Stefano Pioli praised Zlatan Ibrahimovic for his brace against Bologna and said the forward could star when Milan are at their best.

Ibrahimovic, 38, scored a brace as Milan started their Serie A season with a 2-0 victory at San Siro, where Bologna's Mitchell Dijks was sent off late on Monday.

Pioli lauded the forward, but said Ibrahimovic could only shine if Milan were functioning well.

"When the team works, the individuals are exalted and we have great individuality, then Zlatan is a champion and confirms it every time," the Milan coach told Sky Sport.

"The team has confidence, he knows how to play even in difficulties. He knows how to sacrifice himself.

"Then the technical qualities are there and I'm happy that we are able to exploit them."

Milan battled to a sixth-place finish in Serie A last season and are preparing to face Norwegian side Bodo/Glimt in the Europa League third qualifying round on Thursday.

Pioli hopes his team can improve on that finish, saying: "We have to be ambitious.

"Our goal is to continue to grow and improve the position of the last championship.

"We want to return to Europe, we have a difficult preliminary and then we will prepare the championship at its best."

Zlatan Ibrahimovic joked he is like Benjamin Button after he got his Serie A season started with a double in Milan's 2-0 victory over Bologna.

Ibrahimovic scored a superb header and a fantastic penalty to secure a winning start for Milan, and take his tally of goals for the season to three from two games in all competitions.

The 38-year-old went close to netting a perfect hat-trick with a left-footed effort from a tight angle, though had to settle for a brace which took his total of goal involvements in opening-day fixtures across Europe's top five leagues to 16 in as many appearances.

In typical Ibrahimovic fashion, the former Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester United star boasted he would have scored more if he was younger, comparing himself to Benjamin Button, the fictional creation of F. Scott Fitzgerald who ages backwards.

"I am in good shape, I am working, this is the second competitive game of the season," Ibrahimovic told Sky Italia.

"We won and I could've scored more. If I was 20 years old, I'd have scored another two. I am not old, I am like Benjamin Button, I start old and die young!

"Kidding aside, the team worked well, we are not at 100 per cent and therefore made some mistakes we usually avoid, but it bodes well.

"I like having responsibility. The biggest pressure is what I put on myself. I don't want people to talk about my age, I want to be treated at the same level as everyone else. It doesn’t matter if I am 38, I want to be treated like someone aged 20 and do the same work."

Ibrahimovic scored 10 Serie A goals after re-joining Milan in January last season, helping Stefano Pioli's side secure European football, and he said the Rossoneri's target for this campaign is simple.

"The objective is to do better than last season," he added. "The young players are working hard, they listen, they have discipline and after the last six months know what they need to do in order to do well, stay concentrated every day.

"This year, we have to take it one game at a time, play with confidence and treat every match like a cup final."

Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored twice as Milan started their Serie A campaign with a convincing 2-0 victory over Bologna, who ended Monday's clash at San Siro with 10 men.

Having finished 2019-20 in excellent form, Milan picked up where they left off with Ibrahimovic's double securing their first opening-day win since 2017-18.

The 38-year-old netted in the Europa League against Shamrock Rovers on Thursday and broke the deadlock with an excellent header 35 minutes in.

His second came from the spot six minutes into the second half after Riccardo Orsolini fell foul of VAR and Bologna finished the game with 10 men after Mitchell Dijks saw red in the 88th minute.

Milan played themselves into trouble inside the opening two minutes and were fortunate Roberto Soriano's effort was deflected wide.

Ibrahimovic was inches away from getting off the mark 10 minutes later, before the veteran set up a great chance that Ismael Bennacer blazed over from close range.

Yet Ibrahimovic made no mistake with the next opportunity, directing a brilliant header into the bottom-right corner from Theo Hernandez's cross.

Half-time substitute Alexis Saelemaekers made an immediate impact as he teed up Ibrahimovic, but Lukasz Skorupski made a solid save.

Milan were quickly handed a chance for their second, though, when VAR spotted Orsolini's foul on Bennacer, which had been given as a free-kick, actually took place in the box and Ibrahimovic slammed the penalty high into the right corner.

A perfect hat-trick looked a certainty when Ibrahimovic rounded Skorupski, but the Swede sliced his effort over.

Milan settled for the two-goal cushion and Bologna's frustration was compounded when Dijks received a second booking for a foul on Saelemaekers.


