Stefano Pioli has stated ‘I have never had doubts about the strength of my players’ after Milan bounced back from the Champions League defeat by beating Juventus 2-0.
With so many players out injured and coming off a terrible 3-0 defeat in Stamford Bridge, coach Pioli had his back against the wall as he took on Juventus at Stadio San Siro on Saturday evening, having to find new tactical solutions to combat Max Allegri’s Bianconeri.
Pioli went with a new tactical set-up, playing Brahim Díaz on the right wing, Tommaso Pobega starting alongside Sandro Tonali and Ismaël Bennacer in midfield, and Matteo Gabbia taking on Arkadiusz Milik and Dušan Vlahović alongside Pierre Kalulu, Fikayo Tomori and Theo Hernández, who returned from injury.
All of Pioli’s choices were on point as Milan, for the majority of the match, managed to neutralize Juve and were the better side in every department. In the 45+1′ minute, the Rossoneri also had a goal to show for their superiority as Tomori found the back of the net following a corner sequence. In the 54′ minute, it was the turn of Brahim to illuminate San Siro as he made a tremendous run from Milan’s own half to beat Wojciech Szczęsny and score one of the best goals of the season so far.
The Rossoneri had chances to score more goals but in ended 2-0 after 90 minutes and Pioli sent 75,000 fans home happy. Now the eyes are back on Chelsea who arrive in San Siro on Tuesday.
“It was a very intense match. In the first 20 minutes we misplaced a few too many passes and then allowed Juventus some counter attacks. Chasing and making sacrifices are part of the game,” Pioli told DAZN after the game. “I will say that Leão needs to do now is to work off the ball, because he needs to help defensively, be inside the match and be ready to sacrifice himself for the team. He’s nearly there, but still has work to do. What he did in the second half means he was inside the game.”
On the group: “We worked as a team today, unfortunately we lost our shape in London and got too intimidated by our own mistakes and the strength of the opponent. We know that if we work together, we can get positive results. We have to do that in all competitions.”
On pressing: “In the first half, the two teams played with great intensity. The reason we didn’t do well in London is because we were not aggressive enough and we made too many unforced errors without needing Chelsea to be aggressive in their press against us. This was a very important game in Serie A, it always is between Milan and Juventus, and so we had the right attitude from the start.”
On the formation choices: “Brahim had already played on the right. Clearly, missing both Messias and Saelemaekers takes away players who can run on the touchline, but we needed also today players to stop Juve passing it around in midfield, so we put Leão on one side and Brahim on the other. We had the necessary width to spread Juve’s defense, but also more solidity in the middle of the park.”
On playing De Ketelaere on the right: “In this moment when we are missing players on the right then Charles can play on the right, but I don’t think that would get the best out of his characteristics. I believe Brahim can do better there with his characteristics. Any player can do anything with the right attitude, but seeing as De Ketelaere is still settling in, I think it’s better for him if I don’t move him around too much.”
On Tomori: “He has incredible spirit and passion. Look at how he also celebrates when he scores. He is great.”
On Brahim: “He is great. Like everyone he always wants to play, he has to be good at taking advantage of every opportunity like he is doing. I know he is not very happy with the decisions I made over time, I always appreciated his attitude.”
Pioli also had a post-match press conference: “I expected a reaction and saw a different Milan? Yes, although we started the game with some technical mistakes like in London, but then this time we didn’t get scared and we played a game of intensity and incredible energy. Technically, we could have done better. We have to be a team in both phases of the game and tonight we did that; ball possession doesn’t interest me that much, but I look at dangerousness and today we were dangerous.”
Great game from Brahim Díaz…
“The fortune of a coach is to coach an intelligent group that works and fights for the jersey they wear: that’s how it is for me. I know that in every game there are 11 players happy and 6 unhappy, but when you are dealing with intelligent guys that it can be done. I am really happy, he is a strong player, he was the only one who could create a numerical advantage on the right as we were without Saelemaekers and Junior Messias. I think he did well; the goal is the icing on the cake and I hope it can give him conviction.”
A decisive choice was that of Pobega…
“We were balanced. Tommaso is better at inserting than moving the ball around; we moved him closer to Locatelli. Everyone played well, today we played well as a unit, and on Tuesday we were not able to express who we were. In defeats and victories, I think we dwell too much on the qualities of individuals.”
In what role did Theo play?
“When in possession of the ball, he played as a midfielder with Bennacer. We had prepared this situation so it would have been easier for Leão to have 1v1 situations on the left. Also because Theo’s condition is not yet 100%. Theo is smart enough to read situations well, we wanted to have two playmakers and two midfielders – Tonali and Pobega – beyond their central midfielders.”
Did you get revenge for Allegri’s comment: ‘Let us take away 5 starters off Milan and then see what happens’?
“I know my players. I knew they would react greatly after such a disappointment against Chelsea. I’ve never had doubts about the strength of my players and the cohesion of this group. We are all motivated, I’d like to have all the players available, but unfortunately, it’s not the case so we must continue because next month is crucial in Serie A and Champions League.”
