No regrets that Leao sat on the bench for Milan boss Pioli after another derby defeat

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

Last season’s champions are sixth in Serie A after 21 games and are in danger of failing to qualify for next season’s Champions League unless they follow through with their ideas.

They have lost four games in a row, with losses to Inter in the Supercoppa Italiana and Serie A entailing a 4-0 thrashing of Lazio and a 5-2 home draw to Sassuolo.

Sunday was the league game and Leao came on as just a substitute, despite being a two-goal hero in September as Milan won the derby 3-2 to keep pace with early striker Napoli.

While Napoli have kept up the early frantic pace and are now 13 points ahead of second-placed Inter, Milan have lost all momentum.

Pioli started against Inter with former Liverpool fringe Divock Origi in attack alongside Olivier Giroud, ending the partnership early in the second half as the ineffective Origi was taken off and Leao made his entrance.

The skillful Portuguese striker nearly equalized for Giroud, but the French striker’s control was appalling and the opportunity was lost, but that moment of quick dribbling performance highlighted Leao’s threat.

“He has huge potential,” said Pioli, “but I chose to play with two centre-forwards closer vertically to put Inter’s defense in trouble, even if we fail to do so.

“I have a lot of confidence in Leao, even if he didn’t start from the start. The choices I made are the best for what I’ve seen this week, for what the pre-match preparation was and for the positions I wanted to fill in.” .”

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

In total, Milan have gone seven games without a win and they face Torino on Friday before a Champions League bout with Tottenham the following Tuesday.

Tottenham’s former Inter boss Antonio Conte may be licking his lips at the prospect, while Milan’s defense has left much to be desired in recent weeks.

Lautaro Martinez headed in Hakan Calhanoglu’s corner for the derby’s only goal, and Pioli accepted that his players were missing.

“Unfortunately we were again unprepared for a dead ball,” he said. “Up to that point we were working well as a team. We did better in the second half.”

Pioli knows the drastic drop in form has angered many Milan supporters, and he said: “The fans have every right to criticize, the last few performances have not been up to par.”

Nevertheless, according to midfielder Rade Krunic, Pioli still has the support of the dressing room.

Krunic told DAZN: “When you lose such an important game, there are few positives. The only thing that takes away from you is the reaction in the second half, where we did better than in the first half.”

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

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