Thursday December 10 2020
Pioli: 'Milan squad players most important'

Stefano Pioli describes Jens Petter Hauge’s strengths and where he can still improve, explaining why Milan’s second string is the secret to their success in Serie A and the Europa League.

Hauge was on target again with the only goal in the 1-0 win over Sparta Prague, which along with Lille’s 3-2 defeat at Celtic, allowed them to win the group.

“When we met Hauge as an opponent, he already proved what he could do, so we hoped he’d continue that form with us. He’s not yet complete, so can improve even more, and we’re very happy with his performances,” the coach told Sky Sport Italia.

“I think his best skill is the one-on-one. He’s quicker on the ball than off it, but I think he needs to alternate and do better at running beyond the defender to get the ball. He can’t always just take men on.

“He has many areas in which to improve, such as his focus in defence throughout the 90 minutes, but we had seen his qualities and the club did very well to sign such an interesting prospect.”

Pioli was asked how he would’ve reacted if told back in March that for the rest of 2020, he’d lose only once to Lille in all competition.

“When I started the season, I had faith, because it’s a quality group, a united group, but clearly it was unthinkable that we’d get these results.

“We are doing very well to play games to the full, forget them immediately and move on to the next challenge. That is our greatest strength and the players who haven’t played as much are the ones who are most important, as they allowed us to keep up the tempo in training and in matches when we have a packed fixture list.”

All the Italian teams progressed in the Champions League and Europa League except for Inter. Can being out of Europe altogether be a bonus for the Nerazzurri, allowing them to focus only on Serie A?

“I don’t know and I honestly don’t have time or desire to think about what our opponents will do. We have to focus on our own journey, grit our teeth and get ready for Sunday’s game.

“We’ll try to keep going until Christmas and then try to get a little rest and recuperation. We knew our objective was to improve on last season, but there are some very strong sides that will surge later in the season, like Inter, Juventus, Napoli, Roma, etc.”

There was a personal moment for Pioli during the minute’s silence for Italy World Cup winner Paolo Rossi, who died last night after a long illness.

“This is a very sad day for me, as I played with Paolo Rossi when I was just a young kid who had arrived at Juventus. He was also a lovely person, so kind, generous and welcoming. I can only send my condolences to his family.

“He was always the first to help you out, always smiling, determined and happy. I think the two most important elements in our line of work are determination and feeling at peace with yourself, and he had those in abundance.

“Rossi won the World Cup, the Ballon d’Or, but he remained humble and embraced the simple things in life.”