Stefano Pioli was overjoyed after Milan’s 3-1 win over Hellas Verona away from home, which brings the Rossoneri closer to the title.
Last night Milan made another crucial step towards history, visiting Stadio Marcantonio Bentegodi for a game against ‘Fatal Verona’, in a must-win encounter.
The Rossoneri started well and saw their goal overruled for offside, but then went behind with a Davide Faraoni (38′) goal. However, Rafael Leão made two magnificent runs and assists to set up Sandro Tonali to overturn the result, with the midfielder getting a brace (45+3′, 50′) and then Alessandro Florenzi (87′) sealed the deal, three minutes after coming off the bench.
With two games to go until the end of the season, Milan have a +2 lead over Inter. The next games against Atalanta and Sassuolo will decide the Scudetto race.
“I am in love with my players, because I see the effort they put in every day, I know the journey we’ve been on,” Pioli told DAZN after the match. “There’s another very tough one coming up, so we’re satisfied yes, but already need to find concentration for the next.”
On the spirit of his Milan: “Courage and belief come from your experience and your performances. For example, not taking the lead after 25 minutes and we fell behind despite starting well… we didn’t feel anxious, because we knew that we were playing well and kept that spirit going to the end. This squad has step by step climbed the ladder, we’ve got to keep this concentration, determination and belief going for the final two games.”
On if the tactics used against Verona could be used against Atalanta too: “I think we played one of our best performances for 70-80 minutes against Atalanta last time, but they are one of the best squads in the league. They have a similar tactical approach to Verona defensively, so it’s important to find the right characteristics within our squad to neutralize those strengths. We’ll see how to prepare for it.”
On Leão and Tonali: “They are young, but so strong. I said after two days of pre-season training, they were completely different to last term. These are young guys, many of us are experiencing this level for the first time and doing it in the right way, but we haven’t achieved anything yet. We have to continue like this, there are still 6 points available.”
On the position on Tonali: “When coaches say it takes time to build a team, we also mean just getting to know our players and finding those characteristics that can be used. When we have two midfielders, we can attack more down the wings, whereas like this we can allow Tonali to surge forward and use the way he times those runs. Tonali can become a great mezz’ala. He is showing incredible growth. Who does he seem like? It’s difficult to compare two players. The first day, I asked Sandro what his ideal position was, he said ‘people compare me to Pirlo, but I consider myself more of a Gattuso.’ I think if we add in Daniele De Rossi to that mix, that completes him.”
On the fans: “They are fantastic.”
On the upcoming matches: “We are in the final stages. I think this Milan was born during the horrible, humiliating 5-0 defeat to Atalanta. That was when we realized what was needed to develop this team. It was one of the most negative moments of my career, but also one of the most valuable.”
Speaking to MilanTV, Pioli said: “It was a pity to go behind because we had been playing really well, but a drop in focus can happen. The team held their own with conviction and quality until the end, so this is another well-deserved win, it was very satisfying, but now we must focus on the next game.”
On the important matches: “I think we have been playing decisive games, where the result is crucial, for a while now. We only know one way to face them: prepare to our best and take to the field with clear ideas. This is what allows us to give everything we have to win the games. That’s how we got this far and how we must continue.”
On Leão and Tonali: “They were fantastic. I think it’s always valid that the team enhances the characteristics of the individuals.”
On the importance of Maignan in the build-up: “It’s very important. Mike is doing it very well. Next Sunday’s match will be very similar from the point of view of this situation.”
On Krunić and Saelemaekers: “My only plan is to have faith in my players. When you prepare each game, you look for different characteristics which are better adapted to the game. I made my choices based on the type of game we expected and how we managed to play. I am fortunate to have many strong and willing players, I think that is the ‘secret’ to our success. I always try to prepare matches by fielding the team that offers the most certainties: it’s very important to choose the starters but it’s also important to have a strong, complete squad like mine. We suffered in previous months, November, December, when our options were limited. Now it’s tougher for me, but it’s more productive for the team.”
On the compactness of the group: “It’s like that, it’s a correct statement. We are many and we are strong, we must continue like this.”
Pioli also held a post-match press conference: “The team believes because they know they are doing well on the pitch. We went down when it shouldn’t have happened because we started with great quality. We arrived at these matches with past experiences that have helped us a lot, making understand that matches are long and that we need to stay in them with ideas and spirit. There’s satisfaction. It was another difficult game after Lazio and Fiorentina. All the matches weigh, but the guys are dealing with them in the best possible way.”
Tonali moved up front…
“It’s our way of preparing matches: we study our opponents well. Usually we prefer to attack more with the fullbacks, today we were only building with Kessié and so Tonali had more chances to get himself inside the box. When people say it takes time to get to know the team, this is what it means: with Tonali I discovered new characteristics that I now know better and I try to take advantage of them.”
Is this the best moment of the season?
“It’s a season of awareness of our qualities. No one predicted that we would be able to get higher than last year, but now the work is not over yet.”
There was a stellar Leão…
“Rafa is talented. I hope that in a while we’ll be able to say that Tonali is Tonali and Leão is Leão.”
Fatal Verona has been debunked…
“We knew there was no tomorrow, there was only today. We want to write our own history. Ibrahimović said something wonderful: ‘Everyone remembers the Milan players who won the Scudetto or the Champions League, so if we want to be remembered, we’ve got three games to do it.’”