What does it mean? Milan back among the big guns

It has been a difficult string of seasons for Milan but, under Stefano Pioli, they finally look to have rediscovered their verve. With Atalanta (47) not in action until Saturday due to their Champions League exploits at the end of the last term, the Rossoneri – on a 13-match unbeaten run in the top flight – have picked up more points (48) than any other Serie A side in 2020.

Ibrahimovic's opening-day run rolls on

In opening games of a season within the top five European leagues, Ibrahimovic has now been involved in 16 goals in as many appearances, scoring 12 times and providing four assists.

Leaky defence leaves Bologna in bother

After Monday's defeat, Bologna have not kept a clean sheet in any of their past 34 Serie A matches - the longest such run for any team in the competition's history.

What's next?

Norwegian side Bodo/Glimt are Milan's opponents in a Europa League qualifier on Thursday, while Bologna face Parma in Serie A in seven days.

Stefano Pioli has challenged Milan to hit the ground running at the start of the new Serie A season as they aim for a top-four finish.

The Rossoneri finished the 2019-20 campaign impressively, producing a 12-game unbeaten run in the league to rise up to sixth spot, enough to secure Europa League qualification.

Their fine form during the run-in also led to a new contract for Pioli, who acknowledges there will now be added pressure this term.

While a title tilt may be a tall order, the Milan boss revealed his determination to avoid losing ground on their main rivals ahead of Monday's opening fixture against Bologna.

"If we want to finish in the top four, we need to start well," Pioli told the media. "We can't be chasing the whole time.

"Starting with a win is vital, which is why we're focusing on tomorrow's match. The Scudetto? I don't know. It's difficult to give a response at this time."

Milan, who last ended a season in the top four in 2012-13, have added Brahim Diaz and Sandro Tonali to their squad, while Zlatan Ibrahimovic has also signed a new contract to remain at San Siro.

Asked about the rise in expectations following such a strong finish to the previous campaign, Pioli replied: "Being under pressure is a privilege, it means that we've reached a high standard.

"Our objective is to improve on our position last year - we need to be ambitious, we're AC Milan."

Pioli saw his side triumph 2-0 in a Europa League qualifying tie against Shamrock Rovers in midweek, Hakan Calhanoglu playing a starring role.

The Turkey international scored his team's second goal and has built up a strong partnership with Ibrahimovic, who was also on target.

"Calhanoglu is someone who knows how to play on the pitch," Pioli said. "He's developed an important understanding with Ibra, they know how to attack the lines and the space in behind.

"Calhanoglu has lots of quality and is also a selfless player. He has all the cards at his disposal to do well and continue to be a point of reference."

Sinisa Mihajlovic has tested positive for coronavirus, Bologna have confirmed.

In a statement, the Serie A club said their head coach was "absolutely asymptomatic" after the results of the swab test.

Mihajlovic will now begin two weeks in isolation, in line with national guidelines in Italy.

Bologna also tested their primavera team, with all of those coming back negative.

The first-team squad and coaching staff are due to be tested on Monday.

Mihajlovic was diagnosed with leukaemia last year and spent time away from the Bologna bench to undergo a bone marrow transplant.

He signed a contract extension until 2023 in June.

The 2020-21 Serie A season is due to begin on September 19.

Gian Piero Gasperini has been given a one-match touchline ban, which will be served when Atalanta face Milan, after he was sent off against Bologna. 

The 62-year-old was dismissed following a heated exchange of words with opposite number Sinisa Mihajlovic in Tuesday's 1-0 win at Stadio Atleti Azzurri d'Italia. 

Mihajlovic escaped with only a booking and the Italian Football Federation confirmed in an official report that Gasperini's second yellow was issued for "vehemently protesting" the first one. 

He will now be suspended for Friday's trip to fifth-placed Milan, who will be without banned duo Ismael Bennacer and Theo Hernandez. 

Speaking after the Luis Muriel-inspired victory over Bologna, which lifted Atalanta into second, Gasperini attempted to play down his spat with Mihajlovic. 

"Let's move on immediately and talk about the match and Atalanta," he said at his post-match news conference.  

"It was a difficult match. We are always fair, and it wasn't me who had to be sent off." 

Stefano Pioli said he needed to manage Zlatan Ibrahimovic after the Milan star looked angry at being substituted against Bologna.

Ibrahimovic provided an assist before being taken off just after the hour-mark of the 5-1 Serie A victory at San Siro on Saturday.

