GdS: ‘Operation coppa’ – Pioli sets trophy target but Milan face tricky tie

By Oliver Fisher -

AC Milan return to European action tonight against Rennes, and while it might not quite be the glamour of the Champions League the mission is now simply: win a trophy.

La Gazzetta dello Sport (seen below) preview the first leg of the Europa League play-off tie at San Siro tonight by recalling that back on 18 December when the draw was made, it made Milan fans smile.

Rennes were coming from one point in four games and it seemed like an early Christmas present. Since that day, they have won eight matches out of eight, including a victory against Farioli’s Nice, a 3-2 win in Lyon and the elimination of Marseille in the cup.

This is why there is very little to gain and a lot to lose for Milan. If they were to get through the round, they would do their duty. If they were eliminated, it would taint a season in which he has already experienced the exit from the Champions League and the farewell to domestic targets.

Stefano Pioli knows that if he wants to stay at Milan for another season, he cannot make mistakes here, not now. The Europa League is an objective of the club, as reiterated by Gerry Cardinale in the insidious Christmas greeting message.

“Passing the round is very important. We want to get to the end of the Europa League,” Pioli said. It would be essential for glory and money. The Europa League is a cup that no Italian club has ever won and Milan didn’t even capture it when it was called the UEFA Cup.

The fans put Europe before (almost) everything and the club has a great desire to celebrate RedBird Capital’s first trophy and push the name around the world, so this all adds to the pressure.

The money issue is not secondary either. The Europa League does not have the riches of the Champions League, but there is still a big difference between going out in February and carrying on until May.

Whoever wins the trophy collects almost €15m in prizes from the direct elimination rounds, and also triggers the €3.5m bonus for reaching the European Super Cup, increases their market pool and of course secure three more home games for box office takings.

Pioli yesterday went to a press conference and threw away the calculator. He only wants to think about Rennes and, when asked about the Europa League favourites, he mentioned ‘Bayer Leverkusen, Liverpool and Atalanta’.

Now, hearing a Milan coach who considers Atalanta the favorites and not his team is perplexing – it is anti-historical to say the least – but it makes you think of a classic tactic: taking pressure off the team.


Tags AC Milan Milan Rennes
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