Pioli discusses Rennes’ form, Europa League ambitions and ending to his Milan film

By Oliver Fisher -

AC Milan head coach Stefano Pioli believes that his side will face a very dangerous opponent in Stade Rennais, in a competition where it is imperative to be at the highest level in every game.

Milan come into the game on a good run in the league, something which Sunday’s win over Napoli certainly boosted, but they are playing a team that seem a lot tougher an opponent than they did at the time of the draw.

The Ligue 1 side were languishing near the bottom of the table earlier this season, with their Europa League commitments seeming to take a real toll on their domestic form, but they are now seventh having won every game in 2024 so far.

With the Rossoneri having the home leg first, there is also some added pressure to take a lead to France ahead of next week’s return game in Brittany.

Pioli spoke alongside defender Matteo Gabbia at a pre-match press conference on the eve of the game against Rennes which took place at Milanello, with his comments relayed by MilanNews.

The perception of the draw with Rennes has changed over time and with the form of the French team…

“Matches at European level are always difficult. We have had a lot of time to study them. A team organised well on the pitch, fast, vertical, with quality. A team to be approached with great care.”

What sort of competition is this Europa League?

“It’s a very important competition. The Champions League is obviously a step above. If we look at who’s participating, it’s not just Bayer Leverkusen, there’s also Liverpool and other important teams.

“The fact that Milan have never won the Europa League is an extra motivation, even if we can’t look that far ahead. We’re getting there well, they’re getting there too. Tomorrow’s match is already important.”

What do Milan need for this dream, and what remains from the Champions League group stage?

“The disappointment of having exited the Champions League certainly remains from that evening in Newcastle. But then afterwards we couldn’t help but have an objective, we had to put all our motivation into this competition.

“We’ve been going for four years where at the beginning many of us were debutants in Europe. Now, however, we have made the journey. In European competitions you have to be at the top on that evening.

“The league is a case of whoever is the most consistent wins it, in Europe in that match you have to perform at your best and that is what we want to try to do tomorrow night.”

What is the importance of getting through this round, and which Italian team can Rennes be compared to?

“It’s very important. We want to have ambitions, we want to get to the end. We are very focused and I think we have prepared it with the right attention.

“For a comparison with some Italian teams, believe me that it is too important to play the match. I gave myself an idea, we had it, we spoke with Matteo who played against them. But only after having faced them on the pitch will I be able to tell you the level.

“A very good team, certainly, the French league is different from the Italian one, very fast and with a lot of technique. He is an opponent to face with great attention.”

Who are the favourites to win the competition and where do you put Milan?

“I say that before putting Milan in, let’s get through this round, then I’ll tell you where we could be. Bayer Leverkusen, Liverpool and Atalanta are the favourites.”

What ending do you imagine for your Milan film? 

“Films are often judged on the quality of the second half, I hope that the quality of our half is of a high level to ensure that it can become a very positive season.”

Your thoughts on Brahim’s words?

“I speak with Brahim, I also messaged him last night but he hasn’t answered me yet (laughs). A boy with whom we all got along very well, he gave a lot to the team and we tried to give to him.

“A very good boy, he scored an incredible goal and I hope he wasn’t hurt too much by yesterday’s injury. I’m very pleased that he’s doing well.”

Who are Rennes’ most dangerous players? “I made the mistake once of saying who the most dangerous players are and then they punished us, I won’t even mention a name. But I know all the Rennes players, we have a very clear idea. It’s a team with good qualities and who plays good football.”

Can the fact of having played a great match against PSG be a good start? 

“Difficult. It was a great match against PSG. I think tomorrow will be a completely different match, Rennes’ way of being on the pitch is different from that of PSG.”

How difficult is it to make attacking choices such as keeping Okafor out?

“It’s certainly difficult, everyone is doing very well. We start with 3 players, now Chukwu is also back and he won’t be called up tomorrow but I hope he can be available for the Monza match.

“It’s difficult but at the same time it’s easier because I can allow myself to make mistakes something because then on the bench I have players who can change the game.

“Now we’ll go back to playing a lot, I hope that we will play a lot, from here to the end and therefore everyone will be busy. With these five games in 15 days it is difficult to think that many can do the whole 90 minutes.”

On Sunday you said you talked to his players about how to fix the defensive phase. What were the their ideas? 

“What Matteo said before is that we discussed how to approach every single match and above all in deciding to what height we can bring a certain pressure, when we want to bring it and how.

“We discuss this a lot, I have a very responsible team that he knows the concepts of our defensive phase. From game to game we decide together how to develop it.”

This Milan’s path in the cup is similar to that of 2007. What is the importance of being in a good position in the league to aim for the Europa League?

“It’s not my assessment. We have to take care and attention in both competitions, because we can continue to do very well in the league. I don’t know where we will arrive in terms of ranking but I know where we want to arrive in terms of scores.

“There are 14 games left, many points available. We also want to move forward in Europe. It will be stimulating, not easy, but I will try to field the best possible line-up every time.

“Maybe tomorrow will not be the same as last Sunday, but it is the best for tomorrow. In Monza I will put the best team out also based on tiredness and shifts.”


Tags AC Milan Milan Rennes Stefano Pioli
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