April 13, 2024

Pioli discusses defensive emergency, Bennacer’s return and idea of being a ‘scapegoat’

AC Milan head coach Stefano Pioli has insisted that he does not feel like a scapegoat for his side’s tough last couple of months, while he spoke about the return of Ismael Bennacer and the injury situation.


Milan have had a mini-revival in the league having taken advantage of home comforts. They beat Fiorentina 1-0 on November 25 and then last Saturday followed it with a 3-1 triumph against Frosinone.


However, there is still a six-point gap to the league leaders Inter and a four-point gap to Juventus in second, with a very challenging game against Gian Piero Gasperini’s side on the agenda before a visit to Newcastle United next midweek.


In terms of the latest injury news, Simon Kjaer has not recovered and as such Theo Hernandez is expected to play centre-back again, while Rafael Leao might make the bench but will not start. Olivier Giroud is back from suspension.


Pioli spoke to the reporters who gathered at Milanello for his pre-match press conference on the eve of the trip to Bergamo, with his comments relayed by MilanNews.


Is the title race still open?


“Yes, because there are still many games left. There can’t be any lack of consistency in the league, this is our objective. We want to at least get to the top four, but we would like to do something more.”


What are you expecting from Atalanta tomorrow?


“They are always difficult matches against them. They will fight until the end for the top four spots. They are a complete team, they have quality and physical strength. They will need a high level performance to win.”


Are you following De Ketelaere’s progress?


“I’ve been following him especially in recent weeks in view of tomorrow’s match. He’s playing in a more attacking role, he has quality, last year helped him learn something, he’s a player with potential. If he were to play, we’ll have to pay close attention to him be careful.”


How are Leao and Kjaer?


“Today’s training is very important for Leao. In the last few days he has reached good intensity levels. Then we will decide. Kjaer has overcome the problem, but he hasn’t trained in a group yet.”


Are you only thinking about Atalanta?


“We are only thinking about tomorrow, there are no problems in already thinking about Newcastle.”


Some players are finally coming back…


“Certain moments happen in a season: the more players we have available, the better. Bennacer needs some time to regain his condition.”


What do you appreciate most about Gasperini?


“His tactical coherence. He has always given an identity to his teams. I respect him a lot.”


How is Jovic?


“I have no doubts about his qualities. He has to work, he has to be intense. In modern football, intensity, both physical and mental, is fundamental. If he keeps this level high, he will give an important hand to the team.”


Will Reijnders and Musah be in a double pivot again?


“We have a fairly certain way of being on the pitch, then it will also depend on what the opponents do.”


How big are absences in defence?


“It’s an opportunity to demonstrate our value and our cohesion.”


How is Krunic?


“It comes down to his fitness levels. His performances were very good at the start of the season, he has dropped off a bit but that’s only natural because you can’t always play at 100%. At the moment there are team-mates who are performing better.”


Can a left-footed player alongside Tomori bring benefits in build-up, like Theo?


“Definitely in the build-up phase. In today’s football, the centre-backs are the ones who have space and time to make plays. Theo, when he has the ball, gives us different solutions.”


“I have no doubts about his qualities, he is of the highest level. It is right that a player sets himself such important objectives and then proposes them in everyday life. He has a great personality. He must find his best condition. He had a trouble-free recovery, with great consistency. We look forward to it 100%.”


Are set pieces something you want to get better at?


“We definitely have to do better. It’s one of our goals.”


Do you feel a bit like a scapegoat?


“No. I am the coach of Milan and I have certain responsibilities. I don’t feel like a hero or a victim.”

Is Okafor close to returning?


“He won’t be there tomorrow. He has his last check-up tomorrow. If it’s positive, his return will be very close.”


When will Bennacer return to the starting lineup?


“Soon. I don’t think it will be very long.”


Is your football too intense for three games a week?


“Our football has deep roots. I don’t think it’s so intense that it can’t handle three games a week. The aim was to be competitive in the league and in Europe, so we’ll try to achieve it with our ideas.”


Can Reijnders and Bennacer play together?


“I’m talking a lot with Bennacer about his position. We have clear ideas. Among intelligent players it’s never a problem to make them play together.”


Why did you choose Theo as centre-back?


“His belief that he could be useful in that position as well.”


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