Stefano Pioli Stefano Pioli has spoken at length ahead of tomorrow’s Spezia match, saying ‘We need to produce a professional performance and we need to play as Milan with our qualities’.
The Rossoneri take on Spezia away from home tomorrow at 15:00 CET. On paper it’s the easiest fixture of Milan in the last week before the international break, as they face Atletico Madrid in the Champions League and Atalanta in Serie A next, but it will surely be a very tricky encounter for Stefano Pioli’s side, who will look to add another victory to their record of 4 W’s and 1 D.
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:
Last year in terms of numbers and statistics, Milan took more points on the road than they did at home, whereas this season it’s three wins in as many matches at San Siro. Last year there was a lot of talk about the crowd not bring there, playing behind closed doors, you always said that it would actually be a significant factor to have the supporters behind you, and I think the three home wins at the stadium of the season have proven you right…
“It goes without saying that we have more energy, greater enthusiasm and more support with our fans behind us. The going can get tough, but with the helping hand, with the support, the positivity of the fans, we can of course get back on track. It’s certainly right that we have started well at home but we’re only at the start of the season. Tomorrow we won’t be playing at home, tomorrow’s game is another match that we have to approach as best we can and we need to perform better than the opposition, and our opponents deserve the utmost respect.”
Speaking of respecting the opposition, have you spoken about the game against Spezia from last season which was arguably Milan’s worst performance last term? Have you spoken about the importance of going to a smaller club like Spezia and playing like Milan?
“We didn’t go to Turin thinking about the fact that we won 3-0 last year at the Allianz Stadium, we certainly won’t go to Spezia thinking about what happened last year. Of course, we’ve always respected our opponents and we’ll do so again tomorrow. We need to produce a professional performance and we need to play as Milan with our qualities and try to be a team from the first to the last whistle.”
I wanted to ask you about Brahim Díaz: he’s played very well in all of your matches, he’s had a wonderful start to the season. Do you think of resting Brahim ahead of the Champions League game?
“He’s fit and firing, but so are all the other players. And of course it’s an important match tomorrow, after a number of significant fixtures, so I will assess my players’ fitness levels so I can pick the best possible team. Once again, it’s very important who starts the game but it’s equally important – if not more important – who can actually the game off the bench.”
Speaking about the issues you’ve had in terms of absentees, the Venezia game looked like it might get a bit tricky, but you’ve got some quality players such as Brahim Díaz, Rafael Leão and Theo Hernández… How important is it to have players such as these in a match like this? Players who have the ability to beat their opponents one-against-one and break the deadlock?
“Ultimately, in the final third, those qualities can make the difference and thankfully I have a number of quality players. So we need to do a good job tomorrow night to try and dominate, to take the game to the opposition and where we can we need to try and come up with these pieces of skill which can afford us an advantage.”
I have a question about the squad list: how is Giroud? Will he travel and how important could it be to get him back, especially to give Rebić a helping hand, given that he has taken on all the burden in the last few days? And what did you make of Pellegri’s debut?
“Giroud is available for selection, he is now fit. He has trained with us for the last two days, he’s looking fit and firing as ever, he’s been very enthusiasm and he could be involved tomorrow afternoon. I haven’t decided yet to whether he’ll start or come off the bench. As for Pellegri, he played well, he’s a striker that runs up the pitch, that’s exactly what he needs to do and we ultimately need to harness all of the qualities of our center forwards, because we try to play differently between the lines. I think he played well, I think he’s a good player with some excellent qualities and he can also play his part.”
You’ve had a whole host of injuries, muscle injuries, at the start of the season. Are you concerned by that? And looking at the other clubs, how does it compare with their injury situations? Have you spoken about it with your staff?
