AC Milan head coach Stefano Pioli insists that his squad are preparing for Thursday’s game against Bodo/Glimt ‘as if it were a final’.
The Rossoneri will be looking to make it three wins from their first three competitive fixtures on the season when they face the high-flying Norwegian side at San Siro in the third qualifying round of the Europa League.
Milan know they are two wins away from being able to secure a place in the Europa League group stages and the extra €15m in revenue that it brings, but it will be a tricky encounter given the current injury and suspension situation.
Alessio Romagnoli, Mateo Musacchio and Andrea Conti are all sidelined, while Ante Rebic is banned until the groups and Rafael Leao has only just returned to training after being in quarantine.
Pioli spoke to the media who gathered at Casa Milan, with the questions and his responses transcribed by MilanNews.
Is the gap between Ibrahimovic and the rest of the team less obvious?
“It is clear that the performance of individuals and of the whole team has improved. The merit of the quality of my players.”
Do Milan have everything to lose tomorrow?
“I don’t like to think we have everything to lose, but we have everything to gain. We have to put our game philosophy into play. They played 20 games, 18 of which won and two were drawn.”
How’s the team doing?
“We are doing well, especially mentally. We are preparing the match as if it were a final. I told the guys that this must be the most important match of their life.”
Is Ibrahimovic surprising you?
“I was amazed by his excellent physical condition. He had a few ailments at the beginning, but he was ready.”
How are the midfielders doing?
“The four midfielders I have can all play together and rotate without problems. The way we play I need players who know how to feel good on the pitch. I consider Krunic a wild card, he can also play later on in games.”
Are Milan ready to play two games in a few days?
“We must be ready for tomorrow, then from tomorrow evening at 11pm we will think about Crotone.”
How much do you need an experienced central defender?
“I have great confidence in the club’s work to strengthen the team. In defence we are a bit short because we have Romagnoli, Conti and Musacchio out. We’ll see what happens.”
Can the five substitutions help?
“It didn’t make sense to bring 23 players and replace only 3. For us there is the possibility of using more players, a situation from which we can draw positive things.”
Can Bodo/Glimt put Milan in trouble?
“They have two very fast attackers. They always want to play the game, so they can leave us some space. If they have not lost this season it’s because they have qualities.”
How are Leao, Romagnoli and Musacchio doing?
“I hope to have Leao back as soon as possible. Difficult to make predictions, he is young so maybe he can recover quickly. Musacchio and Romagnoli are better, but we don’t want to anticipate the time. I think they can return to the pitch after the break.”
What do you expect from Leao this year?
“He has to put his qualities on the pitch, he has great qualities, he has to play with the team and make a difference, he can do it. Last year was his first season in a different football. I expect convincing evidence from him.” .
Possible rotation between Ibra and Colombo?
“I will take into account the physical condition of the players, I speak continuously with the players. We have to recover and be ready.”
Where is Saelemaekers’ best position?
“Alexis also did well in Ireland. He can play on both flanks, while Maldini and Diaz can also play a wingers. We’ll see who will play tomorrow.”
How’s Diaz doing?
Diaz is fine. I have not yet decided if he will play, but he is ready, as are his team-mates.”
Did Calabria surprise you?
“I am very happy when the players overcome the difficult moments. Davide has suffered some criticisms and some of my decisions, but he never gave up and always made himself available. He did not surprise me, I am happy that he is doing well with continuity.”
How’s the team doing?
“It is important to know where we are, who we are and what we are part of. This has brought confidence and positivity, we must insist and continue like this. We have the possibility of growing a lot, but only by working with the awareness of the shirt we wear. If we are all united I believe it can be a positive season for us.”