Pioli: “We are aware of how important this match is, Napoli have a lot of qualities, we must raise the bar of our performance, Theo is more no than yes”

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Stefano Pioli during a press conference at Milanello. (@acmilan.com)

Stefano Pioli has spoken to the press ahead of tomorrow’s Napoli game, suggesting his side knows they can do better than they did in the last games.

After crashing out of Europe and drawing Udinese in the last minute of the game, Milan return to action tomorrow and they have a huge match in hand: Napoli at Stadio San Siro (20:45 CET).

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:

From Fiorentina onwards, teams face Milan with a very high defense line, have you noticed that as well?
“We must be ready for this, we face capable opponents who prepare for matches in a careful way and who are waiting for us, and we must be intelligent and lucid to make the right choices at the right time.”

There is a taboo for you and Milan to dispel: against Napoli it’s been 7 years without a win at San Siro, and you have never beaten Spalletti. Is it a particular challenge?
“Honestly, I didn’t know these numbers… Milan helped me to overcome many things, maybe they will help me tomorrow we as well.”

Zlatan Ibrahimović during training at Milanello. (@acmilan.com)

Is the glass half full or half empty? Should Milan be satisfied with their position in the standings or have they lost too many points?
“We are doing a very good first round but there are still 2 games to go. I would really like to surpass last season’s 43 points at the midway point. To do that we need to start pushing really hard again. Napoli is a team with a lot of quality, they’ve also had a great first half to the season, and they have a great coach and top players. We are going to have to raise the bar of our performance.”

Are we witnessing the first real ‘fuga’ [breakaway the standings] from Inter?
“I don’t think we can talk about a ‘fuga’ yet. I absolutely don’t think that championships are won in December. Last year we led for a good part of the second round and then we know how it turned out. We have to aim to do better than last year. The first year together we got 66 points, the second year 79 points and the objective is to do better, especially in the second round.”

Sandro Tonali during training at Milanello. (@acmilan.com)

The importance of Tonali: did the substitutions in Udine in the second half prove that he is essential?
“I am absolutely convinced that Tonali can still grow a lot in terms of the game, both offensively and defensively. But we have no player who can determine the result of a match on his way, both negatively and positively.”

Are you worried about a decline? Last season it happened in the second round, after January…
“We are not running against anyone else, we’re running against ourselves. Our last two matches, against Liverpool and Udinese, were not some of our best. The team is fully aware of that fact, tomorrow we need to try to bring our qualities and style to the field; with consistency, conviction and strength for the full 95 minutes because our opponents tomorrow are a top-tier team, meaning we’ll have to play to our full potential.”

Junior Messias during training at Milanello. (@acmilan.com)

What can be the tactical key, given that Napoli adopts a game system that mirrors yours?
“Napoli is not entirely mirroring us because players like Anguissa and Zieliński reverse positions. They have a very dynamic midfield. The tactical key is the quality in the move and in the choice at the right time. We must focus on our style of play, we are among the first in Italy to win back high balls; as long as the advantages outweigh the risks then we must continue like this.”

On the subject of injuries, things are slowly resolving: did you understand what the problem was?
“We are working to find the solutions; we have analyzed the situation of November because it was a difficult month for us. That’s why we’ve tried to increase preventative measures as well as recovery work, while going into depth on the data on workloads and we’ve always tried to stimulate the players in being more careful and more precise in their daily work. Therefore, I expect to see improvements, improvements which have started but then we had injuries which last longer than two weeks, possibly 3-4; but playing a game every few days means that the player is out for 7-8 matches. We are confident the situation is improving”

Olivier Giroud during training at Milanello. (@acmilan.com)

How did the team react to the elimination from Europe and to the performance in Udine?
“The team has reacted in the same way it always has: we dove back into our work with greater attention, enthusiasm and determination. What I’ve seen this week is what I had expected: great engagement, great desire to do things properly. Obviously, we’ve focused on the situations that caused us problems. In terms of the individuals, I think everyone has trained well except for Theo who’s had some problems, everyone else has worked very well, with great focus as well as the right intensity and quality.”

Will the winter break be used to have a different type of preparation?
“If we hadn’t had all the drop last year, I think we would have won the Scudetto. It would have been a fantastic thing to go from 10th place to the Scudetto within a year, but it’s normal in our growth path to have had that drop. The break does not allow you to do any other work other than recovering and preparing for the game against Roma. The players will have a few days off after Empoli and then we’ll prepare for the game against Roma and the other commitments in January. This year I expect to score more points than last year in the second round of the season.”

Theo Hernández during training at Milanello. (@acmilan.com)

Is Theo Hernández available for tomorrow?
“Theo has had problems, a flu syndrome, so he always worked apart: he never went out on the field. To date it is more ‘no’ than ‘yes’, tomorrow we’ll talk to the guy and decide what the best solution will be.

Brahim Díaz comes off a not so shard period: is he suffering a bit also from different pressure compared to past years?
“It’s possible that COVID has taken something away from him, when you are used to training with a certain intensity every day, such a forced stop is felt; at the moment it’s not a physical problem. He has to find those technical plays he has. It may be that he feels a bit of pressure, this year he is more responsible. They are young guys, they may have difficulties.”

Stefano Pioli and Alessandro Florenzi during training at Milanello. (@acmilan.com)

January is a busy month and Milan will lose three players for the Africa Cup of Nations: are you in favor of postponing the tournament? Will the club allow the players to leave?
“I am always in favor of protecting the health of my players. I don’t have the situations in hand to express an opinion, the club will make the best choice based on the situation that will arise.”

Is the different compared to Inter in midfield?
“I don’t understand why we keep talking about another team. We have our players and I’m happy with mine. In the last two games we’ve done something less in terms of quality, if you go down in quality then it’s more difficult to win games.”

Ismaël Bennacer during training at Milanello. (@acmilan.com)

Could Napoli’s misstep against Empoli be an obstacle for you tomorrow night?
“It was a false stand only from the point of view of the result, they had the performance. Our last match aside, for both sides, we’re both aware of how important this match is; it’s a face-off between two teams that are doing very well so I expect Napoli to be determined, intense and attentive. As I expect us to be, too.”

Given the absences of Rebić and Leão, who can give a hand by taking over from the bench?
“Good question… the difficulties lie in choosing the ‘best’ players to start the game and then having valid alternatives with different characteristics to change certain situation that don’t go as we would’ve liked them. We have several solutions on the bench.”

Is Theo on a decline?
“From a physical pint of view he could be better, it has not been a good week for him. From a psychological point of view he is very aware, he knows he can do better than in the last few weeks.”

Stefano Pioli during training at Milanello. (@acmilan.com)

Do you take a look at the Primavera every now and then?
“I know the guys well, they often train with us because we use them as sparring partners. I also talk to Giunti a lot. We follow the lads on a daily basis in the hope that they can make the step up to the first team.”

Why do we need to believe in this Milan team?
“We need ‘positive realism’… we are not confident because we hope that something particular will happen but instead we have our certainties and convictions, we have our qualities; the team’s development is proof of it. The fact we’ve had a couple of missteps, a few games when we didn’t play at our best, is true, but my squad is so intelligent and aware that they know they must do better to stay at the top of the table. Our goal is to continue growing and improving and we have all the qualities, and all the support from our fans, to do so.”

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