Milan head coach Stefano Pioli said his side deserved to finish second in Serie A after securing their long-awaited Champions League return with a 2-0 win at Atalanta on Sunday.
Pioli’s Milan led Serie A in the first half of the 2020-21 season but faded, before restoring second spot, only to draw 0-0 at home with Cagliari in the penultimate round to leave their top-four hopes up in the air in a three-way fight with rivals Juventus and Napoli.
Franck Kessie scored a double from the spot as Milan got the decisive win to leapfrog Atalanta as Serie A runners-up and secure their first Champions League berth since 2013-14.
Kessie became the first player to score 10-plus penalties for Milan in a Serie A season since Zlatan Ibrahimovic in 2011-12.
“We achieved it because we deserved it and we deserved second place in the standings,” he told Sky Sport Italia.
“It was right, unfortunately we had thrown away last Sunday’s match point. I am really excited and happy.”
Milan’s runner-up placing was their best since finishing the 2012-13 Serie A season in third.
Pioli also hailed the Rossoneri for their collective effort to overcome the loss of veteran top scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic to injuries for large periods of the second half of the campaign.
“It is all we have done together, the strength not to break down in difficulties,” Pioli said. “I am very proud of the mental growth of the group.
“We played with Zlatan only 19 out of 38 games, taking away the champion from the other teams for half the season I would like to see what they would do.
“I also thought that if we were fifth it would be a difficult summer. Now we enjoy it and then we will leave again.”
— AC Milan (@acmilan) May 23, 2021
Milan also finished the 2020-21 league season with double the number of wins on the road compared to at home.
They set a new all-time record for away wins in a Serie A season: 16 – no side have ever done better in the top-five European leagues in a single campaign (16 also for Real Madrid in 2011-12 and Manchester City in 2017-18).
“We asked ourselves, we tried to evaluate this situation well,” he said. “We weren’t a team that made a lot of one-on-ones in the last quarter of the pitch.
“We miss the individual play when the teams close, in this data we are below average. We lacked some individual play. On the road, perhaps we found some more space, this is a situation that we will have to evaluate.
“I heard that this team took advantage of the absence of fans in the stadiums at least initially to find serenity, but I’m sure this team here with the enthusiasm of our fans at San Siro would have grown a lot.”