By Oladipupo Mojeed
AC Milan manager Stefano Pioli has hailed his team’s young stars after recording a 4-1 against Cagliari in the Coppa Italia round of 16.
Although he admitted this his choice of teenagers in the Coppa Italia clash raised some eyebrows, he said such a result showed that Milan Academy is working.
The manager fielded a completely revamped squad packed with teenagers including Jan-Carlo Simic, Alex Jimenez, and Chaka Traore against at San Siro.
While urging Luka Jovic, who netted a brace in the game to believe in himself more, Pioli during a postmatch conference said the choice of his starting 11 was not beyond expectations.
“When you prepare with a good squad, you always hope for the best,” Pioli told Mediaset.
Having secured passage into the next round, the Rossoneri will face either Atalanta or Sassuolo in the quarter-finals.
Jovic recorded a brace with the assists coming from Theo Hernandez before Traore opened his Milan senior goal account and substitute Rafael Leao rounded out the 4-1 rout.
“A few lads were a bit nervous at the start, but once we broke the ice it became much easier. These kids have quality, talent, but above all an excellent attitude that they must stick with.
“It isn’t to be taken for granted, sometimes it’s easier to train the younger players than the older ones, sometimes the other way around, but their attitude shows the Milan youth academy is working well.”
He further said the young players are proving they can have their say in the squad, adding that they will not just be considered emergency options but actual alternatives when needed.
Concerning the starting XI that had the four academy players, Pioli said the choices made were suited to the moment the team were in and what he saw from the players.
Speaking on the team’s injury update, Pioli said Loftus-Cheek and Bartesaghi couldn’t play because they had flu while Leao was coming off an injury.
“Kjaer and Pulisic had played a lot, so we had to take all these things into account.”
Lauding the performance of Jovic who is yet to find his feet in the tea after his arrival last summer, Pioli said the former Real Madrid striker has started to settle and show what he can do in the last few weeks.
Believing that the Serbian has a lot of quality, the gaffer expects more because he has what it takes to be a great player.
“ Naturally, he had a rough summer, and arrived without playing, but now he is in good shape physically and mentally.
“He has quality in the box, and can play with others too, so it’s up to him to have that ambition.”
Milan will hope to continue their good run in the competition this season as they do not have a great history in the Coppa Italia. They have not won the trophy since 2003.
Pioli wants to change that, admitting that it is going to be a tough fixture list as they will need to also perform well in Serie A and the Europa League which are the main priorities because they give us them chance to qualify for the Champions League.