Stefano Pioli refused to blame the confusion over the possible suspension of Serie A or the upheaval at the club for Milan's surprise 2-1 Serie A defeat to Genoa.

Kick-off between Parma and SPAL was delayed for over an hour as Italian authorities considered whether all Serie A games should be suspended amid the ongoing battle against the coronavirus outbreak.

Milan were still unsure of the final decision when they left the training ground for an empty San Siro, with no fans allowed at any sporting event until April 3.

However, Pioli, who received backing from the club on Saturday as chief football officer Zvonimir Boban was relieved of his duties, was unwilling to use either of those events as an excuse for a dismal display.

"Clearly, playing without a crowd isn't football. That is true for all the teams, even more so for the hosts," Pioli told DAZN.

"Besides all that, we had the chance to prove our quality, that we had the strength to go past all of these issues and still win it, but we didn't win, and it was largely our own fault.

"When we left our training ground on the bus to get here, Parma-SPAL had not yet kicked off and we didn't know if it was going to. Clearly, that wasn't helpful, but we were in the same situation as our opponents, so again, that cannot be used as an excuse.

"As to whether Serie A should continue, there are people who know far more about the situation than me.

"We need no excuses or justifications, not for being behind closed doors, nor for any difficulties within the club or debates. We should've been more determined in certain key moments of the match.

"We have no excuses, we ought to do much better than this. It's difficult to say you didn't play well when you spent most of the game in the opposition half and had 22 shots on goal. It was not a technical or tactical issue, it was a lack of determination.

"It was such a good opportunity to prove that we felt strong and could overcome the obstacles, but it was a surreal situation for our opponents too. We failed to show determination at the right moments and that has nothing to do with playing behind closed doors or chaos within the club."

Asked about claims made by Boban that Pioli is a lame duck because Milan agreed a deal with Ralf Rangnick in December, the coach replied: "I read it, to be honest, I have to remain concentrated on my work.

"I am not worried about my future, I don't know what will happen, this is part of the job. This is a prestigious club and we have to end the season as well as possible.

"It's not my decision, all I can do is work well and try to end the season as well as we can. The rest of that is not something I can really discuss."

Zvonimir Boban has compared Milan to North Korea and claimed CEO Ivan Gazidis "closed the agreement" to bring in Ralf Rangnick back in December.

The Rossoneri announced the departure of Boban from his role as chief football officer on Saturday, just nine months after returning to the Serie A club where he spent a decade as a player.

His departure was hardly a surprise, however, with the former Croatia international having spoken about Gazidis in a recent interview with La Gazzetta dello Sport, claiming there to be "two souls" at Milan amid speculation of a move for Rangnick to become both head coach and director of sport.

Speaking to Il Giornale, Boban stood by his previous comments – insisting what he said to Gazzetta is "legally flawless" – and how he was not told about Rangnick's impending arrival to replace Stefano Pioli.

"I didn't know we were in North Korea. My interview [with Gazzetta dello Sport] is legally flawless, it came after so many demands of internal clarification that were ignored," Boban said.

"They had closed the agreement with Rangnick in December. I can wish him (Rangnick) all the best possible, but they had to tell me. I should have been informed of the initiative.

"In January, Gazidis told me, 'We cannot make some choices without the consent of the new manager'."

In a statement to confirm Boban's exit, Gazidis said Pioli – who was appointed in October to replace Marco Giampaolo – is doing an "exceptional job" in charge of the team and has the club's "full support".

Milan have sacked chief football officer Zvonimir Boban as CEO Ivan Gazidis begins what is expected to be a high-level clear-out of senior figures at San Siro.

Boban departs after just nine months in his role, with the Rossoneri having endured another difficult season in Italy.

Stefano Pioli was named head coach in October after Marco Giampaolo was sacked seven games into the Serie A campaign, yet Milan have won only 10 league matches and sit 12 points outside the top four.

Gazidis has been tipped to oversee significant changes behind the scenes, with Boban and sporting director Paolo Maldini long thought to be under threat of the sack.

It has been suggested Gazidis wants to bring in Ralf Rangnick, the head of sport and development for Red Bull, in a role that would see first-team head coach and sporting director duties combined.

