Stefano Pioli felt Milan showed they have the belief in their ability to sustain a challenge for trophies in a 2-0 Serie A win at Hellas Verona on Sunday.

Rade Krunic and Diogo Dalot scored superb first Serie A goals to move second-placed Milan three points behind leaders Inter.

Krunic opened the scoring with a sublime first-half free-kick and Dalot doubled their lead with a classy strike early in the second half.

Rossoneri head coach Pioli was proud of the way his side extended their unbeaten run to four matches ahead of a Europa League round-of-16 first-leg tie at Manchester United on Thursday.

He told Sky Sport Italia. "We have shown that we have belief. It was a difficult match."

Pioli added: "We are not Martians, we are a young team of the which everyone was proud of and which everyone now asks for continuity.

"But we know how to overcome our defects, we know our strength and merits."

Theo Hernandez and Ante Rebic were added to Milan's injury list following the draw with Udinese, but Pioli says they will not complain about absentees, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic also sidelined.

He said: "We were good at not feeling sorry for ourselves, we must be balanced in evaluating our performance, even when we win."

Stefano Pioli did not see any shortage of commitment from his Milan side in the 1-1 Serie A draw with Udinese, but conceded the quality was lacking.

Franck Kessie scored a 97th-minute penalty with the last kick of Wednesday's encounter at San Siro, as Milan's title hopes took another hit – Inter now have the chance to move six points clear should they beat Parma on Thursday.

Milan's equaliser came courtesy of a remarkable error from Jens Stryger Larsen, who inexplicably handled in the area as Udinese looked to see out what would have been just a second away win in their last eight league matches on the road.

The Rossoneri were without their talisman Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who is set to miss up to three weeks with a thigh injury, and Milan head coach Pioli acknowledged his team were missing the "characteristics" the 39-year-old brings, while also bemoaning Mario Mandzukic's absence.

"We wanted to win, it's a shame," Pioli told DAZN. "We knew that it would be difficult against a team with everyone behind the ball.

"I saw determination and a lack of clarity. There was a lack of quality and rhythm, not anger and determination.

"We start again as always with the next match. Each game has its own story. On Sunday we found an opponent who wanted to play, Udinese instead play this [defensive] type of game.

"Today we lacked the right characteristics to face this type of match, we lacked the two real strikers in the squad. [Rafael] Leao and [Ante] Rebic have other characteristics.

"Now we must try to resume our run. A half positive result, let's think about the next game."

Leao and Rebic both struggled to assert themselves against Udinese's three-man defence.

Rebic – the second-highest scorer in Serie A in the back half of the season (since January 29), behind Inter's Romelu Lukaku – failed to have an attempt on goal or create a chance, while Leao only tested Juan Musso with a tame flick late in the first half.

Pioli did not look to single out his attackers, however, though he acknowledged Leao in particular has a lot to add to his game.

"I always expect a lot from my players," Pioli said. "Rafa has characteristics more suited for attacking spaces.

"When he finds a closed defence, he still doesn't have the shrewdness to anticipate the defender."

Ibrahimovic was watching on from close to the bench and was seen looking disgruntled at Milan's display.

"We didn't come out of this game satisfied, he's like everyone else," Pioli explained.

The good news for Milan is that, in Kessie, they have a midfielder on 10 goals in all competitions this season, though nine of them have come from the penalty spot.

Kessie's cool finish, timed at 96:20 was the latest Milan have scored in Serie A since 2017, while the Ivory Coast international has now netted 25 league goals in total for the Rossoneri – matching Robinho's tally.

Ante Rebic has been passed fit to partner Rafael Leao up front but it remains to be seen if Alessio Romagnoli will start when injury-hit Milan face Udinese in Serie A on Wednesday.

Rebic scored the winner in the Rossoneri's 2-1 victory over Roma on Sunday before being withdrawn due to injury.

Milan head coach Pioli says the Croatia international will be ready to start against Udinese and Leao will take his place in the team after coming off the bench at the weekend to replace Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Asked about Rebic's fitness, Pioli said: "He's fine, he can start against Udinese. On Sunday he played a great match, his characteristics are important for us. There is no doubt about his qualities."

Pioli said following the much-needed win over Roma that he suspected Ibrahimovic, who is appearing at the Sanremo music festival, was weary rather than wounded and the talismanic striker will not face Luca Gotti's men.

