Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the ideal character to lead Milan into a new era of success, according to former Rossoneri hero Cafu.

Brazilian Cafu says Ibrahimovic's age should not be a problem either, with the 38-year-old already making a big impact in his second spell at San Siro.

The mid-season arrival of Swedish striker Ibrahimovic has given Milan fresh impetus and results have picked up significantly.

Last weekend's 4-2 defeat to Inter was their first in nine matches in all competitions since the resumption of the campaign following the mid-season break.

Milan responded to that setback with a 1-1 draw with Juventus in the first leg of the Coppa Italia semi-final.

It promises to be a gradual process to bring the seven-time European champions into contention to add to their former glories, but Cafu sees Ibrahimovic's role as possibly vital to making that happen.

Speaking ahead of the Laureus World Sports Awards, Cafu told Omnisport: "The impact is very great with the return of Ibra to Milan.

"We hope he can help Milan win big titles like we did in our day.

"He's a fantastic player, a sensational player."

Ibrahimovic won a Serie A title with Milan in 2010-11 and has also won league titles in Spain, France and The Netherlands. He lifted the EFL Cup and Europa League at Manchester United.

A couple of seasons with LA Galaxy in Major League Soccer do not appear to have affected his enthusiasm for a fresh European club adventure, and Cafu has no doubt the charismatic veteran has plenty to offer.

Two-time World Cup winner Cafu, who won Serie A and Champions League honours while playing for Milan in his mid-thirties, said: "Age does not matter.

"What matters is that he still wants to play, wants to grow and keep Milan great."

Stefano Pioli described mounting speculation over his future as Milan head coach as "normal" as he aims to end the season strongly despite rumours Andriy Shevchenko could replace him.

Milan have lost just one of their past nine games in all competitions, with the arrival of Zlatan Ibrahimovic in January having helped Pioli recover some of the ground lost in a dismal stretch either side of his October arrival in place of Marco Giampaolo.

But a run of two draws and a defeat in three games ahead of the visit of Torino in Serie A on Monday has returned the focus to Pioli's position.

Former Rossoneri and Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri was also mentioned in reports discussing potential appointments in the coming months.

"I know very well what my role is and how we have been very good at not getting carried away by rumours," said Pioli. "We have to do this until the end.

"We are in a great club, it is normal for there to be some talk. We must be very focused on our work.

"There is a lot of season remaining to do well; 45 points are available.

"I am not worried about my future and I am not even thinking about it. I want to try together with the team to exploit this situation."

Pioli started Hakan Calhanoglu in support of Ibrahimovic in Milan's 1-1 Coppa Italia draw with Juventus on Thursday and in his side's 4-2 derby defeat to Inter before that.

And the Rossoneri boss backed his decision to play a lone striker, rather than pairing Ibrahimovic with another forward such as Ante Rebic or Rafael Leao.

"We must strengthen the positive feelings and bring back the same spirit of the last few matches," said Pioli as he looked forward to entertaining Torino at San Siro.

"All game systems are good if the characteristics of the players are suitable for that system.

"We have the characteristics to play with this formation. We see that the team feels these positions and is very balanced and compact, as well as being very dangerous and shooting on goal more than the opponents."

Manchester City's two-season Champions League ban could be about to reverberate through the Premier League.

Pep Guardiola's future had been a topic of discussion prior to UEFA handing down sanctions for "serious" Financial Fair Play breaches and the loss of European competition has fuelled suggestions the Catalan could quit the club.

Media reports indicate City already have alternatives in mind, and their search for a successor looks set to pose problems for Premier League rivals.

 

TOP STORY – CITY EYE PEP REPLACEMENTS

Mauricio Pochettino and Brendan Rodgers are among the contenders to take over at City if Guardiola walks, according to The Telegraph.

The report states the pair "would be in the running" to become the club's next manager in the event their current boss decides to leave at the end of the season.

Ex-Tottenham manager Pochettino recently admitted he would "love" to return to the Premier League, telling the 'In The Pink' podcast: "It's going to be difficult, I know, and for now it's a moment to wait and we'll see what happens."