“I’m pleased with this question because it’d be nice to actually clarify the situation. From the start of the season we’ve only actually had 2 muscle injuries, they were Kessié – unfortunately it was a tricky situation because he had this issue and he came back – and then Krunić actually picked up a muscle injury on international duty with Bosnia… Calabria, for instance, who is available for tomorrow, Kjær, who is on the treatment table – it’s due to fatigue injuries; over the course of the week I might have gotten them back, this week we’re playing every three days. Bakayoko, Zlatan, Giroud – those have all been knocks that led to swelling or back pain for Giroud, or tendon issues for Bakayoko. Junior Messias came here with a few issues and is now getting over them. So, 2 muscle injuries since the end of July are not a high proportion… Of course, it’s disappointing not to have everyone available for selection, but we are improving on that score and we hope that we can have the full squad available to pick from because I have an excellent group of players.”
Last year you were also almost the surprise package with a fairly carefree side that overturned the odds almost… you were the surprise package in Serie A and you went very close to winning the Scudetto and finished as runners-up. Now that you still have one of the youngest squads in Serie A, do you believe your squad has the awareness, the self-confidence and the maturity to go the distance?
“Yes, absolutely. You are the ones who have really highlighted in these interviews with my players, where they’ve said that they can and want to win every single match. On paper, of course, if I only need to look at the team that we pick against Venezia, I think we are the youngest team in the league in terms starting XI, but that’s not case really from a mental perspective, in terms of know-how, in terms of the way we play, the team has really come leaps and bounds. So it’s not only a young team, I’m actually working with a mature group of players. Of course we need to take things one game at a time, we know that tomorrow’s match will be the most important match – the trickiest fixture. But we know that we can play very well from tomorrow to the end of the season, absolutely. But there is a lot of competiveness in Italy and that’s why we need to be 100%.”
Based on the current league standings, after five matches, it looks like Napoli and Inter are your fiercest challengers for the Scudetto. Is there something you’re envious of Spalletti and Inzaghi and do you think they might be envious of something that you have?
“No, to be honest. Napoli has barely changed, I expected them to be there. They’ve brought in Anguissa, who’s a very good player and someone I was already familiar with. They have an excellent coach and from the technical and tactical perspective, they have nothing to envy anyone else. In fact, they have one of the largest squads in Serie A because they can swap players in the middle of the park and in the final third, and their levels don’t drop at all. So the fact that Napoli are competing for the Scudetto is something that we knew right from the outset, five wins are a lot, it’s a long season. But the same goes for Atalanta, they are on 10 points and in the past few seasons Atalanta have always made a slightly slow start but they always pick up speed. So I think it’ll be a very balanced season. There are a number of teams that challenge for the summit and indeed for the Top 4 and it’s those Top 4 places that we all want to reach. However, I’m very pleased with the team I have. The fact that I haven’t been able to work with the full squad available is a bit of a pity and a shame but that will soon come to pass. We’ve got a very high quality squad and that means we’ve got a whole host of options so we need to keep playing with these energy, this work-rate, this intensity and this quality, and I really believe we can have success.”
In terms of Plizzari’s injury, are you thinking of signing another goalkeeper to cover him?
“No, that’s not something we’ve planned for because we’ve got some very exciting young goalkeepers so we’re more than covered with Maignan and Tătăruşanu, so I think we’ll keep going like this.”
One of the main issues of playing away at Spezia, we saw it against Juventus, is the very tight, cramped, pitch. Do you think that is an issue and how can you overcome that?
“I’m not sure of the exact dimensions, but yes – when you go there the pitch does appear smaller than other grounds. But on paper, of course, we do face a very intense match because these days in the modern game it’s very quick-football, high-tempo and in terms of our approach we need to make sure that we show this intensity. I also need to make sure that we set out properly, the pitch might be a bit smaller but when you are attacking, if you are able to use the full width of the pitch and have players run high up the pitch and you also have options to play between the lines, it can be very difficult for the opposition to cover the pitch. So we need to keep a lucid head from a tactical perspective, we need to pick out some good positions and we need to play quickly. Because the opposition will try to press us and close us down, that’s why we need to be very quick in terms of the way that we think.”
