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AC Milan

Pioli discusses Leao’s renewal, De Ketelaere’s struggles and evolving tactical approach

AC Milan head coach Stefano Pioli has given an interview to Sky in which he spoke about a number of topics from last season’s Scudetto win to the renewal of Rafael Leao.

Pioli has without doubt been one of the main architects of the Rossoneri’s resurgence over the last three seasons, having arrived amid initial scepticism but then overcoming that by implementing a style of play and a hard working mentality in his team.

The Milan boss was a guest on Fabio Caressa’s Sky Calcio Club yesferday evening and he gave a long interview about a large range of topics, with his comments relayed by MilanNews and translated below.

On Giroud: “I think Oli is an optimal psychophysical moment. He had great enthusiasm for the World Cup and is proving to be a great player. I’m happy for him and for Theo, I hope they continue like this. All it took was a video call with him to understand his abilities.

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“He has always had a lot of impact, not just with goals. He puts great generosity on a daily basis. He is a very determined boy: he collects all the important characteristics to be a leader. Would it be better for him to leave immediately? I think it will be much easier coaching satisfied players rather than re-motivating them. Kjaer? He didn’t come back happy, Denmark faced the World Cup for the first time with higher expectations.”

On Leao: “He’s a very intelligent boy, very helpful. We are however talking about players who are talented, they must have freedom in the last 30 metres. I want him to close more at the far post, I always tell him that. He should impact more.”

On the World Cup: “It’s more of an individual World Cup: this year they prepared in a week. It’s difficult for a coach to give an identity, even if I think Luis Enrique plays the best football. There weren’t any big surprises at technical-tactical level. They looked more at concreteness and individuality since each game has an important specific weight. We played the last game, which was very important, against Fiorentina and I didn’t see my players thinking about the World Cup.”

On how the players will return: “For those who have rested it was good in my opinion, they will arrive in January in good physical and mental condition. I don’t know how those who play in the World Cup will arrive, it’s a question mark. On paper, whoever has the fewest players in the World Cup is advantage, but then we’ll see…”

On Astori: “His death touched me deeply. Unfortunately, I say unfortunately, it was a situation that made me grow. After his loss I discovered new situations that opened my mind more. Now I’m closer to the players and I protect them more. It wasn’t an easy situation to manage. I’ve had negative experiences in my career, but they’re the ones that helped me the most to improve.”

On the lockdown and the Ragnick rumours: “I had all the support from the technical area. But also from Gazidis, who always behaved correctly. At Milanello he told us that we were all under scrutiny and that we had to concentrate only on the pitch. During the lockdown we trained via video call on Zoom and then when we got together something changed. We lost the first game but then everything changed.”

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On the journey and on Maldini: “If we have followed this path it is because all the components have given their contribution. From the first day I entered Milanello I felt good and the confrontation with Maldini and Massara gave me more strength in my work It’s something that gives the coach more strength, more confidence. Maldini isn’t there just for training, he’s there to relate to everyone, he’s a central figure. We’re talking about a person with an incredible level of knowledge, DNA.”

On Ibrahimovic: “Without taking anything away from anyone, Zlatan was a determining element in the team’s growth. He arrived in a young group, and for the first time in a non-winning team with players not similar to him, and he understood a different reality.

“Everyone was able to accept strengths and weaknesses. His mentality and determination raised the level of the team. In the first year, training with him was on one level, without him on another. The teammates were good to follow him. Then not only him, there are other leaders such as Kjaer, Giroud, Maignan who drive the group.”

On the 5-0 loss against Atalanta: “I think the match against Atalanta was the match that kickstarted the construction of Milan. We needed other types of players to play our football: new mentality, physical and talented.”

On the project: “Paolo and Ricky wanted to invest in certain players with sustainable costs for a club that wanted to pursue a certain type of path. It is a path that does not give immediate results, but we were good at anticipating these times.”

