AC Milan play their final game of 2023 against Sassuolo tonight, and three points are needed perhaps to ensure that Stefano Pioli has the faith of the leadership heading into the new year.
As La Gazzetta dello Sport (seen below) writes, there has been a crescendo. In July 2020, after a victory over Sassuolo, the then-management put their trust in Pioli by renewing his deal.
The season was extended into the summer after the stop imposed by Covid, a void that was filled by rumours about a chance on the bench with Pioli out and Ralf Rangnick in. From that decision to keep the Italian, Milan were crowned champions in May 2022.
Pioli was once again the protagonist: the trophy was raised on the Sassuolo pitch. Soundtrack: Pioli is on fire. Then the music turned down and a U-turn took place: Milan-Sassuolo in January 2023 ended 2-5, the third defeat in a row for the Rossoneri.
The moment, this time, is even more critical. Victory is the only result allowed and with the three points up for grabs must be secured with the style of play, with spirit and with contributions from the best players.
Gerry Cardinale, who had wished happy holidays in a not exactly Christmassy spirit given he stated ‘I’m not satisfied with the current position in the rankings’, will watch on TV. A scenario that could frighten some, but not Pioli.
In his pre-match press conference yesterday, the Milan boss said: “I’m not afraid. It’s not my future that’s important but Milan’s present. I spent this week working, I didn’t hear from Cardinale but I interact with the managers on a daily basis.”
He will have over 70,000 allies in the stands given San Siro will still be sold out. Also on Pioli’s side are the squad’s leaders: they had been contacted by the club after the draw against Salernitana to gauge an idea of where the team are. Everyone verbally expressed their closeness, now it’s time for the practical exam.
Milan need their pillars back. Theo Hernandez is the symbol of the bad moment, Rafael Leao has looked listless while Olivier Giroud is without a goal at San Siro since August (in Serie A).
Closing the year with a victory would not only end 2023 in the right way but would provide some respite regarding the sacking rumours. A week ago Pioli was confirmed with reservations, with the plan being to go forward until the summer, unless the situation worsens.
A defeat would fall into this second scenario. Certainly the discussion would be reopened, the consultations restarted. It’s true that three days later a possible appeal comes: Milan-Cagliari in the Coppa Italia, then a trip to Empoli, while the January window opens too.