When Stefano Pioli was asked how he felt after Sunday’s 5-2 defeat against Sassuolo, his response made it quite clear: “Pain”.
La Gazzetta dello Sport report how Pioli never usually opens the doors to his emotions because he knows that his players are watching and his critics are watching, so exposing any kind of soft underbelly could leave him an easy target.
Pioli has often been described as the ‘Normal One’ and a man who gets along well with virtually everyone, but in eight months since the Scudetto win he has gone from being ‘on fire’ to a having a target on his back.
On December 30, after the disheartening defeat against PSV in Eindhoven, he took the team back to Milanello to stay overnight and that was a signal that he felt the team needed to regain focus. The warning signs came in the collapse against Roma, but even Pioli could not have imagined such a bad January.
Yesterday he remained in the family, as he always does on his days off. Some of the squad went to train at Milanello, but Pioli instead tried to pull the plug because he knows that today a great job awaits him: he must prepare a psychologically damaged squad for a huge derby on Sunday.
However shaken the Milan boss may be, he does not give up. As disappointed as he is with his players, Pioli is convinced he can fix things. Not all at once – perhaps one at a time – but this group of players are capable of better an he knows it.
Yesterday the videos of Theo Hernandez walking (or at most jogging) for three of Sassuolo’s goals ended up doing the rounds on Twitter, while the finger of blame has been pointed at Davide Calabria, Pierre Kalulu, Fikayo Tomori and many others this season already as the defence continues to be suffer a huge drop from last season.
Pioli will make changes for the derby starting with system: he will field a 4-3-3 and not a 4-2-3-1 to try and put out a much more protected and balanced side, taking fewer risks.
The 57-year-old is no stranger to derbies, with mixed results, With Lazio, against Roma, he lost three out of four. With Inter, against Milan, he managed two draws with one being Zapata’s goal in the 97th minute. With Milan, against Inter, tough defeats against Conte, the two historic victories against Inzaghi, and the Riyadh Supercoppa that cries out for revenge.