Stefano Pioli outlines how Milan dealt with the ever-changing Napoli tactics, why playing as a centre-back improved Theo Hernandez and the futility of Scudetto regrets.

The Rossoneri had not won this fixture at San Siro in Serie A since December 2014, including three defeats in the last three encounters, so it was not to be taken for granted.

Milan have as many points after 24 rounds as they did at this stage during the Scudetto-winning campaign, the only difference being that Inter and Juventus have done far better.

“I don’t know if this is the best we could’ve done. We’ve been doing well in the last month and a half, almost at the level of an Inter side who are having an incredible campaign,” Pioli told DAZN.

“There’s no point looking back, we have to move forward, try to keep picking up points in Serie A and in the Europa League. That will not be easy, as the resources will be stretched.”

While Napoli had a huge double chance in the final minute, including Jan-Carlo Simic risking an own goal off the upright, Milan had wasted opportunities to double their lead earlier.

“We will analyse the match carefully, but we know that games are never completely over with us. It was in a way good that we won like this, because we showed great defensive solidity and determination to win the game. That is an important sign.”

Davide Calabria limped off with a muscular problem in the first half, while Ismael Bennacer had cramp when he was substituted late on. Can either of them recover to face Rennes in the Europa League play-off on Thursday?

“Isma was just tired, I think, as after all he was coming off an injury and the Africa Cup of Nations. Calabria has an adductor issue, we’ll see over the next few days. Malick Thiaw returns, but I doubt he will be available from the start.

“We want to get an advantage in the first leg of that tie for the trip to France.”

Napoli shifted tactics several times during the game, starting with a new 3-5-1-1 that had Kvicha Kvaratskhelia given a free role behind striker Giovanni Simeone.

“Mazzarri had also chosen a three-man defence in previous games, then surprisingly returned to four against Verona, so to be honest we were not sure how they were going to play.

“I think we had good positions in the first half and closed the spaces, then when they moved to 4-3-3 created a few more dangerous situations, pushing the midfielders up too.

“We were prepared for both systems, but I think we should’ve been more aggressive against their four-man defence. We sat a bit too deep and that is dangerous when they have that much quality in attack.

“I had many meetings with the players over the last few weeks, demanding they show more concentration and be more solid in defence, less ready to immediately press high. The strikers also need to send the signal and spark attacking moves to be accompanied.

“Tonight’s Milan was balanced, organised and above all worked hard, as Napoli forced us to work hard, and we did not hold back. Keeping a clean sheet in those circumstances should give us more confidence going forward.”

Theo Hernandez is looking back to his best marauding down the left flank after a couple of months filling in as a central defender.

“Theo had put himself at our disposal as a central defender and he did it very well indeed, but naturally he has such a great rapport with Leao down the left, they know each other so well, can sniff each other out.”

The France international has shown a newfound maturity this season and Pioli believes he can keep growing.

“I think Theo struggled last season to get over the disappointment of the World Cup Final defeat, the strain of a tournament that was in the middle of the season. I was not sure how he would be mentally this season, but he was very positive. He has become a leader for this team, not one who talks that much, but with his attitude.

“I think the games he played as a centre-back also showed him how much more focused, aggressive and important he can be when defending, and he is taking that into his role as a left-back now.”

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