Milan are taking no risks over Ibrahimovic's fitness, with a Europa League showdown against his former club Manchester United to come next week.

Hakan Calhanoglu will also miss the encounter with Udinese, which second-placed Milan will start knowing a victory would leave them just a point behind leaders Inter, while Ismael Bennacer and Mario Mandzukic are expected to return next week.

Leao has not scored since January 9, but Pioli has full faith in the 21-year-old.

"Up until a few days ago we talked about an improved Leao and inside the game," he said. "I'm satisfied with Leao, tomorrow he will start from the beginning.

"From a mental point of view he is ready, he has grown a lot."

Captain Romagnoli was left out of the starting line-up at Stadio Olimpico and Pioli refused to be drawn on whether the defender will be restored to the side.

"The matches are all important but also different, for me to be able to choose is great luck," Pioli said. "Only tomorrow morning we will try the starting eleven, we will choose the most suitable team and the best players."

Milan technical director Paolo Maldini said the club are weighing up whether to sign Fikayo Tomori permanently from Premier League giants Chelsea.

Tomori has impressed since arriving on loan in January, the 23-year-old's impact highlighted by his starting berth at the expense of captain Alessio Romagnoli in Milan's 2-1 win over Roma on Sunday.

Milan have an option to buy Tomori at the end of the season – the fee reportedly in the region of £25million (€28m).

Asked about Tomori's future prior to Milan's Serie A victory away to Roma, Maldini told Sky Sport Italia: "Tomori is a good talent and we have a buy-option clause.

"The price is very high. AC Milan will decide at the end of this season and we will discuss it with Chelsea's board."

"Fortunately, I work for a club that has an effect on players. When AC Milan call, the players always listen," Maldini added.

"Fikayo is a player with particular characteristics, pace and intensity, so we thought he could be a good reinforcement for this second half of the season.

"Naturally, Romagnoli isn't happy, no player is when he doesn't play. However, Milan are 17 points better off than last season, we're second despite having more commitments and many injuries, so squad rotation is necessary and Alessio has played pretty much every game."

Tomori partnered Simon Kjaer in Milan's defence as second-placed Milan stayed within four points of leaders Inter after 24 matches.

Franck Kessie and Ante Rebic scored for Milan, while Tomori had an early goal ruled out for offside.

Tomori had a team-high six clearances and two blocks, while he attempted the most passes (60) with an accuracy of 88.3 per cent at the heart of Milan's defence.

Milan head coach Stefano Pioli hailed Englishman Tomori post-match: "I expected this performance, because Tomori played a derby a couple of days after joining us, so he's been at this level from the start.

"I still believe it's the collective that allows the individual to perform and all together we won a very important match.

"Roma have players with a lot of pace and quality in attack, so we knew that we were taking a risk, but we also recovered more balls in the opposition half – finally – and were therefore more dangerous in attack.

"It's about weighing up the costs and benefits of an approach, and this approach is giving us more benefits."

Stefano Pioli hailed Milan's "mature mentality" as he acknowledged his team are going through a rough patch of form.

Milan scraped into the last 16 of the Europa League on Thursday, as a 1-1 draw with Red Star Belgrade was enough to seal an away goals victory from a tie which finished 3-3 on aggregate.

Franck Kessie's early spot-kick – his seventh penalty goal of the season in all competitions – saw Milan through, with El Fardou Ben's equaliser proving to be in vain.

Gianluigi Donnarumma marked his 22nd birthday with a sensational save to deny Red Star a second, with Marko Gobeljic then seeing red as the visitors' comeback efforts were fruitless.

It was the first time Milan have progressed from a two-legged European tie having not won the first game since 2006-07, when Carlo Ancelotti went on to guide the Rossoneri to their seventh European Cup.

However, it is now four games without a win for Milan, who have lost their last two Serie A fixtures, including Sunday's damaging 3-0 derby defeat to title rivals Inter.

Pioli, though, insists he has faith in his squad to overcome their loss of form and learn from the mistakes they are making.

"The team might be young, but it has a mature mentality," he told Sky Italia. 

"Clearly, we are not in our best period of form. The many victories gave us energy and confidence, so now those elements are lacking a little bit.

