GdS: ‘All in one night’ – De Rossi and Pioli prepare for a gladiatorial showdown

By Oliver Fisher -

AC Milan take on Roma in the second leg of their Europa League quarter-final tie tonight, and only one will go to the semi-final of the competition.

This morning’s edition of La Gazzetta dello Sport (seen below) talks about the gladiatorial rhetoric, which evaporates from the walls of the eternal city. Daniele De Rossi or Stefano Pioli? Only one can win.

De Rossi launched a fireball into the enemy camp: “For them it is the last resort”. Pioli picked it up without getting burned: “Since he decides, it’s the last resort for both of us.” Clearly the psychological situation is different.

On the eve of his last match as Roma manager, lost 3-1 at San Siro against Milan back on 14 January, Jose Mourinho explained: “I’m not Harry Potter, I don’t have a magic wand.”

Evidently De Rossi does: 11 wins in 16 games, only two defeats, one against Inter, the other negligible at Brighton given they were 4-0 up after the first leg. He dragged Roma into the Champions League zone and on the threshold of a European semi-final.

The city is at his feet, but after beating the Giallorossi at the Olimpico in the third round of the Serie A season, Pioli reasoned: “I hope to be at the beginning or, at least, halfway through my Rossoneri history. I feel good with the team, with the club and with the fans We will get some satisfaction.”

The season has betrayed expectations. The bad first leg and the difficult draw with Sassuolo made the atmosphere even more electric, so Pioli also knows how much tonight’s match and Monday’s derby can weigh on everyone’s future.

Above all the match in Rome and not only because it would bring, in cascade, good energy to use against Inter. A secure second place (which is no small feat) and a second consecutive European semi-final would put a positive spin on his work.

Just like San Siro

In last week’s game, De Rossi changed Roma’s set up to a 4-4-2 with El Shaarawy as a wide midfielder and it paid off. He returned to Rome on a white horse, as if from a glorious campaign in Cisalpine Gaul.

It’s not that DDR had discovered the new law of relativity, he had simply strengthened the defensive lines against Milan’s strong flank, that of Theo and Leao. The narrative of it being a tactical masterpiece perhaps went a little far.

Will De Rossi do the game again? It seems so, with only Bove replacing the suspended Cristante, even if in Trigoria he kept a 4-3-3 with two full-backs on the left (Angelino-Spinazzola). Pioli also seems oriented towards confirming the men and ideas from the first leg.

One might have thought that, to disembark from De Rossi’s cage, he could exasperate the attack, to open up more guns: a three-pronged trident with Chukwueze-Pulisic-Leao behind Giroud.

It is a solution that would have made sense also in light of that victory against Roma at the beginning of the season, because Loftus-Cheek – deeper in midfield with Reijnders – found space to run into and drew the penalty to make it 1-0.


The philosophy chosen for the match of the year instead is not to change tactical habits, but to carry them out better than at San Siro, in the belief that the real key to the first leg was not tactics, but details.

El Shaarawy deserves credit for doubling up on Rafael Leao, but the Portuguese never had the desire and strength to snatch the occasion and look elsewhere for space to do damage. Milan were late to a lot of second balls too.

This is what Pioli asks for: heart, ferocious attention, the hunger for glory. The choice of the more physical and competitive Musah, for Bennacer, goes in this direction. The coach explains: “If we defend ourselves well as a team, we can win.”

Leao’s know-how

Leao spoke at a conference yesterday, as he rarely does. Almost as if, after the bad match in the first leg, the team had pushed him forward: “Put your face to it, in words and on the pitch. It’s your turn.”

The winger has sworn that he will do it, aware that he is experiencing the key moment of the season. In that 2-1 league victory, the Portuguese played a great game and scored a gem with an overhead kick. Milan need a repeat.

Pioli also has good memories of the Olimpico, all things considered. In his first year with the Rossoneri, he beat Lazio with goals from Calhanoglu, Ibrahimovic and Rebic. In his second year, he defeated Roma with goals from Kessie and Rebic.

In the season of the Scudetto, they triumphed twice: 2-1 against Roma with goals from Zlatan and Kessie and, above all, they overcame Lazio in the heart of the run-in, when a goal in the 92nd minute from Tonali took the team top above Inter.

Tonali moving forward to the attacking line was the unsettling and decisive move. Pioli knows how to invent things like this and Reijnders has the quality to move his influence around the pitch.

De Rossi knows this. The absence of Cristante, dominant at San Siro, is underestimated. Bove cannot have the experience and tactical compass of his team-mate so Milan could find more openings in transition.

Dybala and Lukaku will try to lead the attack against a team unbalanced by the need for a comeback. There’s no escape. It’s gladiatorial night.

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