Stefano Pioli liked what he saw from his team as they beat Inter 3-2 at a packed Stadio San Siro this evening.
Milan defeated Inter 3-2 tonight in the first Derby della Madonnina of the season and it was the best game the Rossoneri played so far this season.
Marcelo Brozović (21′) gave Inter the early lead, but Milan turned the game on its head, dominating for the better part of an hour following Inter’s goal, overturning the result thanks to a super Rafael Leão who scored (28′, 60′) and assisted to Olivier Giroud (54′). Edin Džeko (67′) made it 3-2 and Inter forced Mike Maignan to make spectacular saves, but in the end Milan got the win and three huge points in front of 75k fans.
“Clearly, it was an important match, a head-to-head clash and now there is even more of a great rivalry,” Pioli told DAZN after the match. “Our opponents wanted to show that they were superior for so many reasons, I’m glad that we won and I am very satisfied with the attitude of the team. For 70 minutes we dominated, we played like a great team and then we relaxed a bit: once we relaxed a little, we started to run risks. I coach young guys who continue to amaze me with their energy, desire to be together and desire to improve: I am a happy coach.”
On the moments of the match: “We were good at reading the game. Inter let us pass it around, we didn’t have to press them too hard. We had aimed to break more down the left, at times we did well, but above all the team showed great maturity. Then we played against a very strong opponent so it’s normal to give away some things. It’s not possible to dominate for 95 minutes, but we showed great determination and presence on the field, we realized every ball could be decisive and faced this game with the right attitude.”
On the Champions League campaign that starts now: “I am sure we have really matured, also helped by the experience in the Champions League in a very difficult group last season. We understood that the Champions League requires high-level performances tactically, technically and mentally. Today we were concentrated exclusively on the derby, but my staff and I have already seen RB Salzburg and they are a dangerous team, they have pace in attack and intensity. In the Champions League you have to be prepared: We’ll do different things, as Inter have a completely different approach to their tactics and shape compared to Salzburg, but what really matters is the mentality of my team. We try to find situations that can create a slight advantage, but our identity remains the same. I think Inter expected us to press them a lot higher than we did, but we surprised them.”
On the intense pressing: “We prepared it for this game. I knew they would play two quick strikers and then look to go deep with their midfielders. If you really have the right kind of press you can afford to go high but it has to be done well: we preferred to sit a little bit deeper, but then put even more energy and ferocity into the individual duels. We play every three days, and it then depends on the energy we will have and what strategies we will adopt. Today we tried to take away Inter’s depth and we often succeeded.”
On Leão: “In order to improve, you need talent and intelligence, Rafa has talent and is a very intelligent guy. We gave him the time and freedom to make mistakes so he could learn. Young guys should be given time to grow, the freedom to make mistakes. We try to put him in the best conditions, every time we put him in one-on-one situations then it means we’ve built well: he’s an important weapon in our armory. Rafa has a body language that might confuse people, but I can assure you he is a guy who understand, listens and knows what potential he has and is very eager to learn. With this talent he knows he has to aim high.”
On Maignan: “The team surprises me, but Mike no longer does. He’s incredible, as a person and a goalkeeper. If we did so well last season, it’s because we have players of a high level and Mike is one of them.”
On ‘Pioli is on fire’: “Beyond this song, it’s the energy and sharing that there is with our Popolo Rossonero that we all feel. They give us so much, we try to put everything they give us on the field: often we succeed but sometimes we can also make mistakes.”
Pioli also held a post-match press conference: “I’m happy for the result and I’m happy to coach this team: I am a happy coach because I see my players working hard, giving everything; then we can make mistakes but I’m happy above all for how we are.”
You hung a message from Çalhanoğlu [“we have fire inside”] in the dressing room this week…
“It is one of the most important tasks for a Coach. Sometimes I use something of my own, sometimes of others: the important thing is to have a group that thinks about it, reflects, cares and then is ready to give their best.”
