Pioli says dressing room photo helps keep AC Milan players motivated

·2-min read

(Reuters) - Stefano Pioli revealed that a photograph of AC Milan's epic Europa League playoff victory over Rio Ave is pinned up in the dressing room to motivate the players, ahead of his side's Serie A clash with Napoli on Sunday.

Pioli's team overcame the Portuguese side with a 9-8 shoot-out victory on Oct. 1 to reach the group stages of Europe's second-tier competition, having started their campaign in the second qualifying round against Irish outfit Shamrock Rovers.

The coach was asked about the photo after his side earned an impressive 1-1 draw against Manchester United at Old Trafford in the Europa League last-16 first leg on Thursday.

"Over the course of a season there are a lot of difficulties to overcome and we've used them to motivate ourselves, to wake ourselves up, to grow," Pioli told a news conference.

"That photo reminds us of a particular night, it's useful to understand the steps that we've taken to get here."

Second-placed Milan have matched European progress with a surprise Serie A title challenge this season and trail leaders Inter Milan by six points ahead of Napoli's visit to San Siro.

Pioli revealed that his squad's injury crisis has cleared a little as Theo Hernandez, Hakan Calhanoglu and Ante Rebic are ready to return. However, Davide Calabria, Alessio Romagnoli, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Mario Mandzukic and Ismael Bennacer remain unavailable.

Napoli, coached by former Milan great Gennaro Gattuso, come into the game on a four-match unbeaten run and nine points behind their hosts in sixth place.

"Napoli play nice football, they have quality and they're compact. We're expecting a complicated game against one of the best teams in the league," Pioli said.

(Reporting by Alasdair Mackenzie; Editing by Christian Radnedge)