"It's a pity we didn't control the situation better, with a little more precision in our passing and our choices, but the important thing was to qualify.

"At this level, it’s about details and the tiniest margins can make a big difference.

"If we think about our season, it's still full of positivity. The season doesn't end here, winning the Europa League does give you a place in the Champions League.

"We are making more mistakes and aren't as solid as we were in the past, but it's a very important stepping stone and it's crucial that we managed to get through."

Asked to pinpoint why his team – who went unbeaten in Serie A this season until January 6 – have dropped off, Pioli said: "I do think perhaps there's some psychological fatigue more than physical.

"I try to stay with my players throughout the game, give them the right boost, but perhaps they are starting to feel the pressure.

"They shouldn't, because we are having a remarkable campaign and going through difficult moments will help us become stronger in future."

Stefano Pioli says Milan have a "desire to restart" as they attempt to recover from their derby loss to Inter.

Milan's 3-0 defeat to the Nerazzurri left them four points adrift of their rivals at the top of the Serie A table having led the way for most of the campaign.

Pioli's men are without a win in three games in all competitions having drawn the first leg of their Europa League round-of-32 tie with Red Star Belgrade 2-2 in between losses to Spezia and Inter.

Speaking ahead of the return leg with Red Star at San Siro, Pioli said: "It is right that there were no smiles on Sunday, but we have a great desire to restart, to express ourselves at our best and to obtain excellent results.

"I see a determined and willing group, eager to return to the levels we have shown. I told the team that there are 90 days left in the championship, it could be 93 with the Europa League final if we were to be particularly good. 

"These days will fly by and will be decisive days to ensure that the season can be positive, very positive or great. 

"Now we have to demonstrate our qualities and our motivations on the field. The group works very well and believes in what it does.

"Matches are all different. The derby was a completely different match. Matches can change during the match, but we need to have clear playing principles that need to start the match one way and keep going all the way. We will be prepared to do it."

On the situation in the tie with Red Star, in which Milan have the edge on away goals, Pioli said: "There is a tough obstacle to overcome, we have a very slight advantage that we will have to be good at exploiting to pass this round."

Stefano Pioli says Milan are no longer happy simply playing the part of challengers in the Serie A title race and will work hard to recover from a testing stretch that now includes a derby defeat to Inter.

The Rossoneri have led the league for much of the season but slipped four points off the pace with Sunday's 3-0 home loss to their rivals at San Siro.

Lautaro Martinez added to his early opener with a second after the break, with Romelu Lukaku capping Milan's second consecutive Serie A defeat.

Pioli's side also conceded a last-ditch equaliser to Red Star Belgrade in the Europa League since losing at Spezia, their overwhelmingly positive campaign threatening to come off the rails.

Milan have now suffered four defeats in Serie A in 2021, twice as many as in the whole of the previous calendar year.

Pioli saw improvement in this performance compared to the Spezia setback, though, as Milan enjoyed 59.9 per cent of the possession and had 15 attempts, and the coach is determined to stay level-headed.

But the team's ambitions have changed over the course of the campaign and there must now be a response, he added.

"I believe that our strength has always been balance – and belief in our work," Pioli told DAZN.

"If they had told us months ago that at this point of the season we were second in the standings, we would have jumped for joy. This doesn't have to make us happy and content now.

"In these past two or three games, we have not been able to put our quality on the field. We need to get back to doing more.

"We were really poor in the Spezia game. Today we feel sorry for ourselves, for the fans, for the club, but today we played our game.

"We have to maintain clarity, positivity, and evaluate things well. When you lose, you have to work harder and this we will have to do."

While Milan goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma became the youngest player to clock up 200 games in Serie A in the three-points-per-win era, his opposite number ensured the milestone passed with little cause for celebration.

The outstanding Samir Handanovic made eight saves, his most in a game for Inter since pulling off eight against Lazio in January 2019 and most in a Serie A outing since the same number against Juventus in December 2017.

Only three times in Handanovic's Nerazzurri career has he made more than eight stops in a match.

The keeper denied Zlatan Ibrahimovic on five occasions as the veteran Milan superstar failed to add to his tally of 10 Milan derby goals.

Pioli recognised Handanovic's display but refused to criticise Ibrahimovic, who was withdrawn after 75 minutes with cramp in his calf.