The Argentinian has been heavily linked to City's cross-town rivals Manchester United, while Rodgers is tied to Leicester City until 2025.

ROUND-UP

- Juventus-linked Guardiola might not be the only big name headed for the Etihad Stadium exit. The Sun claims Real Madrid will launch an "all-out assault" in a bid to sign Raheem Sterling.

- City could potentially even be docked Premier League points for the same Financial Fair Play breaches that compelled UEFA to act, says The Guardian.

- Meanwhile, over at Old Trafford, United have set their asking price for Paul Pogba at £130million, reports the Daily Star.

- As for potential arrivals, United are interested in Norwich City pair Todd Cantwell and Max Aarons plus West Ham midfielder Declan Rice, states the Daily Mail.

- Serie A side Milan are no closer to extending Gianluigi Donnarumma's deal beyond June 2021, according to Tuttomercato, and LaLiga title contenders Madrid are monitoring the situation.

- Sky Sport Germany continues to link former Bayern Munich boss Niko Kovac to manager-less Bundesliga outfit Hertha Berlin, who saw Jurgen Klinsmann leave earlier in the week.

Pep Guardiola will consider his future at Manchester City after the club were hit with a two-season Champions League ban.

City were handed the sanction – and a €30million fine – by UEFA on Friday for "serious breaches" of Financial Fair Play regulations.

The Premier League club have denied wrongdoing and intend to appeal the verdict, but they could face personnel problems if unsuccessful.

 

TOP STORY – GUARDIOLA TO CONSIDER MAN CITY FUTURE AFTER EUROPEAN BAN

Guardiola will consider his future as City manager at season's end unless the verdict is overturned, according to The Telegraph.

The Catalan – who has been linked with Juventus – is contracted until 2021 and had suggested previously he intended to honour his deal.

ESPN reports Guardiola is worried about how the ban will impact his players but does claim the former Barcelona coach would be willing to remain as long as he, personally, is happy.

ROUND-UP

- With Ole Gunnar Solskjaer still under some pressure at Old Trafford, Manchester United are favourites to land Massimiliano Allegri as manager, according to Sport Mediaset. Paris Saint-Germain, Milan and Roma are also reportedly interested in the former Juventus coach.

- Staying at Manchester United, the Manchester Evening News reports Leicester City star James Maddison wants a move to the Premier League giants. Maddison has been reported to be close to signing a contract extension at the King Power Stadium.

- With Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang coming out of contract at the end of next season, Arsenal may opt to sell the forward during the next transfer window. The Mirror reports Inter are hoping to sign Aubameyang, who has also been linked to Barcelona.

- Olivier Giroud is prepared to wait to make a decision on his future despite coming out of contract at season's end. The Telegraph reports the Chelsea striker has been offered a pre-contract by Lazio but is in no rush to make a decision after attracting interest from Tottenham in January.

- Inter and Napoli are set for a transfer battle. CalcioMercato reports Hellas Verona and Albania defender Marash Kumbulla is a target for both clubs, who will need to pay at least €20m for the 20-year-old.

Agent Mino Raiola has said it is not the time to discuss Gianluigi Donnarumma's future at Milan, while suggesting it will be dependent on the club showing sufficient ambition in their future plans.

Although he does not turn 21 until later this month, Italy international Donnarumma is into his fifth season as Milan's first-choice goalkeeper and has already played 188 competitive games for the club.

However, he has often been linked with a move away from San Siro and Raiola was non-committal when he was asked about his client's future following Milan's 1-1 Coppa Italia draw with Juventus - one of the teams to have been credited with an interest in Donnarumma.

"I don't want to talk about Donnarumma's future, I don't want problems. Donnarumma is happy with Milan," Raiola told reporters.

However, he then added: "The main target is to reach the UEFA Champions League. It would be important for him but also for Milan. We'll talk about it after Euro 2020.

"I don't know what Milan's plans are for the future. You guys are sure that Milan have great projects for the future but I'm not really sure of it. We'll see."

Raiola was also asked whether he hoped another of his clients, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, would remain at Milan next season.

