Pioli determined to seal Champions League qualification in style with win over Salzburg

By Sports Desk October 25, 2022

Stefano Pioli will set his Milan side out to qualify for the Champions League round of 16 in style by beating Salzburg in a decisive San Siro showdown next week.

The Rossoneri moved above Salzburg into second place in Group E on Tuesday with a 4-0 demolition of Dinamo Zagreb at Stadion Maksimir.

Matteo Gabbia opened the scoring with his first Milan goal, heading in a Sandro Tonali free-kick, and the Serie A champions ran away with it in the second half.

Rafael Leao's solo strike doubled their lead, and Olivier Giroud added a third from the penalty spot before a bizarre Robert Ljubicic own goal completing the scoring, with Dinamo's hopes of qualifying emphatically dashed.

Milan now only need a point to advance along with group winners Chelsea, who beat Salzburg 2-1, but head coach Pioli will not be taking a cautious approach to such a crucial game against the champions of Austria at San Siro next Wednesday.

He said: "Two out of three results are not a double-edged sword. We are not mentally and tactically built to manage, we have to play our best to get the win."

The Rossoneri finished bottom of their group last season, and Pioli believes reaching the last 16 would show the strides they have made.

He added: "I think it is clear that our growth comes from qualification. We have to play with our mentality, and it is the next step, where we would show that we are doing better than last year.

"We must close the discussion next Wednesday without forgetting the championship. We need concentration for the league match against Torino [on Sunday]. Then we will have the time and attention necessary to take care of the next Champions League match in the best possible way."

Pioli praised centre-back Gabbia, who was rock solid at the heart of the Milan defence after coming in to replace the suspended Fikayo Tomori.

"I continue to be convinced of the strength of my group," he said. "I emphasise Matteo's seriousness, but also his skills. He has a sense of position, physicality and skill in aerial duels."

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    Blue cards are set to be dropped from sin bin trials planned by football’s lawmakers. the PA news agency understands.

    The cards were set to be unveiled as the method used to signal a temporary dismissal in trial protocols originally scheduled for publication on February 9, a move which would have marked the biggest change in managing player discipline in the professional game since the introduction of red and yellow cards for the 1970 World Cup.

    However, there was a largely negative reaction when reports about blue cards surfaced on the eve of publication, and the International Football Association Board, which sets the game’s laws, opted to delay publication of the protocol.

    The cards are now set to be scrapped following further talks between IFAB’s directors on the eve of the organisation’s annual general meeting in Loch Lomond, PA understands.

    The trial itself has not been revoked, but it is expected it will take place at a much lower footballing level than was anticipated by the original February 9 protocol, which was set to encourage applications from all but the very top-level competitions.

    The Football Association, one of the five bodies which makes up the IFAB, was understood to have been interested in running a trial in the men’s and women’s FA Cups in the future, before the furore around blue cards.

    There is also set to be further talks on Saturday about whether any sin bin trial should include tactical fouls, as well as dissent. Under the original protocol, all players on the pitch, including goalkeepers, can be temporarily dismissed.

    Sin bin trials were one of four protocols set for publication last month before the blue card story broke.

    The IFAB is also seeking to trial allowing referees the option of creating a ‘captain-only zone’ around them when they feel threatened or intimidated, and a trial where referees can send teams to their respective penalty areas to cool off in the event of mass confrontations.

    All of these, including the sin bin protocols, are ultimately intended to improve player behaviour at higher levels, something FIFA president Gianni Infantino has said is essential to set the right example to young players and ensure people still feel safe, and encouraged, to be referees.

    Another trial that had been set for publication on February 9 concerned how long goalkeepers can handle the ball, and how play should restart when they hold on too long.

    Currently keepers can hold on for six seconds and anything over that is supposed to be penalised with an indirect free-kick, but lawmakers are concerned this is not being properly enforced which is why a trial has been developed.

    The management of head injuries is also on the AGM agenda.

    The World Leagues Forum and world players’ union FIFPRO have again written to the IFAB asking for permission to trial temporary concussion substitutes, something which was again rejected at last year’s AGM in London.

    The player union and domestic league in Scotland, this year’s host nation for the AGM, are among those seeking the right to conduct such a trial.

    “From our perspective, we have a responsibility to those former players who are sadly living with dementia,” PFA Scotland chief executive Fraser Wishart said.

    “But we also have to take responsibility as a game – whether it’s the unions, leagues, the government bodies – for current players and future players, to minimise the chances, as much as we possibly can, of players getting dementia. We’re involved in this initiative because we do feel that temporary concussion subs are the next step forward.”

    Trials of permanent concussion substitutes were first approved by the IFAB in December 2020.

  • Blue cards and sin bin trials set for further discussion by football’s lawmakers Blue cards and sin bin trials set for further discussion by football’s lawmakers

    Sin bin trials featuring blue cards will be the subject of further discussion by the game’s lawmakers on Friday and Saturday.

    The sin bin protocols, which would involve players being dismissed for 10 minutes for dissent and tactical fouls, had been signed off by the directors of the International Football Association Board (IFAB) and were ready for publication on February 9, at which point competitions would have been able to apply to conduct a trial.