The 38-year-old appeared annoyed at being substituted, but coach Pioli said he was simply managing Ibrahimovic.

"He said something, but honestly I didn't understand. It's also normal," he told DAZN.

"I have to manage him, playing so much I need everyone to be well."

Alexis Saelemaekers, Hakan Calhanoglu, Ismael Bennacer, Ante Rebic and Davide Calabria were on the scoresheet for Milan.

Sitting sixth in Serie A, Milan are unbeaten in nine games since returning from the coronavirus-enforced break and Pioli is happy with his side's form.

"The team is having fun and this is positive. We played a high-level game, we were good," he said.

"It means that we are well and we have gained confidence."

Milan are in action again on Tuesday, when they take on Sassuolo.

Alexis Saelemaekers and Ismael Bennacer scored their first goals for in-form Milan as they thrashed Bologna 5-1 to go sixth in Serie A.

The Rossoneri extended their unbeaten run to nine matches to stay on course for a Europa League spot, outclassing their former coach Sinisa Mihajlovic's Bologna side at San Siro on Saturday.

Saelemaekers put them in front and Hakan Calhanoglu capitalised on a howler from goalkeeper Lukasz Skorupski to double the Rossoneri's lead as they knocked the ball around with a swagger.

Takehiro Tomiyasu pulled one back late in the first half with a rasping strike, but goals from Bennacer and Ante Rebic in the space of eight minutes put Milan out of sight.

Davide Calabria added a fifth in the closing stages to cap a magnificent performance from Milan.

Milan swarmed forward from the start and they were in front after 10 minutes, Rebic showing great trickery before backheeling to the onrushing Theo Hernandez, whose cross was fired into the far corner first time by Saelemaekers after a clever dummy from Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Rebic came close before Skorupski gifted Milan a second goal, the goalkeeper’s attempted clearance following a backpass from Riccardo Orsolini allowing Calhanoglu to drill home 24 minutes in.

Milan were rampant and Franck Kessie rattled the post, but Bologna were back in it courtesy of a great finish from Tomiyasu, who cut inside and fired into the top corner from 20 yards just before the break.

The Rossoneri resumed control after the break, though, Bennacer slotting home after being played in by Calhanoglu and Rebic turning sharply before finishing with his left foot after 57 minutes having been set up by Ibrahimovic.

Kessie had a shot cleared off the line and Federico Santander was unable to pull one back with an indirect free-kick inside the penalty area at the other end.

Calabria swept home his first goal of the season in stoppage time to round off a brilliant move involving Rafael Leao and put the icing on the cake.

 

Stefano Pioli will not allow talk about Milan's future to distract from the job in hand this season.

The Rossoneri are in a fine run of form, unbeaten in seven Serie A games since the restart having taken 17 points from those fixtures to leave them firmly on course for a place in next term's Europa League.

However, talk of Ralf Rangnick replacing Pioli has persisted throughout, with the German having reportedly already agreed to take charge at San Siro after this campaign.

From Pioli's point of view, what matters is the final five Serie A games, starting with a home clash against Bologna on Saturday.

"The work that we've done is ongoing," he told reporters.

"Naturally this process couldn't produce results immediately. In the past we've produced some excellent results but we weren't able to take all of the chances that we've created. We have become a team. It's taken time, but that's only natural. 

"I think there are a number of different factors that have contributed to the fact that the team are exactly that - with balance, with different positions, with players with different characteristics.

"We've worked very hard, moving towards new ideas, new positions and a new way of setting up.

"Now that we've become a team, we need to stay united, stay together because we're still talking too much about our future, but this, here and now, is still too important."

Zlatan Ibrahimovic's future is another topic of discussion as the 38-year-old is out of contract following this season.

He played 90 minutes on Wednesday in a 3-1 win over Parma and Pioli will assess the Swede's fitness in Friday and Saturday training sessions before deciding if he can start a fifth successive game. 

"Today's training session as well as tomorrow morning's session will be very important," Pioli added. 

"I don't think we need to ask Zlatan if he's fit because if you ask him you always have a sure answer that he feels fit and firing, but so do all of his team-mates.

"I'll make a decision based on the starting XI and also above all based on the fact that we need to make sure we have quality substitutes available with specific attributes."

Antonio Conte hopes Inter players feel at least "one per cent" of his disappointment following their 2-1 Serie A defeat to Bologna at San Siro on Sunday.

