AC Milan boss Stefano Pioli has called on his side to meet a pivotal stage of the season “head on”.

Milan host Czech side Slavia Prague on Thursday in the first leg of their Europa League last-16 tie.

They go into the match on the back of a last-gasp 1-0 win at Lazio in Serie A, their first victory in four matches.

“We didn’t play at our best, technically, at the Olimpico, but we showed great character,” Pioli said at his pre-match press conference.

“The only game we let ourselves down in was against Monza, but over the last few months and in this recent period the team has kept up a certain level.

“The decisive part of the season is upon us and we’re ready to meet it head on.”

Milan dropped into the Europa League after finishing third in their Champions League group behind Borussia Dortmund and Paris St Germain.

“The Champions League is no longer part of our campaign after a few details got away from us,” Pioli added.

Italy Soccer Serie A

“Now, we must focus on just doing well in this competition. We must have the mindset that we can win the trophy.

“Firstly, we will need to be at out best to get through this round and take it one step at a time, albeit with awareness and enthusiasm.

“We have to make the most of home advantage; it is a key period of the season because it’s not easy for anyone to be competitive in Europe and in the league.

“Slavia lost only to Roma in the group stage. They are an intense, direct and energetic team. They play with three players up top – all close to each other – and like to threaten in behind; they have strong and physical forwards.

“It’s not the badge that goes out onto the pitch, but the players and they have reached the quarter-finals twice in recent years. We respect our opponents.”

French midfielder Yacine Adli knows Milan are among the favourites to lift the trophy in Dublin in May.

He said: “We know we’re coming up against a strong side. We’re playing the first leg in front of our fans and we’ll try to bring an intensity onto the pitch from the first minute.

“When AC Milan play in any competition, the aim is to always go and win it; we have a big opportunity. We are a top side and we want to prove it.”