Two things: the first concerns Florenzi’s fitness; the second concerns Leão: you’ve said that he’s changed a great deal, is this the season where you expect Leão to score 12 or maybe even 15 goals? This term this is what you need to see from a wide player in your system…
“On Florenzi, we do get Giroud and Calabria back, but Florenzi won’t be available for selection because he’s taken a knock to the knee. He wasn’t able to train this morning and I hope that he will be available for Tuesday night’s game against Atlético Madrid, he’s not yet 100% from a fitness perspective but he’s a very intelligent player and I hope he can soon get up to speed. But I really rely on him in terms of his experience, his intelligence, building out from the back… he’s got a good footballing brain and he’s someone I really rely on. As for Leão, I think the last step in his maturity needs to be becoming more clinical, both when it comes to finishing and in teeing up teammates. He knows that, he’s a very different player and much improved player in terms of the way he approaches the game compared to last season, and I do believe he will make that last step up. It is the last step up and it’s a very significant one.”
What did you make of your second-string Wednesday night? Do you plan to tweak your team, maybe not make a big overhaul like on Wednesday night?
“Yes, they all played well, they were all ready to step in, the team kept their shape and we approached the match very well. We created chances and we didn’t afford the opposition too many opportunities. The players were switched on and we had some positive performances in there and that’s very important going forward. As for tomorrow, when all the players are fit and firing, when everyone is 100% fit then I simply have to make footballing decisions. But when it comes to someone playing a bit too much or someone who is not quite 100% then I have to make decisions based on that. I’ll pick the best possible team I can based on how the team is looking from a physical perspective and based on what they’re looking like tomorrow morning.”
In terms of your development as a team, people have spoken a great deal about how solid the backline is. But in the final third, I think your attack is very different in terms of qualities and characteristics. In terms of tactics – at the start of the season we spoke a great deal about varying things and mixing things up with Giroud’s arrival. The fact that you have so many attacking options, regardless of the current issues with injuries, and they are all very different players – is that harder for a coach to get his ideas and mind clear in terms of who he should pick, or is it a bonus or a benefit? And how important has it been to have 5 substitutions in the modern game, because I think you are one of those coaches who uses your substitutions very well?
“I think it’s very stimulating to work with all these different attacking options for me and it’s a great motivation for the team as well. Because my aim, our aim, is to maximize and harness the ability of the players that I have available. So if there’s a player who’s good near the touchline then I’ll keep him out there, whereas if there’s someone between the lines then I’ll ask him to come short and I’ll ask someone else to run in behind. That’s always been my aim, to try to harness the players and put them in the best possible condition to maximize their ability so that’s very exciting to try and come up with different solutions, game-in game-out based on who’s playing. I think it’s very motivating for the players themselves and it’s nice because it never becomes monotonous, we always try to tweak things, we always try to come up with situations that might give us a bit of an edge compared with the opposition. As for the 5 substitutions, for me they are hugely important. I’ve been saying this for a while now, but ever since the rule change and we now have 23 players available, it was a shame to only make the most of 3 substitutions, so it’s very important – especially in this period where we have a game every 3 days. So we need to do a good job of being and willing to step in and it doesn’t matter how many minutes to play, it’s ultimately the quality of the playing time that you have, and that will allow us to try and secure some results. [Smiles] I would also have a rule for effective playing time and a time-out in the first half… we want a more offensive football so let’s have backward violation as well – when you cross the halfway line you can’t go back.”
There have been 150 French players in Serie A over the last 30 years, there have been very few French goalkeepers and there have been very few starters: Sébastien Frey who I think you know, Alban Lafont and now Mike Maignan. Are you more curious about the French school of goalkeepers, or is it a coincidence that you coached two of those three ‘keepers?
