AC Milan coach Stefano Pioli has spoken to the press ahead of the home match against Napoli which takes place on Sunday evening at 18:00 CET.
Pioli was asked an array of questions (as transcribed by Milan News), many of which centred on the fitness of Ismael Bennacer and the dangers that Napoli can pose despite not being in great form.
Napoli are down in seventh before this weekend’s matches and they have no hope of defending the title that they won last season under Luciano Spalletti.
Pioli was asked if he is surprised at just how poor the away side have been this season, to which he said: “It’s difficult for everyone to repeat themselves, it was difficult for us too. The season is still very long and Napoli are not far from fourth place. They have great quality, great offensive players. We will have to concentrate.”
Milan now need to think about European football again as the first Europa League match against Stade Rennes is coming up on Thursday. Pioli was asked about balancing the training intensity to account for both games, but he stressed the importance of focusing on one match at a time.
“The staff and I have already looked at Rennes, but we’re only thinking about tomorrow. There’s the time needed to prepare for Rennes. Now it’s too important to insist on the league,” he said.
One player that is getting a lot of attention now is Mike Maignan, as he has made a couple of errors and is also locked in contract talks with the club.
“We as a group are not interested in criticism, in the sense that we are so self-critical and severe with ourselves that we think about giving our best. Champions like Maignan never lose. Either they win, or they learn and he will come out of this period better than before,” Pioli said.
Is there much change between Spalletti, Garcia and now Mazzarri?
“The qualities don’t change: the numbers of the performances and the match are those offensively. With Mazzarri something has changed tactically, we don’t know if he will play as a three or four at the back, but he is a quality opponent to be faced with a lot of attention and a lot of respect.”
How is Bennacer? What role will he play?
“In many matches the most important area is the midfield, although especially tomorrow both teams have quality players one-on-one. We must try to be compact in the middle of the pitch, try to mess up their attacks. Bennacer is fine, he played well in the time he got in Frosinone, he’s available to play from the first minute, he had a good week.”
Did you see Ibra in Sanremo? Are there any songs that impressed you?
“I love music, I haven’t seen Sanremo because I had other things to do. I haven’t seen Zlatan [Ibrahimovic], but I haven’t seen him when he was one of my players either. But in any case Ibra, whatever he does in life, is successful, he will also be successful in life in his new role as advisor. I turn the music on in the morning and turn it off when I go to sleep. I also listen to music while I work, but not at the moment. I haven’t heard the Sanremo songs but I will soon.”
How is the team doing physically?
“The team is fine today, I don’t know in two weeks; we worked well, we’re fine with our heads and legs. We had a period that helped us by playing one game a week, in terms of loads, in physical and mental recovery. Now we have five games in 15 days, we will face them one at a time.”
What are your thoughts on the blue card?
“I like pace, I don’t like interruptions and I think this would be another reason for interruptions.”
De Ketelaere is doing very well as a striker at Atalanta. Why was he used as an attacking midfielder here?
“Because due to his characteristics, and above all due to what the team needed, it was the right position for him to play. He is having a great season, he is doing it in a different role with a different team, after a year of experience where he is grown up. He’s doing very well.”
Do you have a timeframe for Tomori and Kalulu’s recoveries?
“Of course we have it. The recoveries are going very well, they are all situations that must be analyzed from week to week. Malick [Thiaw] has forced himself this week and joined the group, yesterday in part and today totally. Tomorrow he will rest because his program included this rest here. If all goes well he will be called up for the Europa League match. Next week will be very important for [Pierre] Kalulu and [Fikayo] Tomori, at the end of next week we will have a more precise idea. But things are going very well.”
Joining Arrigo Sacchi with 220 games in charge
“Sacchi was a fantastic coach in his era, an innovator. Reaching such an important coach in the history of football and in the history of Milan can only be very gratifying for me. I am very satisfied and proud of it.”
Christian Vieri’s thoughts on how hard being a coach is
“Everyone speaks for themselves. I do what I love, it’s my passion. I’ve been lucky enough to have fun as a footballer and lucky enough to pursue this career as a coach. There are expectations, criticisms and pressures. It’s such a pleasure to work every day with my players and then other things arrive, but they certainly arrive in a lesser way than the satisfaction, curiosity and desire to work with my players, and also learning from them. For me there are many more positive things, it is normal for there to be criticism. For me, it matters a lot how we relate and how we work, I have always been lucky enough to train a group of special people. It has always been a very solid basis for us. Then on Sunday we all know what it means to win, draw or lose when you coach Milan. I enjoy all the positive things, the emotions I feel are truly profound.”
Can Jovic and Giroud play together?
“[Luka] Jovic is a key part of this team. He can play from the start, yes. With [Olivier] Giroud from the start he can fit, let’s see. We will have many important matches. What matters is that the players are well and available.”
On Francesco Camarda
“I don’t like comparisons so much, each player has his own characteristics. It’s too early to compare him to others. He’s following the right path with the right attitude and the right sacrifices. He has to follow his own path, let’s help him grow. We’ve helped him to do something extra because there was an exceptional situation. He must continue his work, he certainly has the potential and qualities to be able to be Milan’s centre forward in the future.”
What has to be done for you to have full support?
“Win every game.”