"I hope [so]," he replied. "I cannot imagine football without Ibra. It would be so boring.

"I always think about [Ibrahimovic]. I am his biggest fan, after his father. His father is a bigger fan than me but than after his father it's me."

Maurizio Sarri said Juventus' "growth has stalled" but the under-fire head coach is not worried after the Serie A champions snatched a draw against Milan in the Coppa Italia.

Cristiano Ronaldo's controversial 90th-minute penalty saw Juve escape with a 1-1 draw away to 10-man Milan in the first leg of their semi-final showdown on Thursday.

Coming off a shock defeat at Hellas Verona, which allowed Inter to move top of the Serie A table last week, Juve were far from their best again as Milan impressed.

Ante Rebic's 61st-minute opener looked set to be enough for Milan to secure first-leg honours, until Davide Calabria was harshly penalised for a handball at the death – Ronaldo making no mistake from the spot.

Juve have only won one of their past four matches in all competitions but Sarri is not unconcerned as pressure mounts amid links to former coach Massimiliano Allegri.

"I am not worried, as the only real worries in life are your health. It seems a normal phase to be going through, it's unthinkable for a team to be in a continual ascent," Sarri told Rai Sport.

"This is a sport and so much depends on the physical and psychological conditions of so many players.

"Our growth has stalled a little in the last three weeks, we concede avoidable goals. Having said that, we've conceded only three more than the best defence in Serie A, so it's not that much of an issue."

Sarri added: "We did better in terms of our passing and playing out from the back but were lacking in the final third. It's a process and we are continuing.

"We have conceded some avoidable goals, for example today the cross was quite slow and - in my view - easy to defend. We were coming off a bad performance in Verona, but picked up a positive result, especially as it's the first leg."

Juve – 13-time Coppa Italia winners – will welcome Milan to Turin for the return leg on March 4.

Stefano Pioli was angered by the late awarding of a penalty to Juventus as his Milan side had to settle for a frustrating 1-1 draw in the Coppa Italia semi-final first leg at San Siro.

Ante Rebic's volley just after the hour deservedly put Milan ahead and preceded a red card for Rossoneri full-back Theo Hernandez.

It took until injury time for Juve to make the most of the extra man with Davide Calabria harshly pinged for blocking Cristiano Ronaldo's acrobatic effort with his arm in the area.

Ronaldo rifled in the spot-kick, but head coach Pioli felt the decision does not marry with a separate incident in a fixture between Cagliari and Brescia earlier in the season, which he says referees said should not have been awarded.

Speaking to Rai, Pioli said: "I got angry first and foremost because there was a foul on Zlatan Ibrahimovic earlier in the move. 

"Plus I remember the referees showed footage of that Cagliari-Brescia penalty at the start of the season and said it was an error to award it because the player couldn't see the ball.

"Here the situation is the same as Calabria couldn't see it. Alberto Cerri, in that situation, jumped and could not just cut his arms off, you have to use your arms when jumping."

Pioli, who saw Milan denied on several occasions by veteran goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, believes his team can be proud of their performance though.

"I told the players to leave the pitch without regrets. I can say, they will have no regrets. I am very proud of their performance, so are the Milan fans," he added.

"We wanted to get the victory, we were in a strong position to do so, but this is just the first leg and we'll try to do even better in the second."

Cristiano Ronaldo scored a last-gasp penalty to earn Juventus a scarcely deserved 1-1 draw against 10-man Milan in Thursday's Coppa Italia semi-final first leg at San Siro.

It was the prolific Portugal forward's athletic effort that struck the arm of Davide Calabria to earn the spot-kick, awarded after a VAR check, and he duly rifled home in added time.

Prior to the late drama, Milan had made the breakthrough just after the hour. Having been thwarted on several occasions by veteran Gianluigi Buffon, Ante Rebic finally scored before Theo Hernandez was sent off for a second bookable offence.

