(IN THE PHOTO: Mihajlovic alongside De Jong and Montolivo)
MILANELLO – Sinisa Mihajlovic faced the press on Friday ahead of Milan’s home match with Empoli. A reminder that the Serie A match kicks-off at 20.45 local time at the San Siro. The coach was joined in the press conference by club captain Riccardo Montolivo and the vice-captain Nigel De Jong.
Opening comments from the coach, starting with the return of Mario Balotelli and the addition of Juraj Kucka from Genoa: “Balotelli and Kucka are both available for the match. Balotelli is lacking in match fitness and hasn’t trained much, but he could be useful to us during the match. There is no questioning Balotelli’s potential as a player, his problem has always been a mental one, but he has made promises and I am sure that he will keep them. He has a moral commitment towards everybody, but I have seen him determined and he will now have to maintain those promises. He has always been a good lad, he knows he has made lots of mistakes and that this is the last chance for him. He has huge potential and I think that he’s realised that this is the moment to become a man. Kucka is a complete player and has experience in the Italian top flight. He is physically strong and he never gives up. He knows this is a big chance for him and he will make the most of it. We slipped up in Florence, but it was the hardest of the matches. We went there to win but were unable to. We now have to win our first league match at home. Empoli are an organised side, but we need to win. Balotelli will play when he is ready and if he deserves to. Let’s not put pressure on him.”
The coach reflected on Milan’s Serie A opener last week away at Fiorentina: “The first 35 minutes in Florence were balanced, we both had a chance each. We struggled versus Fiorentina, but at the moment they are one of the strongest sides. I would have liked to have seen the entire match played in 11 v 11. This season we have changed players and we have changed our playing style. We now need to win, convincingly. The President was left disappointed with the loss, just like the rest of us, but we’re calm. I always try and focus on my team, we know we are strong and that we need to improve.”
Mihajlovic will be forced into some changes for the visit of Empoli on Saturday and also focused on individual members of the Milan squad: “With Ely suspended, we will change a few of the players. Balotelli can also play behind the two strikers and not just in attack. Kucka is a wide midfielder. Montolivo is an important player for us, he is training regularly and we will try and choose the right moment for him to play again. I always like to have an alternative formation to our 4-3-1-2. We have Menez and Niang both injured at the moment, but when we have them fit again we will be able to play with an alternative 4-3-3 formation. It’s important to get the best out of the players. We have strengthened in the transfer market, but it will take time. We have lots of room for improvement.”
Closing comments from the coach: “In defence we are covered. I think that Milan’s activity on the transfer front is finished. We bought Kucka because he is a good player at a good price. He joins our squad and it is now down to him to show what he can do. Honda for now and with this formation plays where he has been playing: behind the front two strikers. He has the characteristics to also play as a wide midfielder but we haven’t as yet tried it seeing as we have lots of midfielders. He is a player that learns right away.”
RICCARDO MONTOLIVO”I’ve been penalised slightly by the coach’s choices in the past 2 matches, but individual interests come after the interests of the team. I always give my best, the coach rates me and that is what is important for me. I, like the others that aren’t playing, am trying to convince the coach to select me. The national team is certainly an objective I have in mind, but first I must and have to play well for Milan.”
NIGEL DE JONG”We have worked hard this week. We must win at home to Empoli and we want these 3 points. During pre-season we worked well but we still have lots to do this season. We gave a good performance versus Perugia, but we now have to do the same against all of the others. There are lots of players with experience in the changing room, the one with the captain’s armband out on the pitch is the skipper. We hope that we can finish amongst the top-three in Serie A, but we always take things one match at a time.”