Stefano Pioli explains what Milan got wrong and what they were ‘not expecting’ from Roma in the Europa League, but insists a victory to turn the quarter-final around would ‘not be a huge undertaking’ for them.

The Rossoneri were considered the favourites going into this quarter-final, not just because they were on home turf and are second in Serie A compared to the Giallorossi in fifth, but also as they have more European experience and dropped into this tournament from the Champions League.

Instead, Gianluca Mancini was allowed a relatively free header from six yards and it wasn’t until late on that the hosts woke up, with Mile Svilar pushing a Yacine Adli effort onto the crossbar and Olivier Giroud hitting the woodwork from close range.

“We had a few problems in the first half, should’ve made more courageous choices, instead we allowed Roma too much space. We created a few chances, but conceded on a corner and they were smarter than us in that situation, these are things that can weigh on a tie,” Pioli told Sky Sport Italia.

“Then we didn’t have the same sharpness and style that we had recently. A draw would’ve been the right result, but there is a second leg where the team can do better and sort some things out.”

Roma surprised Pioli by moving former Milan left-sided winger Stephan El Shaarawy on to the right flank.

“Honestly, we did not expect El Shaarawy on the right, but it didn’t make much difference. They were trying to create less space for Theo and Leao, but we moved it over to the other side and developed moves there. We had lots of shots, but without that quality and precision we needed at this level.

“I liked the second half more, certainly, we were more solid and alert. You need to take more risks against a quality opponent, that’s what we did, and we just lacked that moment in front of goal to at least get a draw.”

Pioli was asked which risks did he think his team was not taking enough of in this match.

“The plan had been to be aggressive with Giroud and Leao on their central defenders. We knew that Dybala would go behind our midfielders to create numerical superiority and we needed a defender to break that.

“At the start, we were too focused on putting two against Lukaku, so that forced Bennacer and Reijnders to be two against three. We didn’t win the ball back enough, we had a high press, but it wasn’t aggressive, that was the mistake. It was different to how we had prepared it, we did better after the break.”

Rafael Leao was jeered off the pitch by some Milan fans after his performance, which was largely anonymous.

“I am not worried. I expect all of us to prove we are a great team. It won’t be easy to overturn this result, only a strong team can do it, strong mentally, tactically and technically – we can do it.

“We need to do better. I won’t say it has to be a huge undertaking, because winning away to Roma should not be considered a huge undertaking for us, but we can certainly do better.”

Pioli was booked for dissent just before the Mancini goal, as he felt Romelu Lukaku was offside when Roma won the corner, while there were also some doubts over Tammy Abraham nodding another corner onto his arm.

“I prefer to talk about football than referees, but it seemed as if Lukaku’s offside on the corner that led to the Roma goal was pretty obvious. As for Abraham, he wanted to head the ball, but he didn’t, he got it with his hand.

“In any case, it was an error on the Lukaku run, we got the timing of the tracking back wrong. We played a decent game, but not a good one, and you need a good game at this level. We hope to do better next Thursday.”

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