Pioli discusses Empoli challenge, Brahim’s condition, De Ketelaere’s position and formation choices

By Oliver Fisher -

AC Milan head coach Stefano Pioli gave an update on the fitness of Brahim Diaz as well as answering questions about Rafael Leao’s role and his choice of formation.

Milan are heading into what is being adjudged by many to be a season-defining month of games. After Empoli in the league comes a trip to Bologna and a home game against Lecce, with the Bologna game sandwiched by the two legs of the Champions League quarter-finals against Napoli.

Speaking of Napoli, the Rossoneri come into tomorrow’s game having won 4-0 at the Maradona on Sunday night to send a statement of intent both in view of the two legs later this month but also in the battle for the top four.

Dropping points against Empoli is not an option given they have won win in nine, and Pioli spoke to the reporters who gathered at Milanello for his pre-match press conference with MilanNews relaying his comments.

What is the tension level of the team?

“It is crucial to stay tense. Matches are won first with attitudes, determination and then with quality. We must be humble, the league is important to us and we must take advantage of this home round.”

How are you experiencing the news about Berlusconi?

“We are all worried, but we don’t have such precise news clearly.”

How can you think only about tomorrow?

“We have to stay on track. We got an important victory in Naples, but we have to play at that level all the time. We just have to think about tomorrow.”

Will you field the best team?

“The line-up will be the best possible according to my ideas. Then we play many games, so there will certainly be some changes.”

Leao said that being on the left is his favourite position…

“I’m not satisfied with just one player. Rafa had told me exactly the opposite, but it’s important that he’s happy and that he plays with a smile, he mustn’t be worried and anxious. He’s had a difficult time like the team.”

Is there a racism problem in Italian football?

“I don’t know. I have many friends who go to the stadium with respect, but I’m very sorry because football and sport must be lived with a different spirit.”

Will Brahim be there?

“He did two training sessions on his own, but he’s available then I’ll make my choices.”

Were you angry with Leao, before Napoli, for having made some mistakes?

“I got more angry when he didn’t make certain movements. It didn’t seem like Rafa was combining his game very well with the others… then he did it very well in Naples.”

Do you have problems with the teams that defend deeper?

“Attention and quality of play. Then with more closed teams we had difficulties, but we worked on it and I expect improvements.”

Spalletti said Milan won because they were afraid of losing…

“I don’t have to comment on Spalletti’s words, it would be a mistake to think about Napoli.”

Will he confirm the three in midfield?

“We think from match to match. The three midfielders played an excellent game in Naples.”

Do you have more regrets about the Scudetto race?

“Nothing increases. Judgments are made at the end, at the end of the season and I hope for the Champions League. We have to do well these two months.”

Saelemaekers and Bennacer did well against Napoli…

“He’s fine. He’s an unpredictable player, he has important characteristics. I’ll make the choices tomorrow morning. Bennacer is a complete midfielder, he can build from the back, he can attack higher up, he knows how to shoot. We’ll see tomorrow’s choices.”

Milan can’t go wrong agains the ‘lesser’ sides…

“That’s what we have prepared. We have to face the 10 matches as if they were knockout games, we have to give our best.”

Could De Ketelaere get some playing time on the right?

“Charles has the characteristics to vary both from the centre and from the right. It is not a change that can create difficulties for him.”

What do you think of the stadium issue?

“San Siro has made the history of Italian football and of Milan. But we can’t stay anchored to the past if we want to improve our future. Situations abroad have improved because they have dealt with these dynamics with timing and modernity.”

Have Rebic and Origi been left a bit in the dark?

“I don’t think so. Rebic and Origi are of an excellent level. They haven’t had continuity, also due to my choices, but they have my great consideration and a lot about them.”

What do you think of Baldanzi?

“Empoli have been playing a certain type of football with a roar for many years. They are fast, quick, technical, they take good positions on the pitch and they will let us run a lot and well. Baldanzi is a young player with potential.”

What does Milan need to repeat itself?

“Two essential characteristics are needed: quality of play in control of the game and the ball and the defensive attitude of individual players with pressure on the opponents.”

Is there an ace up your sleeve for tomorrow?

“My way of working is to prepare for every single game, stopping thinking about the previous game very quickly. Each opponent makes their own story and even our games make their own story. We have prepared some positions for tomorrow.”

How can you not think about the match against Napoli?

“It’s easy because the objective in the league is very important and because otherwise the victory in Naples would be useless.”

Tags AC Milan Empoli Milan Stefano Pioli
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