Inter had forged ahead in the first half courtesy of Romelu Lukaku before Bologna's Roberto Soriano received a red card for dissent after 57 minutes. 

Lautaro Martinez could have all but wrapped up the win from the penalty spot five minutes later but Lukasz Skorupski kept out his tame effort.

That gave the impetus to the visitors, who roared back to steal a stunning winning thanks to goals in the final 16 minutes from Musa Juwara and Musa Barrow, either side of a red card for Inter's Alessandro Bastoni.

Conte, who spent close to an hour in the changing room with his side before talking to the media, could not hide his frustration and says his players should be angry at their display.

"The disappointment is enormous, at least as far as I'm concerned," he told reporters. "I hope this disappointment that I feel is also felt by the players for at least one per cent. 

"I am angry at myself because I'm the manager. I have my responsibilities; I am the one who directs the situation and it is right that I am very angry first of all with myself. Then I think that the players must also be with themselves."

The setback leaves Conte's side four points behind second-placed Lazio and just one ahead of Atalanta in the battle for Champions League qualification.

Conte is under no illusions that he is expected to win trophies at Inter and says he fully expects to be scrutinised when things do not go well.

"Situations are evaluated only by facing them," he added. 

"For me this is the first year of working with Inter and I have taken a situation with many situations to improve. At the same time, I also say that it is right to challenge everyone, me first. 

"I was brought here for a winning project and to bring Inter back to winning things. Clearly, the victory does not come overnight, but many situations leave a lot of bitterness. You think you are at a level and instead you are at a much lower level. 

"From here to the end we will all have to prove that we deserve Inter. Otherwise it is right to make other decisions too."

Lautaro Martinez's missed penalty cost Inter dearly as Bologna staged a superb second-half comeback to seal a stunning 2-1 win at San Siro on Sunday. 

Romelu Lukaku had given Inter a first-half lead with his 20th Serie A goal of the season before Bologna's Roberto Soriano received a red card for dissent after 57 minutes. 

Martinez then squandered a golden opportunity to make it 2-0 five minutes later, striking his attempt from the spot straight at Lukasz Skorupski. 

The visitors took full advantage of that reprieve, scoring through Musa Juwara and Musa Barrow inside the final 16 minutes to seal a memorable away win over the Nerazzurri, who had Alessandro Bastoni dismissed for two bookable offences.

Juventus head coach Maurizio Sarri said criticism of the Serie A champions was "excessive" after his team resumed their league campaign in winning fashion.

Juve marked their return to Serie A action following the coronavirus-enforced break with a 2-0 victory over Bologna at Stadio Renato Dall'Ara on Monday.

The spotlight had been on Juve after their penalty shoot-out defeat to Napoli in the Coppa Italia final last week – pressure building on Sarri and the Italian giants.

But first-half goals from Cristiano Ronaldo and Paulo Dybala ensured Juve bounced back to move four points clear of second-placed Lazio, who have a game in hand against Atalanta on Wednesday.

"In football and in life there are opinions and there are facts," Sarri told Sky Sport Italia following Juve's first top-flight fixture since March 8.

"If you listened to the opinions, you'd think this team was falling to pieces. If you look at the facts, we're top of the table.

"The criticism was excessive and that can act as motivation for us to get back in shape mentally even more than physically, which might take a little longer."

"Having top level individual players means they can resolve the game for you at times," said Sarri, who had substitute full-back Danilo sent off in stoppage time.

"But we need to put the whole team in a situation where they can give their best, but also that we can continue working when the star names are either absent or off form.

"It's inevitable they will have some days when they're not as sharp, we need other options."

Sarri added: "We were sharper physically tonight, as we kept up the tempo and intensity for 70 minutes, whereas in the Coppa we fell away after 20-30 minutes."

Juve welcome lowly Lecce to Turin on Friday.

Cristiano Ronaldo was on target as Juventus marked their return to Serie A action with a 2-0 win over Bologna at Stadio Renato Dall'Ara on Monday.

Maurizio Sarri's side shrugged off the disappointment of their Coppa Italia final defeat to Napoli last week, Ronaldo setting them on their way from the penalty spot in the 23rd minute in their first top-flight game since March 8.

Dybala added a superb second before half-time, whipping into the top corner from outside the penalty area, while Ronaldo and Federico Bernardeschi came close to adding further goals after the interval before Danilo was sent off in stoppage time.

