AC Milan head coach Stefano Pioli has confirmed that Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Ante Rebic will miss the derby against Inter, but Fikayo Tomori has recovered.
The derby cannot quite be called a must-win game for the Rossoneri yet given how many points are still to play for, but the feeling is that a win could blow the title race back open again whereas a defeat might just put an end to any hopes of capturing Scudetto number 19.
As always, the build-up to one of Europe’s biggest games has been dominated by various uncertainties from the state of the pitch at San Siro to the selection problems of both teams, but come 18:00 CET tomorrow the time for talking and speculating will be over.
Pioli spoke to the reporters who gathered in the media room at Milanello to discuss the upcoming derby and the choices he might make regarding selection, with his comments transcribed by MilanNews and relayed below.
On tactical choices: “We must also take into consideration the characteristics of the opponents, it is important. We will never distort our way of playing, it will be the same tomorrow.”
On the week of preparation: “We are fighting for a very high ranking, then whether it is Champions League or something else means that we are still competitive. Against Juve we had an excellent game, we lacked a bit of quality in the last few metres which is what we need to find tomorrow. Tomorrow weighs a lot, we want to try to win this important match.”
On recoveries and injuries: “As far as I’m concerned there are no good or bad pre-games, there are weeks of work. We had the time to prepare. Neither Zlatan nor Ante will be available. Tomori has done a great job, he will be available but I don’t think from the beginning.”
On the state of form of the two teams: “Inter are making a very important journey, certainly. That we have had a decline is equally true, but I know that I have a strong team at my disposal, some guys who are united and compact and I know we can still do very well.”
On the derby being a final and the role of Giroud: “It weighs a lot, it is worth a lot for many reasons. It is the derby, it would give confidence, positivity and strength. It weighs a lot, we know it, and we have prepared it with these stimuli. Giroud is an international player, he is ready.”
On the idea of Inter being favourites: “They are very strong, they won the league last year. The way the two teams play will create so many duels, whoever wins the most will have more chance to win. We will have to be hungrier than them in dirty balls.”
On Theo, and whether he expects more from him in big matches: “He has grown in terms of maturity certainly yes, it is normal in a path of a young player. His last games from a defensive point of view have been among the best. He can aim for the maximum and can be decisive. He has the ability to highlight its qualities also tomorrow.”
On the January transfer market: “I am positive and confident, I know the qualities of my players. They must feel strong. Ours is a shared choice on the transfer market, the situation has not been created to sign a player who could improve our level and then we have decided to bet on our players.
“Those who believe in their goals must always give their all, even when the wind blows: right there you have to show that you are strong. I’m sure we are a competitive team and we want to stay in the top positions of the table.”
On the first derby without Ibra: “A very important match, but we have experienced many others like the last one in Bergamo, the one in Turin against Juve… I’m missing Zlatan, I’m sorry. We have grown a lot with Zlatan and now we have to show that we are strong even without him. We must have that willpower especially in the delicate moments of our seasons.”
On Lazetic: “It seems to me that he already has a strong character and with the aim of becoming a great player. He has great physical means combined with excellent technique. Tomorrow he will be with us and he will begin to understand what Italian football is and what it means to be at Milan.”
On Kessie’s condition: “He’s fine, he was late on Monday evening. He’s fine, I saw him in excellent physical and mental conditions. I expect a solid test from him, he’s a strong player.”
On Giroud and Rebic’s condition: “Giroud is a complete and intelligent player. He knows how to connect the game and fill the area well. It is a situation that we will try to have. Unfortunately Rebic at the end of last week had a trauma to his ankle and he is not healed yet. We hope to recover him soon because he is an important player.”
On a title for tomorrow’s derby: “It is unpredictable, they are difficult to prepare even if both us and Inter have a precise identity. You have to stay in them with great attention for 95 minutes, I am convinced that my players know this and will be able to interpret the game by putting all that on the pitch. that we have by managing to overcome our limits.”
On Leao: “You must always expect a lot from Leao. He must be even more convinced of how strong he is. He is growing a lot, he is working hard and now the time has rightly come to prove it.”
On the matches after the break: “We have no secrets, we try to plan the stops according to how the team and the individual players are, trying to intervene on the condition of the individuals. The team is doing well and has worked well.”
On Brahim Diaz: “He is fine, he has found a better condition than a couple of months ago.”
On Tomori, and why he cannot start but might be on the bench: “It depends on the fact that he did an incomplete workout and a half with us, it is unlikely that he will have an unlimited amount of time after 3 weeks of absence. The operation went well, the knee never swelled, it’s thanks to him. who worked a lot to immediately regain muscle tone.”
On the idea of promising his wife a spa trip in Crete for winning the derby: “A game like this deserves a foil, I might have something in mind. I would tell you only later (laughs).”
On the tactical approach to the match: “We know the opponents well, all the matches are prepared with great attention to all the details. We have our strategy which we hope will give us the right advantages.”
Are you on fire for this derby? “I have to be.”