AC Milan boss Stefano Pioli has heaped praise upon his team for their fantastic run since the resumption of Serie A.
The Rossoneri travel to the MAPEI Stadium on Tuesday night to battle a resurgent Sassuolo side who have won four of their last six games and have begun a charge towards the Europa League spots.
Milan though have of course been in fantastic form themselves, winning six out of eight in the league since the resumption including their most recent victory being a 5-1 win over Bologna at San Siro on Saturday night.
There were five different scorers on the night as Alexis Saelemaekers, Hakan Calhanoglu, Ismael Bennacer, Ante Rebic and Davide Calabria all netted – a testament to how a team effort has contributed to the Diavolo’s recent climb.
Pioli spoke to reporters before the trip to Emilia Romagna, and his words were transcribed by MilanNews.
He began by discussing whether the team have pressed the reset button since the league restarted, or if it is down to individuals doing so.
“In my opinion both things. We have got to know each other more and more, even the team-mates among them. We are more recognisable on the field and it becomes easier to find situations that give us advantages. It is equally true that the performance of the individual has grown and this has dragged the group,” he said.
On tomorrow’s game with a view to Europe: “They have an offensive department to hold in high regard and a team to face with great respect.”
On the tough schedule: “There have been close games and all very difficult, as will the next two games against Sassuolo and Atalanta. It is clear that the match with Bologna, which we closed early enough, allowed us to recover some players.
“Mentally we are in a positive moment and this helps to recover faster between one game and the next. Yesterday the team seemed to me physically well after the game.
“There is more confidence, we know how to overcome the difficult moments of the matches because we have more awareness. We have collective qualities and, above all, individual qualities that allow us to overcome the difficulties.”
Pioli was asked if it is a shame that the season ends when it does, or if the gasoline will be running out come August 2nd.
“I care that it lasts until August 2nd. We are running fast, collecting the points we made was difficult to predict. The tank is still set well, we are not in reserve. The next two are those in which we will have to prove we are a great team, then we will have a little more time to recover in view of the next races.
“I am showing the ranking from the beginning of January onwards. We are fourth in the standings looking at this period and we will probably be third tonight. It is a long term and it is a signal that the team is also giving for the future. Many players are proving to be up to such an important club and such a prestigious jersey.”
On the growth of Calhanoglu: “It was the growth that I expected from Hakan, because he has technical, physical and mental characteristics. He has everything to become a top player, he can still grow and become a reference player for this team.”
On Bennacer: “He is a complete midfielder who knows how to do both phases of the game well. He is one of the players who has made the most of the change of formation. This is the role in which he can make the most of his characteristics.
“We must try to be dangerous in the offensive phase with as many players as possible,” he added.
“Ibra’s presence on the pitch and the position gives us many solutions, because he is good at getting out of the area and his team-mates are good at exploiting these spaces.
“The numbers are excellent, it is useless to deny it. Tomorrow, however, we will have to be good in the game. We have to get as many points as possible until August 2nd.”
Ibrahimovic was removed from the action in the second half against Bologna having provided two assists for his team-mates, but he was seen shouting at Pioli on the sidelines as he went to take up a position on the bench.
On Ibrahimovic’s sub and how he is: “He was angry because he wanted to play the whole game and score goals. Ibra’s last two performances were of a very high level, he was a point of reference for his team-mates. The team needs Ibra from start, so he must be fine.”
If it is a personal satisfaction to have imprived many players: “The greatest satisfaction for a manager is when a player is found ready. In this period, in which you have the possibility of having five changes, it is important to have players ready and who give everything to the team even when entering the race in progress.”
On what the team will inherit next season: “The mentality, the desire to play the matches, the desire to try to be masters of the matches and the awareness of one’s qualities.”
There will be an important milestone for Donnarumma as he is set to reach 200 appearances for Milan against the team where it all started.
“It is an important goal, Gigio must have ambition and continue to work as he is doing and, if possible even more. He has the potential to become the strongest in the world, he has all the technical and moral qualities to be truly a great person.”