No regrets about Leao benches for Milan boss Pioli after another derby victory

Milan boss Stefano Pioli has defended his decision to start Rafael Leao on the bench after his struggling side went down 1-0 to Inter in Sunday’s derby.

Last season’s champions sit sixth in Serie A after 21 games, in danger of failing to qualify for next season’s Champions League unless they surpass their expectations.

They have lost four games in a row, losing to Inter in the Supercoppa and Serie A after a 4-0 drubbing at Lazio and a 5-2 hammering at home to Sassuolo.

He was on league duty on Sunday, and Leao was only a substitute, despite being a two-goal hero in September when Milan took the spoils Derby 3-2 to hold off early bolters Napoli.

Although Napoli has kept up its frantic early pace, and now sit 13 points clear of second place Inter, Milan lost all momentum.

Pioli started against Inter with former Liverpool winger Divock Origi alongside Olivier Giroud in attack, abandoning the partnership early in the second half when the ineffective Origi was withdrawn and Leao made his way in.

The skilled Portuguese striker threw Giroud an equaliser, but the French striker’s control was appalling and the chance was wasted, but that moment showed Leao’s quick-witted threat.

“He has huge potential,” said Pioli, “but I chose to play with two centre-forwards who are closer to the vertical to put Inter’s defense in trouble, even if we didn’t succeed.

“I have a lot of confidence in Leao, even if he didn’t start from the beginning. The choices I made are the best based on what I saw during the week, the preparation for the game and the positions I wanted to fill it. .”

In hindsight, Pioli said he would “do it again” when asked about Leao’s omission.

In total, Milan are without a win in seven games, and face Torino on Friday before in the Champions League with Tottenham the following Tuesday.

Former Inter Tottenham boss Antonio Conte may be licking his lips at the prospect, with Milan’s defense leaving much to be desired in recent weeks.

Lautaro Martinez headed in Hakan Calhanoglu’s corner for the only goal of the derby, and Pioli admitted his players were found wanting.

“Unfortunately we found ourselves unprepared again on a dead ball,” he said. “Until that moment, we were working well as a team. We did better in the second half.”

Pioli knows that many of Milan’s supporters have left many because of the huge slide in form, and he said: “The fans have every right to criticize, the last performances have not been up to him.”

But Pioli still has the support of the dressing room, according to midfielder Rade Kronic.

Krunic told DAZN: “If you lose such an important game, there are very few positives.

“We seemed to be doing better in training than today. We believe in Pioli.”

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