The result moves the reigning champions four points clear of Lazio at the Serie A summit, although Simone Inzaghi's side will have the chance to cut the gap back to one point when they travel to Atalanta on Wednesday.

Juve started on the front foot, with Ronaldo forcing Lukasz Skorupski into a smart stop inside the opening 10 minutes.

The forward got the better of the Bologna goalkeeper midway through the opening period, though, slotting down the middle from the penalty spot after a VAR review deemed that Stefano Denswil pulled Matthijs de Ligt's shirt from a corner.

The visitors doubled their advantage in sumptuous style nine minutes before the break, Dybala sweeping into the top corner from 20 yards after a superb backheeled flick by Bernardeschi.

Ronaldo prodded wide shortly after the restart when clean through, while Bernardeschi crashed a 20-yard effort against the post moments later.

Juve were content to play out the second half at a pedestrian pace, though a Ronaldo effort fizzed past the post.

Ronaldo then saw a late strike ruled out for offside, while substitute Danilo received his marching orders in stoppage time after picking up a second booking for a foul on Musa Juwara.

 

What does it mean? Bianconeri back to their best

Juve had failed to score in both of their Coppa Italia matches since returning to action following the lengthy absence caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

They were back to their ruthless best against Sinisa Mihajlovic's side, however, putting the game to bed by half-time thanks to Ronaldo and a sublime strike from Dybala.

Dybala too hot to handle

The Argentina international was a handful for the Bologna defence throughout, bamboozling them with incisive movement and an array of smart touches. His eighth league goal of the season was one to savour.

Bologna rue Denswil's lapse

The hosts' hard work keeping Juve at bay was undone by a moment of madness from Denswil. His tug on De Ligt's shirt was unnecessary and proved costly when Ronaldo put away the penalty.

What's next?

Sarri's side host struggling Lecce on Friday, while Bologna travel to Sampdoria on Sunday.

Maurizio Sarri has emphatically dismissed rumours of a row with Miralem Pjanic as Juventus prepare to resume their Serie A campaign. 

A story in the Italian media claimed the Juve boss had a disagreement with the midfielder - who has been heavily linked with Barcelona - during a training session ahead of the game against Bologna on Monday. 

However, Sarri made clear on Sunday that there has been no clash between the pair, revealing he has a good relationship with Pjanic and branding the report fake news. 

The 30-year-old was allegedly set to be dropped but Juve are lacking options in midfield; Aaron Ramsey is still not ready to play 90 minutes, according to his coach, while Sami Khedira is sidelined. 

"The story of my quarrel with Pjanic is one of the biggest hoaxes of the season," Sarri told Sky Sport in Italy.  

"I talk a lot with Miralem, maybe he is one of the guys with whom I have more discussions and a better relationship. Pjanic has done the same as the team in these last two games - made a good start and then subsequently dropped off.  

"For tomorrow's game, let's see how he is and then we'll decide.  

"Of course we don't have many other solutions in that role at the moment. Ramsey is more likely to play in part of the game, rather than for 90 minutes." 

Juve have played twice already since the action restarted in Italy following the suspension of the season due to the coronavirus pandemic.

They drew at home with Milan to progress in the Coppa Italia, only to lose on penalties to Napoli in Wednesday's final in Rome.

Now their focus switches back to the league, Sarri's table-topping squad holding a one-point lead over Lazio as they bid to be crowned champions for a ninth straight season.

"The first games are the most dangerous, because there are no certainties about the teams' responses," Sarri said ahead of the trip to opponents who sit in 10th place.

"Bologna are doing very well, playing good football. We have to hold them in high regard, play a shrewd game and hope to go up a level."

Bologna head coach Sinisa Mihajlovic has signed a contract extension until June 2023.

Mihajlovic was diagnosed with leukaemia ahead of the 2019-20 season and underwent a bone marrow transplant in October. He was back in the dugout six weeks later.

The Serbian had two years left to run on his deal but agreed to an extension with Bologna 10th in Serie A, which will resume this weekend having been suspended amid the coronavirus pandemic, with 12 games remaining.

They sit five points adrift of Europa League qualification and two away from seventh, which will also provide a route into continental football next season if Juventus win the Coppa Italia, or if Napoli claim the trophy and finish in the top six.

Mihajlovic was present for Bologna's first game of the season in August despite spending the month prior in hospital undergoing treatment.

Bologna will play their first game in almost four months at home to reigning champions Juve on Monday.

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