AC Milan head coach Stefano Pioli has insisted that his side are currently second on merit ahead of a ‘six pointer’ against Lazio tomorrow.
The Rossoneri started the month of April with a frustrating home draw against Sampdoria at San Siro but followed that up with back-to-back wins against struggling Parma and Genoa. However, they were rocked on Wednesday evening when Sassuolo turned around a deficit with less than 15 minutes to go to emerge with all three points from the Giuseppe Meazza.
It means that the top four race is wide open with Milan struggling to get wins on the board at home and having lost five times at San Siro in 2021 alone. On Monday night, a clash against a top-four rival beckons and the feeling is that – with six games left – it could set the tone for Milan.
Pioli spoke to the media who gathered at Milanello on the eve of the game against the Aquile, with his comments transcribed by MilanNews and translated below…
Do Milan deserve to finish in the top four?
“Definitely yes, but these 32 games have told us that we have been stronger than everyone except Inter. We were the only ones to keep up with Inter. We can play the last few days with our ambitions and our goal still there for to be able to hit. We are here because of luck but because we deserved it.”
Is Lazio-Milan a play-off of sorts?
“Yes, because head-to-head matches are worth double. Lazio are behind in the standings and for us and for them it will be an important match for the future. The step forward would be important.”
Could Mandzukic play from the start?
“Ibrahimovic is better but he won’t be there tomorrow, he should be back for the next game. Mandzukic and Leao are playing for their places tomorrow. Mario is better and has the characteristics to give himself the right contribution in the opponent’s area.”
Would not reaching the Champions League be a failure?
“We cannot think about this, we must not think in this direction. We have shown that we are strong, but we must do it until the end. The teams that do not make it to the Champions League will obviously be disappointed.”
On tomorrow’s opponents Lazio…
“A strong team, which made the Champions League this year and which we have already beaten, but they have always been even matches. We have the skills and determination to play a great match.”
On the defeat against Sassuolo…
“I train a group that is too intelligent to use anything in particular. We know how crucial the next matches are, we talked little about the match against Sassuolo to immediately think about the next one. If we played the match against Sassuolo one hundred more times we would not lose it. Tomorrow is very important, we prepared for the game with attention and concentration.”
There is talk of a points target to reach the Champions goal…
“We think we could have reached the Champions League from 75 points upwards, but we never looked at the table. Right now it is good to concentrate on every single game to try to get the most out of it.”
What is the ‘sin’ that Milan must avoid between now and the end of the season?
“Fear, if you face it, run away. If you run away, fear runs inside you. Our motto is ‘if you want, you can, other things are excuses’. We will do our best to achieve this great goal.”
On the condition of Theo Hernandez…
“Theo is better, he did a part of training with the team yesterday. He could be available if he does a whole session today.”
On the attack that has been missed in the last few games…
“I think this is the central point in our playing and our difficulties in the last few games. We often get to create scoring chances, but we don’t make the right choice of passing, shooting or dribbling. We are working on it, we have to be more dangerous for the amount of play we build.”
If Romagnoli could play against Lazio from the start…
“He is better, working with the team allowed him to improve his condition. Tomori had a small problem yesterday, let’s see.”
On the strength of the rivals for the top four…
“Our direct rivals are strong opponents, but so far we have been able to be better than them, so we have values. We have to play to the maximum. We have to react after an undeserved defeat.”
On Ibrahimovic’s renewal and how he has helped Milan…
“Ibra has raised the level of quality and personality, his charisma has helped everyone to grow. His team-mates have been good at following this path and having a growth with great consistency and will. We have all grown and have become a team of a great level. Everyone gave their contribution.”
Are Milan doing well from a physical point of view?
“The physical fatigue is not there, we have to be more effective in the last quarter of the pitch, which is no small thing: it makes the difference between winning games and risking not winning them.
“We have to improve, but it was difficult to think that we could maintain that rhythm of results, we must be objective and lucid in saying that there was a moment when we took home everything and even more, in the last few games we randomly got less than we deserved. What matters is that we are there and that we have demonstrated our values, we have six races to achieve an important goal.”
On Leao’s growth…
“The Leao project goes on regardless of the role. He continues his growth and maturation, as is normal for such a young player. Then it is difficult to establish what Rafael’s final role will be. The growth of a player allows you to find a job and a position. The important thing is the growth of its value, then we will evaluate the position along the way.”
From here to the end there are so many tests to pass. Is Pioli optimistic?
“We have passed many crash tests on this path. I believe that even in Wednesday’s performance, even in the defeat a coach sees positive situations. We have been a team for all ninety minutes. My players are strong, even morally. something more, we have many qualities and we will try to bring them out.”
In the previous match we saw a Milan with 4-4-2…
“When we had the ball it was a 4-2-2-2, without the ball we played with the 4-4-2. We prepare every single match to enhance our qualities and put the opponents in difficulty, so the positions on the pitch change. Our players know the spaces and this is important.”