AC Milan boss Stefano Pioli claims Empoli will represent tougher opponents than Chelsea ahead of their much anticipated Champions League showdown later this month.
The former Fiorentina and Inter boss has masterminded the Rossoneri’s revival following his appointment three years ago with Milan’s which culminated in last season’s Scudetto success.
Milan will head to Stamford Bridge looking to build on their victory over Dinamo Zagreb earlier this month which has put them in a commanding position in Group E.
Chelsea, by contrast, have made a disappointing start to their European campaign with defeat in Zagreb, which proved to be the final game of Thomas Tuchel’s tenure, and a home draw against RB Salzburg leaving the Blues with an uphill task to qualify for the knockout stages.
Milan, currently fifth in Serie A, face Empoli four days before their trip to west London but Pioli feels their domestic rivals will offer more of a threat than their upcoming Premier League opponents given the tight turn around following the international break.
He said: ‘I don’t think there’s that much difference between playing well in Italy and in Europe. The Champions League does require a higher tempo, but nothing impossible.
‘I understand there are expectations around the Chelsea games, but I maintain the most difficult match for us will certainly be against Empoli.
‘When we go into that fixture, I’ll have welcomed the players back from international duty only two days earlier.
‘I trust that if we play at our usual levels, then results against Chelsea are certainly within our reach.’
He added: ‘We are trying to improve our level even more after last season, but Serie A is a well-balanced league and everyone has levelled up with reinforcements, so we want to stay in the group fighting for the title to the end.
‘Our performance against Napoli was of a high level, but the fact we didn’t pick up points means we can and must do better in some situations.
‘I do feel at home at Milan, and when you feel at home, you don’t want to even consider other options. We have many things still to do, but I am absolutely not worried about my contract or my future.
‘Milan’s objective is to be competitive and to win silverware. We want to continue improving, as we remain a young side, but have the confidence that can allow us to aim for the top.’