Stefano Pioli says a "magical air" at Milan has enabled the Rossoneri to become a force again ahead of the Serie A clash with Parma on Sunday.

Milan are four points clear at the top of Serie A and qualified for the last 32 of the Europa League as Group H winners with a 1-0 victory at Sparta Prague on Thursday.

Seven-time European champions Milan have not won the scudetto since 2011, but they have been transformed under Pioli.

The head coach feels he took over a club finally ready to challenge for honours once again.

He said in a press conference on Friday: "I felt like a big family as soon as I set foot in Milanello. The club is making important efforts to allow us to work well. Here you can breathe a unique, almost magical air. 

"Here you are always motivated and you are driven to give your best day by day. The club supports us in every way to make us work at our best.

"I think we made the leap in quality when we started beating the teams that were ahead of us in the standings. From there we have further strengthened, never being satisfied but always trying to grow and improve."

Zlatan Ibrahimovic (hamstring) and Simon Kjaer (thigh) will not be risked when Milan, unbeaten in Serie A, go in search of a fifth consecutive win in all competitions at the expense of Parma at San Siro.

Pioli revealed the key duo could return for the trip to Genoa next Wednesday.

"Ibra and Kjaer are proceeding well in recovering from their injuries, their desire is to be there on Wednesday against Genoa," he said. 

"However, the staff and I must evaluate their conditions well, we too hope to have them as soon as possible but we must not risk anything."

Paolo Rossi's World Cup winning team-mates carried his coffin into the cathedral for his funeral and thousands gathered on the streets of Vicenza to pay tribute to the Italy legend on Saturday.

Rossi, the leading scorer and best player in the tournament in the Azzurri's 1982 World Cup triumph, died this week at the age of 64 following a long illness.

Thousands flocked to Vicenza's Stadio Romeo Menti, where Rossi's coffin could be seen by the public, on Friday to pay their respects.

Many lined the streets as the former Juventus, Milan, Vicenza and Hellas Verona striker's body was transported to the Santa Maria Annunciata Cathedral.

There was applause from those who gathered outside before Marco Tardelli, Alessandro Altobelli, Antonio Cabrini and Giampiero Marini were among those to carry the coffin into the cathedral.

Franco Baresi, Paolo Maldini and Roberto Baggio were also among the mourners on an emotional day.

Rossi's son Alessandro carried the coffin - which had an Italy shirt with the number 20 and Rossi's name on the back, along with a Vicenza scarf, draped on top of it - out of the cathedral with members of the 1982 World Cup squad following the ceremony.

The funeral was also shown live on television in Italy.

Erling Haaland continues to dominate headlines.

Haaland's exploits for Borussia Dortmund has reportedly attracted interest from Europe's elite.

Will he decide between the two Manchester giants?

 

TOP STORY – HAALAND WANTED IN MANCHESTER

Manchester United and neighbours Manchester City are set to go head-to-head to sign Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland , according to the Daily Mail.

Haaland is one of the most sought-after players in Europe, linked with Real Madrid , Liverpool , Barcelona , Bayern Munich , City and United.

The Norway international snubbed United for Dortmund in January but the Red Devils remain interested, while City view Haaland as a long-term replacement for Sergio Aguero .

 

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- The Guardian reports Salzburg sensation Dominik Szoboszlai  is poised to join sister club RB Leipzig in the Bundesliga. Arsenal , Milan , Inter and Napoli have all been linked to the 20-year-old, but Leipzig are set to pay his €25million release clause in January.

Inter are interested in Udinese duo Rodrigo De Paul and Juan Musso , claims Calciomercato. Musso is seen a long-term replacement for Inter goalkeeper Samir Handanovic, while the Nerazzurri must raise funds if they are to prise De Paul from Udinese.

- Marca says Bayern star David Alaba is edging closer to a move to Madrid . Alaba is out of contract at season's end, with the likes of Barca , City , Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain targeting the Austria international.

