Stefano Pioli explained his tactical choices for Milan-Lazio and discussed many of his players.
After two wins against Hellas Verona and Cagliari, and right before Matchday 2 of the Champions League against Borussia Dortmund away from home, Milan played Lazio today (Saturday) at San Siro.
The Rossoneri, who played a strong XI, resting only Malick Thiaw, struggled in the first half as they found a defensively-solid Lazio side, and were too slow in the build-up. However, things changed in the second half and Milan managed to score twice, with Rafael Leão giving assists to Christian Pulisic (60′) and Noah Okafor (88′) who scored for the 2nd straight game.
This win keeps Milan at the top of the Serie A table, alongside Inter who beat Salernitana 4-0.
“We had prepared trying to move around the ball a little less in midfield and to break into space with the mezz’ala-winger far from the ball,” Pioli told DAZN after the game. “At the times in the first half we forced it a little bit too much, stretched ourselves and suffered some counterattacks. After the break we were more compact, and certainly more energetic, hungrier and more determined. It’s not easy to play every 3 days, but I think we won a tough game with great merit.”
What did you say to Adli when he came out?
“I said that it was the first game he played at San Siro and it showed a little bit. He could have been a little more enterprising, we could’ve looked for him more but I have to review well if it was him not finding the right position or if at times his teammates took time on certain solutions. But he is growing a lot and he has become a starter for Milan – that is, one of the 20 players who can play any game. An important growth, he has worked so hard to get here and now he has to keep growing.”
What did you think of Musah and his movements?
“In my opinion, with the ball to Calabria, both Pulisic and Loftus-Cheek always played it short and were therefore always marked. We had to stretch a bit with one of them and we were doing it less in the first half. Yunus was able to open it up more with longer runs and passes, which in turn created more space and took men away from Pulisic to favor him. Yunus is growing, I would like him to be a bit more disciplined off the ball, for the way we work, but we can allow a few errors when he brings such tempo, energy and quality into the match.”
When Adli came out, you put Reijnders in front of the defense and not Musah…
“Yunus can play there in the center, but I think his characteristics are that of a box-to-box mezz’ala. Tijjani was a little tired and he has great handling of the ball, so it was better to put him in deep midfield and he could rest a little more. We have many alternatives in midfield, it would be a shame if Ruben stopped for an injury. But one step at a time, we will make assessments for everyone tomorrow morning.”
What is the condition of Loftus-Cheek?
“He felt a twinge near the groin area, a little higher towards the abdominals. It was an important muscular area that was touched, and we hope it is nothing serious. Unfortunately, injuries tend to come when players are in good shape and he is in a good shape.”
With Adli on the field, Milan must be aware that they have a playmaker in moving the ball…
“We are a team that wants to move the ball around more. In my opinion, as a strategy, we were moving the ball less and looking for space ahead because of the way that they were set up on the pitch; we didn’t always do it with the right timing. In the second half we took different positions and wanted to move the ball around more. Yacine touched the ball more and he is someone who is good with the ball.”
You had a few talks with the players on the field during the game…
“I told Kjær that there had been a situation on the wing where Calabria forced an exit on Hysaj and Kjær found himself facing Zaccagni open, due to his characteristics it was better to wait. Simon told me that he was in the right position. I also complimented Giroud, everyone is fine. Center forwards are happy when they score, he didn’t score and maybe he is less happy. He wanted to score on his birthday.”
Who will start in Dortmund?
“The more doubts I have, the better. It is important to have strong players on the bench who can come in and help the team in difficult moments. It is a certainty that we have, I also have a lot of confidence in Jović who just has to work hard to find the best physical condition. I will see who starts against Dortmund.”
What do you think about Borussia?
“I had seen them struggle against PSG but I think it’s because of PSG. I saw their recent games in the Bundesliga and it’s a team with great intensity and quality up front with Reus, Malen and Brandt. It’s a team that combines the intensity of German football with the quality of their offensive players, a difficult match for sure in a big stadium. We will prepare to counter anything. It will not be a decisive game, but an important one for sure.”
Allegri said it’s not a mathematical equation that whoever does not in Europe is favorite to winning the Scudetto, in response to your words…
“I didn’t say that it’s mathematical that Juventus will win, but that this is how it is. Those who don’t have Europe have a few more advantages. Having said that, I hope Juve don’t win.”
Are you going to watch Inter now?
