AC Milan head coach Stefano Pioli is expecting an ‘exciting match’ against Napoli in which the outcome of various duels will be crucial.
Despite having already played and won the Derby della Madonnina against Inter earlier this month, the feeling is that tomorrow’s game against Napoli is the biggest of the season so far given both sides have 14 points from their opening six league games, putting them join top with Atalanta.
Not only that, but both the Rossoneri and the Partenopei are gaining recognition in Europe for their style of play, with both teams currently top of their Champions League groups after Spalletti’s men beat Liverpool and Rangers by three-goal margins.
Pioli did his usual pre-match press conference at Milanello on the eve of the game, with his comments relayed by MilanNews and translated below.
Milan always plays their type of football. Are you expecting the usual charge of the fans for tomorrow?
“I think the charge is at the highest level and we are gaining a lot of energy. Playing at home is an advantage that we want to exploit tomorrow night.”
What type of game are you expecting?
“I expect a difficult game, Napoli are a great team. We also have our qualities, it doesn’t matter who will miss. Saelemaekers is a right-footed player who can play on the left and can come in.”
Some players have been reborn, but Calabria did not get called up by the national team…
“I’m happy to coach a player like Davide who is reliable.”
How much intensity will you be able to put in tomorrow?
“It will be very important, I will call up 25 players, all available and willing. As the level of the opponents rises, the level of our performances must rise. We are ready and prepared to field the best possible formation. I think it is better, after the Champions League, to face an opponent who has played in the Champions League. I expect an exciting match, ball after ball, play after play, many duels.”
How big is Leao’s absence?
“I don’t want to take anything away from the qualities of my individual players, but we make our way of playing the most important feature. It is clear that the level of the collective enhances the individuals. Osimhen? Tomorrow we start 11 vs 11.”
How do you judge the ‘new Napoli’?
“Napoli have Spalletti, they always make their teams play well with a clear and precise identity. The transfer market has allowed them to buy players who are perhaps not so well known, but suitable.”
How is the current Milan better?
“The game must be played. Tomorrow night I will tell you where we have been better, but we are two similar teams trying not to be passive in the defensive phase.”
How do you judge Spalletti?
“I respect him very much, he has always given a proactive imprint to his teams. We have met many times, we know each other well. In 2006 I went to see his training with Roma. He is very capable, very good. He is a top coach in improving players.”
Do you agree with Maldini’s words about Leao?
“I always agree with him. He is a very intelligent player, he knows that he cannot be satisfied.”
Yesterday in Salernitana-Lecce there were two incidents very similar to the double yellow Leao got…
“The rules are one thing, but the situations can change. We think about playing to give our best. It’s an important match tomorrow.”
Will the Scudetto threshold drop?
“In my opinion there are more teams equipped to do very well, there is great balance. Many small and medium-sized teams have grown and in every single match you have to do a lot to win them.”
Any new about the absent players?
“They are the known, we haven’t got anyone back… I hope to recover them during the break.”
Have your team conceded too many goals in these first matches?
“We are not liking the goals conceded when we are in clear numerical superiority, like the one against Dinamo. They have been analysed a lot. The higher the level, the more you have to be careful: half a metre is enough to concede a goal. Tomorrow the level will be raises and attention must be maximised.”
Is there a possible formation change?
“I have already decided, we have tried it and I believe that Leao’s absence does not lead us to change the balanced game system. Leao has characteristics and Saelemaekers has others and we will try to exploit its characteristics ”
What do you think of Allegri’s words?
“I don’t judge others. Certain moments can happen and we try to work with energy and strength.”
How’s Krunic? Could he be the right man for a possible formation change?
“He is fine, when you come from an injury you are not in an optimal condition. Let’s see what the match will tell us to change something in progress.”
How are the new signings?
“They are not struggling, I’m happy with Yacine, Malick, Aster and Sergino. I keep repeating that I’m not in a hurry. They are doing what is necessary to convince me that they are ready and soon they will.”
What are your thoughts on Pobega?
“He has important characteristics that could be useful to the team. He has to work a lot, but he is one of those guys who feels Milan inside.”
Did you expect to be first in Serie A and the Champions League group heading into tomorrow?
“We could have waited for tomorrow to ask this question (laughs). I am very convinced that the team is prepared, after tomorrow evening we will make the first assessment.”
How did you choose Saelemaekers to replace Leao?
“Preparing for a match is putting costs and benefits on the table at a strategic level. Then you choose players who are best suited to interpret the type of game you have decided. The team knows what we want to do. I try to be the most lucid and energetic as possible because the team likes such a coach.”
Milan have not beaten Napoli in the league at home since 2014…
“The higher the level of the opponents, the more we have to play as a team. In recent years it has happened that they have won at San Siro and Milan in Naples.”
Are Milan able to counter Napoli’s tactical weapons?
“They must. Against Liverpool they knew that they would keep the line very high and they took advantage of it, but they also know how to dribble or go 1 vs 1. Tomorrow we will need a fair, correct and compact defensive phase: it is a goal that can give us many benefits.”
Will it be important to attack Napoli?
“Napoli dribbles well, to attack them you have to do it at the right moments; if we miss a pressure, they have the ability to hurt you. If you wait for them, they can hurt you all the same. It will be a very important game tactically.”