Milan announced on Saturday that former Croatia star Boban has been relieved of his role with immediate effect, although the club made it clear they are supporting Pioli for the rest of the season.

"We thank Zvone for his efforts over the past nine months and wish him well in his future endeavours," Gazidis said.

"We must now turn our attention to football and the important games to come. Stefano Pioli and his staff are doing an exceptional job growing the performances of the team every week and will have our full support as they continue this work, in what is a difficult time for the country."

Milan face Genoa on Sunday in a match that was postponed due to the threat of the coronavirus in Italy.

The game, along with all others in the country before April 3, will be played behind closed doors to limit the risk of the virus spreading further.

Zvonimir Boban hit out at Milan CEO Ivan Gazidis for going behind his back to approach Ralf Rangnick over a possible move to San Siro as the chief football officer demanded an urgent meeting with the club's owners.

Milan are seemingly split off the pitch, with one side of the board eyeing RB Leipzig's head of sport and development Rangnick in a dual role for next season, while Boban and technical director Paolo Maldini look to keep faith with head coach Stefano Pioli – who was appointed in October.

Ongoing speculation linking German Rangnick to Milan as coach and director of sport has sparked tension over the strategy of the club and Boban is far from happy with former Arsenal chief executive officer Gazidis.

"Until a few days ago, I thought it was true that there were not two souls within Milan, albeit taking into account all the thousand initial difficulties, cultural differences and very different passions for the Rossoneri cause," Boban told La Gazzetta dello Sport.

"The fact we're having to talk about this is not good for anyone. The worst part is that this destabilising event is happening during a moment when the team is improving and you can see Stefano Pioli's hard work.

"Not even warning us was disrespectful and inelegant. It was not the Milan style. At least not what we remembered the Milan style as being.

"The way I see it, unity means sharing, unity means respect. At the end of the day, we need that approach, it is the only way to work and feel good.

"We've already talked to Gazidis. For the good of Milan, it is certainly necessary that a meeting with the ownership happens as soon as possible."

Pioli has steadied the ship after a difficult start to the season under former boss Marco Giampaolo, with Milan seventh and nine points outside of the Champions League places in Serie A.

The arrival of Zlatan Ibrahimovic in January has helped rejuvenate Milan, who parted with the likes of Krzysztof Piatek, Suso, Mattia Caldara and Ricardo Rodriguez.

Boban added: "The owners must be clear both in terms of the budget and their objectives. In essence, we must respect the needs of the club to balance the books, while the owners must respect leaving the sporting results to those who represent the history and values of a great club.

"At this moment, despite the efforts we made in the January transfer window, making many cuts and sales to lower the wage bill, we still don't know what margins we'll be working with for the summer.

"We were asked to lower the average age of the squad and we did that, but always maintaining the need for the right mix between youth and experience. The January transfer window shows we were right, you can see how quickly the younger players improved with more senior figures by their side."

Milan must take responsibility for their draw against 10-man Fiorentina, says Stefano Pioli, but the coach was convinced his side should not have had a late penalty awarded against them.

Ante Rebic's goal put Milan ahead after 56 minutes in Saturday's Serie A clash, with Fiorentina's chances diminished further when Dalbert was sent off after a VAR check.

But Fiorentina rallied late on and were given a penalty when Alessio Romagnoli was deemed to have fouled ex-Rossoneri striker Patrick Cutrone, even though the defender seemed to have got the ball.

Erick Pulgar converted beyond Asmir Begovic – who had replaced the injured Gianluigi Donnarumma early in the second half – and Milan were ultimately fortunate to come away with a point after Martin Caceres and Dusan Vlahovic missed late chances.

Though Pioli acknowledged his side had slipped up in failing to retain their lead, he was sure Romagnoli was unfairly penalised.

"We have to take full responsibility, as we had the game in hand, did everything we needed to do, but then stopped playing once Fiorentina went down to 10 men and assumed the game was over," he told DAZN.

"There are regrets, we certainly shoulder responsibility, because we made errors.

"As for the penalty, there are no doubts, it was not a penalty. You could tell from the bench that the ball moved when Romagnoli went in.

"I do not understand why technology is not used in these situations. I do not understand it. I thought and had taken it for granted that VAR helped a referee change an incorrect decision, but apparently that is not the case.