The Rossoneri were made to rue their missed chances, however, and face a tricky task in Turin to reach the final at the expense of Juve, who have a huge table-topping clash with Inter and a Champions League last-16 first-leg tie in Lyon among their fixtures before the return clash.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a "phenomenon" and will have the final say on whether to extend his stay at Milan, says director of sport Ricky Massara.

Veteran striker Ibrahimovic returned to the Rossoneri in January on a deal that runs until June with the option to extend his stay by a further 12 months.

Ibrahimovic, who won Serie A during his first stint with Milan, has scored three goals in six games across all competitions since re-joining and was in the starting line-up for Thursday's Coppa Italia semi-final first leg against Juventus.

Massara hailed Ibrahimovic's quality and said the Swede will be the one to decide his future.

Speaking to Rai Sport, Massaro said: "It'll ultimately be up to him, how he feels and how long he wants to continue.

"He truly is a phenomenon, and we are very happy with his performance."

Milan are 10th in Serie A after 23 games, 10 points adrift of the top four but only two away from Hellas Verona in sixth.

The Coppa Italia semi-final between Milan and Juventus will pit two of the greatest goalscorers of the modern era against each other.

Milan's Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Juve's Cristiano Ronaldo are set to renew acquaintances when San Siro plays host to Thursday's first leg.

Both Ibrahimovic and Ronaldo are in the latter stages of their careers, but the prospect of them sharing the pitch still adds an extra layer of intrigue to the occasion.

Here we look back at the previous meetings between two of world football's most feared finishers.

 

2009: Inter 0-0 Manchester United, Manchester United 2-0 Inter

Ronaldo got the better of Ibrahimovic and Inter in the last 16 of the Champions League as, after a goalless draw at San Siro in the first leg, the Portugal great headed United's second goal of the return to secure their progression.

2009: Barcelona 1-0 Real Madrid

Ibrahimovic left Inter for Barca at the end of the 2008-09 season, while Ronaldo made a then world-record move to Madrid following United's Champions League final loss to the Blaugrana. CR7 would again be frustrated by Barca as Ibrahimovic wrote his name into Clasico folklore with a superb far-post volley from Dani Alves' perfectly placed right-wing cross.

2010: Real Madrid 2-0 Milan, Milan 2-2 Real Madrid

Though Ibrahimovic lasted only one season at Camp Nou, he renewed acquaintances with Ronaldo in the Champions League group stages. Ronaldo set in motion a victory for Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu with a low free-kick from the edge of the area, but both players were held in check at San Siro in an entertaining draw.

2013: Portugal 1-0 Sweden, Sweden 2-3 Portugal

The second leg of the World Cup qualifying play-off between Sweden and Portugal proved unquestionably the best encounter featuring Ronaldo and Ibrahimovic so far, as they each delivered their best with a place in Brazil on the line. 

Ronaldo earned Portugal a 1-0 advantage in the first leg, and looked to have given them complete command of the tie five minutes into the second half in Solna. Ibrahimovic, though, turned the tie around with a headed equaliser followed by a rasping free-kick, only for Ronaldo to have the final say by superbly finishing off a counter and then emphatically converting from Joao Moutinho's throughball.

2015: Paris Saint-Germain 0-0 Real Madrid, Real Madrid 1-0 Paris Saint-Germain

The most recent meetings between the two featured no such fireworks as Madrid and PSG largely cancelled each other out across two Champions League group stage encounters, with Nacho scoring the goal that ultimately proved decisive in Los Blancos topping the group.

Manchester United or Chelsea?

The two Premier League giants are reportedly going head-to-head in the race to sign Borussia Dortmund teenager and England international Jadon Sancho.

And the Manchester club feel they can prise the 19-year-old to Old Trafford.

 

TOP STORY – UNITED BELIEVE THEY CAN PIP CHELSEA TO SANCHO

Manchester United are confident they will beat rivals Chelsea to the signing of in-demand Borussia Dortmund star Jadon Sancho, claims The Mirror.

Sancho is reportedly keen on returning to England, where the 19-year-old played for Manchester City's youth team before joining Bundesliga outfit Dortmund in 2017.