- Bild reports United midfielder Paul Pogba is putting pressure on agent Mino Raiola to find a new club, otherwise he will seek a new representative. Former club Juventus are reportedly favourites to lure Pogba back to Turin amid speculation of a swap deal involving either Paulo Dybala or Cristiano Ronaldo . Madrid are also a possible destination.

Is a blockbuster swap deal on the horizon?

Paul Pogba is unhappy at Manchester United, and Juventus are believed to be keen on re-signing the Frenchman.

Juve's Paulo Dybala could be used as a makeweight to prise Pogba back to Turin, where he played between 2012 and 2016.

 

TOP STORY – DYBALA OUT, POGBA IN AT JUVE?

Juventus want to swap Paulo Dybala for wantaway Manchester United star Paul Pogba, according to Tuttomercatoweb journalist Tancredi Palmeri.

Pogba appears set to leave United after his agent stated the star midfielder's time at Old Trafford was "over" prior to Tuesday's Champions League defeat to RB Leipzig.

The World Cup-winning France international has been heavily linked with a return to Juve, while LaLiga champions Real Madrid are long-term admirers.

But Juve – looking to re-sign Pogba without paying a transfer fee in January – hope to tempt United with attacker Dybala, who has also been linked to Inter, Paris Saint-Germain, Arsenal, Tottenham, Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool.

 

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- Diario AS claims Madrid are set to choose between Pogba and Rennes sensation Eduardo Camavinga. Los Blancos head coach Zinedine Zidane prefers Pogba, while president Florentino Perez would rather Camavinga move to the Santiago Bernabeu due to the difference in salary demands. United and PSG are also believed to be eyeing Camavinga.

Juventus, Milan and Atletico Madrid are looking to sign Lazio's Joaquin Correa, reports Calciomercato. It will reportedly take between €50m-€55million to prise Correa away from the Italian capital.

- According to Calciomercato, Serie A duo Milan and Juve are battling Barcelona to sign Chelsea defender Antonio Rudiger.

Paul Pogba's time with Manchester United appears to be coming to an end.

Agent Mino Raiola said Pogba – who re-joined the Red Devils from Juventus in 2016, having left in 2012 – is unhappy at United amid growing speculation over his future in Manchester.

Does a move to Real Madrid await the France international?

 

TOP STORY – POGBA EYEING MADRID

Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba wants to join Real Madrid, according to Eurosport.

Pogba appears set for an Old Trafford exit after his agent Mino Raiola said his time at United is "over".

The World Cup-winning France international has since been linked with LaLiga champions Madrid, former club Juventus and Ligue 1 holders Paris Saint-Germain.

 

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Cristiano Ronaldo could return to United, reports Auto Esporte. The Juventus superstar has been linked to former club United and PSG, but Red Devils sponsor Chevrolet are willing to help finance a transfer.

- RMC Sport claims PSG star Kylian Mbappe will spurn a move to Madrid in favour of remaining with the Ligue 1 holders. Mbappe has been tipped to swap PSG for Madrid, though the France international has also been linked to Liverpool.

Barcelona sent scouts to watch Benfica forward Darwin Nunez, says Sport. The 21-year-old has impressed since arriving from Almeria at the start of the season.

- Premier League clubs Arsenal and Tottenham are battling to sign Milan midfielder Franck Kessie, reports Calciomercato.

Eduardo Camavinga has notified his new agent that he wants to leave Rennes, claims Diario AS. The France sensation has been linked to Madrid, United and PSG.

RB Leipzig are in pole position to sign Salzburg's Dominik Szoboszlai but Calciomercato says Milan remain in contact.

Stefano Pioli hailed the growing maturity of his Milan players in the absence of injured striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

The Rossoneri strengthened their grip on top spot in Serie A with a gritty 2-1 victory at Sampdoria on Sunday thanks to goals from Franck Kessie and Samu Castillejo.

