Pioli hoping for Milan revival on return to Champions League knockouts

AFP , Monday 13 Feb 2023

Stefano Pioli is hoping that AC Milan have pulled out of their damaging downward spiral as his team prepare for their first Champions League knockout tie in nearly a decade.

Stefano Pioli
Stefano Pioli


Milan host Tottenham Hotspur on Tuesday night having snapped a seven-match winless streak in all competitions which left their Serie A title defence in tatters and threatened to completely derail their season.

The San Siro breathed a heavy sigh of relief on Friday night when Olivier Giroud headed Milan to a 1-0 win over Torino and coach Pioli wants that tight victory to be the turning point after two Milan derby defeats and heavy league losses to Lazio and Sassuolo in just over a fortnight.

Pioli said that Friday's win should be looked at as a "rebirth" as it ended a run which had left fifth-placed Milan not only miles behind runaway league leaders Napoli but also in a real fight for a place in next season's Champions League.

"We need to keep going, playing the Champions League next season would be a good finish at this point, but we need to be more consistent," he told DAZN.

The 57-year-old knows a lot about unexpected renaissances as, after his arrival in October 2019, he went from almost being replaced by Ralf Rangnick to stewarding Milan's rise from the doldrums to the top of the Italian game.

Pioli replaced Marco Giampaolo, the latest in a long line of managers the Rossoneri churned through in the largely miserable eight years since they had last won the league in 2011.

He took over a team which had won three and lost four of their opening seven matches, and only managed three more wins between his appointment and that season's winter break.

Milan's 5-0 humiliation at Atalanta -- who nearly made the last four of that season's Champions League -- in their final fixture of 2019 was probably the nadir of Pioli's reign, but after the arrival of Zlatan Ibrahimovic that Christmas something clicked.

- Crowning glory -

Last season's Scudetto, dethroning local rivals Inter Milan on the final day, was the crowning glory of an up-and-down career for Pioli in which the most significant moment had previously been the death of Davide Astori in 2018 while he was Fiorentina coach.

He has credit in the bank with Milan as he has dealt with losing big players like Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma and Franck Kessie as free agents in consecutive seasons without kicking up a fuss and taken Milan to the Champions League last 16 for the first time since 2014.

Pioli will be hoping for a better result than nine years ago, when Milan were thrashed 5-1 on aggregate by Atletico Madrid and became also-rans for a tournament which they have won more times than any other club apart from Real Madrid.

He will be boosted by the return of both Ismael Bennacer and Fikayo Tomori from injury and a public rebuttal of rumours of a major dressing room bust-up which was given as a reason for Milan's collapse in form.

After beating Torino, France left-back Theo Hernandez and his club captain Davide Calabria jokingly posed in a boxing stance together for a picture on Instagram.

It was an attempt to brush off talk widely circulated via a WhatsApp voice note that the pair had exchanged punches following a row over a woman, talk which led to Calabria lamenting people's capacity for "imagination and malice".

"We accept criticism and we're the first to not be happy and want to turn things around," said Calabria.

"What we don't accept are the endless lies about me and my teammates."

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