Soccer-Europa League exertions weighing on tired Milan, says Pioli

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Serie A - AC Milan v Napoli

MILAN (Reuters) - AC Milan coach Stefano Pioli said his team was suffering from fatigue after their midweek European exploits at Manchester United as they suffered a 1-0 Serie A loss to Napoli on Sunday.

The defeat left Pioli’s second-placed side nine points behind leaders Inter and came three days after they recorded an impressive 1-1 draw in a Europa League last 16, first-leg tie.

“The Europa League is more tiring than the Champions League, we got back at 3am on Friday morning,” Pioli told Sky Italia.

“We want to be there, I’m not making excuses, but it’s clear that it weighs on us.

“We started our season in September, but character is what counts. This is a defeat that hurts us. We’re second in the table and we want to stay there, even if that wasn’t our original objective.”

Pioli has also had bad luck with injuries as top scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic is unavailable as well as captain Alessio Romagnoli, Simon Kjaer, Davide Calabria, Mario Mandzukic and Ismael Bennacer.

Ante Rebic, Theo Hernandez and Hakan Calhanoglu returned against Napoli but Pioli said the selection issues he had faced had not helped with their Serie A title challenge.

“We are talking about players who give us important technical quality and a communicative presence,” he said.

“We’ve had a lot of games without our centre-forwards Ibrahimovic, Mandzukic and Rebic, so the team must only be praised.

“We could have done more in the opposition’s box, but you can’t change the characteristics of the players.

“Think about Inter without Romelu Lukaku, Lautaro Martinez and Alexis Sanchez, or Juventus without Cristiano Ronaldo and Federico Chiesa.

"We’ve played for a long time without Ibra and Rebic and yet we’re still up there.”

(Reporting by Alasdair Mackenzie; Editing by Ken Ferris)