"It's difficult to accept, because we've had some strange incidents going against us. We shoulder a lot of the responsibility, because we made mistakes, but on the other situation, there's nothing we can do to control that."

While Milan will leave Florence feeling hard done by, Cutrone – who clapped the travelling support after the game – insisted he had no intention to celebrate if he had been on spot-kick duties.

"Milan will never be an opponent for me. I thank them for all they gave me and the applause at the end," Cutrone told DAZN.

"I am happy with the point, I thank the Viola fans for their support and the Milan fans for their salute. If I had taken the penalty, I never would have celebrated because I respect Milan so much and I would never do that to them.

"I have to thank Fiorentina for believing in me. I have to repay the club with performances and I hope many goals."

Zlatan Ibrahimovic's determination and ambition is having a positive impact on Milan, according to coach Stefano Pioli.

Milan have lost just once since Ibrahimovic made his return to the Rossoneri on a six-month contract in December.

A win at Fiorentina on Saturday would at least temporarily move Milan into the top six.

Ibrahimovic has scored three times in eight appearances so far in his second spell, but Pioli believes he has brought more than just goals.

"We are training well and that’s the truth, here you can breathe the positive air," said Pioli. "The priority is the present and you can only determine the future by thinking about the present.

"We don't think about stuff we can't impact; we don't have the time nor the energy to think about anything else.

"To have such an example of determination and ambition as Ibra has, it can do us good. If Ibra has become a champion and a unique player, it's because he is always hungry and wants to improve himself."

Though there has been speculation about Pioli being replaced at the end of the season, contrasting talk has suggested he could have his contract extended.

"It's pleasing to know that my job has been judged in a positive way," he added. "I feel that I’m the point of reference for the team.

"No coach is secure regardless of the results. In the end, the ones who make the decisions will decide.

"But I can't answer questions about my future on every press conference, let's focus on the present and see what will happen."

Milan head coach Stefano Pioli claimed his players have started to embrace his football philosophy but was coy on their hopes of securing a Champions League place.

The Rossoneri moved up to eighth place in Serie A after a 1-0 win over Torino on Monday thanks to Croatia forward Ante Rebic's first-half strike.

It ensured Milan went unbeaten in nine home games in a row in all competitions for the first time since January 2017.

Pioli, 54, has regularly faced scrutiny over his position during a testing season, having replaced Marco Giampaolo in October last year.

"I am happy with both the result and the performance, we are forming an identity and a way of being on the pitch," Pioli said in his post-match news conference.

"And we still have 14 games to go up the table. We are always under scrutiny, but it is normal and also beautiful in certain respects. 

"You can't think about the future now, there is still so much to do, the future will be decided at the end of the season.

"I had asked for an important effort. We also suffered because of us because we could immediately end the game in the second half.

"I am satisfied with the team's recent performances, but it can be improved in the final phase of matches."

Pioli, however, played down his side's chances of making a sustained end-of-season surge to finish in Serie A's top four.

Milan are still 10 points behind Atalanta, who occupy the fourth Champions League spot after 24 matches of the season, with Pioli keen to keep expectation levels grounded.

"Can we dream of the Champions League? There is only room to prepare well for the next game in five days," Pioli added.

"It is a difficult match against a strong Fiorentina, then we will think about the league table from Saturday evening.

"Winning, gritting one's teeth and fighting is positive. We could certainly have finished the game earlier.

"Zlatan Ibrahimovic came out angry because he wanted to end the game, instead we missed some chances in transition and we had to suffer to the end."

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."

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."

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.

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."

Antonio Conte admitted Inter were at risk of "a hammering" before they came from two goals down to beat Milan 4-2 in the Derby della Madonnina and go top of the Serie A table.

Goals from Ante Rebic and Zlatan Ibrahimovic put Milan two ahead at half-time, but quickfire strikes from Marcelo Brozovic and Matias Vecino levelled the contest inside eight minutes of the restart.

Stefan de Vrij gave Inter the lead before Romelu Lukaku capped an unforgettable evening for the Nerazzurri with a stoppage-time goal, and Conte was full of praise for his gutsy side's comeback.