Milan secured the win without talisman Ibrahimovic, who is nursing a hamstring injury but expected to return soon.

The experienced Swede has scored 10 goals in six Serie A games this season, and his presence was missed against Sampdoria, but Milan managed to get the job done in Genoa.

"I continue to be surprised by the maturity of these players," Pioli told Sky Italia.

"Even though it was probably the youngest side we've had all year. They never let themselves get downhearted by bad results or go overboard with good ones, they really impressed me.

"We all know how much Zlatan has helped us to improve and everyone wants him back as soon as possible, but every player contributed here.

"I told the lads we are a real team. This is a group that makes the most of every situation, even the most negative, to prove what they can really do.

“It's the first time we were missing Ibra, Simon Kjaer and Ismael Bennacer, who are leaders of the side, but they used this opportunity to prove they could keep the team going.

"It means we have the enthusiasm and the energy to face down every challenge.

"These lads give their all throughout the week, these are the most difficult games after the Europa League, so winning them when we are considered the target for many other clubs, that is satisfying and we should celebrate."

Milan have won eight of their first 10 Serie A games to go five points clear of Inter at the top of the table.

In the previous 86 seasons in the competition, the Rossoneri had won more games at this point of the season only in 1954/55 (nine matches).

However, Pioli admitted Milan can feel rivals for the Scudetto breathing down their neck.

"I believe this weekend’s results show the strongest teams are coming, they are closing up," said the Milan head coach.

"I am convinced Inter, Juventus and Napoli are still going to be challenging all the way to the end.

"How can you think Juve aren't favourites after they won for nine years in a row? Or Inter with their investments, or Napoli with their talent?”

Milan conceded from a corner against Sampdoria when Albin Ekdal squeezed the ball in, and Pioli acknowledged his side have a tendency to switch off at set-pieces.

"The last goal we conceded from open play was against Napoli," he added.

"We need to be more focused on set plays. It's true we’re not the tallest squad, but I think we had more chances from dead-ball situations than Sampdoria did.”

Milan strengthened their grip on top spot in Serie A with a 2-1 win over Sampdoria on Sunday thanks to goals from Franck Kessie and Samu Castillejo.

Ivory Coast midfielder Kessie gave the Rossoneri the lead from the penalty spot after Jakub Jankto handled inside the area.

Spaniard Castillejo scored with his first touch of the game to notch Milan's second before Albin Ekdal ensured a tense finish when he bundled in from a corner.

Milan are now five points clear of second-placed Inter after 10 games, with Napoli and Juventus a further point behind in third and fourth.

A new deal for Bruno Fernandes already?

Manchester United brought Fernandes to Old Trafford in January, and he has taken the Premier League by storm.

With reported interest from Spain, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side want to reward Fernandes.

 

TOP STORY – FERNANDES SET FOR NEW DEAL

Manchester United are set to offer Bruno Fernandes a new bumper deal to fend off interest from Barcelona and LaLiga champions Real Madrid, according to the Mirror.

Fernandes has been a revelation since joining United from Portuguese giants Sporting CP in January – the star midfielder has been directly involved in 36 goals in 38 games across all competitions, five more than any other Premier league player in this period.

With Fernandes dominating, United are prepared to double the Portugal international's wages at Old Trafford.

 

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- Gazzetta dello Sport reports Manchester City could sign both Lionel Messi and Neymar. Paris Saint-Germain's Neymar wants to reunite with Messi, while the Barcelona superstar is unhappy at Camp Nou. PSG have also been linked to Messi and any move would impact the future of Kylian Mbappe, who is reportedly wanted by Madrid and Liverpool.

- Calciomercato claims Bayern Munich star David Alaba will cost Juventus around €15million. Alaba is set to become a free agent at the end of the season, and he has been linked to the likes of Madrid, Barca, PSG, Chelsea and City.

Milan are chasing Hellas Verona centre-back Matteo Lovato, says Calciomercato. Inter and Juve have also been credited with interest in the 20-year-old.

