Stefano Pioli stated that ‘if we manage to do it even when we do not play well then it means we are on the right path and with the right spirit’, after Milan beat Spezia away from home on Saturday.
After beating Venezia 2-0 at Stadio San Siro on Wednesday, Milan today went to La Spezia to play at Stadio Alberto Picco – where they lost last season.
In view of the next matches against Atlético Madrid and Atalanta, Pioli rotated the squad, starting Rafael Leão and Brahim Díaz on the bench, and giving Daniel Maldini his first start ever for Milan, using him in the role of the trequartista.
The first half was difficult for the Diavolo, they did not create much and Spezia looked more dangerous, coming close to beating Mike Maignan on several occasions. Pioli made changes on half time, bringing on Leão for Ante Rebić and Pietro Pellegri for Olivier Giroud.
Like Theo Hernández and Alexis Saelemaekers against Venezia, Leão turned things around for Milan by coming off the bench. In the 48′ minute, he found Pierre Kalulu with a great ball from the left side to the right; the Frenchman crossed and found the head of Daniel, who beat Jeroen Zoet. Maldini got a goal on his debut as a starter in Serie A and got his dad Paolo smiling in the stands.
Milan did not have a dominating performance and they allowed Spezia back: in the 80′ minute Daniele Verde – who came off the bench – saw his shot get deflected off Sandro Tonali and beat Maignan. However, in the 86′ minute, Saelemaekers dribbled past several Spezia players, found Brahim Díaz and the Spaniard scored for the second match in a row and gave Milan the 2-1 win.
The Rossoneri returned home with the three points after a very difficult match and now have 16 points after 6 Serie A games, dropping points only against Juventus at the Allianz Stadium.
“This is proof that winning matches in Italy is difficult,” Pioli told MilanTV after the match. “Spezia have played aggressive football up to this point. Today, meanwhile, they sat back, closed the spaces and looked to counter so the game was more difficult but we remained a team and didn’t stop believing or playing. Most notably, we were able to raise the tempo and handle things after the equalizer, which can happen; a deflection leading an equalizer can happen. This was an important match because winning with this mentality, this competitive streak, this desire to win at all costs, represents growth for a team that I’m finding more and more convincing.
“I hope to have the whole squad at my disposal as soon as possible. Believe me: today, I saw players who really put their heart and soul into it but they were also tired, especially guys like Rebić, Díaz and Leão, who did well when he came on. It was our 5th game in 14 days. From a mental and physical perspective, it’s difficult to maintain certain levels, this is normal. I have a deep squad and I hope I’ll have an even deeper one after the international break with the return of all the others because we need everyone and with this spirit, this quality and these options there’s a higher chance of winning.
On Maldini: “I’m delighted for him, and he deserves it due to the way he works, the commitment and willingness he displays. He knows he still needs to grow and improve a lot, and I think he has the talent to make great strides forward. I think he can do better in terms of the intensity of his movement, to free himself when looking for the ball, after which he has the quality to make a difference and the most out of important situations.
On the choices in attack: “When I make the choices, I don’t have an identity card in hand… These are guys who are committed, who work hard and who know what it means to be a team. They know what they need to put at the team’s disposal. They are ready and Milan players. They are strong, because if they are at Milan it means they have the quality to do well. It’s also clear that we can expect a few mistakes, because this is normal; playing means making mistakes, especially for those who are yet to completely mature.”
On Leão: “I’ve said it since the start of the season: Leão now displays much more willingness, and is much more involved. Today, he was unlucky, but he was much more efficient in attack because I think he had a go 4 or 5 times and just missed out on scoring every time, so he certainly has the quality to set games alight, to create situations where we have men over, which he’s doing, and he needs to continue to do so.”
On the injury situation: “As regards to our injured players, we’ll see how things are tomorrow. Tomorrow, we’ll be just 2 days away from Tuesday’s Champions League match; we’ll do as we know best, with this spirit. With the resources we have, we’ll be able to send out a competitive side against a team that lost for the first time today but who are very strong and used to certain matches, who are experienced, mature and shrewd, who have won games in the dying minutes, so we’ll have to produce a big performance.”
On Gazidis: “Allow me, on behalf of myself, and, above all, the whole squad, to send my wishes to Ivan Gazidis, who we hear from a lot. We’re often in contact and feel his affection. We hope to see him again soon, I’m sure this will happen soon and we’ll be even stronger together.”
Speaking to DAZN, Pioli said: “It was a complicated game, the fifth in 14 days, with the heat and against a team that is doing well. It’s a great victory, I think we played well, but not very well. It’s important to win these games, where you suffer because it means that we are growing. It is too easy to win games when you play well, if we manage to do it even when we don’t play well then it means we are on the right path and with the right spirit.
