On the eve of the clash between Milan and Napoli, scheduled for 20:45 CET tomorrow, Stefano Pioli spoke to the media at the usual press conference. Another big opportunity for the Rossoneri to prove their quality.
Milan managed to clinch an important away goal in the clash against Man Utd on Thursday, scoring the equaliser late in stoppage time. And they also beat Hellas Verona comfortably at the weekend, meaning they are in good form.
At the press conference, as cited by MilanNews, Pioli was asked about the situation and the big game tomorrow. He also shared an update on the injury situation which has haunted the team lately, among other things.
Tonali said there is a photo of Rio Ave-Milan in the locker room, is it the spark?
“It’s the spark that Milan must always have, in a season there are difficulties to overcome, they served to stimulate us, to wake us up, they made us grow. That photo there reminds us of a particular evening, it’s useful to understand which steps we have overcome.”
Napoli arrive tomorrow…
“They play good football, they have quality, they are compact. A complicated game awaits us because Napoli are one of the strongest teams in the league.”
How are the injured?
“The injured are Calabria and Romagnoli, today Alessio trained with the team but he still has some problems. They are in doubt for tomorrow. I think we will recover Theo, Calha and Rebic. For Ibra, Mandzukic and Isma we have to wait until next week.”
Is it also important to choose who is better off mentally?
“The psychophysical condition during a demanding year is inevitable that it may go down for some and improve for others. Tomorrow I will try to choose who is better physically and mentally.”
In these matches, Milan seemed more convinced…
“We relaxed only once, against Spezia, in the other games there was never a lack of determination. I train a group of very responsible players, a group of quality, even in numerical difficulties I have the possibility of counting on strong players. If we work together, then we can become strong.”
Are Milan still aiming for the Scudetto?
“We have to focus on tomorrow’s challenge, the most important match is tomorrow night. We can’t look at the standings, we have to think about winning as many games as possible, tomorrow we have an important opportunity against a strong opponent who has always put us in difficulty.”
How important was the intensity this season?
“We had to work a lot, the intensity is first of all mental, in the last few games we played as a team. It’s a challenging way of playing, for many guys it’s the first season where you play every three days, a decline can be but we were good at learning from our defeats. Intensity and quality must go hand in hand if we are to maintain these levels.”
What recipe did you use to raise Milan?
“The work and the belief in our qualities. Stumbling blocks cannot make a team forget how to play, which allowed us to be the surprise of 2020. We just had to review situations and have a much more compact team. Determination was never lacking even though outside there was talk of so much negativity, it was not like that.”
Should we expect an aggressive Milan tomorrow?
“I think there is a bit of confusion about aggression, it’s the players who have to give messages to the team to give pressure. We have to play with rhythm, we play with rhythm even when you have the ball. You have to move it very quickly, let it run. If we want to aim for a season at the top we have to improve the home results.”
We have gone from a Milan dependant of Ibrahimovic to a Milan dependent of Pioli…
“Ibra is our beacon, but Milan are addicted to our game. There are many leaders because we recognize a certain way of being on the pitch.”
Did the owners congratulate you after Thursday’s game?
“The owners are always very close, they congratulate after the victories. Now, however, let’s think about Napoli.”
You have protected Leao these days…
“I always have to protect my players, especially when I see the right attitudes, sacrifice and work. Everyone has this, even Leao. Last year he lacked the skill of staying in the game with more continuity, he has improved on this.
“I expect a lot from him, he is working well for the team, he must continue like this. He has to improve in recognizing game times, at times he wastes energy by sprinting when his teammates cannot serve him. The goal will come.”
Meite is doing very well…
“He has grown a lot, he came from a completely different way of playing, at the beginning he played at a slower pace than his teammates. He was very good, he made very positive performances, he played with rhythm, intensity and quality. He is fine. I’ll see what choices to make. Tonali has got some rest and I think he can play tomorrow.”
How do you rate Saelemaekers and Castillejo?
“In Verona, they both had a good performance, giving good solutions, they both give an excellent contribution, they can also do better. We are focused on what needs to be done rather than on what we have not been able to do in the past.”
How much has Kessie changed in the past year?
“The merits are all from Franck, he had an important daily application, I don’t know how he was in the past. He is mentally very strong, always ready to help his teammates, to do and say the right thing.
“With the qualities he has he can play anywhere, in the end, I put him as an attacking midfielder, now he can do everything. He has an important presence and positivity, he is old enough to grow further. He is becoming a very important player.”
What did Gattuso’s job at Milan leave you?
“He had done a great job here, then Milan went through another coach, it’s hard to understand what he left and what he didn’t.”
Where did the idea of putting Kessie as the playmaker at Old Trafford come from?
“Diaz had had a good game but we wanted to keep the Manchester defenders playing dirty. Having an imposing player who could hold up some aerial duels was important.”
Do you expect an opponent similar to Verona tomorrow?
“Difficult, there are different ways of playing. They are two very different teams in their positions on the pitch, but it’s true that they have physically strong defenders and fast attackers.”
How do you improve your pace on the pitch?
“Especially mentally, if you want to play with rhythm the ball must move fast. When we weren’t playing with that rhythm the ball was spinning too slow, then it’s difficult to break positions. It’s an important goal to move the ball and move it well.”
As mentioned, the game will kick-off at 20:45 CET and Napoli will surely be keen to claim the three points. It’s their chance to re-enter the Champions League race, while Milan want to assert themselves in second place.