head between two teams that aim to finish in the Top 4. But I am still convinced that in terms of the final position in the league, they key would be picking up as many points as possible against the teams outside the Top 7. So tomorrow will be important, but so will the match against Venezia and so will the game against Spezia. We prepare for each match with the same attention and the same effort.”
Since Allegri has returned, Juve defend deeper and counterattack more. How will you approach this change in attitude?
“It’s true that in these games Juventus have done it, but I’m convinced that tomorrow they will press us high. They’ll want to prove they’re stronger. We need to be ready for any situation – if they come to get us then they’ll leave us space, whereas if they wait for us they’ll allow us to control possession. We have our plans on the defensive phase, I believe that the closer you allow good opponents to get close to your penalty box, the more dangers you run.”
The difference between Milan and Liverpool – is it the different between the Premier League and Serie A, or is it a gap that can be filled?
“That is a very good question. Allow me to say that what we saw in Liverpool – from the pitch, to the stadium, to the host preparation… we can admit that in England they are at the very top. That is clear to say, they are at the top of the top. And the fact that the Premier League has 4 teams that are capable of winning the Champions League: Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City and Liverpool, shows how high their level is. We are trying to close that gap, it will take time, and it will take growth. Not just on the field but in our structures and facilities as well. The whole environment of Italian football needs to grow.”
Last season as coach of Milan you won a beautiful game against Juventus. But it was a different Juventus, with Ronaldo and Pirlo having left. What do you expect from Allegri’s Juve?
“What happened last season is the past. We can’t always talk about what we did in the past, it’s a different game, it’s a new game and a new challenge… we can beat them, playing with attention, paying very close attention and with greater quality than them. That is the only option to win games and we’ll try to do so.”
A question about injuries in these weeks: from Calabria, to Ibra and Giroud. Are we in danger of running the same risk of last season of having an injury crisis?
“I don’t know, but when you play this often then this situations do tend to occur. We are playing a lot of games at a very high level, very high intensity… there are different moments in a season but I’m sure the situation will improve. But it will not improve too much in the next games, only after the next international break.”
A question about Leão, who can be decisive facing Cuadrado and Chiesa tomorrow. He’s more consistent over the 90 minutes and alters his game better, but does he still need to improve his bond with Theo Hernández?
“Well, I don’t think you’re wrong… but I think Rebić and Leão are very different players. Leão is more suited to one on one, taking on his man, whereas Rebić is better at playing knock-ons. I think our left wing created a lot of scoring chances and that shows the collaboration is improving. I don’t think Cuadrado will be a fullback tomorrow, but we’ll see. What matters is that Leão is consistent across the game and continues the growth he’s shown in his first games.”
Juventus have completely changed since the last time Milan faced them. There have been 7 official games since then – 3 last season, 4 this season. This week, despite the defeat to Liverpool, there has been a lot of talk about Milan’s growth and improvement…
“We have always been focused on our own work and our balance. We didn’t come away from Anfield happy or satisfied. We analyzed our performance, we looked at the situations we could have improved on and the ones that we normally do better but we didn’t on that occasion, due to our opponent’s quality. These are instances that give us the chance to improve and continue to grow. We believe we are a strong team and we want to prove it every single game. Words count for little, tomorrow the field will decide the final result.”
What were the positives signs that came out of the game against Liverpool and what can be worked on?
“We can certainly improve on our build-up, Liverpool aggressed us well and harsh. So we did have more solutions, we could’ve passed the ball more quickly and have more movements off the ball to find the right channels to use. When we did that in the final part of the first half, we created Liverpool a lot of problems and scored two very good goals. Those are the good things. When we work well with our positioning, with our speed, tempo and quality, then we can put any opponent under pressure. And we did it against a very strong team like Liverpool.”
Do you expect the team to react with a stronger performance tomorrow compared to the one against Liverpool, or with a weaker performance due to fatigue and tiredness?
“What I expect is a stronger Milan and a more aware Milan. A Milan that has learnt from some of the burns we picked up. A Milan that knows better what needs to be done on the field. Tomorrow is another top-level game. In recent years, especially with Allegri in charge, Juventus have done very well, coming close to winning the Champions League. All of Juventus’ players are international players and Champions. They’re confident they can win the Scudetto, they’re confident they can be competitive in the Champions League. I expect a team with personality, a team that tries to dominate the game… the important thing is that we are an active team in both phases of the game, when we’re in possession and when we’re not – we must all be working together and on the front foot the entire match. If we do that, we’ll have our chances to win it.”
Will the duels between fullbacks and wingers, like Theo and Chiesa, be decisive in this game?
“Well, duels in football are always decisive. The team which wins the most duels will have the greater advantage so whether it’s on the wings of the center of the field, the head-to-head duels will be very important. And we’ll need to win as many as possible.”
How did the team react to the defeat in Liverpool?
“The team has absorbed that result, but in a good way. They’re focused on tomorrow’s game, it’s a different competition, it’s a different game… we’ll be focused on three league games and then we’ll think about the Champions League again. We did very well in the opening three matches of the league, tomorrow we want to have another great game.”
Do you think that if Juventus play with four man in midfield, will positioning be key?
“Yes, regardless of what formation Juve use, we need to take up the right positions, which is what we were lacking in the opening 20 minutes at Liverpool. When we did do it, we created Liverpool a lot of problems. Obviously, having advantages in development and midfield will give us an advantage in the final result.”