On Brahim Diaz and the goals of the trequartisti: “They work a lot for the team and are decisive in the phase of possession and in the phase of non-possession.
On the personality shown by the players: “It emphasizes that this is a young squad, but they believe in themselves, in the team and in our approach to football. We mustn’t lose our humility, but it’s only right they feel able to handle certain pressure and win any game. The pressure and expectations have increased around us this season, but we are showing that we can handle that. I see and feel the right attitudes from these guys.”
On the tactical situations of the match: “We knew that we could attack the space with the full-backs or wingers, but we didn’t break them down many times in the first half. It took a while for the spaces to open up and we largely dominated the game.
On Maldini: “The important thing about Daniel is that he has talent. He has technique, a good vision of the game, but needs to be quicker and more intensive in shaking off his marker. Bourabia was keeping tight to him and all he needed was another couple of meters to get away from his marker and open up those spaces. He has to above all grow in that. His first start was against Rio Ave a year ago playing as a False 9, so this was really his first start. He worked a lot. Today he played in his role and scored a good goal. He has the quality to make an impact in future and can only get better.”
On the squad depth: “I cannot wait to have the full depth of the squad available, as the club did so well to give me a group with many first-team players to choose from. We have many solutions in every department. I was worried about this game, first of all because the pitch is not a size suited to our style of football and frankly I think it’s unfair that different stadiums in Serie A have different sizes of pitch. We play every three days and there is a need for a lot of availability and all the guys who come in give everything. We have to feed this strength. Once again, we were able to suffer and take home the win, which is a sign of real mental strength, because you need to have that in your locker and cannot always dominate the opponent. That means we are really maturing now.”
On the performances of Leão and Saelemaekers: “Definitely Leão’s positioning gave us advantages. Theo had movements that bothered the opponents. Saelemaekers did well and I expect a lot from him, I think he can grow in reading the situations of the opponents, like in the Maggiore case. When you play you can make mistakes, but he did well and can grow further.”
Pioli also had a post-match press conference: “We showed character. We wanted to win, we wanted to react to the draw and we were very good at it. It wasn’t our best performance from a technical point of view and being able to win matches where we don’t express ourselves at our best is a fundamental step forward.”
What advice will you continue to give Maldini?
“Many, because he is young. He can improve in losing his marker, this can allow him to have more time in the next play, and he has the qualities to determine these situations. It was a difficult game, Spezia had attacked against everyone up to this point and today they sat behind the ball, so there were less spaces for the trequartisti. We have been insisting for a year to get Daniel inside the penalty area because he doesn’t go there very often, the goal is an important situation. I’m very happy for his goal and for his debut, he will need to have even more conviction and confidence in his means.”
What emotion is it for the Milan World to have a goal scored by a player with this surname?
“I think it’s an important emotion. Maldini represents a lot for Milan. I was Cesare Maldini’s player in the U21 Italy side and I played there with Paolo, who today is the director with whom I spend every day, together with Massara. Now I coach his son. Maldini is Milan and we are all happy, also due to the quality of the opponent, the smaller pitch and the fans, it was an important success.”
Can you tell us about Paolo Maldini before and after the match today?
“Paolo and Massara usually watch the last training before a match and from the dead-ball situations they understand who is going to play. They are high-level directors, they never speak the day before about the choices I make. Clearly Paolo must have been very excited. Besides having the weight and the responsibility of the team, today he also had the emotion of his son being on the pitch. We greeted each other at the end of the match and he was very happy, especially for the victory on the pitch, but also for his son’s goal.
Was the team very happy at the end?
“Yes, everyone has to be. We tried to be a team from start to finish. From the point of view of dynamism, we could have done better, but we lack not winning the games when we don’t dominate. Sometimes our imprecision didn’t allow us to have a better match, but winning a game like this, in the heat, against a strong team, is important and makes us understand that details make the difference.”
What is the situation of the injured players?
“I hadn’t predetermined everything, but I had in my head to replace Rebić and Giroud and to have them play only one half. Rebić was in his 5th match in a row and as is normal, he was lacking sharpness, you could see it. Giroud returned after COVID-19 and the low back pain, so it’s normal that he suffered from the rhythm of the match, but this game will improve his condition. Calabria came on well, he’s fine and these minutes will be good for him going forward. Of those who stayed at home, I think Kjær and Florenzi are the ones that we’ll know by Monday if they’ll be available for Tuesday; the others will have to wait until after the break.”