Stefano Pioli will have been very relieved at the end of AC Milan‘s 1-0 victory over Sassuolo which allowed his side to cement their third place, keeping their three-point advantage over Fiorentina and increasing the gap over reigning champions Napoli.
However, he won’t have been able to relax for long, knowing that his every move is being watched very closely by a fan base that feels this team should be performing so much better than it is.
Christian Pulisic‘s winner at the beginning of the second half stopped Sassuolo‘s three-game winning streak at the San Siro against the Rossoneri, and it enacted some sort of revenge for when the Neroverdi thumped Milan 5-2 on their last visit in January.
AC Milan’s win over Sassuolo wasn’t all plain sailing
The latest match between the two sides was a much cagier affair than the 5-2 win for Sassuolo as it was between two toothless sides that looked worried to take any risks.
While Milan were eventually rewarded for their pressure, scoring through one of their only two shots on target of the game, their overall display highlighted several areas of concern.
Despite having the chance of finally relying on his almost-ideal starting lineup, except for Theo Hernandez having to play at centre-back, Pioli’s tactical instructions made his side look much more concerned about losing rather than determined to win.
The Rossoneri’s decision to pass the ball around the defence and midfield was presumably aimed at triggering Sassuolo‘s press so that spaces would be created, but with Alessio Dionisi‘s side also playing in a passive manner, the hosts were often forced to play hopeless long balls.
Is Stefano Pioli still trusted at AC Milan?
More than anything else, it was the players’ lack of conviction in this gameplan which made Milan look vulnerable despite facing an out-of-form side who won their last Serie A game more than one month ago.
It begs the question of whether Pioli is still a trusted coach within the changing room, as Milan‘s recent tendency to crumble and drop points even when things go in their favour was shown by their lack of confidence.
The opening weeks of the new season will still be tense for Pioli, as one defeat could easily see the pressure reach a new level. The three points were very helpful, but longer-term improvements are needed.
Dionisi urged to address Sassuolo’s inconsistency
The turn of the year will also mark a crucial time for Dionisi, whose stint at Sassuolo has been marked by inconsistency and lows that his predecessors rarely reached.
Despite having defeated Juventus and Inter in the space of a week back in September, the Neroverdi have since picked up a single Serie A win against Empoli and now sit just two points clear of the relegation zone.
Following a 2022/23 season that saw Sassuolo lose as many as 17 games, their worst record since 2018, Dionisi is yet to repay the faith shown in him.