Stefano Pioli urges Milan to play ‘the game of a lifetime’ against Atalanta, but insists missing out on the top four would be ‘a disappointment, not a failure.’
The Rossoneri could’ve sealed it tonight with a win against a Cagliari side who were already guaranteed safety, but they failed to break through and in fact risked defeat with two sensational Gianluigi Donnarumma saves.
It means they go into the final round against Atalanta with 76 points, the same as Napoli, and Juventus on 75.
“There’s no point thinking about what might’ve been. We have to focus on the next match,” Pioli told Sky Sport Italia.
“We weren’t at the level of our recent performances, in terms of tempo and quality. We had the game of a lifetime against Juventus, then with Torino, so it’s another of those with Atalanta. We go again.
“In tonight’s game, we felt a bit of everything. We knew a win would finish it, so there was some tension, some fear, some misplaced confidence that we could win by playing ugly, but we have to fight for every point.
“We should’ve moved the ball quicker and created more advantageous situations, that’s just it.”
They need a victory to be sure, having a better head-to-head record with both Juve and Napoli, but also without doubt have the toughest fixture.
It’s also worth noting Atalanta and Juve will face off in the Coppa Italia Final on Wednesday evening.
“We’ve done great things this season, there is disappointment this evening and we know Atalanta are the only side we’ve been unable to beat during my tenure at Milan.
“We evidently have to bring out our best in order to achieve it.”
Curiously, Pioli admits that Cagliari knowing they were safe after Benevento’s draw with Crotone actually took the pressure off the Sardinians and made it easier for them.
“I think this afternoon’s result allowed Cagliari to play without any pressure and then they were able to play the tactical game they had prepared.
“If you don’t approach it with the right determination and focus, you will run into difficulty. The worst mistake we made tonight was losing our sharpness, and that is what we absolutely should not have done.”
Zlatan Ibrahimovic was on the touchline to cheer on his teammates, but is out for the next six weeks with a knee injury.
“We need to remember that people said we were entirely dependent on Zlatan, then after two games they said we play better without him. Neither of those are true.
“We needed someone who was ready to play as a centre-forward when Ibra was out, but unfortunately Mandzukic had various different issues and was rarely available.
“I replaced Bennacer with Meite to bring a bit more dynamism in midfield and he can also give us something more on set plays. Mandzukic is nowhere near at 100 per cent and unfortunately there was no way he could play longer.”
Pioli was asked if he would consider missing out on the Champions League as a failure, especially considering Milan were Winter Champions and top of the table for so long.
“With the way we played, all we did and how much we’ve grown over the year, failing to reach the top four would certainly be disappointing. It would still not be a failure, because I feel we laid the foundations to get there very soon in the future and it was an aim at the start of the season, but definitely not an obligation.”