On his inspirations: “Many coaches. I watch many games by Guardiola, Nagelsmann, Klopp… Every great coach has a main characteristic. I completed my staff with young video analysts who helped me get to know new situations. And I the good fortune of coaching available players. Like, for example, the proposal to Theo and Calabria to enter the field: I saw their enthusiasm.

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“If I ask a player to do something and he doesn’t feel like it, I take a step back. I told Guardiola that everyone compliments him on the attacking phase, but for me he is the best at recovering the ball. Not all opponents are the same, but our idea is not to let the other teams play.

“Are we less compact this year? Yes, but because with the midfielders we compact less, we allow the first pass… we have to be quicker. Then we introduced a more offensive attacking midfielder. Sometimes we played with Rebic and Leao, we were more attacking. And also because with the ball we sometimes force depth too much: if you stretch the team then you struggle.

“We need to dribble more in the opponent’s half. The big teams dribble and always have players attacking deep, but they don’t necessarily have to be served if they are followed by the opponent. The team wants to become complete, it wants to reach a higher level. The opponents change and the players must have the baggage to read the situation.”

On the key games of the Scudetto: “The year before we had finished second. We got together and we said to each other that to improve you could only win. Every game was decisive because we only won by two points. The derby and the match against the Lazio, however, were the turning point.”

On the attacking midfielder role: “When a midfielder plays in the frontline, he certainly gives you a more solid defensive phase. But this year we haven’t gotten worse in terms of defensive numbers. With the World Cup stop, we’re all drawing too limited budgets: Vranckx, Thiaw and De Ketelaere arrived three months ago. And it’s normal that it takes time for a young player who arrives from another league.

“Charles? For me he is a midfielder who needs to vary: I give him freedom, but without the ball he must have precise indications. He used to play in Belgium without realizing the collaboration of his team-mates, he now has to learn to read the spaces. This break can help him.

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“Tonali and Leao, for example, I left them at the end of the season in one situation and then in the second half I found them again different. Maybe he needed time to adjust because it’s not easy to receive a lot of information. This year I saw this thing in Bennacer and in Messias.”

On Kalulu: “Pierre is such a good boy that it seems difficult for you to have such a personality on the pitch. He also has the serenity of a mature player. He even overcomes his mistake: he doesn’t linger or weaken. During training, He seemed more at ease as a central defender. He has better readings than as a full-back. Pierre and Tomori have characteristics for modern football, even if you sometimes take risks.”

On Napoli: “Napoli have quality in all their players. They are a team trained very well by a great coach. We played a good game against them, we didn’t deserve to lose, but they were good. At the start of the year, a team that Insigne, Fabian and Koulibaly lost I didn’t think they would be immediately so competitive.

“They are playing great football. I am convinced that the season is still very long. There are some teams that can score 8-10-11 victories in a row. Juventus? They achieved these results without Di Maria, Pogba, Chiesa. Their squad is among the top in the league.”

On perfect matches: “The perfect match doesn’t exist. Maybe a match is perfect when the players make the right choices. My Milan’s perfect match? Maybe last year’s match against Atalanta. And yes, against them it was came up with the idea of ​​moving the full-backs in the middle of the pitch.”

On the toughest team faced in the last two years: “The Porto of Conceiçao. We played them with many absences. Two really difficult games. But also Conte, who we will face. Antonio is a great coach and Tottenham have strikers like Son, Kane, Kulusevski , Richarlison, Lucas Moura.

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“We have to win, we have to have a winning mentality. We have the league, the Champions League, the Italian Cup and the Super Cup. We have to win something, we are no longer a team that hasn’t won. We know what to do, to to be successful requires 10% talent and 90% sacrifice, work and mentality.”

On Leao’s renewal: “I’m sure of two things: that Leao is happy with us, because I see and speak with him, and that Paolo and Rafa are talking. So we’re waiting for good news. I love Rafa, I think his journey with We are not finished yet. He is happy with his teammates and he is happy in Milan, everywhere. Ibrahimovic? Zlatan is doing everything to return. January will be an important month.”

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