Milan coach Stefano Pioli confirmed Rafael Leao will start up front against Udinese and defended his decision to leave out Alessio Romagnoli last time. ‘You can’t always have the same ideas’.
The Rossoneri are without injured Hakan Calhanoglu and Zlatan Ibrahimovic against the Friuli, but Pioli wants to see continuity after the 2-1 win over Roma last time.
“The numbers speak for themselves, unfortunately without fans, it’s not so decisive playing at home or away,” Pioli said at a press conference.
“There are more and more away wins that in the previous years, clearly playing in their own stadium can give advantages.
“Tomorrow will be an important match, Udinese are an organised team that put us under pressure in the first leg.
“We will need a great performance.”
Pioli excluded captain Alessio Romagnoli last time and was asked if it could happen again.
“The matches are all important, but also different,” he said. “For me, it’s unfortunate to be spoilt for choice.
“Only tomorrow, we will try the starting line-up. I will choose the one who is better off. We arrive from a beautiful win, let’s give continuity to our results.”
Rafael Leao has only scored five goals in 19 Serie A games, but the coach defends the 21-year-old centre-forward.
“You are very good at finding the negative things,” Pioli said. “A few weeks ago, we were talking about a Rafael Leao who as decisive.
“Tomorrow he will have the opportunity to start. He doesn’t need to be pampered or helped, because he’s ready.”
Zlatan suffered a muscle injury against Roma and will participate at Sanremo this week.
“Zlatan is our champion, but the leader must be our game, as we demonstrated last Sunday,” the coach continued.
“If we play like this, we can do well even without Ibrahimovic and Calhanoglu. We have many players who can be decisive.”
On Sunday, Milan bounced back from two defeats against Spezia and Inter in Serie A and Pioli said the Rossoneri only focus on themselves and not the Scudetto battle.
“I would have been surprised if Ibra had said something different in the press conference,” Pioli said about Milan’s chances of winning the League.
“It’s right that he says certain things. We have to focus only on ourselves. We have to win as many games as possible and play our football.
“We are satisfied with the match in Rome. It’s the decisive moment of the season, we remain focused and try to get the most out of it.
“Then we will see what position we will be in.”
Milan went four games without a win and scraped through on away goals in the Europa League and Pioli said the ‘great team spirit’ helped them against the Giallorossi.
“The last few weeks have allowed us to change certain things,” he said. “The team believed in what they were doing and were putting their habits into play.
“In Rome there was a great team spirit. We must continue like this.”
Pioli said Sanremo finishes too late for him to watch Ibrahimovic perform in the music festival.
“Ibra is an extra weapon for us, but the fact that the team did well without him, it means we have some qualities,” Pioli said about the Swede’s absence.
“Tonight, I will watch Juventus-Spezia. I spoke to Ibrahimovic. Unfortunately, Sanremo finished too late for me.”
The coach said he spoke to Romagnoli about the exclusion from the line-up and confirmed that Ante Rebic available tomorrow.
“Only you talk about failures, for me they are simply choices,” Pioli said. “I talked to him.
“You can’t always have the same ideas, but the important thing is respect.
“Rebic is fine, tomorrow morning he can prepare and play against Udinese. On Sunday, he played a great game.
“His characteristics are important for us. There are no doubts about his qualities.”
Pioli said Mario Mandzukic and Ismael Bennacer are recovering but will ‘work separately this week’.
“They are progressing in the individual work. This week they work separately,” he revealed. “I hope to get some good news this week and that they can be available.”
Milan responded to the criticism after the defeats to Spezia and Inter.
“In my opinion, we have the opportunity to demonstrate that the extraordinary thing was the two weeks we didn’t play well,” he said.
“It can happen when a team plays so often and was not used to maintaining certain rhythms. We must show that we are a team that have an important growth path.
“We are not dwelling on the past. What we do from tomorrow and onwards will be decisive.”