AC Milan head coach Stefano Pioli has insisted that his team are ‘ready and alive’ to face Atalanta despite several selection headaches.
Just as it appeared that the Rossoneri were destined for yet another summer revolution – one led by Red Bull chief Ralf Rangnick – everything did a U-turn on Tuesday night as Pioli instead put pen to paper on a new contract until 2022.
His reward is an incredibly tough fixture against an in-form Atalanta side who are the only team to take more points since the resumption of Serie A than Milan.
Pioli has a number of selection issues to battle too as Theo Hernandez and Ismael Bennacer are suspended, and there are injuries to Alessio Romagnoli, Leo Duarte, Mateo Musacchio and possibly even Simon Kjaer.
In view of tomorrow’s match at San Siro, Pioli spoke to reporters in his pre-match press conference at Milanello, with the questions and answers transcribed by MilanNews.
Milan have not beaten Atalanta in San Siro since January 2014. Is it an extra stimulus?
“Yes, even if we know the importance of the match well, we did not need this data. We want this period to continue as long as possible. Atalanta is first in almost all the statistics of the championship, but we are fine and we want to make a great match,” he said.
What has changed since the first game between the two sides, in which La Dea prevailed 5-0?
“We have changed a lot since the first game, that had been a particularly negative game for us and a positive one for them. They scored great goals, but we were still at the beginning of the growth path. We changed the way we play and important players have arrived, we are another Milan.”
How much will Theo Hernandez’s absence weigh?
“Theo has important characteristics for us, he combines a great participation in the offensive phase with a great physicality in the defensive one. It will not be the only absence, but Laxalt has done well against Sassuolo and the others will do well.”
Emotions after the contract renewal?
“I struggle not to think about it, it’s what I wanted and hoped for. But tomorrow is an important game for our future, I have to stay focused on this season and only then will I think about the next one.”
On the absentees: “The absences are there but we are fine, the team is ready and alive, it knows that tomorrow it will have to show a great performance. I am a bit worried about having a few changes on the bench behind, but we will be competitive.
“In the defensive department we have many absences, but in the offensive department we have a lot of choice. Someone will play, but we will have someone strong on the bench and will be ready to enter.
“Atalanta are one of the strongest teams in Italy, if they had won against Juve they were in the title race. The fact that we face such an important opponent removes the danger of inattention. We have faced opponents like Juve and Napoli and we have it done with the right approach.”
On the current period at Milan: “We are a solid team, we know how to stay in the game and we have the quality to find the winning moments. We must insist and not be satisfied with the small satisfactions we are having. It doesn’t just depend on us, but if we win all the games then we’ll see what the others will do.”
Is playing behind closed doors making it easier?
“With the fans at the stadium we would be even stronger, they supported us in the difficulties. It is not easy to help us when the ranking does not reflect the club’s stature, I can’t wait to have all our fans. In eleven we are strong, but in 12 even more.”
What do you think of Atalanta?
“They have an incredible continuity. They have a proactive and aggressive style for 95 minutes. They score a lot, they have a great attack. I have great admiration for Gasperini’s work. We must continue to work.”
On Ibrahimovic’s renewal: “His contribution has been fundamental. We need to understand if there is a will to continue, but now we must remain focused on the season finale. After August 2nd, we will see what will happen.”