"It was a special night, that's for sure," Conte told Sky Sport Italia. "The first half saw us in real difficulty, perhaps more than we've ever been this season, and there was the risk of a hammering.

"Instead, we did well to get the balance back, to understand where we had to improve, to have faith in what we were doing and the credit goes to these lads.

"Aside from the result, I am happy to see them resist under blows and turn it around, as that means they are preparing for something truly important.

"It's still very early to talk about something we can for now dream of. We can have a dream."

Despite Inter's second-half transformation, Conte had little to say about his half-time team-talk and instead claimed his share of responsibility for a calamitous first-half display.

Inter face Napoli in their Coppa Italia semi-final first leg on Wednesday before taking on fellow title-chasers Lazio in Serie A on Sunday, and Conte looked ahead to a crucial run of games.

"It's going to be a very intense period for us coming up and, after that, I think we'll have a better idea of our potential and our real capabilities," said the Inter boss.

"We can't achieve everything from one day to the next, but we are building. These lads proved they have great strength and guts today.

"I didn't need to talk much at half-time. I think in difficult situations, you have to be very clear and take responsibility. I had a large share of the responsibility for the fact we were losing 2-0 at half-time.

"We stayed together, from start to finish, and found our way out of a tough situation. We have to keep this evening in mind, as it will help us be a team in future and deal with similar difficulties."

Inter came from two goals down to earn a famous 4-2 victory over Milan in a gripping Derby della Madonnina that sent the Nerazzurri top of Serie A.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic returned to haunt his former club with a goal and an assist for Ante Rebic as Milan raced ahead before half-time, but the 38-year-old striker could not maintain his unbeaten run since returning to San Siro in January.

The Rossoneri's hopes of causing an upset faded in the space of two second-half minutes that saw Marcelo Brozovic and Matias Vecino plunder quickfire goals to get Inter back on level terms.

Antonio Conte's men took the lead 20 minutes from time through Stefan de Vrij's superbly executed header and Romelu Lukaku scored in second-half stoppage time to make sure his side leapfrogged Lazio and Juventus into top spot.

Milan will be without Rade Krunic for the Derby della Madonnina against Inter due to a metatarsal fracture that will keep him out for at least a month.

Krunic sustained a stress fracture to the third metatarsal of his right foot and will undergo further x-rays in March, Milan announced on Saturday.

The Bosnia-Herzegovina midfielder sat out last weekend's 1-1 draw with Hellas Verona and is now set for a prolonged period on the sidelines.

Krunic, 26, has made 11 appearances for the Rossoneri since joining from Empoli last July.

Milan, who are hopeful of having Zlatan Ibrahimovic back from illness to face Inter on Sunday, sit ninth in Serie A, 19 points adrift of Antonio Conte's men in second.

Milan coach Stefano Pioli is hopeful Zlatan Ibrahimovic will be fit to face Inter in the Derby della Madonnina on Sunday.

Veteran striker Ibrahimovic sat out last weekend's 1-1 draw against Hellas Verona through illness and has spent this week undertaking an individual training programme.

Milan are unbeaten in seven matches since re-signing the 38-year-old and he could return to take on Scudetto-chasing Inter at San Siro.

"Ibrahimovic has been doing a specifically planned training regime aimed at getting him back for [Saturday's] training session. If he takes that step he will be available," said Pioli.

"We have done everything to get him back from flu and calf fatigue. That path has been the right one but now he has to complete training with the team."

Inter sit second in Serie A, three points adrift of leaders Juventus, and have not lost a domestic match since going down to the Bianconeri on October 6.

With Milan sitting ninth and needing a strong finish to the season if they are to have any chance of making the top four, Pioli called on his team to use Ibrahimovic's famous confidence and desire as inspiration.

"I don't know what the distance is between us and them, but I know we will be facing a team that hasn't lost for a long time," said the Milan boss. "We must all have the face of Ibra: fired up and ready to play.

"We respect our opponents, they are a strong side in every department, compact and technical. It will be a difficult game but we must have conviction and positivity.

"You have to prove you have clear ideas and that you prepared for the game well. You have to carry it on for 90 minutes. There will be difficulties but well-defined concepts and ideas must keep you as a team from start to finish.

"We have to do this [on Sunday] and for the rest of the season. An important period begins tomorrow."

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