"A centre-forward is conditioned by the performance of the team," he said. "In the first half, we did not have the accuracy in the plays, in the final pass.

"In the second half, then we created and had scoring chances. It is a long time since Samir Handanovic saved so often and so well. It is a difficult week, but we will recover."

Just one of Handanovic's saves came in the first half and Pioli rued Milan's slow start as he reflected on the match as a whole.

"The goal immediately after five minutes weighed heavily," he said. "We struggled to find the rhythm, intensity and quality that was needed to find spaces.

"We let Inter play the game where they are strongest.

"In the second half, we were succeeding but we were unable to score in our best moment. Then came the second goal.

"I have nothing to say about the second half of my team; in the first half, we had to do something more."

Stefano Pioli and Antonio Conte are relishing the prospect of a possible Scudetto shoot-out in Sunday's Derby della Madonnina.

Inter lead Milan by one point at the Serie A summit heading into this weekend's showdown after leapfrogging their bitter rivals last week.

With nine-in-a-row champions Juventus eight points adrift of top spot, albeit with a game in hand to play, the title is looking likely to end up at San Siro this season.

Milan are seeking a first Scudetto since 2011, a year after Inter last prevailed, and Sunday's game may go a long way towards determining who finishes top come the end of the campaign.

It is the first time the sides will meet holding the top two positions in the table since April 2011 and Conte is expecting a unique derby in the behind-closed-doors contest.

"It will be different to the previous derbies because of the teams' high positions - first and second," Conte said at a news conference on Saturday.

"This is very satisfying for the city of Milan. There is a lot at stake, certainly more than just local pride.

"We have to do our best to win the game and stay top of the table. It is an important match. When the table is like this you need to be even more determined."

Milan beat Inter 2-1 in October and are seeking a league double over their city rivals for the first time since 2010-11.

However, Inter won last month's eventful Coppa Italia quarter-final tie by the same scoreline and Pioli is anticipating a cagey affair in this latest tussle.

"Tomorrow we will play a derby like we have not seen for many years, with a lot on the line," Pioli told reporters.

"Both us and Inter have a clear identity. The derbies are always balanced matches with many goalscoring opportunities.

"It is not necessarily decisive for the fate of the championship, but it is important because we have been in the lead all season."

The big talking point from the most recent meeting between the sides was the coming together of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Romelu Lukaku.

But Conte, who won three titles during his time in charge of Juventus, does not believe tempers will flare this time around.

"It's going to be a match with two teams trying to win and surpass each other," Conte said.

"We must never forget that, even if this is a big game and a derby, it remains a sport. I don't predict much tension in the atmosphere.

Ibrahimovic has scored 10 goals in all competitions in this fixture, including eight for Milan, and Pioli would not swap his striker for Inter star Lukaku.

"I respect Lukaku, but I prefer Ibra," Pioli said. "Tomorrow's game must be a collective effort; we must play as a team. It is the collective that highlights the qualities of the individual.

"We have to play well because we know how to do it, we have the technical qualities."

Asked how his Inter side plan to deal with Ibrahimovic, Conte said: "You neutralise threats by working as a team and reducing the errors.

"Ibrahimovic is a top player who is doing very well for Milan. He has already scored against us this season, but that doesn't necessarily mean he will score again."

Milan have lost three league games since the start of 2021 - one more than over the whole of 2020 - and were held 2-2 by Red Star Belgrade in the Europa League on Thursday.

Pioli, who has constantly played down his side's title aspirations, accepted an improvement is required on the back of some below-par displays.

"We did not raise our levels against Red Star - even the defensive phase did not see us as solid and compact," he said.

"Tomorrow we must be very careful and determined. Our goal is to give the best, then we'll see what we've achieved at the end of the season."

Milan boss Stefano Pioli said his team lacked the "personality" to finish off Red Star Belgrade after a late equaliser meant the Rossoneri had to settle for a 2-2 draw in Serbia.

The head coach hinted Sunday's top-of-the-table Serie A clash with Inter would be an ideal game in which to bounce back from the disappointment of their Europa League trip.

Yet on the evidence of Thursday's performance from Milan, Inter may have a glorious chance to press their claims for a first Scudetto in 11 years.