Neymar has sparked speculation over Lionel Messi's future.

Paris Saint-Germain's Neymar enjoyed a successful period alongside Messi at Barcelona before leaving in a world-record deal in 2017.

Now, Neymar wants to team up with Messi again.

 

TOP STORY – MBAPPE OUT, MESSI IN?

Paris Saint-Germain will have to sell Kylian Mbappe if they sign Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi, according to Diario AS.

Messi has been linked with a move to Ligue 1 champions PSG after former Barca forward Neymar expressed his desire to reunite with the six-time Ballon d'Or winner.

If Manchester City target Messi arrives in the French capital, it could send Mbappe closer to LaLiga champions Real Madrid.

 

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- Madrid captain Sergio Ramos has not ruled leaving the Spanish giants, reports El Transistor. Ramos is out of contract at the end of the season and he has been linked with PSG, Juventus, Milan and Manchester United.

Mauricio Pochettino has been contacted by Madrid to replace under-fire head coach Zinedine Zidane, claims Sport. Pochettino, who has been out of work since he was sacked as Tottenham boss last year, has also been linked to United.

- Diario AS says Atletico Madrid are lining up a January bid for Napoli's Arkadiusz Milik. The Poland international has been frozen out since making it clear he will not re-sign with the Serie A side. Tottenham, Everton and Roma have also emerged as possible destinations.

Romelu Lukaku is on Pep Guardiola's shortlist of forwards at City but Inter insist the Belgian star is non-transferable, according to Calciomercato.

- The Telegraph reports Chelsea's plan to sign West Ham midfielder Declan Rice rests on the success of off-season recruit Ben Chilwell.

Is Zinedine Zidane's second spell in charge of Real Madrid coming to an end?

Zidane guided Madrid to three successive Champions League titles in his first stint, and last season's LaLiga crown after returning to the Santiago Bernabeu in 2019.

But the Los Blancos great is under mounting pressure amid the club's struggles this season.

 

TOP STORY – ZIDANE IN DANGER

Mauricio Pochettino and Raul are waiting in the wings to replace Zinedine Zidane at Real Madrid, according to widespread reports in Spain.

Madrid head coach Zidane is in danger of losing his job following Tuesday's Champions League loss to Shakhtar Donetsk.

Los Blancos have suffered back-to-back defeats and three in their past five outings across all competitions to be seven points adrift in LaLiga and on the cusp of Champions League elimination.

Thursday's Mundo Deportivo, Diario AS and Sport report former Tottenham boss Pochettino and Madrid Castilla coach Raul are eyeing the hot seat.

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- Calciomercato claims the race to sign Rennes and France sensation Eduardo Camavinga is down to Madrid and Manchester United. Serie A champions Juventus had also been linked, though there has been talk of Paul Pogba returning to Turin after leaving for Old Trafford in 2016.

- Bayern Munich star David Alaba is hoping to strike a January agreement with Chelsea, according to Fabrizio Romano's 'Here We Go Podcast'. Alaba is a free agent at the end of the season and he has been linked to the likes of Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain.

Juventus have shown an interest in Barcelona centre-back Samuel Umtiti, according to Calciomercato. Arsenal's Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Fiorentina defender Nikola Milenkovic are also on the shortlist.

Madrid are eyeing Benfica forward Darwin Nunez, reports Calciomercato. The Uruguay international has also caught the attention of LaLiga rivals Barca.

- What does the future hold for Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland? Heavily linked to United, Madrid, Liverpool, PSG and even Barca, Calciomercato says Juve are monitoring the Norwegian closely.

Real Madrid's dream of signing Kylian Mbappe may have to wait.

Mbappe, 21, has regularly been linked with LaLiga's champions after starring for Paris Saint-Germain.

But the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic are seemingly set to hurt Madrid's chances of landing the star.