“With regards to Lafont, Fiorentina actually put him forward and they actually already scouted this very promising young goalkeeper before I came into the job, he was a good goalkeeper, he had a few issues but I think it’s only natural for such a young player. Mike, meanwhile, is someone who we discovered when we went to play in the Europa League game against Lille. I think the club had already seen him, but we kept an eye on him and we kept track him because we really liked his performances. I really enjoy coaching him, he’s a wonderful person, a very open guy, very approachable, he’s very precise, scrupulous and he prepares as best as he can to try and help the team out. He’s doing a very good job. It’s a delight coaching him. But I don’t necessarily think that Italy is against French goalkeepers, I don’t think any coach has ruled out any players. My only aim as a coach is to try and put out the best team to win matches, so if the goalkeeper is French, English or Italian it doesn’t matter.”
Maignan has shown that he’s a complete goalkeeper, is there an area that has surprised you in terms of his reactivity, playing with his feet, etc…?
“We lost 3-0 at home to Lille last season and that didn’t really tell the whole story. But I was struck by how he kept speaking, how he kept organizing the backline, and having coached him – I have the confirmation of the fact that he is someone who is very involved and that’s a very important characteristic.”
At last season’s game against at La Spezia, what went wrong and what must you avoid getting wrong tomorrow afternoon? They’ve got a new head-coach now, they play under Thiago Motta… what has changed for Spezia? What do you need to ensure you do tomorrow?
“I said it’s pointless looking back, but very quickly: we got everything wrong at La Spezia last season, we didn’t do anything well in that fixture last year in terms of causing problems for the opposition, so we need to do the opposite tomorrow. We need to play like Milan, we need to be more dangerous than them and try and not concede too many opportunities, and we need to try and be a team from the first to the last minute with all our quality and try to play with the right tempo so we can cause problems for Spezia.”
Last year we saw Leão in different positions, we saw him play as a center forward, sometimes out wide and occasionally in the number 10 position. This year you’ve always played him wide-left in a 4-2-3-1 system. This stability – is it also behind the fact that he has improved from one game to the next?
“Yes, I think this could be one of the reasons, absolutely. However, when I joined up with him on July 8, he already looked a different player, he was more determined, he was more precise, and he had a greater desire to work with the entire team as a whole. That’s of course the area of the pitch where he prefers to operate and where I prefer to pick him there because he always gives us the opportunity to have the one-against-one in the final third, he always can beat his opponent. Last year, when we needed to, we picked him elsewhere, and I’ll do that again this season because he’s willing to step in to different positions, but I think he does prefer to play wide-left.”
Milan have some of the fewest bookings in the league, only 4, thus far – one for the Tonali-Dybala incident at Juventus, and the other three were just for fouls. Is that nice for a coach? Does that show that the team is working well?
“We try and win the ball high up the pitch and we press high. This shows that we actually press well and in a timely fashion because we don’t simply sit back. This is a great motivation to kick on and keep doing this and I’m very pleased that we don’t pick up yellow cards or red cards for dissent; we need to simply focus on playing football, giving 100% and doing so with the utmost of focus. We mustn’t waste time or energy on situations we can’t control because ultimately the referee is in charge so as we commit mistakes so can the match official.”
Spezia close the space down well and then break quickly, based on what they did against Juventus. What do Milan need to do to try and hurt Spezia through the middle? Do you need to play the ball quickly forward or do you need to press high and win it back high?
“Spezia produced an excellent performance against Juventus, they had an opportunity to have a two-goal lead, to go 3-1 up, and so we need to be very careful when we come against them. I think we need to make sure that we mix things up as much as possible. Of course it if do press high and win it back you can immediately drive towards the opposition’s goal and you can also stop their pacey forwards from breaking and running at you. So that’s an approach that we need to see a great deal tomorrow in terms of intensity and quality, but then we’ll see as to whether we need to be very aggressive or whether they’ll sit back and leave us a bit of space.”