Stefano Pioli was happy with the three points against Roma, but stresses it would all mean nothing unless the Rossoneri show consistency.
After the long Christmas and New Year’s break, Milan returned to action last night at Stadio San Siro, but already on the first match of 2022, coach Stefano Pioli had to deal with an emergency.
Pioli was without the injured Alessandro Plizzari, Simon Kjær and Pietro Pellegri, without Fodé Ballo-Touré, Franck Kessié and Ismaël Bennacer are in AFCON, and without Ciprian Tătăruşanu, Davide Calabria, Fikayo Tomori, Alessio Romagnoli and Samu Castillejo who all in the last week tested positive for COVID-19 and are out.
Despite all that, the Rossoneri managed to beat José Mourinho’s Roma, and they did it convincingly. After 8 minutes, Theo Hernández’s shot from outside the box hit the arm of Tammy Abraham and referee Daniele Chiffi awarded a penalty to Milan; Olivier Giroud took it and scored.
In the 17′ minute, a mistake in the defense of Roma saw Giroud getting the ball in a good position; the Frenchman got past Rui Patrício but his ball hit the post; however, Junior Messias got to the rebound and made it 2-0. Before the half time (40′), a ball once again deflected off Tammy Abraham, but this time it was past Mike Maignan and the result was 2-1 after 45 minutes.
Roma had a few chances in the second half but Maignan provided a string of excellent saves to keep Milan leading. Pioli brought on Tiémoué Bakayoko and Rafael Leão, before throwing Zlatan Ibrahimović into the mix and the three got the Diavolo back running the show. In the 74′ minute, Theo ran at Rick Karsdorp and the Dutch fouled him to earn a red card. In the 81′ minute, Ibra used his body to give Leão an excellent ball and the Portuguese ran all the way across Roma’s half to beat Rui Patrício and make it 3-1. In the 93′ minute, another Leão run resulted in another Roma red card, this time to Gianluca Mancini; Milan were awarded another penalty, but Ibra saw it saved.
Inter had their match delayed due to COVID, and so Milan are currently -1 from them in the standings; +5 from Napoli who drew Juventus at the Allianz Stadium last night.
“I was sure we would do well because we had a good break,” Pioli told DAZN after the game. “The team needed to catch their breath but also work with the right volume and intensity. I found players very much at my disposal. We are prepared and ready, seeing them with such clear ideas and this intensity is a beautiful sign that must accompany us in the second round.”
On the substitutes on the bench: “It is clear that the return of Leão and Rebić, who I didn’t bring on today but is doing better, can make the difference. We played well throughout the match, we interpreted things well and we covered the pitch well. Individual qualities have always made the difference and luckily we are recovering players with these characteristics.”
On being ready from the bench: “We all work on it. I, the club and the directors who are always close to me. It’s a continuous work, it’s a pleasure to train these guys: wholehearted, wanting to grow and learn also through mistakes. I’m satisfied with this match but we have to focus right away because we are very light in numbers and in two days we play another important game.”
On Kalulu: “His best position would be in the center-right of a three-man defense, he has the perfect characteristics for there. But he has an incredible personality on the field, in the sense that he can make mistakes, as is normal, but he gets over them. He is intelligent, he knows how to move well, he is fast, he is strong and he doesn’t surprise me anymore because I know him well. He came in with headlines turned off, he works well and applies himself a lot, he is a serious guy and I’m very happy for him and for Gabbia who were ready against a respectable opponent: Roma’s attacking pair in the last away match created a lot of difficulties, we didn’t concede much thanks to the team and because the central players worked effectively.”
On it being a test of a great team: “Tests like this are important but only if we are able to repeat it next Sunday, consistency makes the difference in such a competitive and difficult league. We have an objective in mind that is to improve on the points of last year and we started well. Now let’s focus on the next game. In Serie A, either you always at very high levels or you risk looking bad.”
On the position of Tonali and Krunić: “If I had decided to build up with two midfielders I would have certainly chosen Bakayoko and nor Krunić. We chose to build up only with a deep midfielder, with Krunić and Brahim close to Giroud to work behind their midfielders and especially sometimes to bring out their wingbacks to look for depth. We created a lot and were dangerous.”
On Tonali: “Sandro played a great game, in Italy I don’t know how many of the Class of 2000 are at this level or play with so much consistency, and now finally with so much lucidity and quality. He did a fantastic job in both phases of the game. He’s very attentive, he is growing a lot. He’s a wholehearted guy, he definitely has room for growth and he has to keep it up. He has shown that he is an important player.”
Speaking to MilanTV, Pioli said: “I was confident and optimistic because I saw and felt that the team had handled the break well, in terms of recovering energy and working out. Everyone was ready to give their all. We managed to do just that against a top opponent by playing very well; with plenty of quality, energy, intensity and teamwork. This is an important victory which we must build on.”
On the attitude: “I believe it’s normal for us to have reached this level given we’ve been working together for a while. We’ve been working on certain concepts and principles for two years, we have our way of seizing the pitch, our way of approaching matches. We must continue to do so with confidence and consistency throughout the entire match. Many things can still be improved on and we’ll work on them to get even better.”
On Gabbia and Kalulu: “It’s right to speak of Gabbia and Kalulu tonight, they haven’t played much but when players with little playing time respond in this way, in such a satisfactory way in terms of quality, mentality and organization, it shows that they are serious professionals of value. This is a special quality of the squad at my disposal and of the Club which has provided me with this group of players. It was a great game, a great satisfaction but we need to continue working hard and focus on the next match. Our numbers are limited, the same players will be available on Sunday, so we need to recover our energy immediately to face a different game, a different opponent but our performance must be like this one.”
The Rossoneri coach also held a post-match press conference: “Milan are proving to be a strong team; when were are in fewer numbers, the players use team spirit to make up for some absences. There is satisfaction for tonight, but what counts is always the next game.”
Did you believe in this win?
“I believed in it, I hoped for it, I saw a very attentive team during the break and at the return. I was convinced that we’d worked well, I was very confident and positive but aware of the difficulties of the game. The team was very good at interpreting it.”
Did something click with the players?
“We have to stop talking about young age, my players are young but they are putting great experience with situations that have accelerated growth. We are ambitious, we have to play with consistency.”
How important was it to win today’s game?
“It was important to win because we hadn’t won at San Siro for a while. Roma had their best XI available. This victory is important but it will be especially important if we show consistency next Sunday.”
What was the tactical key to the match?
“Clear ideas and a lot of willingness from the players. There is the contribution of everyone, the club, the directors and the staff. We prepare for the next games in the best possible way and we must continue to do so. Mistakes can happen but we have the qualities to win the next games.”
COVID is creating several problems…
“We are not racing with others but with ourselves. We want to win as many games as possible. The pandemic is a delicate moment for everyone, the expected is just around the corner. Participation must be maximum on the part of everyone.”