Dortmund are apparently willing to offload Sancho at the right price and Premier League giants United believe they can prise the England international to Old Trafford in a deal worth £120million (€142.5m).

 

ROUND-UP

- Will Mauricio Pochettino land at Old Trafford? According to journalist Duncan Castles, the former Tottenham manager is determined to take charge of United . His representatives are reportedly confident of convincing United's hierarchy that Pochettino is the right man for the job as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer struggles, with the Red Devils eighth in the Premier League.

- The Sun reports United are set for a double swoop to sign Aston Villa star Jack Grealish and Leicester City attacker James Maddison . Grealish has reportedly given the go-ahead for a move to Old Trafford, while Maddison has apparently been in talks over a contract extension with Leicester.

Marcelo Brozovic to Real Madrid? Mundo Deportivo says the Inter and Croatia international midfielder is wanted by the LaLiga giants. Madrid have also been linked to United's Paul Pogba and Ajax star Donny van de Beek

Barcelona have been told it will take €35m to sign Willian Jose from Real Sociedad, reports Marca. Barca are looking to strengthen their attack following long-term injuries to Ousmane Dembele and Luis Suarez.

- According to The Express, Tottenham boss Jose Mourinho is plotting a £120m transfer spree at the end of the season. Benfica defender Ruben Dias is a target, as well as Norwich City's Max Aarons, Bournemouth centre-back Nathan Ake and Leicester full-back Ben Chilwell.

Stefano Pioli is contracted to Milan until 2021 but the head coach – who replaced Marco Giampaolo at the start of the campaign – is no certainty to continue beyond this season. According to Calciomercato, Elliott Management want Ralf Rangnick but Paolo Maldini is reportedly pushing for former Milan striker and current Ukraine boss Andriy Shevchenko.

- Football Insider claims Liverpool are set to offer star defender Virgil van Dijk a new £50m deal amid reported interest from Serie A champions Juventus.

Romelu Lukaku said Inter demonstrated their never-say-die mentality after the Serie A title hopefuls produced a stunning comeback to beat Milan 4-2 in the Derby della Madonnina.

Inter trailed 2-0 at half-time but produced a memorable fightback to leapfrog defending champions Juventus atop the table in the race for the Scudetto.

Goals from Marcelo Brozovic, Matias Vecino, Stefan de Vrij and Romelu Lukaku ensured Milan was painted blue in honour of the Nerazzurri as the Rossoneri collapsed at San Siro.

"We did really well during the second half. They played well during the first half, as we left them too much space and we struggled," Lukaku, who netted his 17th league goal of the season to complete the scoring in stoppage time, told Sky Sport Italia.

"However, we came out well after the interval. We completed the comeback and we're delighted with the win. I think that everyone has seen this team's mentality, we never give up and we're always looking to win.

"I'm here to win and my only aim is to help the team get results. I want to thank all of the fans, my team-mates, Mister [Antonio] Conte and all of his backroom staff for the support that they're giving me."

Inter were outplayed in the first half before rallying in the second 45 minutes and De Vrij told Inter TV: "The coach made us understand what he wanted and where to improve during the break, fortunately we scored two goals in quick succession and we were back in the game. We won.

"The goals were incredible feelings and memories that will last forever. Winning is a unique feeling. It's tight in the table so we have to continue like this and win our games. We'll start focusing on Napoli now because it won't be an easy game on Wednesday."

Antonio Conte believes "everything will depend on Juventus" in the Serie A title race despite Inter moving top of the table with Sunday's Derby della Madonnina win.

A second-half comeback saw Inter recover from 2-0 down to beat Milan 4-2 in a pulsating derby at San Siro.

Marcelo Brozovic, Matias Vecino, Stefan de Vrij and Romelu Lukaku scored in the second half, moving Inter level on points with Juventus.

But Conte said the title was not in Inter's hands, with Juve chasing a ninth straight Scudetto.

"It is a dream for us, as well as for Lazio. It can be like that also for Atalanta or Roma," the Inter head coach told a news conference.

"We are talking about a championship dominated by one team over the years that fully deserved to win.