An own goal from Radovan Pankov and a penalty from Theo Hernandez helped Milan into a 2-1 lead, but Milan Pavkov then headed a terrific leveller in the third added minute.

It meant a Red Star side that lost Milan Rodic to a second-half red card were able to finish the game on a high, no doubt a thrill for their head coach Dejan Stankovic, formerly an Inter midfield star.

For Pioli, it was a case of what might have been in the first leg at the last-32 stage, and concern about a lack of killer instinct.

Pioli told Sky Sport Italia: "We didn't win because we lacked personality at the end."

He explained: "The quality to score the third goal was lacking. We deserved to win, with the numerical superiority we shouldn't have conceded anything to them.

"We had the victory in our hands, we had to find the third goal. However, it's a good result for the second leg."

That return game comes next Thursday, with Sunday's derby a crunch match before then. The proximity of the Inter clash was surely the reason Pioli allowed Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Franck Kessie to spend the full 90 minutes on the bench in Belgrade, with Hakan Calhanoglu only coming on for the closing minutes as Milan hunted that elusive third goal.

"We need to analyse our matches well and raise the level of performance," Pioli said. "This is an important moment of the season and we have important commitments. We can do better."

Any sign of weakness in the derby will likely be seized upon by Inter, who edged ahead of Milan at the top of the table last weekend.

"We have our qualities, they have theirs," Pioli said. "The challenge comes at the right time, we want to be ready."

Stefano Pioli insists Milan are focusing only on the first leg of their Europa League tie with Red Star Belgrade, despite a huge derby with Inter coming up this weekend.

The Rossoneri have slipped off top spot in Serie A, with Saturday's surprise loss away to Spezia allowing their city rivals to take over at the summit. 

Next up in the league is a showdown with Inter at San Siro on Sunday, though not before Milan travel to Belgrade to continue a European campaign that began way back in mid-September of last year. 

Milan had to come through qualifying in the Europa League, needing a penalty shoot-out success over Rio Ave to make it to the group stage, and Pioli is determined to extend their run beyond the last 32. 

"No one can ever forget all the joy and emotions brought by the win against Rio Ave, so we have to put on the pitch this joy and these emotions on Thursday," Pioli told the media ahead of Thursday's game against Red Star.

"We want to amaze in this competition too.  

"We have lots of games ahead, all even more important and decisive, with the two legs of the last-32 tie being a knockout round.   

"The coming Serie A games will be equally important with 16 games to go until the end of the league, plus, hopefully, we have 8-10 games left to play in the Europa League.  

"Now is the moment to prove we're up to the task – but we have the quality to do so, with the desire to go to the end of both competitions."

Even with the setback against Spezia, Milan are on course to achieve their target of securing Champions League qualification through a top-four finish in Serie A.

The Europa League also offers an alternative route, so Pioli has no plans to prioritise one competition over the other at this stage of a demanding campaign.

"We're a team with a young average age and we need at certain stages to show our qualities, to grow and better understand situations that are different," he said.

"Even (technical director and club legend) Paolo Maldini not long ago stated that Milan needs two consecutive seasons in the Champions League to get back to its high standards. This is our objective. 

"To achieve that, we can either win the Europa League or finish in the top four of the league. This is what we are focused on – and we will fight until the end to achieve it."

Demonstrating his commitment to the tie, Pioli has included Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the squad to travel to Belgrade, while Ante Rebic is also included after missing the Spezia defeat through injury.

Milan are looking to win three consecutive matches in a major UEFA European competition for the first time since a four-game streak between September and November 2008.

Milan boss Stefano Pioli acknowledged "nothing worked" as his side slumped to their first Serie A away defeat since December 2019 against Spezia on Saturday.

The Rossoneri were dismal at Stadio Alberto Picco and failed to register a single attempt on target in a league game for the first time since August 2019 as goals from Giulio Maggiore and Simone Bastoni sealed a famous 2-0 triumph for the hosts. 

It marked the first time Milan had lost a top-flight game to a newly-promoted side since they were defeated by Benevento in April 2018. 

The result means Inter – who Milan face next weekend – can leapfrog their rivals at the league summit if they overcome Lazio on Sunday.

Milan have now lost three times in the league this season and Pioli said this was the first reverse that was deserved. 

