Stefano Pioli was not happy with how his AC Milan side managed the game having gone two goals up in Thursday’s 3-2 win over Bodo/Glimt.
The Rossoneri didn’t have it all their own way at San Siro as Junker gave the Norwegian league-leaders an early lead, but goals from Hakan Calhanoglu (2) and Lorenzo Colombo gave Milan a 3-1 lead.
A screamer from Jens Petter Hauge made it a nervy finish to the game for the hosts but they hung on in the end, setting up a one-off knockout game next Thursday against Portuguese side Rio Ave – who beat Besiktas – to reach the Europa League group stages.
After the game, Pioli spoke to DAZN about his side’s performance, beginning with the positives of getting through the tie and scoring three goals without Ibrahimovic.
“Suffering is part of these games, we faced an opponent with very fast attackers and who are in fine form. We were good at staying in the game after their goal, we could have managed better after our double advantage,” he said (via MilanNews).
“We need to have objectivity. We are talking about the beginning of the season, it is the third official match we play. Technically we could have done better, but it’s not a question of not having a centre-forward. We were good at gritting our teeth and we also had opportunities to go 4-2.”
It was another masterful performance from Calhanoglu, who contributed two goals and an assist, to take his total goal involvements this season to five.
“I think a lot of the credit goes to him, he’s a selfless and quality player, he works for the team. It is difficult to always expect two goals but I expect this type of performance. He is an exceptional guy, he has the qualities to become a point of reference,” he said.
On Ibra’s absence: “We heard about him late in the morning, we replaced him with a different player. But we have our characteristics, we have created a lot but we have been less compact than usual. The performance was there.”
The difficulties of the full-backs: “They were good at attacking the space behind the full-backs, on the open ball we could have been more careful and with the centerers we had to slide better.
“It is always difficult to cover the whole field well, their forward players in the league are all in double figures. We conceded, they are an opponent who created difficulties for us but it is a credit for my team to have overcome such an opponent. For such a young team this is an important step.
“It is clear that two goals down they pushed the full-backs up, their central players managed to bring numerical superiority in the middle of the field and forced us to lower ourselves. When we are short we have to be more careful.”
In the 32nd minute, there was a moment to remember for Colombo as he converted a perfect flick from Calhanoglu to score on his first official start.
“He was certainly very excited and it showed. That’s right, he’s an 18-year-old boy who is called into question in a knockout match, he had responsibilities,” he said.
“He’s a great guy with his head on his shoulders with the will to work. It is not obvious to find young people with this attitude, he knows he has to work hard to improve. I’m very happy that he was ready and scored as he scored in the pre-season friendly matches.”
On next Thursday’s game against Rio Ave – who knocked out Turkish giants Besiktas – he added: “It is evidence that the matches are all difficult. We knew it was going to be a very challenging start, today we had 7 important players out. Now head to the match on Sunday and then to the play off, that too becomes an important game.”