Mihajlovic held a pre-match press conference on Friday.
Tomorrow is the most important match since the start of the season. Should we win, we would extend our unbeaten run and climb the league table. It would also allow us to train with less pressure during the international break, recharge our batteries and recover players from injury. I hope the team are fully aware of the importance of the match.” Mihajlovic signaled the way forwards: “We have to stay on this path. Against Lazio, we showed we can play well and beat anyone. We showed we are a united and quality team that knows how to suffer. There is now less criticism and more praise, but I think, and based on recent results, more balance is needed when forming opinions. We’re not now perfect, but we weren’t useless before. The results don’t come from nothing. At the moment, we know we haven’t resolved all of our problems, but we know we are on the right track. The biggest recognition for me comes from the words of Arrigo Sacchi. To receive praise from a man who changed football shows we’re on the right path.”
A word on Saturday’s opponents Atalanta: “Tomorrow is the most important match since the start of the season. Atalanta are a tough side. They have always done well this season, with the exception of the last match (versus Bologna, editor’s note). They have dangerous players that can make it hard for us. We cannot underestimate them. I have a lot of respect for their coach Edy Reja. He is a great man and I respect him so much I will do everything to beat him!
We are missing several players, but I am sure those who replace them will do well. We have shown we are a united group lately. When you have that in place, you can overcome every obstacle. Team dinner? I have always organised them. It’s not the first time and it won’t be the last. It was also a way of showing that everyone is important such as those that work behind the scenes. They are all vital to us and allow us to work well and do well. It was my way of thanking them. When we are united, we can achieve a lot. They are things that need to be done and to ease the tension every now and then. I hope in the coming months we have others… and I hope someone else pays! (laughs, editor’s note)”
The coach urged his players to keep their feet on the ground: “Nothing has changed and now is not the time to look at the league table. We have done well to make up ground in the league table and we are now in a position in the table that we deserve. We have deserved what we have got in these first 11 rounds of the season. Our objective is a top-three finish. Winning tomorrow could be the turning point for the team. However, let’s take things one match at a time. Then, we have the international break and we will have the chance to rest up both physically and mentally. We have now found a formation that is working for us as a team. We could change it again in the future. The current set-up allows us to be more compact and solid. When we welcome back the injured forwards, we will then assess the situation. The mentality however has to remain the same: always offensive and with lots of attacking players.”
On individuals: “A player at Milan has to be happy. If he is unhappy, he is free to leave. Honda if I recall has played. No one here is indispensable. Everyone is important and part of the squad. When you are given a chance, you have to make sure you are ready. All this passes through training well. In football, with injuries and suspensions, there are possibilities to play. If a player doesn’t play much, he has to get angry with himself and not the coach. It’s the performances that do the talking. Diego Lopez? I have already said I rate him highly, but lately I didn’t think he was in top-form. He has been a real man however playing through the pain (knee injury, editor’s note) and not looking for excuses. We will wait for him to come back. I won’t take anything away from Donnarumma. He is a jewel for Milan and the future of Italian football who is playing well.”
More on individuals: “I am sorry for Luiz Adriano because Bacca is making the difference. I want to congratulate Luiz Adriano though because he is doing really well when he comes off the bench. His two goals have given us 6 points. I won’t forget it. He’s an important player, who is conducting himself well and training with a great desire. He could have more chances in the future. It’s a shame about Bonaventura’s suspension. I am sorry because it would have been nice for him to face his former side. I do have alternatives however who will give their all. Cerci is improving with every match. He needs to be consistent throughout the week. This has always been his problem. He is one of the few players in Italy that takes on and beats his man.”
“I am happy with my performance against Lazio, but it is the performance from the whole team that needs to be underlined. We have to keep this firmly in our minds. We know there is still a long way to go, but we have to always play with the same approach and attitude we showed against Lazio. The players that came off the bench were decisive. Honda in 5 minutes fought for every ball. We have to keep this up. The next time we win three matches in a row, I will offer the dinner!
Joking aside, I am not surprised with my performances. The opinions are always based on sensations and not looking at the stats. I have always worked to improve on my weak areas. At Fiorentina, I worked hard on winning back possession and the results are there to see in the past few years. I am feeling better and I trained yesterday for part of the session with the squad. I will train again today and then we will assess the situation. It’s a muscular issue and so I have to be a bit careful.”
NIGEL DE JONG
“We have to keep on improving and keep on this path. We need to pick up another 3 points against Atalanta tomorrow. It isn’t just the starting line-up that is important, but the whole squad. I am also part of the group that has won these past three matches in a row. I always try and help the team in every situation.”