AC Milan boss Stefano Pioli has confirmed that Lucas Paqueta will leave the club, while he revealed that Zlatan Ibrahimovic is still very involved despite being in isolation.
The Rossoneri head into their Europa League Play-Off having already seen off Shamrock Rovers and Bodo/Glimt in the previous rounds, but face another knockout game against Portuguese opposition to determine whether they will qualify for the group stages.
They will do so without Paqueta however, with all the major sources in agreement that he will complete a €20-21m move to Lyon this week, while Ibrahimovic is out with Coronavirus.
Pioli will also be without Mateo Musacchio, Leo Duarte, Alessio Romagnoli and Andrea Conti not fit, while Ante Rebic is suspended (and injured).
Pioli gathered in front of the media at Casa Milan on Wednesday afternoon, and the questions plus his responses were transcribed by MilanNews.
How are the team?
“We have been conditioned by the previous two races, but the approach and mentality count,” he said.
“We have 95 minutes in front of us in which to give our best and get the maximum, the two preliminaries have trained us well but our opponents have done them too. We have to count on our chances, with a lot of respect for good opponents. ”
Is it an opportunity for the team to grow?
“It has to be, we will have to demonstrate our qualities in front of a team that has won two away games and defeated Besiktas, not an easy opponent. A technical team that takes good positions.
“They want to lead the match with ball possession. We will have to avoid this, be aggressive and do it with clarity.”
On the injured players…
“Romagnoli is returning to the group, the break will be important for him. I hope it is the same for Conti. Musacchio is better, I don’t know if he will be ready after the break.”
Leao or Colombo tomorrow?
“There are not only them. The choice will depend on how we want to play. I am happy with Leao’s availability, but he has recently returned to training with us. He needs to improve his condition, tomorrow he will be able to play a part.”
Are you tempted to put Kessie at centre-back and Tonali in the middle of the field with Bennacer?
“I hope I don’t have to put Kessie in defence, it would mean that we would have lost one of the central defenders.”
How do you judge Diaz’s performance in Crotone?
“It was his first start, he can do better, but he is growing a lot. He has to be even more decisive. He is available for tomorrow.”
Does the pressure of being Milan help a young team like yours?
“We have to think about playing as a team and give our all, then it’s clear that the name Milan always carries more responsibilities.”
On Paqueta, who is closing in on a move to Lyon…
“I thank him for his availability. I wish him a big good luck. Here he found some difficulties, but he has the qualities to do well.”
How do you see the two full-backs?
“It depends on the construction we want to build from the back. We are building with the highest full-backs. Then it always depends on the type of game.”
What do you think of Kessie as a leader?
“The most important thing is always the group. We have to insist on this. Kessie is a positive guy, he is always focused and willing to help his teammates in difficulty. Me and his teammates are really appreciating all this.”
Do you feel like tomorrow’s game is closing a circle?
“It’s our first target of the season [EL qualification]. Tomorrow the first phase ends and we want to go through to have a longer path in Europe.”
On the continuity of the back four…
“Playing together so often helps us to get to know each other better. The defense is doing well, but the whole team will have to be compact tomorrow.
“We only have to think about tomorrow’s match and then the one against Spezia. We hope to see the fans at the stadium again soon. There are professionals who are thinking about this whole situation, we have to rely on them.”
How important is tomorrow’s match also for Italian football?
“I never know these simple games. Rio Ave are stronger than our previous opponents. We have to play a great game and win.”
How is Ibrahimovic?
“Ibra is inside the group in all respects, in their chats they are feeling and stimulating, here the leader is becoming the group, the desire to be together and to be satisfied and happy with their performance.”