    However, the plug was pulled on publication that morning following media reports about blue cards the previous day.

    FIFA issued a statement on the evening of February 8 saying the reports concerning a blue card at elite levels of football were “incorrect and premature”.

    “Any such trials, if implemented, should be limited to testing in a responsible manner at lower levels, a position that FIFA intends to reiterate when this agenda item is discussed at the IFAB AGM on March 2,” the statement concluded.

    Sin bins have already been tested successfully in grassroots and youth football, but the PA news agency understands the intention of the protocols which were pulled at the last minute had been to test them at much higher levels, with the only exception being senior national team competitions and the highest domestic league in any country, where a team had the ability to qualify for a continental competition.

    The idea had been that the protocols could be introduced to the very top level once refined. All players on the pitch, including goalkeepers, could be sent to the sin bin under the original protocol, PA understands, but substitutes and coaching staff could not be.

    Fouls such as the cynical tug by Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini on England’s Bukayo Saka in the Euro 2020 final was set to be a sin bin offence within one of the protocols, PA understands.

    FIFA’s statement last month contrasted with comments from the chairman of its referees committee Pierluigi Collina at the IFAB annual business meeting last November.

    The Italian said at the time: “The trial was very successful in a grassroots competition. Now we are talking of a higher level, very probably professional or even high professional football.

    “We need to draft something that works or is worthy for top football.”

    The Football Association, one of the five bodies which makes up the IFAB, was understood to have been interested in running a trial in the men’s and women’s FA Cups in the future.

    It is not clear whether the sin bin trial protocols will be published in the same format planned on February 9 following Saturday’s annual general meeting at Loch Lomond, but pitched at lower-level competitions than originally intended, or whether the protocols themselves will be reworked and publication delayed beyond this weekend.

    A first meeting is due to take place on Friday evening ahead of the AGM itself on Saturday morning.

    The introduction of sin bin trials and the blue card at any level of the professional game would mark the biggest single shift in player discipline since the introduction of red and yellow cards for the 1970 World Cup in Mexico.

    The IFAB had also been poised to publish details of a trial which gave referees the option of creating a ‘captain-only zone’ around them when they felt threatened or intimidated, and one giving the referee the option to send teams to a cooling-off area in the event of mass confrontations.

    All of these had the intention of improving player behaviour, something FIFA president Gianni Infantino has said is essential to set the right example to young players and ensure people still feel safe, and encouraged, to be referees.

    Another trial that had been set for publication on February 9 concerned how long goalkeepers can handle the ball, and how play should restart when they hold on too long.

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    The management of head injuries is also on the AGM agenda.

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    Trials of permanent concussion substitutes were first approved by the IFAB in December 2020.

  • Stefano Pioli urging Milan to be more ruthless as they chase second-placed Juve Stefano Pioli urging Milan to be more ruthless as they chase second-placed Juve

    Stefano Pioli called for his AC Milan side to be more “cynical” in front of goal ahead of their Serie A trip to Lazio as they look to turn the heat up on second-placed Juventus.

    Milan were held to a 1-1 home draw by Atalanta in their last fixture – having lost to Monza and Rennes in their previous two matches – leaving them four points behind Juve in the Serie A standings and just five ahead of in-form Bologna in fourth pace.

    The Rossoneri will now be eager to get back to winning ways against Lazio on Friday and coach Pioli wants his side’s performance to be consistent, calling for additional cutting edge up front.

    “We want to produce the same performance as last week whilst aiming for a different result,” Pioli said on his club’s website.

    “We analysed the positives after Atalanta but also tried to understand why we couldn’t score one more than them because we had the chance to. We need to be more cynical”.

    Lazio have lost three of their last five Serie A matches, winning the other two, and will also be keen to get back on track after surrendering a half-time lead to lose 2-1 at Fiorentina last time out.

    That was the second time in three matches Lazio have ended up empty-handing after taking the lead, and left them eighth in the table, eight points off the top four.

    Pioli believes Maurizio Sarri’s “motivated” team will bring the fight to them at the Stadio Olimpico, where Lazio are playing only their second home match in six league outings.

    Pioli also ruled out resting any of his players ahead of next week’s Europa League last-16 first leg at home to Sparta Prague.

    “They (Lazio) are a team with great quality that comes off the back of an unsatisfactory performance,” said Pioli.

    “They will be motivated but can also be thrown off by playing with intensity. The game against Slavia Prague will be very important, we are studying them but are fully focused on Lazio.

    “Then we will have an almost full week, there won’t be changes in Rome in order to rest players. I believe that both sides will try to play with different ideas. The midfield battles will be very important”.

    While Milan will still hold hope of overhauling Juve in second spot, Pioli concedes that city rivals Inter are unlikely to be caught by any team.

    Runaway leaders Inter sit 12 points at the top of the table having won 22 of their 26 matches this season, losing just once and conceding only 12 goals.

    Pioli said: “I think that the top spot in the league is decided, Inter are recording incredible numbers as Napoli did last year.

    “April 21 (Milan derby) is too far away. We have a big game ahead of us and there are various goals to meet before we think about the derby.”

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