After away trips to La Spezia and Belgrade, we'll be finishing off a tough week with the big one: the Derby against league-leaders Inter, who won last time out against Lazio. Ahead of this Serie A matchday 23 fixture, which will kick off at 15:00 CET on Sunday 20 February at San Siro, Stefano Pioli held his press conference at Milanello. Here are his thoughts, which were broadcast live on the AC Milan Official App and Milan TV. After remembering former defender Mauro Bellugi, who passed away at the age of 71 today, the Coach had the following to say:
"We’ll need to have cool heads, show heart and be composed and determined. It’s enormously disappointing that we won’t be able to play in front of a full and passionate San Siro crowd. Nevertheless, our fans are always with us and give us strength. I’ve really appreciated the Derby Together initiative, allowing us to be close to them, albeit virtually. I hope it’ll be the last Derby played behind closed doors."
"I’ll field players who are ready. The team are in a competitive position to try to give their all and get the best result possible. In terms of our concentration levels and how composed and determined we are, we’re in the right place. The fans fired us up today, and we’ll need to implement what we’ve worked on out on the pitch. I believe that we’ve prepared in the best way possible. Our last two matches haven’t resulted in us losing belief, strength or certainty. We’ve benefited from our ideas, cohesion and desire. There have been matches that have helped us understand what it takes to stay at certain levels, and we’ll be even stronger because of this. If you head into a match thinking that a draw will suffice, you’re more likely to lose than win."
"The idea is to try to control proceedings. We’ll be facing a team that is built to win the Scudetto and do well in Europe. They have excellent individuals, but this applies to us too. We’ll play our cards right until the very end. I believe that the two teams have clear identities. Inter are a side that can press high up the pitch or sit back. We’ll have to be composed and precise, get into the right positions and make the most of our opportunities. Derbies are even affairs and chances do come along. I believe that the team that remains the most compact and displays the most precision has a higher chance of winning tomorrow. We want to produce a high-quality performance."
THE RECENT PERIOD
"I was certainly bitter after the match in Belgrade. We didn’t show the desire to score a third goal, even if we didn’t risk giving much away at the back. It reminded me of our match in Florence last year. These are situations where we have to do better because we’re a better team now compared to back then. Tomorrow, a lot of quality will be required in order to try to win the game. In our last few matches, we haven’t raised our levels in terms of quality and on a technical level, while we haven’t been as solid as we know we can be in defence. We’ll need to be attentive and determined."
"I’m absolutely convinced that Tonali has tremendous potential. He’s very young and is still in his first year playing at such a high level. He’s making good process and is showcasing his talents. While he may be young, you need to be able to live up to expectations at a Club like AC Milan. He’s been calm and determined, just like his teammates. Tomori? He’s doing well, he has different characteristics compared to the others. I’m very happy with his performances, he’s making sure that he’s ready. Mandžukić suffered a slight strain but got to work today. I hope he won’t be out for long as he was getting back into shape. Bennacer didn’t suffer a relapse: his muscle is currently lacking in elasticity, I hope he’ll be back soon."
IBRA V LUKAKU
"Out of the two, I’d always choose Ibrahimović, but I have great respect for Lukaku. It would have been better if what happened in the last Derby hadn’t taken place, but tomorrow will be a different match and there will be the same battles that occur in every game. Great respect and sportsmanship will undoubtedly be shown."
TOGETHER AS ONE
"We’ll need to work collectively as a team. Working as a collective unit brings out the qualities of individuals, and Zlatan is someone who can produce a decisive piece of play. We’ll need to show intensity, be aggressive and play well. Furthermore, we’ll need to put our players in a position to produce something that could decide the match. Tomorrow’s fixture is the most important one to date because we were in first place for 20 matches and now have the opportunity to return to that position. However, it won’t be a decisive encounter in terms of the league standings because there will still be 45 points to play for."
"AC Milan’s objective is to continue the journey that we started and which we’re all satisfied with. We’re pleased that we’re the youngest team in the league and the surprise package. We want to continue to give our all. We started from a long way behind and will assess things at the end."
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