Speaking to MilanTV, Pioli said: “From a technical perspective, we played better against Napoli. However, we were fantastic from a mental perspective and in terms of our energy, intensity and determination. We won the game because we were able to fight, dig in and play together for 95 minutes. Given what my team did, it’s deserved.”
On giving himself a nice gift for his 3rd year anniversary at Milan: “The best I could ask for. I’m experiencing wonderful emotions. I feel great, including in terms of my relationship with the Club, with my players. I feel great when I’m here at San Siro with the fans, who are fantastic. However, we’re still at the start of another season. We need to push, because the month that awaits us is very important, both in terms of our league and Champions League progress. There’s satisfaction, but, from tonight, we’ll start thinking about Tuesday because we’ve seen just how good our opponents are and how much we’ll need to raise our performance levels in order to have a chance of picking up a positive result.”
On the positions of Brahim and Pobega: “In terms of selections we make as part of our game strategy, we try to bring together our attack and defense. Today, we wanted two players behind Juventus’ two midfielders. Therefore, Tonali and Pobega played further up the pitch. We wanted to open up their defense, so we put Leão out wide on the left. The only player right now who could do well in the role we asked him to perform because he’s done so with us in the past a few times and with the Under-21s is Brahim on the right. Building up with Kalulu playing more centrally. We try to be balanced based on our characteristics and in terms of the positions we want to take up. However, the thing that counts is the work of the whole team. If we work together, and we do so with this energy and kind of teamwork, it’s easier to produce good performances rather than poorer ones.”
On managing De Ketelaere and the words yesterday: “I think care needs to be taken when my guys talk. I read an interview with Leão that came out this week where he said that he struggled to deal with the attention, pressure and expectations at the start. These are young guys. Young guys don’t need sermons, but they need examples of honesty, selflessness and generosity. You need to give them time to make mistakes and grow. I think that De Ketelaere is incredibly talented. He’s an intelligent guy with quality. Everything’s changed for him: his teammates, his coach, his way of living, the environment he is in. His way of playing has also changed because we don’t work in the same way as Club Brugge. It’s not bad, I’m honestly surprised at what is being said because we’ve got a few examples in our ranks: in his first year, according to most of the critics, Tonali needed to be sent back to Brescia. Now, he’s a really top-class player. I told Sandro not to compare himself to Gattuso or Pirlo, he is Tonali and he’s a great player. It’s the same with Leão. Charles will go down the same path, I’m sure. I don’t think there’s a lot missing. Not a lot is missing. Obviously, scoring a goal, or producing a great bit of play will provide him with more serenity, strength and belief. However, I know what path he needs to go down and I know about the qualities he possesses, so everything is absolutely fine.”
On the reaction after Chelsea: “Despite no longer being a really young team, we’re still young… Certainly, the closing stages of last season and the Scudetto win gave us more self-awareness from a mental perspective. It didn’t just make us aware of our strength, but we’re now aware of when we don’t manage to display our characteristics and quality. The team is aware of this. We’re not an arrogant team. The team analyzed the Chelsea match well. We know that we failed to do the things we’re usually able to. Today, mentally, we wanted to show that strange nights can happen but there’s an immediate opportunity to bounce back. When the team is strong mentally, there are great opportunities and this was the case tonight.”
I wonder how it’s a surprise many that Diaz did well as a winger! Haha. Hope he keep the spot with De Ketelaere sharing AM with Adli. I’m happy to see Pioli insisting on playing De Ketelaere and not ready to use him in too many different roles. Quickly compromising the lad’s confidence is not going to help. A bit more opportunities to Adli too but I believe De Ketelaere is capable of solving the AM problems
I hope that Adli will stay next season. Pioli still doesn’t trust him to be a starter although he could bring more in attack and defense than Diaz
Diaz is not all that bad defensively he’s one of the best in the team at pressing of the all. Anyway I’m not too sure Adli will do than than him as a winger. Adli not the best at taking on men and kinda slow for a winger. I like him. IMO he should be played as AM. He’s vision and courage to try difficult passes and of course seems a fighter. My point is that all these players should be given precise positions based on their characteristics and not randomly throwing them at places just to have them on… Read more »
And to think Díaz is only 23 . He’s been around for so long (with Man city and Madrid) we forget the kid is still very young. No wonder he’s inconsistent sometimes.
Pioli on choosing Diaz as the RW “The only player right now who could do well in the role we asked him to perform”
And then instead you played your child there against Chelsea!!
He said Krunic was a right midfielder in that game. He played 4-4-2 and it didn’t work. One reason I think the game was a disaster is that our central defenders were flanked by two players and backed by a goalkeeper who didn’t furnish any trust. When the fabric of trust was weak our whole game suffered. 4-3-3 deals with that better and the return of Theo helps a lot.
For me the main man last night was Kalulu. That boy is just so versatile and strong, he performs in any position you put him. He kept it quiet and sorted down that right flank. Kalulu, Bennacer and Tonali were the pillars last night.