Stefano Pioli has stressed formations do not win football matches, and liked his team in the 1-0 win over Verona.
After the shameful 5-1 defeat against Inter and the disappointing 0-0 draw against Newcastle in the Champions League, Milan returned to playing today as they took on Hellas Verona at home.
After 25 minutes of delay due to heavy rains at San Siro, the game kicked off with Milan playing 3-4-3, as coach Stefano Pioli was forced to make changes.
8 minutes into the game, Christian Pulisic, Olivier Giroud and Rafael Leão pressed the Verona defense well and Milan managed to send Leão against Lorenzo Montipò, and the Portuguese scored.
Marco Sportiello, who replaced the injured Mike Maignan, provided a good showing, but overall neither team had much to offer offensively during the match and it was a rather lackluster and uninspired game of football, in which Milan also lost yet another player to a muscular injury – Rade Krunić this time. The important thing, however, is the 3 points.
“We always play to win, it’s an important win because it’s been a tiring week from a mental and physical point of view,” Pioli told DAZN. “We faced a team that is doing well at the moment, they played well between the lines and were very aggressive. Maybe at times our build-up was a bit too slow and we lacked some play between the lines and going deep on the wings, but we played as a team, we worked hard and it’s a win that will do us good.”
How did Captain Leão perform today?
“I think the negativity around my players is a bit exaggerated. As far as I’m concerned, I take all the responsibility, I have always put my face out there and I will always put my face out there. I coach a very responsible group that knows that one teammate’s mistake is everyone’s mistake. You have to stand by them not only with words but also with behavior and attitudes. I am fortunate to coach a truly cohesive and united group. Rafa did what he had to do. Sometimes he starts less well at the beginning of the match and then he grows. Today he started very well and then sometimes he drifted out of the game, but he is following his path. He must be happy, and he is; he feels good with everyone, he feels good with this jersey on, he feels good with the Club and he feels good with the fans and with us. He must continue growing and to become a truly great player you must also learn to deal with pressure and high expectations.”
How is Krunić?
“Unfortunately, I think he has a muscular problem. He felt something in his flexor, so there was definitely something there. I can’t know the extent of it but I think it will be difficult to see him in the next matches. But we have other characteristics and players available. Since the start of the year I’ve been testing Adli in that role and he is doing well, now he will have his opportunities. There are also other midfielders, we can change something upfront… The important thing is that the guys are well together, compact, united and willing in difficult matches like today’s.”
What about Reijnders?
“Right now, if Krunić is missing for a few games, we have two players who can play in that role: Adli and Reijnders. We will be playing every 3 days so everyone will play. It’s not an individual, but the team, that has to work in a certain way. Today I changed formations out of necessity, only yesterday afternoon we learned that Calabria and Theo would not be in the match and we changed a bit, even if we maintained a build-up with 5 players and we kept 5 offensive players. I saw a team that worked hard and stayed in the game with intelligence and clarity.”
What did you think about the position of Reijnders?
“By centralizing Florenzi in the build-up, Tijjani, who was marked not by a defender but by a midfielder, had to go a little deeper. In my opinion he was a bit too much between the lines, Pulisic should have been there to take away the third Verona defender. Tijjani did it well but he was unlucky a few times. We asked Rade to stay lower and Reijnders to be higher.”
The press of the attackers allowed Leão’s goals…
“We took advantage of their mistake, that’s the principle of our defensive phase. We try to work well from the top to win back the ball immediately and be dangerous.”
So this formation will be used only in emergencies?
“I have never believed, in the most absolute way, that the tactical systems make you win matches, but instead it’s the interpretation of the matches, playing with clarity and precision. Musah can do this wingback role very well because he has incredible legs, Theo can do it, also Florenzi. For me, the very positive thing is that in half a training session of 20 minutes we changed so much and the team did not struggle with it. This gives me the possibility in the future to use this formation. If there is a player who can make the most of the three-man defense it is Kjær. Now on Wednesday there will be another difficult match.”
