Stefano Pioli acknowledges Milan are “more effective with Zlatan Ibrahimovic as a reference point” and hints Lucas Paqueta is surplus to requirements.
The Rossoneri had been without a win since December 8 and hadn’t even scored in over 370 minutes of football, but the move to 4-4-2 saw both Rafael Leao and Ibrahimovic on target in a 2-0 victory away to Cagliari.
Suso, Krzysztof Piatek and Paqueta were not only dropped, but never even warmed up at the Sardegna Arena.
“This was certainly a different performance to recent outings. We were more effective, more solid, Zlatan’s presence clearly gives us a reference point to build around and it’ll take us a while to really get to know each other.
“It was an important and deserved victory to start building a better future,” Pioli told Sky Sport Italia.
“We must try to make the most of the characteristics of our players. Ibrahimovic probably won’t run into space that much, so we need someone around him who can do the running, as today we saw Leao, Samu Castillejo and Hakan Calhanoglu, then Giacomo Bonaventura. We’ve only just started working on this system, but the early signs are positive.”
This was Ibrahimovic’s first start since moving from the LA Galaxy and he lasted the full 90 minutes plus stoppages.
“I asked Zlatan often how he was doing, as he hadn’t played a full game for months and I didn’t want to risk muscular problems. He settled in with great intelligence, said the right things to his teammates and is a real reference point on the field.
“He can only get stronger and we’ll see the real Zlatan in three or four games. I was sure he’d be ready just by talking to him on the phone, I didn’t even need to see him in action.
“Ibrahimovic wants to prove he’s still got it and his presence is really helping what is one of the youngest squads in Serie A. He has such character, determination and experience that it inevitably passes on to the others.
“What we were lacking so far was not creating the chances, but being able to finish them off. I am glad that we have more options and alternatives when going forward.”
Pioli was asked about Paqueta’s form and suggested the Brazilian is now simply surplus to requirements amid Paris Saint-Germain interest.
“Paqueta is working well, he’s in good shape, but I made different choices to have a balanced team that could suit this playing system. If the transfer market ends early, I’ll be happier, because it can distract some players, but my decisions are only to win the next games, as we really need the results.”
The coach was also questioned on reports Milan have chosen Asmir Begovic of West Ham United to replace Aston Villa-bound Pepe Reina.
“Any nearly deals are not concluded, so we’ll wait until they are made official.”
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