Stefano Pioli addressed the journalists on Saturday ahead of a demanding trip to Campania to take on runaway Serie A leaders Napoli.
The Rossoneri coach will be preparing to face Napoli three times in just one month with the two sides being drawn together in the quarter-finals of the Champions League.
During the press conference (as relaid by Milan News), Pioli discussed the rumoured switch back to a four-player defence for the game against Napoli rather than another match with three central defenders, as has been the norm in recent weeks.
“There is this hypothesis, even though we have never switched from a three-man to a four-man defence. We’ve tried both, if we play as Milan we can win. If we don’t play as Milan we risk losing,” Pioli admitted.
As well as that, Pioli remained bullish about what his team can achieve in the final two months of the Serie A season as well as in the Champions League.
“It is clear that there was the last break before these last two months, they will be the two decisive months. These are partial verdicts and judgements. In these two months we can still do a lot,” Pioli said.
He also stressed the fact that Milan are still viewed by people in the same way they were this time last year but admitted there is a negative element to the season.
“During the break I told the lads that nothing has changed. A year ago no one was betting on us, now few believe in us, few believe that we can go beyond the quarters, that we can finish in the top four,” he said.
“It is a season that can become even glorious, but also a little bit negative. What happened last year no longer counts, we have to concentrate on the last 10 in the league and the five in the Champions League.”
The absence of Osimhen
“He is strong, it’s obvious, but Napoli have won seven consecutive games without him. My choices will not be conditioned by his presence or otherwise.”
On whether statements from Napoli show fear
“I don’t know, you should ask them.”
Why is there scepticism about Milan? Will you rely on the players who won the Scudetto?
“I believe I coach a very responsible and cohesive group who know how to work in a certain way and who don’t get too influenced by what is said outside. We know we have a very important end to the season. We know that we did much better in the Champions League and much worse in the championship, but we can make up for it. For tomorrow’s choices I’ll choose the players who allow me to play the best game, bearing in mind that the replacements can also make a difference in such a delicate game.”
What more do Napoli have?
“Much more consistency in the league, we have not been as consistent. The last two months have not been up to our quality. I don’t think we deserved to lose in the first game. However, the Champions League will be a different story, other factors come into play that cannot be influenced by tomorrow night’s game.”
On the timing of the break
“I would have liked to play the day after Udinese. We managed the break in the best possible way, unfortunately the national teams gave us back two important injuries like Pierre [Kalulu] and Zlatan [Ibrahimovic].”
Is the left Leao’s best position?
“Yes, tomorrow it will be the same. Leao is the only Milan player who can go wherever he wants, as long as he doesn’t go under the ball. I don’t like it when he goes under the ball.”
Is the team ready to move forward without Ibrahimovic?
“You know that I am Zlatan’s primary fan and backer, it is too reductive though to point to Ibra as the only reason for the team’s growth. The team has shown that it can also play without Zlatan. It was very difficult to win last year, we’re realising that it’s even more difficult to win again.”
Does there need to be more rotation soon?
“Absolutely yes, but I think it will only be a discussion in that week there. First there’s room to recover and think about one game at a time, we need to do well in the league too.”
Will it be a celebration for the fans in the Champions League?
“For sure it will be, going to play the Champions League at the San Siro is always a party, always an emotion. We are talking about two important fans. Now we have the San Paolo game, then we’ll think about it.”
Should Milan do as Sinner did last night as Alcaraz?
“Sinner played with quality, spirit, mentality. Surely they will be needed. The last two months have been below our quality. But the team hasn’t forgotten how to prepare.”
On Aster Vranckx
“That goes for everyone: he’s growing, he’s definitely a strong young man. Then I have to make choices. There are many of them in the middle of the pitch, he’s a player who is doing well in all the training sessions, as are his teammates. Players who don’t play, it’s not enough that they do well, they have to do better to convince the coach to change the formation because the coach wants to win games. I pick the formation to win games. Aster is doing everything to get me to change my mind, just as many of his teammates are doing everything.”
Can mentality be trained?
“I’m sure Milan have it, and they’ve shown it. In the games where we needed it we put it on the pitch, we were less good in the other games. We have it, we’ll be able to show it on the pitch.”
Players returning from internationals
“They’ve been good, everyone has been training since Thursday with the team. It’s sorry for Zlatan because he was starting to be fit, sorry for Pierre because he was doing very well. The others are all in good condition.”
How is the team preparing mentally?
“With the players who stayed for the two weeks, we did a certain type of work, also on personalised loads. When the others go to the national team you have to hope they play, because training is not very important. Those who played came back well, I think the team is doing well from the point of view of physical energy.”
By matching up to Napoli, could it be decisive to create superiority in midfield by bringing back the trequartista and advancing the full-backs?
“It’s a good suggestion. I don’t think we will play in a mirror image, but clearly we will take positions in the defensive phase, different positions in the build-up phase to try to find advantages in both phases.”