Stefano Pioli believes his side did well in the 1-1 draw against Inter at San Siro last night, but thinks a 7-point lead at this stage of the season is not a lot.
After 7 consecutive wins in Serie A, on Sunday night Milan welcomed Inter at home for the first Derby della Madonnina of the 2021/22 Serie A season.
The Rossoneri, coming from 2nd place, having just seen Napoli drop points against Hellas Verona, had a chance to beat Inter and open a +10 lead over them after 12 rounds of football.
However, the match proved to be as difficult as expected. After 10 minutes, Franck Kessié made a stupid foul on Hakan Çalhanoğlu inside the Milan penalty area. The Turkish, who was booed by the Milan fans every time he touched the ball, scored past Ciprian Tătăruşanu and then provocatively teased the Rossoneri tifosi. 6 minutes later, a Sandro Tonali free kick found the head of Stefan de Vrij of all people and the Dutchman scored into his own net to make it 1-1.
In the 25′ minute, Inter got another penalty – this time Fodé Ballo-Touré with the foul on Matteo Darmian. However, Tătăruşanu rose to the occasion and saved the kick of Lautaro Martínez. There were chances for both sides throughout the match but neither side was sharp enough to take home the victory: Lautaro, Arturo Vidal and Nicolò Barella nearly scored for Inter, while Zlatan Ibrahimović, Alexis Saelemaekers and Kessié came close for the Rossoneri.
At the end of 93 minutes, the points were shared and the status quo at the top of Serie A remained.
“Is the glass half full or half empty? The glass is half-full,” Pioli told DAZN after the match. “You obviously prepare for games to win, but it was complicated and difficult, the team showed a lot of spirit and we struggled a bit too much in the first half, but then emerged after the break. The performance was positive against a very strong team, but we proved to be strong as well.”
On if last year’s Derby help Milan learn and improve: “It’s normal. It was a positive performance. Look at the average age difference for the starting XI between Milan and Inter. Now we play games with more conviction. We needed time to gain that experience, form that confidence and now we can fight it out with the best in Serie A. Inter are certainly among the strongest in the league. There can be difficulties, but we showed courage tonight again and both teams had the opportunities to win.”
On the reaction and on the recovery of Rebić: “The reaction was there. We made a naïve error on the penalty, but maintained our ideas and approach to turn this around. We could’ve sought Ibrahimović more and leaned on him more, as we didn’t give him enough service, but it’s also true that we were still dangerous, fought for every ball and never stepped back. As for Ante, his recovery is very important, as he has important characteristics: the change of pace and he is very aggressive. There was a need, we pushed Leão hard in recent weeks and we saw he was a little less sharp tonight, inevitably because he played practically every game for the last three weeks, even though he too gave everything for the team.”
On how to stay on the pitch: “We were courageous in attack, but also in defense, where we accepted one-on-one situations with players like Džeko and Lautaro Martínez. In the first half the midfield should have stayed a little further back, there was too much space in front of the defense. In all of Europe’s top five Leagues, only Napoli and Milan are still unbeaten this season, and that says a lot about how we are doing. We were eager to bring home another positive result.”
On if there’s depth in the squad: “Absolutely yes. I’m very happy. We are ambitious, the club has provided me with important potential. Now we need to also recover Messias. Those who came off the bench tonight are strong players, I’m lucky enough to coach many good players and we must maintain this desire to work together and maintain this availability.”
On the international break: “Am I going on vacation? No, but there will be a few days a bit more relaxed, yes. Afterwards we won’t have any more stops until December 22. Now we need to recover energy, I appeal to my players who go to their national teams to work well and return healthy.”
On the environment: “We are all working well, when there is harmony between the club, players and fans – we work well.”
Speaking to MilanTV, Pioli said: “I believe the title race will be tough until the end with 4 or 5 teams in the running for the Scudetto. We must believe we can fight until the end of the season, many things can happen and we must stay focused but this is the right mindset.”
On the match: “I come away from tonight with the great spirit shown by my players, even when we were on the back foot we never backed down and never had to bring our midfielders deeper. We took them on 1v1 without fear, we never stopped playing with courage and intensity. During the game, you’re going to go through tough patches, but overcoming and reacting well, stopping our opponents and pushing forward to win is essential. We need to maintain this desire to prove ourselves and to push beyond our limits, to prove ourselves against the strongest opponents. Inter are a strong team, they beat us to the title by 13 points last season. The fact we’re where we are, as are Napoli, shows we’re doing something important. We must continue working like this if we wish to be ambitious, as we do. This is just the beginning.”
On Brahim’s position: “We didn’t want to give points of reference to their defenders, so we put two trequartisti on Brozović. We need to play more through balls or more long balls for Ibrahimović to play on for Krunić or Díaz, but we didn’t always manage it. That was our plan and we tried to carry it out. When I saw Brahim start to tire and Inter start to push more, I brought on Saelemaekers who came on very well and did well.”
On errors and the subs: “We should have managed possession better in certain circumstances, we had started off better by controlling things. But after the first penalty, which came from a mistake we shouldn’t have made the game got tougher. Moreover, the flow of a game needs to be read and interpreted, things on the field can change. I’m lucky to have more than 11 starters: I brought on Kalulu, Bennacer, Bakayoko, Saelemaekers and Rebić. That needs to be our strength.”
On the fans: “I want to give credit to our fans, I wasn’t surprised because I’ve come to know them but the choreography was a fantastic gesture of solidarity and respect, despite the importance and tension of the match, showing respect and solidarity for the professionals who have been helping us overcome this pandemic. The fans deserve praise for their initiative, I am proud to have such fans.”
Pioli also held a post-match press conference: “We started well, we were aggressive and managed the game. Then we reacted and played ball after ball against a strong team.”
Can you comment post-match on the choices made? Did you say goodbye to Çalhanoğlu?
“The choices were because Saelemaekers seemed to me to be in decline in terms of performance, especially from a technical point of view, and because I wanted to play with two trequartisti to remove points of reference for Inter. As for Hakan, we said goodbye normally at the end of the match.”
Does this match confirm Milan’s Scudetto ambitions?
“It increases the awareness of our means. Tonight I saw a courageous team, with spirit and with initiative: certainly stringer than last year.”
Is the advantage over Inter already important?
“I believe that 7 points are few at the moments. Inter is a very strong team, there are 4-5 teams that will fight until the end for the Scudetto.”
What do you think about the choreography of the Rossoneri fans?
“I was not surprised because I’ve got to know the Rossoneri fans. In such a heartfelt and delicate match, to dedicate a thought to a professional category that worked hard in a difficult moment… I’m proud of the Milan fans.”
On head-to-head matches: “The difference will be made by the points earned in other matches, even if we have shown that we can do well also in the head-to-head games. The matches to be prepared for as best as possible are those against Fiorentina, Sassuolo, Udinese and Genoa. Right after the break we have to do well. I hope that my national team players do well in the national teams and then return well to Milan.”
On the quality of the game: “The quality of the game and the right determination are the winning combination. When the levels are very similar, the games have to be fought. I liked the team’s mentality, it didn’t break down in the favorable situations of Inter and on the contrary – we recovered and tried to win. We are doing better than last year: there is still a lot of room to keep this level. We are a growing team, we are a strong team.”