Stefano Pioli praises Mike Maignan for the way he dealt with racist Udinese fans and explains why Rafael Leao’s ‘growth process has not finished yet’ at Milan.

It was an emotional night at the Bluenergy Stadium, as Ruben Loftus-Cheek had opened the scoring before Lazar Samardzic and Florian Thauvin turned it around.

Luka Jovic nodded in the rebound from an Olivier Giroud effort off the underside of the bar and Noah Okafor struck from a corner in stoppages to complete the 3-2 result.

However, the match was overshadowed by the fact referee Fabio Maresca halted play for five minutes with Milan leading 1-0 because of repeated racist abuse aimed at goalkeeper Maignan by Udinese supporters right behind his goal.

“Clearly, he was disappointed. I am proud to coach someone like Mike, who is so respectful, fair and proud. We’ve had enough of hearing certain things in the stadium – ignorant people have to stay home,” Pioli told Sky Sport Italia.

“We should’ve scored more than one goal in the first half, then out of nowhere conceded twice and it became difficult. This is proof that if you keep playing, keep believing in yourselves and your teammates, then you can turn it around. We expected it to be a tough and physical match, but we had the right approach and showed character to win it late on.”

The victory further consolidates third place, almost locking down a Champions League spot.

“We need to take it one game at a time, try to win as many as possible to be protagonists. Inter and Juventus are going at such a pace that it becomes difficult to look too far into the future, we just have to keep going and see what happens.”

Rafael Leao helped out in defence and seemed not quite so determined to score goals, but Pioli explained how the Portuguese talent is still developing.

“Rafa’s technical, tactical and mental growth process has not finished yet. The statistics show he is already a more associative player with key passes and assists, considerably more than in the past. We also changed our style, we control the game more and don’t go on the counter, so that leaves fewer spaces for Rafa to run into, he is learning how to break out from tight spaces too.

“These are all players with the quality to be at this level, but in order to be at Milan, you need the right attitude too. Everyone has to chase opponents down, fight hard and help out, this is how we can win as many points as possible.”

This was Pioli’s 100th Serie A victory on the Milan bench, so he was asked if he expects the next 100 to also be with the Rossoneri.

“I hope so. You don’t?” he smiled.

“You can ask questions and so can I!”

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