 

TOP STORY – REAL MADRID CAN'T AFFORD MBAPPE NEXT YEAR

Madrid cannot afford a deal to sign PSG star Mbappe next year, according to Le Parisien.

It comes with finances of clubs around the world hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mbappe, who is contracted until 2022, has scored nine goals in 11 games in all competitions this season.

 

ROUND-UP

- Out of contract at the end of the season, David Alaba looks set to leave Bayern Munich. AS reports Chelsea believe they will be in pole position to sign the defender with their offer.

- Linked with a move to Manchester United, Hakan Calhanoglu could yet stay at Milan. CalcioMercato reports Milan remain hopeful of re-signing the midfielder, whose contract expires at season's end, and a decisive meeting between the parties is nearing.

- Barcelona want to sign a centre-back in January and Manchester City defender Eric Garcia remains a target, according to Mundo Deportivo. The report says Barca also have experienced targets if City do not want to sell Garcia.

- Staying at Barcelona and Sport reports the Catalan giants are interested in Hoffenheim defender Melayro Bogarde, whose uncle Winston played for the club from 1998 to 2000.

- Manchester City are reportedly close to landing a teenage attacker. Fabrizio Romano says the Premier League side are in advanced negotiations to sign Dario Sarmiento, 17, from Argentine club Estudiantes after an opening bid of £17million (€19m).

Franck Kessie insists he is ready to step up to the penalty spot once again after mixed returns during Milan's 2-0 win over Fiorentina. 

The Rossoneri made light of Zlatan Ibrahimovic's hamstring injury absence by restoring a five-point advantage over rivals Inter at the Serie A summit. 

Captain Alessio Romagnoli was left unmarked to head a 17th-minute opener before Kessie converted from 12 yards following German Pezzella's lunging foul on Alexis Saelemaekers. 

Kessie sent Bartlomiej Dragowski the wrong way in the 27th minute but the Fiorentina goalkeeper guessed correctly to gain a measure of revenge before half-time, Martin Caceres having brought down Theo Hernandez. 

“I scored the first, I missed the second but I am going to take the third one,” Kessie told DAZN.

Ibrahimovic might have something to say about that on his return, despite chequered recent returns from the spot, and the evergreen striker was not the only high-profile absentee, with Milan head coach Stefano Pioli isolating at home after a positive coronavirus test. 

Pioli spoke to his players via a video call to celebrate their victory and Kessie said: "He congratulated the team, he was happy. It was a very important game." 

Coach Daniele Bonera took charge on the touchline in Pioli's absence and reserved praise for Kessie, who gained possession more times than any other Milan player (11), contested 16 duels, completed 85.3 per cent of his passes and had five shots in an all-action display. 

“We know how important Franck is, he has become pivotal in terms of quantity and quality," Bonera told DAZN. 

"We used to think he was mainly muscle, but he has really improved his technique and we are very happy with him."

Milan made light of Zlatan Ibrahimoivic's injury absence with an assured 2-0 win over Fiorentina to restore their five-point advantage at the top of Serie A.

Evergreen striker Ibrahimovic made it 10 goals in six top-flight matches this season when his brace inspired a 3-1 win at Napoli, although he limped off with a hamstring complaint in the closing stages.

Yet Stefano Pioli's side marched on without their talisman against struggling Fiorentina, with Franck Kessie netting one first-half penalty and missing a second after Alessio Romagnoli opened the scoring.

The result meant Milan were able to keep Inter at arm's length in what is shaping up to be an intriguing title battle, their city rivals having dispatched third-placed Sassuolo 3-0 on Saturday.

Fiorentina undid an encouraging start in the 17th minute when Milan captain Romagnoli was left unmarked at the back post to nod in Kessie's flick-on from Hakan Calhanoglu's right-wing corner.

Dusan Vlahovic thumped against Gianluigi Donnarumma's near post as Cesare Prandelli's men searched for an equaliser but they were left with a mountain to climb when German Pezzella clumsily brought down Alexis Saelemaekers in the area.

