GENOA (REUTERS, AFP) – Italian Serie A leaders AC Milan continue to surprise coach Stefano Pioli with their maturity, he said after watching his side overcome the absence of key players to win a tough match 2-1 at Sampdoria on Sunday (Dec 6).
Milan’s starting line-up had an average age of under 23 but they still managed to overcome opponents who seemed determined to turn the match into a scrap.
“We were missing three important players, but the team has always taken the opportunity, even in negative situations, to show that they are strong, that this is a cohesive group,” said Pioli.
“We had a very young team on the field, but they continue to surprise me with their maturity. We didn’t let our heads drop when things were going badly and we’re not getting carried away now.”
However, he still did not see Milan as favourites to win Serie A even though they are five points clear of cross-city rivals Inter (21 points) after 10 games.
“How is it possible to think that Juventus are still not the favourites after nine successive titles, or that Inter Milan cannot challenge with investments like such as Achraf Hakimi and Arturo Vidal. But we must continue to grow and improve.”
Pioli’s main concern was his team’s defending at set pieces, with Sampdoria’s goal coming from a corner. “We need to be more focused on set plays even though we’re lacking a few centimetres (in height),” he said.
Franck Kessie broke Sampdoria’s resistance with a penalty in the 45th minute and substitute Samu Castillejo rifled in the second for Milan in the 77th minute, before Albin Ekdal headed one back to set up a nerve-racking finale for the visitors.
Napoli moved into third place on 20 points, after strolling to a 4-0 win over bottom side Crotone, taking advantage of rivals Roma and Sassuolo battling to an entertaining goal-less draw.
Juventus are just trailing on goal difference, after coming from behind to beat Torino 2-1 in the Turin derby, with US midfielder Weston McKennie among the scorers for the first time since he joined the Italian champions on loan.
On Saturday, Inter wing-back Hakimi bagged a brace after Romelu Lukaku had opened the scoring in a comfortable 3-1 win over Bologna.