Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Pioli: Second-half fightback another step forward for Milan

SoccerNews in Serie A 13 Dec 2020

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Stefano Pioli hailed the “mentality and character” of his Milan side as they recovered from two goals down to rescue a 2-2 draw in Sunday’s Serie A clash with Parma.

The league leaders were heading for a first defeat in 23 league outings since March after Hernani and Jasmin Kurtic put Parma a couple of goals in front.

Milan hit the frame of the goal four times – Hakan Calhanoglu responsible for three of those – and had a goal disallowed for a narrow offside against Samu Castillejo.

But they hit back through Theo Hernandez’s brace, the attacking full-back guiding in a header and then firing home in the first minute of added time.

In doing so, he became the first Milan defender to score twice in the competition since Alessandro Nesta in October 2009 against Chievo Verona.

Despite Inter, Napoli and Juventus all closing the gap with wins on Sunday, Pioli believes Milan can take positives from a game in which everything seemed to go against his side.

“Parma deserve credit for making the most of their forwards, who have a lot of pace and are good at one-on-one situations,” he told Sky Sport Italia. 

“However, on the first goal, there’s clearly more of us in the box than Parma players, yet we got hunched up and didn’t cover the spaces.

“We had a lot of chances and should’ve scored earlier. It might’ve been a different game if we had.

“But it remains a genuine positive step forward in terms of mentality and character to get this back on track.”

The Rossoneri are on the longest unbeaten run of any side in Europe’s major leagues and remain on course for a first Scudetto since 2011, but Pioli accepts there is room for improvement. 

“It remains an off-night for us as we are having some difficulties, especially with injuries to [Matteo] Gabbia and [Ismael] Bennacer,” he said.

“As for the game, for the first time I’d say we didn’t have the right approach and were a little sluggish. 

“Parma did very well on the counter, we could’ve equalised earlier and didn’t, but this is a team with heart and desire. It’s fine.

“Clearly, we wanted to win and we had the chances to do so. Parma had two shots on goal, but we also made mistakes on those two goals.

“We weren’t as sharp in the second half, but that can happen when you are putting so much spirit into the chase, throwing men into the box and trying to get it back on track.”

Pioli refused to blame fatigue for the draw, with Milan dropping points in Serie A for only a third time this season.

“I think the team is in good shape, both physically and mentally,” he said. 

“I changed practically all the players from the Europa League game on Thursday, so they can’t have been tired because of that.

“I don’t think we’ll have much time during the Christmas break to put some fuel in the tank in training, especially as we’ve got Juventus and Atalanta straight after the restart. 

“It’ll be useful to rest more mentally than physically for a few days.”

Milan are three points better off than second-place Inter, with Napoli and reigning champions Juventus a further point back.

However, when asked if he would sign off on a top-four finish and a place in the Champions League next season, Pioli joked: “The only thing I’ll sign is a new contract!

“Milan haven’t been in the Champions League for a long time, so it’s only right we are ambitious and proved we can fight it out with everyone. We just have to continue like this.”

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