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Stefano Pioli: Theo Hernandez is Milan’s leader

Stefano Pioli details Milan’s approach to handling Napoli’s constantly evolving tactics and emphasizes the pointlessness of regretting missed Scudetto opportunities.

The Rossoneri hadn’t won this fixture at San Siro in Serie A since December 2014. They had three defeats in the last three encounters, making it a result not to be taken for granted.

Milan have amassed as many points after 24 rounds as they did during the Scudetto-winning campaign. The only difference is that Inter and Juventus have performed significantly better.

“I don’t know if this is the best we could’ve done. We’ve been doing well in the last month and a half, almost at the level of an Inter side who are having an incredible campaign.” Stefano Pioli told DAZN.

“There’s no point looking back. We have to move forward, try to keep picking up points in Serie A and in the Europa League. That will not be easy.”

While Napoli had a significant double chance in the final minute, including Jan-Carlo Simic nearly scoring an own goal off the upright, Milan had squandered opportunities to double their lead earlier in the match.

“We will analyse the match carefully. But we know that games are never completely over with us. It was in a way good that we won like this, because we showed great defensive solidity and determination to win the game. That is an important sign.”

Stefano Pioli: We prepared for both Napoli’s systems

Davide Calabria suffered a muscular problem and had to be substituted in the first half, while Ismael Bennacer experienced cramps when he was replaced late in the game. It remains uncertain whether either of them can recover in time to face Rennes in the Europa League play-off on Thursday.

“Isma was just tired, I think, as after all he was coming off an injury and the Africa Cup of Nations. Calabria has an adductor issue, we’ll see over the next few days. Malick Thiaw returns, but I doubt he will be available from the start.

“We want to get an advantage in the first leg of that tie for the trip to France.”

Napoli changed tactics multiple times during the game, initially starting with a new formation of 3-5-1-1, with Kvicha Kvaratskhelia playing a free role behind striker Giovanni Simeone.

“Mazzarri had also chosen a three-man defence in previous games, then surprisingly returned to four against Verona, so to be honest we were not sure how they were going to play.

“I think we had good positions in the first half and closed the spaces, then when they moved to 4-3-3 created a few more dangerous situations, pushing the midfielders up too.

“We were prepared for both systems, but I think we should’ve been more aggressive against their four-man defence. We sat a bit too deep and that is dangerous when they have that much quality in attack.”

Pioli: Napoli forced us to work hard

“I had many meetings with the players over the last few weeks, demanding they show more concentration and be more solid in defence, less ready to immediately press high. The strikers also need to send the signal and spark attacking moves to be accompanied.

“Tonight’s Milan was balanced, organised and above all worked hard. Napoli forced us to work hard, and we did not hold back. Keeping a clean sheet in those circumstances should give us more confidence going forward.”

Theo Hernandez is regaining his top form. He is showcasing his attacking prowess down the left flank after spending a couple of months filling in as a central defender.

“Theo had put himself at our disposal as a central defender and he did it very well indeed. But naturally he has such a great rapport with Leao down the left, they know each other so well, can sniff each other out.”

The France international has displayed a newfound maturity this season. Stefano Pioli believes he can continue to develop and improve.

“I think Theo struggled last season to get over the disappointment of the World Cup Final defeat. The strain of a tournament that was in the middle of the season. I was not sure how he would be mentally this season, but he was very positive. He has become a leader for this team, not one who talks that much, but with his attitude.

“I think the games he played as a centre-back also showed him how much more focused, aggressive and important he can be when defending. And he is taking that into his role as a left-back now.”

Alex Lundy
Alex Lundy
A lifelong football fan, Alex loves to dabble in its history, especially FIFA World Cup. But his love for sports doesn't end at football since he loves watching NBA and Formula1 too. Reading novels and watching classic films takes the rest of his time.
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