Conte added: "Everything will depend on Juventus. I have heard also some Juventus players saying so.

"At the same time, we must be ready."

Goals from Ante Rebic and Zlatan Ibrahimovic had put Milan in control before Inter's fightback, with Conte's side drawing level just eight minutes into the second half.

Conte said Inter's improved depth was helping, having added Christian Eriksen, Ashley Young and Victor Moses to his squad in January.

"Honestly, we never had major physical problems," he said.

"The only issue is that in the first part of the season we had to play mostly with the same players.

"When the same people play every three days it is inevitable that you will pay a price in terms of physical condition.

"Today, we have the chance to make some more turnover."

Stefano Pioli vented his anger after Milan collapsed in an absorbing 4-2 derby defeat to Scudetto hopefuls Inter in Serie A.

Leading 2-0 at half-time thanks to Ante Rebic and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Milan conceded four goals in a stunning second half at San Siro on Sunday.

Milan were on track for their first Derby della Madonnina victory in Serie A since 2016, until two goals in as many minutes from Marcelo Brozovic and Matias Vecino levelled proceedings within eight minutes of the interval.

Inter exposed Milan defensively as Stefan de Vrij and Romelu Lukaku earned bragging rights for Antonio Conte's side and sent the Nerazzurri top of the table.

Unbeaten in seven matches prior to the derby, Milan head coach Pioli told Sky Sport Italia: "I am angry with my players, because we had some defensive duties in those situations and the moment we let it go, we were punished.

"It's a real pity, as we were in control and outplaying a strong team, making it look like there was never a 19-point gap between us. We had defensive duties and we did not perform them.

"It was absolutely our best first half of the season, but we lost a derby that we had been winning, and we must build on the qualities we showed in that first half. The match must be analysed on the whole.

"We cannot leave Brozovic unmarked on the edge of the box and we cannot allow Alexis Sanchez to spring the offside trap. These are things we know and ought to do properly.

"I have to be angry, I have to be upset, because I need to get it into the minds of these players that they are capable of great things if they avoid those errors."

Pioli, whose 10th-placed Milan almost snatched a 3-3 draw in the closing stages via Ibrahimovic's header which hit the post, added: "The first half saw our strategy work very well and perhaps we deserved to be more than 2-0 up.

"Unfortunately, those two incidents where we should've done much, much better changed the game on a level of mentality. Conceding two goals in three, four minutes made all the difference.

"We had the chance at the end to equalise 3-3 with Ibra, but we were too distracted on the goals. Inter are a much more experienced team than us and more accustomed to playing certain games, so they got back into it. We were also unfortunate, as we hit the woodwork twice."

Zlatan Ibrahimovic said Milan "stopped playing" as the star striker lamented the Rossoneri's collapse after they surrendered a two-goal lead against city rivals Inter in a thrilling Derby della Madonnina.

Milan's 2-0 half-time lead was wiped out in a matter of minutes by Serie A title hopefuls Inter, who turned the derby on its head with four unanswered goals to sensationally win 4-2 at San Siro on Sunday.

Ibrahimovic provided the assist for Ante Rebic's 40th-minute opener before becoming the oldest Serie A goalscorer in Milan derby history in first-half stoppage time.

Milan, however, were unable to hold on against Inter – who produced a stunning comeback to leapfrog defending champions Juve atop the table.

"It's difficult to explain what happened," the 38-year-old Ibrahimovic told Sky Sport Italia after scoring his third goal since returning to Milan in January.

"At half-time we told ourselves, the first 15 minutes going back out there will be crucial, and in that 15-minute spell we conceded two goals.

"We stopped playing, the team stopped believing, we stopped pressing, didn't pass it around enough. From the equaliser onwards, everything collapsed.

"I think a lot of it is down to experience, because you must know how to control a game at 2-0 up, not just winning at the end.

"It's strange, because our first half was practically perfect. I expected more from Inter and the first-half performance did not look like a team worthy of second place. They did after the break."

Inter are ahead of Juve on goal difference after 23 games, while Milan are 10th and 10 points adrift of the Champions League places.

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