Kessie coolly sent Bartlomiej Dragowski the wrong way but the Fiorentina goalkeeper levelled their personal battle in the 40th minute – springing to his left to keep out a poorly struck spot-kick after Martin Caceres bundled into the marauding Theo Hernandez.

Calhanoglu fizzed a fabulous half-volley into the side netting before half-time and came even closer in the 53rd minute, hitting the base of the left post.

Franck Ribery almost reduced the arrears two minutes later but Donnarumma was equal to the veteran campaigner's dinked effort – a squandered chance which summed up a Fiorentina display littered with moments of self-sabotage.

Lautaro Martinez's future continues to dominate headlines.

Martinez was tipped to leave Inter for Barcelona at the start of the season, but a move did not materialise amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Now, Manchester City are emerging as a serious suitor.

 

TOP STORY – CITY WANT LAUTARO

Manchester City are continuing their pursuit of Inter star Lautaro Martinez, according to the Mirror.

Martinez has been heavily linked with LaLiga giants Barcelona, as well as Real Madrid and City, where Pep Guardiola is eyeing a long-term replacement for Sergio Aguero.

The Argentina international has made his demands clear to Inter, who are hoping to re-sign Martinez.

 

ROUND-UP

Barca are open to the idea of selling Ousmane Dembele, says Mundo Deportivo. Dembele was wanted by Manchester United prior to the previous transfer window closing and Barca are reportedly aware of contacts between the France international and the Premier League side.

Arsenal are ready to part with club-record signing Nicolas Pepe, reports the Daily Star. Unconvinced about the Ivory Coast international, the Gunners are even reportedly open to a loan move amid links to Milan.

- The Sun claims Leeds United want Sevilla boss Julen Lopetegui once fan favourite Marcelo Bielsa leaves Elland Road.

- The Mirror claims United want to sign former defender Jonny Evans from Leicester City. Evans – who won three Premier League titles at Old Trafford – left United for West Brom in 2015 before joining Leicester in 2018.

- Barca have offered Philippe Coutinho to Juventus, according to Calciomercato. Barca need to raise funds as they look to recruit Lyon captain Memphis Depay and City defender Eric Garcia.

Arsenal are reportedly lining up a move for Isco in January, while Barcelona and Liverpool are also eyeing a defender.

Isco is seemingly getting close to a Real Madrid exit as he struggles for minutes with the LaLiga champions.

The playmaker's next move could see him in the Premier League.

 

TOP STORY – ARSENAL WANT ISCO

Arsenal want to sign Real Madrid midfielder Isco on loan in January before buying him ahead of 2021-22, according to Defensa Central.

Isco has been at Madrid since 2013, but is linked with a move as he seeks more game time.

Previously linked to Everton, Isco is wanted by Arsenal and the report says Mikel Arteta has already asked for the 28-year-old to be signed.

 

ROUND-UP

- Facing injury problems in defence, Barcelona and Liverpool could be set to make signings in January. Sport reports former Valencia and Madrid defender Ezequiel Garay, a free agent, has been offered to both clubs.

- Impressing at Milan, Hakan Calhanoglu is out of contract at season's end. Sport Bild reports the midfielder is almost certain to join Manchester United ahead of next term.

- In red-hot form for Borussia Dortmund, Erling Haaland's future continues to be a talking point. AS says the striker – who has scored 17 goals in 13 games this season – is considered a luxury item for Real Madrid, who will fight half of Europe to sign him. It says Haaland's value is growing and is already at €100million.

- Linked with Chelsea and Manchester City, Nicolas Tagliafico has agreed to extend his contract with Ajax until 2023, according to De Telegraaf. The report says the defender will finish the season with the Eredivisie giants and he can then pursue his dream of playing for a top club.

- Yet to make a Premier League start this season, Christian Benteke is out of contract at Crystal Palace at the end of the campaign. But the Evening Standard reports the striker has been offered a contract extension at Selhurst Park.

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