Speaking to MilanTV, Pioli said: “Until Thursday, we had prepared to play with our usual system. Then yesterday we found out that Calabria and Theo couldn’t start. So with a lack of fullbacks, we decided to go with a back-three. We worked on it for half a session but I saw the team set up well. They tried to play good football and make runs off the ball that could get them into the right positions. We were playing against an in-form side, a physical and aggressive side, so we couldn’t always play slick football today, which maybe we needed to kill off the game earlier, even though we did have chances, especially in the first half.”
What did you think about Kjær and Florenzi?
“They are absolutely leaders in this group, both when they play and when they play maybe a bit less. They are smart people, who’ve been around a while and know the mechanisms, and how to keep their spirits up in the right way at all times in our day-to-day work. They’re great players too, not just good people. Rather than just being charismatic, these are players who can contribute a lot and they showed that today.”
Leão responded to the criticism with a goal wearing the Captain’s armband…
“This is a good group, but one that can make mistakes. We’ve made mistakes and will make more but we’ll always support and fight for our teammates, who are struggling at any given time. We don’t do it with words, but with a good attitude and with our actions. We all wanted Rafa to captain the side today, because we win and lose together. He gave the response that he needed to but we had no doubts. The fact that he encouraged a young guy coming on is because Rafa was that guy a couple of years ago. He knows how hard it is to come on and play at San Siro in front of 70,000 people. I’m pleased for Bartesaghi too because he worked hard with us this summer. He got his chance and took it, and he will get more.”
How are the new guys doing?
“The guys are settling in, but the process isn’t done yet. At the end of the game, the midfielders Tijjani and Yunus said to me ‘Mister, it is tough in Italy. It is so hard to beat your man because they are so aggressive and physical’. These difficulties can be overcome by facing these issues; they’ll grow with each game. But these are good, complete players. They are not young guys with no experience. Their period of adjustment is going well and quickly, but they still need a game or two, a problem, maybe an error, to better understand our system and the tough aspects of Italian football.”
A word on the great late Giovanni Lodetti…
“Let’s remember him with great affection, and a lot of warmth because he was a true Milanista. His passion, generosity and sense of belonging. He was a direct and cheerful person. We’re sorry for his loss and our thoughts are with his loved ones. We send them our deepest condolences. We’ve lost a true Milanista. That means we have one more supporting us from wherever he may be now.”
The Rossoneri boss also held a post-match press conference, and the first question he was asked is whether the Derby can now be considered a closed chapter, to which he replied: “As bad as we were, we cannot always talk about that match. I think we’re moving forward in the right way. We played a serious, mature match with desire. It’s a win that will do us good.”
What’s the update on Krunić?
“He felt something in his flexor, I don’t know the extent of it. As for the other injured players, it’s general tiredness.”
Can the 3-4-3 be reused?
“I certainly used in in an emergency, having only 2 fullbacks available. I thought that for this type of game it would be logical to play with a back-three. The team did well, we tried it yesterday in half an hour when we knew that both Theo and Calabria would be missing. However, I never believed that formations won matches.”
Are Pulisic and Reijnders in decline?
“In the first games we were more fluid. Pulisic moved very well today, he could have concentrated much more, but they both always had their man on them. They are excellent players. All the new foreigners stopped me today to tell me how difficult the Italian league is.”
Will Calabria and Theo be there in Cagliari?
“They had something which caused an edema and then a contracture. We are confident that they will be able to return.”
Who instead of Krunić: Reijnders or Adli?
“They can both play. We will have 4 games in 10 days, they will both play.”
Why was Leão Captain?
“We all wanted him to be Captain and based our decision on the attitude. We are all together to overcome delicate moments together. It’s normal to suffer criticism and pressure and he is doing it well. At the beginning he didn’t know whether to go onto the pitch in slippers or shoes… The hug with me is for the whole team and all the teammates.”
Are there any of your guys who embody Lodetti’s spirit?
“I don’t know, because we’re talking about a person of the highest caliber and a 100% Milanista. I hope they can have that sense of belonging and that passion that Lodetti had.”