"It will be a valuable lesson for all of us; we realise that if we don't perform at a certain level, we will be embarrassed like this," he told DAZN.

"Spezia won deservedly. This is our first deserved defeat of the season as we did not have enough quality or intensity and our opponents quite rightly took advantage.

"We are not a team capable of really winning ugly. We always try to focus on passing, intensity and tempo, so if we lack those elements, we are not as effective.

"We struggled throughout the game, nothing worked, including my choices and the performances of the players. Obviously, this isn't what Milan are like, so we need to prove that from next week.

"Perhaps we weren't sharp enough to react to the difficulties that Spezia provided. We did expect them to be aggressive and had prepared counter-measures, but they didn't work and we made mistakes, so nothing went right.

"If we don't move the ball around quickly enough, we allow our opponents to get back into shape and become predictable. Nothing worked this evening, on the ball or off it."

Milan face Red Star Belgrade in the first leg of their Europa League round-of-32 tie on Thursday and Pioli is expecting a much improved performance from his side.

"We're well aware of how negative this performance was, just as we're well aware of the difficulty of the games coming up and well aware of what Milan are capable of," he added.

"Anyone who saw us in training this week would not have expected this performance, and yet it happened. It was an off night, we need to get back on track.

"This was a bad performance, it's only right we leave the field with our heads down, but from tomorrow we get back on our feet."

With this shock victory, Spezia have now picked up more Serie A points against sides currently in the top half of the table (13) than those they have earned against teams in the bottom half (11).

Stefano Pioli remains confident Milan can agree contract extensions to keep Hakan Calhanoglu and Gianluigi Donnarumma at the club. 

Both goalkeeper Donnarumma and midfielder Calhanoglu – two influential players in helping Milan sit top of Serie A – have expiring deals, along with talismanic striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic. 

Technical director Paolo Maldini recently said Milan hope to reach terms to retain the trio beyond the current campaign, with head coach Pioli wanting them to stay as they build for the future.  

"The important thing is that both the club and the technical group have already had their say in a convincing way," Pioli said of contract negotiations ahead of Saturday's trip to Spezia.  

"We are happy to be able to continue the journey together and the boys are also very determined. 

"We all want to do well, the club is building something important and we are all focused on doing the best." 

Donnarumma has played in 20 of 21 league games under Pioli this season. The 21-year-old boasts a save percentage of 73.33 in Serie A – only Lazio's Pepe Reina (73.68) has managed better out of all the goalkeepers to feature at least 10 times in the competition. 

Calhanoglu, meanwhile, has a league-leading eight assists despite missing three games after testing positive for coronavirus. Indeed, since the beginning of December, he has set up seven goals in Serie A, the joint-most in the top five European Leagues, along with Kingsley Coman at Bayern Munich. 

The Turkey international will be back in the team to face Spezia as Milan aim to avoid a first league loss on the road since December 22, 2019. 

"Calhanoglu will start, either (Ante) Rebic or (Rafael) Leao will play on the left," Pioli said on Friday. "We will see what will happen – we want to get to the end of the season without regrets.

"We have ample room for improvement, we must raise our level because expectations are now high."

Pioli received praise from Milan CEO Ivan Gazidis for his work this week, with the pair united in their aim to help the Rossoneri become a dominant force again, both domestically and in Europe.

"We are in tune and his statements have made me very happy, our relationship with time has grown," Pioli said of the comments made by Gazidis.

"With the club we are going in the same direction and we have only one goal, to bring Milan back up. There have never been divisions and we must continue like this."

Milan head coach Stefano Pioli said evergreen star Zlatan Ibrahimovic "doesn't have to stop" at 500 goals after reaching the landmark figure in his club career.

Ibrahimovic passed 500 club goals in Milan's 4-0 Serie A rout of Crotone, increasing his tally to 501 with his sixth league brace of the season on Sunday.

The 39-year-old opened the scoring after half an hour before doubling the lead with 26 minutes remaining at San Siro, where Ante Rebic netted a quick-fire double as Milan returned to the top of the table.

"There's no need to add anything. We just have to congratulate with him," Pioli told reporters.

"It's an unbelievable milestone but we are talking of an absolute number one, he is a champion. I just want to congratulate him again and send him a message.

"He doesn't have to stop at that number."

