Stefano Pioli did not see any shortage of commitment from his Milan side in the 1-1 Serie A draw with Udinese, but conceded the quality was lacking.
Franck Kessie scored a 97th-minute penalty with the last kick of Wednesday’s encounter at San Siro, as Milan’s title hopes took another hit – Inter now have the chance to move six points clear should they beat Parma on Thursday.
Milan’s equaliser came courtesy of a remarkable error from Jens Stryger Larsen, who inexplicably handled in the area as Udinese looked to see out what would have been just a second away win in their last eight league matches on the road.
The Rossoneri were without their talisman Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who is set to miss up to three weeks with a thigh injury, and Milan head coach Pioli acknowledged his team were missing the “characteristics” the 39-year-old brings, while also bemoaning Mario Mandzukic’s absence.
“We wanted to win, it’s a shame,” Pioli told DAZN. “We knew that it would be difficult against a team with everyone behind the ball.
“I saw determination and a lack of clarity. There was a lack of quality and rhythm, not anger and determination.
“We start again as always with the next match. Each game has its own story. On Sunday we found an opponent who wanted to play, Udinese instead play this [defensive] type of game.
“Today we lacked the right characteristics to face this type of match, we lacked the two real strikers in the squad. [Rafael] Leao and [Ante] Rebic have other characteristics.
“Now we must try to resume our run. A half positive result, let’s think about the next game.”
— OptaPaolo (@OptaPaolo) March 3, 2021
Leao and Rebic both struggled to assert themselves against Udinese’s three-man defence.
Rebic – the second-highest scorer in Serie A in the back half of the season (since January 29), behind Inter’s Romelu Lukaku – failed to have an attempt on goal or create a chance, while Leao only tested Juan Musso with a tame flick late in the first half.
Pioli did not look to single out his attackers, however, though he acknowledged Leao in particular has a lot to add to his game.
“I always expect a lot from my players,” Pioli said. “Rafa has characteristics more suited for attacking spaces.
“When he finds a closed defence, he still doesn’t have the shrewdness to anticipate the defender.”
Ibrahimovic was watching on from close to the bench and was seen looking disgruntled at Milan’s display.
“We didn’t come out of this game satisfied, he’s like everyone else,” Pioli explained.
The good news for Milan is that, in Kessie, they have a midfielder on 10 goals in all competitions this season, though nine of them have come from the penalty spot.
Kessie’s cool finish, timed at 96:20 was the latest Milan have scored in Serie A since 2017, while the Ivory Coast international has now netted 25 league goals in total for the Rossoneri – matching Robinho’s tally.