“No [laughs]. I won’t watch them until we play them again in the second around, that’s for sure…”
Speaking to MilanTV, Pioli said: “It was a tough game, especially in the first half. We did have chances to try and hurt them. A lot of the time, we got caught up too much in trying to go in front. At other times, we weren’t fluid enough and took too many touches. That complicated the game. But then the energy, aggression, the pressure we put on in the second half, and the quality… It was important. Another hard-fought win against a good team that played well. We gave them very little apart from the odd counter, which we’ll need to work on. On to the next one. We saw some good things.”
What is the update on Loftus-Cheek?
“Let’s hope it’s nothing serious. He felt some abdominal pain. We don’t know exactly what could be wrong. He was playing well; I put him up against Luis Alberto to try and utilize his physicality. The team needs to be a team. We’ll become strong when we stop depending on individuals. Our style of play gives us guarantees that we can stay a strong team even with big players out.”
What did you think about Adli’s first start at San Siro?
“Yacine felt it a bit… It’s true that we want a new stadium, in all senses, but he felt the weight of San Siro. That’s normal. He worked hard and he just needs to grow in confidence, because he’s never played in this position before in his young career. He played well and grew into the second half, like the whole team. I took him off so that I could bring on fresh legs, as well as a bit of added steel. But he did well, so I’m pleased, as he should be with his own growth and that he is a starter for Milan, in the sense that he’s in a group of players that can do well.”
Was this a message to the league?
“We sent ourselves a message at half time because we had some issues in the first half. We spoke and altered some positions. We kept going and played with more energy and put them under more pressure. That message was: if we keep playing like this, we can do it. It’s a long season. Serie A is so difficult and to be playing again in 3 days… Thank you to my players for their mental fortitude. It’s not always a given that you’re fully focused. Of course, we’re professionals but it’s normal to have off days when you lack energy. So maybe you drop off and let them have a bit more. But we did the opposite today. We did lack a bit of energy but we were alert and determined. It was a great win.”
What did you think of the fans?
“Amazing support. They’re our 12th man and this is important. The players earned it by giving it everything. The fans earned it too for their passion and enthusiasm which helps us so much.”
A thought on the next game in the Champions League…
“We’re ready and we need to be because, in the next game, the Champions League is massive. Unfortunately we didn’t win the first game at home despite maybe deserving to. Dortmund are an intense side. They have a lot of energy and talent up top. They’re unbeaten in the Bundesliga in I don’t know how many games. It’ll be a difficult game. We have an extra day to recover, though BVB played yesterday. They didn’t play in midweek either. But we’re Milan and we’ll need to be at our best because it’ll be a hostile atmosphere. These are the games that we want to play in. We need to execute our plan correctly.”
The Milan coach also held a post-match press conference: “Football is incredible, because it gives you strong emotions and can change the direction of things in a very short time. After the Derby we didn’t think that our journey was over, but that it was a new beginning. Strong teams must find consistency. I’m satisfied with the team. In the first half we didn’t have any rhythm, while in the second half there was energy, pace, passion and quality. I’m a satisfied Coach today, but I’m already concerned about the next match.”
What is Loftus-Cheek?
“He felt a twinge because his groin area and his abdomen, so nothing muscular and this could be a positive thing. We’ll see tomorrow. He was doing very well. The Musah came in very well. Adli meanwhile is becoming familiar with the role, even if he felt the emotion of San Siro a little bit and in the first half we looked little for him. Adli is one of the 22 starters: he deserves it for how much he has worked.”
What did you think of Okafor?
“Noah can play in two positions, I’m happy and he came in well. The goals fire up the forwards, then the position will depend on the matches. I’m very happy. Jović is also an excellent player: when he finds the best physical condition he’ll give us a hand too.”
The first goal also arrived thanks to the incredible push from San Siro…
“The fans are fantastic and the energy that the guys transmit to us is good to then carry it onto the pitch. I hope this continues as long as possible: seeing the players so happy to play at San Siro makes me feel good.”
Allegri said that it’s not mathematical that whoever is out of Europe has the advantage for the Scudetto…
“Allegri responded well because I didn’t say that it’s mathematical that Juve win the Scudetto, but that whoever is out of Europe has some extra advantage.”
At what stage are you?
“Now we are a team. There is no longer anyone who needs to fit it. Now we are a strong, cohesive group that cares and, when it is like that, I can give everything I have.”
Is this the victory of the mercato?
“It’s a victory for the club, because it’s making a competitive team while maintaining healthy financial accounts. The club’s planning and vision has led to spending well. They’ve made strong players available to me: there are only compliments for what they’ve been doing.”