AC Milan head coach Stefano Pioli has picked out a few areas where his team can improve but insists they are growing and maturing with every game.
The Rossoneri are on a roll which stretches back to the resumption of football after lockdown, with Milan having gone unbeaten in their last 21 games across all competitions with 17 wins in that stretch.
They will be looking to make it five wins from five to begin the 2020-21 Serie A campaign when they welcome Roma to the San Siro on Monday night, aiming to build off the back of a 2-1 derby win over Inter in the last league game and a 3-1 win over Celtic in the Europa League in midweek.
Pioli spoke ahead of the game against the Giallorossi in his pre-match press conference, with his responses transcribed by MilanNews and translated below.
“Every game is important, we started well and we have to continue. We face a strong opponent who in their last six away matches have won five,” Pioli began.
“They are an opponent who play like Milan, confirmed a coach who did well in his first year in Italy, they added strong young players like Kumbulla have signed an important player like Pedro. They are an ambitious team but we are too, it will be an open match.”
Whatever the result, Milan will remain first in the standings as Sassuolo and Atalanta dropped points, but Pioli isn’t interest about that.
“We are only at the beginning, we have to prepare ourselves well to pass this difficult test,” he said.
On the battle between Dzeko and Ibrahimovic, he added: “If we think about the June match, the characteristics change, Ibra and Rebic have different characteristics.
“Zlatan gives us many solutions, both Ibra and Dzeko are two aggressive players. We will have to try to limit the supply to Dzeko.”
Could Monday be a litmus test after an extraordinary start to the season?
“In my opinion every game will be a litmus test, we must interpret it as we know how to do.
“We must play to the maximum and then we will evaluate everything. We must think about our path, continue to think of every single game as the most important one. Tomorrow will be important, also for the ranking.”
On the rotation against Celtic: “It was important to raise competitiveness and play young and strong players. The owners were good at signing players who are raising the level, everyone knows that by doing better than their partner they will have the opportunity to be chosen.
“Five changes gives us so many possibilities. It is important who take the field from the first minute, but also who enter the game.”
On Calhanoglu: “Let’s say that in this beginning we were very good at not making important absences weigh on such as Ibra, Romagnoli, Calha. It was important to have more starters available.
“Calhanoglu and Rebic are better. Rebic will not be there tomorrow, we will check. Hakan still has two training sessions but tomorrow will be difficult.”
On what to improve: “There are many situations that we can develop better, we can understand the moments of the match even better.
“We must understand when there is a need to pick up the pace or dribble. The games change within the same game. It is a growth that will come with time and based on the opponents we find. Growth must be continuous.”
On the five substitution rule: “I understand Gasperini’s statements, but you have to insert the new players and give them the opportunity by putting them to the test.
“Our identity is pretty clear, for the new players arrived it is easy to understand how to move on the pitch. I honestly see only positive aspects in the five substitutions. I think about fielding the best 11 for the start of the game, the preparation for the game is the most important aspect of my job.
“Now it is more complicated because we do it in two days, I like to think that having five changes allows me to change characteristics and games. As long as they let us use the 23 players I think it is the right thing to use all the players available.”
Is the team’s maturation process well underway?
“I like to define my players as young but mature, they show it to me with their behaviour. We also have strong personalities such as Romagnoli, Kjaer, Donnarumma,” Pioli said.
“It is not an ID card that tells us if we are mature, but our behaviour. We are aware of our path. Our strength is to maintain a mental balance. After the criticism we only thought about working, now we have to do the same even if we receive compliments. Indeed, I asked the team to give even more to become really ambitious. Expectations have risen.”
Five years ago Donnarumma made his debut in Serie A, how important has become for Milan and are you worried about the contract?
“I had only faced him as an opponent and I could only appreciate the technical qualities. Here I found a boy older than his age. In my experience his growth has been continuous, his availability is great and he is growing in everything he does,” he said.
“From nutrition to attention to detail, he is already of the highest level but still has a lot of room for improvement. I am very satisfied with his approach. I am not worried about his future because as long as I see such attentive and positive players I am calm and I know that the club are working in a certain direction.”
On Tonali: “He had a difficult start to the game with Celtic but then he grew, he is still looking for the best condition. He needs some time but he is a strong and mature player and I’m sure he can be a starter in this team.”
Does it bother you to hear that Milan are still a surprise to some people?
“No, honestly, I’m not losing sleep. I already sleep little (laughs). It is right that everyone can think as they see fit. I am convinced that ours is the right path, and I am aware that there are situations to improve to reach certain levels.
“Our mentality must be this, to think that every game is the most important. We will draw the sums at the end and we will see who was right.”
Did the team take their foot off the gas at 2-0 against Celtic?
“I agree, a team that obtains certain advantages must absolutely not lose them. We must continue to play our football with any scoreline, but it is not always so easy to dominate the games.
“Celtic in the second half changed formations, we did not succeed in being aggressive as we like to do but it is also true that we scored the third goal after winning the ball back high up the pitch.
“A strong team maintains a lead throughout the game. We must try to make our moment last as long as possible. We have not achieved anything, we just have to think about working and the next game.”
Did you choose Krunic as an attacking midfielder because you found that Nocerino that Ibra needed?
“I think Krunic can play both in the two midfielders but also as an attacking midfielder. Our attacking midfielder whether Hakan, Krunic or Diaz has to work hard and know how to attack spaces when Ibra comes between the lines.
“Krunic has these qualities and I am happy for the goal because these are situations that we try and try again in training.”
Amassing 21 consecutive useful results cannot be just a coincidence, can the bar be raised again?
“In many situations it can, both in individual and collective performances. We are a team that has been working together for less than a year, our confidence and knowing how to recognise certain situations on the pitch can only grow.
“Now it is important not to stop only on the positive aspects and concentrate on the negative ones. We have to take great care of the details and understand that every single ball can be the decisive one.”
Should Milan aim higher than the Champions? Do you have any players you prefer to enter while the match is in progress?
“I believe that we have the objective of overcoming all the teams that were ahead of us last year. Our gap with the top 4 was several points. Now we are thinking of improving that and overcoming Roma, Atalanta over the year. One step at a time, one match at a time.
“Now our opponent is Roma and we only think of Roma. It is true that there are players who have this ability to enter the game immediately even if they play a segment of the match, but I always try to field the best possible formation based on our condition and the characteristics of our opponents.”