AC Milan boss Stefano Pioli believes his side are well prepared for Monday’s Serie A opener against Bologna having negotiated a tricky task in Dublin in midweek.
There is a great deal of excitement surrounding the new campaign as the Rossoneri ended the 2019-20 season having won nine of their last 12 league games.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic has renewed, Ante Rebic has signed on a permanent deal and the likes of Brahim Diaz, Sandro Tonali and Ciprian Tatarusanu have arrived to give quality depth.
Monday though will be a tough test for Milan against a familiar foe in Bologna. Alessio Romagnoli, Mateo Musacchio and Andrea Conti will be out through injury while Rafael Leao will also miss out.
Pioli spoke to the media who gathered at Casa Milan on Sunday afternoon ahead of the game against Bologna, with the questions and his answers transcribed by MilanNews and translated below.
Tomorrow Milan start against Mihajlovic’s Bologna…
“Tomorrow will be another match compared to last season [the 5-1 win], they will have the maximum motivation but we too it.”
What does the growth of Calhanoglu depend on?
“It starts with the qualities of the players, performance depends on that. He is a player who knows how to perform well on the pitch, his collaboration with Ibra on the pitch is important, they know how to attack lines and get in deep.
“He is a player who has so much quality and so much selflessness, he has everything to do well and continue to be a point of reference.”
On the Shamrock Rovers win: “In the first matches I am always fighting, I am aware that I have prepared the team well but the matches are unpredictable. In the first match there were pitfalls, coming from a break and some good friendlies.
“I have no doubts about the team I coach, our journey began last October, we have our own identity, a module that the players like, but certainties must be re-proposed, we must be convinced of our qualities with great respect in our opponents.”
Did Milan raise the bar?
“Having pressure is a privilege, it means that you have reached certain levels, our goal is to improve our season but we must not think about the table. We must be ambitious, we are Milan, we must continue to grow. We are a very young team with ample room for improvement.”
How have the new players settled?
“Their inclusion was facilitated by a close-knit group that works well and sacrifices itself. They are three quality players, Tatarusanu has great experience, Tonali and Diaz of absolute talent and potential, they will be able to help us immediately.”
What season will it be for Rebic?
“He is a very important player for us, he has quality, physical strength, depth. He completes our attacking department, he suffered from not being able to play in Europe, he is ready and prepared to support the team.”
Will there be more rotations than last year?
“The main aspect is to choose who gives the most guarantees from a physical point of view. If we are good in the next two weeks [and qualify for the Europa League groups] we will play often and there will be some rotation.
“Some guys have had some problems but they are growing. Having five changes is an advantage to exploit in races so close.”
How have Bologna changed?
“They have changed something in the construction phase, they have maintained that aggressiveness that can put you in difficulty, they have excellent qualities, they must be faced with clarity by focusing on our convictions.”
Can Milan aim for the Scudetto?
“I don’t know, it is difficult to answer these questions now, we must continue to grow and prove that we are a strong team. Predictions are often made to be proven wrong, Milan have lost the first in the last two championships and we must aim to win.”
On Lucas Paqueta: “He has some difficulties due to the positions we take on the pitch, he’s a player with particular characteristics, let’s see what the market will tell us.”
Is it essential to start well?
“To aim for the top four we have to start well, we can’t always chase, starting well is essential, we are focused on tomorrow’s commitment.”
A motto for the season?
“Never give up and always improve.”
What are the difficulties at the beginning?
“I have no doubts about my team, at the beginning there are always some pitfalls, but we have already played the first official match, this must give us confidence for tomorrow’s match.
“Milan must be ambitious, aim for the maximum trying to play every single game with the confidence of being able to win it.”
Do Milan know how to read matches well?
“It is a great quality to understand the moments of the match, to understand the opponent’s weaknesses and exploit them. We have to continue like this and improve in the dribble, but I think we are on the right path.”
On Calabria: “He is giving continuity to the good performances of last season’s finale, he is doing well on the pitch, he has grown and must continue like this.”
When do you plan to include Tonali and Diaz?
“I already see them well integrated, they already know what to do in our game system, I hope to be able to give them more time as soon as possible. We will play many games.”
There will be 1000 fans at the stadium…
“It’s an important first step but it’s only a first step, we can’t wait for the stadium to fill up, we need our fans and it would mean having won the battle against Covid.”
Are the team ready to play many games?
“The team is prepared, impeccable professionalism is needed to play so many close matches, the players are professionals, they have the desire and the pleasure of playing many games.”