Milan does not act like a young team…
“I would stop calling us a young team: we are aware and mature. I like the idea of a team that kept the field well, that has good position and that won many duels which allowed us to be compact and aggressive. For 70 minutes it was a beautiful game, we played really well as a strong team; then we thought the game was over and we have to learn from this mistake.”
Where is Inter stronger than Milan?
“These are two very strong teams, as strong as Juventus, Napoli, Roma, Lazio, Fiorentina and Atalanta. I expect a very difficult and very balanced league. Now we have to think about Tuesday: the guys haven’t seen Salzburg yet; I have and it’s important to see the Champions League start well.”
Have you spoken to the new ownership?
“I met with the ownership before the game, then in the final whistle there were the usual hugs with the management that is always present.”
Milan played a devastating half-hour…
“Maybe I delayed the substitutions, Tonali and Calabria were very tired. Every match gives us a few more certainties. We have also won other Derbies, but this was the best performance; in the other derbies we always seemed to be a little bit in trouble but not today and I will tell my players that. The level is high.”
Will the ownership renew Leão?
“These are not things that I can decide, but I think the will of the Club is to propose a renewal to Rafa. We are professionals and we know how to leave certain things out. Rafa has a beautiful attitude, he is great and he knows he has been gifted… then for the contract those in charge will do what they have to do.”
Speaking to MilanTV, Pioli said: “Of course I’m happy with the team. With the stadium liker that, it really is spectacular. Believe me when I say, our fans give us such energy; it’s indescribable. I think you can see that in how we try to play. I really liked what I saw for 70 minutes, because they play with courage, personality, maturity and flexibility. They didn’t force things when it wasn’t the right time and they battled hard. We knew we’d need to get stuck in and we did so with determination, with courage and with personality. I can only be satisfied. Then, I will the team that they can’t drop off, especially against strong sides because we risked letting them back into it. We need to thank Mike for making some great saves. That shouldn’t have happened. We can learn from every game and we’ll take a big lesson for this match.”
On the reaction of the team: “I believe that in sports, especially football, mentality makes the difference. Yes, we went behind but I’m sure that my players felt good. They knew that we were well in the game, and that we were compact, precise and dangerous. When you’re playing well, and you’re in form, you shouldn’t take a blow lying down. Inter did well in that moment, us perhaps less so. It’s about knowing how to stay in a game and going into with clear ideas and a clear style. This needs to help you overcome the tough moments in a game, which is certainly an important aspect.”
On the performance: “It’s a shame to have been judged so harshly in that Sassuolo game. We certainly weren’t at our best but I saw some good things in that game. But we definitely did a lot better today. I know how the team works and I know how much they want to play together, to be around one another and make sacrifices. I know how good we’re feeling. As a coach, I’m proud of this group. We need to keep up this attitude because this is another big season. There are a lot of teams that can win, so we always need to be ready. Now though, if the boys want to celebrate tonight – it’s OK, but we need to shift focus to Salzburg because it’s a tough game. They haven’t seen them yet. I’ve watched 3-4 Salzburg games; they are a pacey side and play with a lot of intensity. They’re electric in attack.”
On the Champions League campaign: “We have grown a lot, through our experience last season in the Champions League and through our development, with the positives and negatives. We’re more confident and more ready now but we cannot think about the level of football in the Champions League, with its higher standard of football and mentality. We need to prepare well because it would be great to start with a big performance and a positive result.”
On the key moments of the match: “I think we did well to stay flexible after they took the lead and then play well. Then, after we took the lead, we looked to score the third goal. After that, Inter finished the game better than us but having such a great goalkeeper is a bonus.”
On the position of Tonali: “We expected their attacking midfielder to press Theo: Barella rather than Dumfries. In order to move Brozović around and to try to have numerical superiority around the ball, we often let Tonali roam. We did well. We needed to start from the left and then go inside to Isma and switched the play because we had an overload with Calabria. Sometimes we did well, sometimes less so but these are things that we try in order to have an advantage, knowing our opponents and knowing our characteristics. Sandro and the midfielders worked really hard.”