AC Milan head coach Stefano Pioli was pleased with the response of his side as they rallied back from the Napoli defeat on Sunday night to win 4-2 in Empoli.
There were some eyebrows raised at Pioli’s decision to field Franck Kessie in the attacking midfielder role with Rade Krunic and Brahim Diaz dropped to the bench, but his decision quickly paid dividends as a brace from the Ivorian helped Milan go in 2-1 up at the break.
Alessandro Florenzi’s perfect free-kick and a close range finish from Theo Hernandez opened up a three-goal lead, but a late penalty from Andrea Pinamonti restored some respectability to the scoreline as it ended 4-2.
Pioli spoke to Sky Italia at the end of the game and reflected on the 17th away win of 2021 to end the year in the right way, with his comments transcribed by MilanNews and translated below.
On what he said to Romagnoli at the end of the match: “We were talking about how to manage the break, on the 27th and 28th we will do two training sessions on zoom before returning on the 30th. We needed the win for the standings and our confidence. I remain convinced that with Napoli we did not deserve to lose, now we have to manage this break well because we will have an important January.”
On the number of points on the board: “There are moments in which some matches weigh a little more, this one weighed. Tonight we played, suffered, gritted our teeth and played as a team that achieved the result with great desire.”
On the formation and playing Kessie as attacking midfielder: “We knew that the opponent dribbled very well, I wanted a slightly more dynamic and racing midfield. Franck is going to fill the opponent’s area best of all at the moment, then I wanted to let Brahim Diaz catch his breath. The break will do him good.”
What rating do you give Milan in 2021? “A high score, we are proving to be competitive again. Then the last step is always the most difficult one. The second round will be even more difficult, we must try to recover as many players as possible. I am satisfied with how the team reacted, we are a young group.”
On absences: “Lately we have lacked quality in the game. We certainly have to raise the bar, but we didn’t lack humility or team spirit. With quality and fit players it makes a difference in modern football, we have been missing these characteristics in more than one match.
“The important thing is to stay there in the leading group and remain competitive. We too won the winter title last year and then finished second. Our journey started two years ago with 66 points, then 79 last year, we’ll see this year. The goal is to always improve, the team has all the qualities to succeed.”
On expectations and criticisms: “It is part of our growth path, we also grow through criticism. We are good at isolating ourselves and focusing on our work. What they say on the outside interests us but up to a certain point. I train a young group that grows through pressures and expectations.
“If we have pressure, we deserve it, it is a privilege. I would like to congratulate all the Milan fans, they are fantastic. They are accompanying us with an incredible passion. Merry Christmas everyone, we will try to do even better in 2022.”