The Rossoneri needed a win to close the gap on the top four, especially after Lazio were held to a 2-2 draw by Lecce, but instead they were beaten 2-0 at the Stadio Picco by Przemyslaw Wisniewski bundling over the line from a corner and a Salvatore Esposito free kick.
It felt disconcertingly familiar to many Milan fans, as they have repeatedly dropped points to the minnows fighting against relegation.
“We lacked consistency during the game, we needed a higher tempo,” Pioli told DAZN.
“It was a balanced match, the first half was alright, but we lost our way in the second. It was not a performance suited to our capabilities.”
After the final whistle, the ultras called the entire squad over to the away end – including their coach – who stood while the fans gave a speech. What did they say?
“They pushed us and motivated us to give our best.”
It has been a disastrous week, losing 2-0 to Inter in the Champions League semi-final and the same result to Spezia, but the second leg is coming up on Tuesday.
“We are playing a game that can allow us to enter the history books. We must believe that we can beat Inter, but clearly only if we play our football with a level of focus, energy and quality. We have not been up to our standards in the last two games, we can play much better.”
Pioli acknowledges the Inter appointment weighed heavily over Milan as they travelled to La Spezia with a revamped squad.
“Naturally, the Champions League is on our minds and it is normal to be disappointed by the first leg, but we also knew how important today was. This result complicates our future, so it means we need an even better performance on Tuesday.
“There aren’t many more opportunities left to make this a positive season. We must believe that we’ve got a chance of beating Inter.”
While the Nerazzurri have a practically full squad to choose from, the injuries have been piling up for Milan and questions raised around their fitness training.
“I wouldn’t say that, because four days before the first leg, we had one of our best performances of the season against Lazio. The opening 20 minutes of the derby changed everything. We know that we must play more like we did in the second half.”
Rafael Leao was out against Inter and Spezia, but the Portugal international, Junior Messias and Rade Krunic all hope to return for Tuesday.
“We are doing everything possible to get them ready and today’s changes were also designed around that. If I do bring Leao in, I think he will start.”