Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Pioli confident ahead of Man Utd test despite Milan injury crisis

SoccerNews in Serie A 10 Mar 2021

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Stefano Pioli insists Milan are in confident mood ahead of their Europa League last-16 tie with Manchester United, despite having to contend with a growing injury list.

Milan are without Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Mario Mandzukic, Ismael Bennacer, Hakan Calhanoglu, Theo Hernandez and Ante Rebic for Thursday’s first leg.

The Italian side travel to Old Trafford with just two strikers in their squad – Rafael Leao and academy product Riccardo Tonin, who has yet to feature at senior level.

However, Milan were also far from full strength for their 2-0 league win at Hellas Verona last weekend and Pioli is hoping to build confidence from that victory.

“We have a choice to make: either let ourselves be overwhelmed by the negative waves or ride the positive ones of confidence,” he said. 

“We will choose to ride it and I’m sure the team will put in a good performance against a difficult opponent.

“Winning our last game gives us momentum. When we play at our best we do well and against United we will be prepared.

“We have to play this type of game to our fullest ability. A positive result would give us momentum in view of the return match.”

Milan are meeting United for the 11th time in a competitive match, though all 10 previous encounters have come in either the European Cup or Champions League.

The Rossoneri have not competed in Europe’s flagship competition since 2013-14, while English heavyweights United exited the tournament at the group stage.

Both teams are second in their domestic leagues and United enter the match on the back of an impressive 2-0 win at Manchester City last time out.

But Pioli does not believe the winners of the two-legged affair should necessarily be considered the favourites to go all the way and lift the trophy.

“I don’t think so. There are many other teams that have a chance to win it,” he said. “But of course it is a prestigious match with a lot of history and past.

“We are working hard to get back to winning trophies. As [technical director Paolo] Maldini said, it takes a couple of years of continued presence in the Champions League.

“We need to tackle this path with enthusiasm and conviction.”

Thursday’s clash will mark a first return to Old Trafford for Diogo Dalot since joining Milan on loan last October.

The full-back struggled for appearances at United but has been used 20 times in all competitions by Pioli, including eight outings in the Europa League.

“We are happy with his performance and his growth,” Pioli said. “As far as his future is concerned, we are too focused on the league and on the Europa League for that.

“Besides, it is not me who makes a decision about his future.”

Milan have been eliminated on six of the last seven occasions in which they have reached the last 16 of a major European competition.

However, they have got the better of United in four of their previous five knockout ties in European competition, with no side eliminating the Red Devils more often.

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