Only with Paris Saint-Germain (156) has Ibrahimovic scored more goals in all competitions, having managed 83 for Milan across two spells.

Ibrahimovic is one of the two players, alongside Juventus superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, to have scored the most braces in the top five European leagues in 2020-21.

The former Sweden international has scored 14 Serie A goals in 11 appearances this season, while he has 16 across all competitions.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic was not immediately looking to celebrate his latest achievement on Sunday after passing 500 club career goals in Milan's 4-0 defeat of Crotone.

The veteran Rossoneri striker increased his tally to 501 in club action with his sixth Serie A brace of the season at San Siro.

The first of Ibrahimovic's two strikes, assisted by Rafael Leao, arrived 15 minutes before the break to belatedly bring up the milestone.

The 39-year-old had been stuck on 499 for almost two weeks after a red card against Inter and a missed penalty at Bologna.

Ibrahimovic was asked by Sky Sport at half-time of his accomplishment but was not interested in discussing personal glory.

"It means I've scored a few goals in my career," he said. "But the important thing is to help the team. My job is to score."

Ibrahimovic added his second following the restart, and Ante Rebic then also netted a double, teed up twice by Hakan Calhanoglu in the space of 70 seconds.

Meanwhile, Milan kept their eighth league clean sheet of the season, a division high.

Coach Stefano Pioli was therefore keen to share the praise around at full-time, even as he hailed Ibrahimovic's efforts.

"He has great qualities and is a champion who is doing well," Pioli said. "He has great ambition and is competitive, which is why he always manages to stay at high levels.

"But let's not forget all the others who are all doing their best. There is still a lot to do and let's not get excited, because the difficult moments are yet to come."

Victory moved Milan back above rivals Inter at the summit, two points clear again despite losing two of their prior three home games.

Pioli added: "I believe that the growth of the team is in the right direction.

"We are a young but responsible group, always giving our best, every day, without being influenced by others and critics.

"Expectations rise and that is merited. We welcome it. Now we have to hold up."

Stefano Pioli was delighted to end a difficult week for Milan with what he felt was a deserved win over Bologna - but opposite number Sinisa Mihajlovic begged to differ.

The Rossoneri went into Saturday's game off the back of two successive defeats. After going down 3-0 at home to Atalanta in Serie A, they were knocked out of the Coppa Italia in midweek by rivals Inter.

Having been sent off against Inter and forced to deny suggestions he made a racist comment towards Romelu Lukaku during the quarter-final tie, Zlatan Ibrahimovic missed a penalty as he failed to reach 500 goals in his club career.

However, Ante Rebic tucked home the rebound to give Milan a half-time lead and Franck Kessie made no mistake from the spot in the second half.

Substitute Andrea Poli halved the deficit in the 81st minute but Bologna were unable to find an equaliser, Milan becoming just the third team to win nine of their first 10 Serie A away matches in a season.

"Without committing the naive error for the Bologna goal, we had an excellent match," Pioli told Milan TV.

"I'm happy with the performance and it's a victory which gives us confidence at the end a difficult week. It's deserved. 

"The last two training sessions we've done this week are the best in a long time. We have seen the return of important players and the team has managed to maintain a balanced attitude.

"We were not happy with the performance against Atalanta, the only team that has put us in difficulty this season. We played it out against all the others."

However, Mihajlovic felt Bologna were the better team in open play, insisting that Ibrahimovic's presence in his line-up would have led to a comfortable home victory.

"We created three or four chances and didn't score. It was an undeserved defeat and I think we played better," Mihajlovic told Sky Sport Italia.

"Fine, Milan are a better team, but we created our chances from open play. They scored from penalties and their only chances were from long balls.

"If we had Ibrahimovic on our side, we would have won 3-0. My players should be proud of their performance, they fought to the end, but as usual against bigger teams, we play well and don't win."

As well as the penalty, Ibrahimovic was also denied by a fabulous double save by Bologna goalkeeper Lukasz Skorupski in the first half.

The talismanic striker was on target with three of his four attempts in total but will have to wait to reach the personal milestone. He has now missed three of his six penalties taken in Serie A this term, one more than in his previous 17 spot-kick attempts for Milan in the top flight.

Ibrahimovic will hope to make it to 500 goals when the league leaders host struggling Crotone at San Siro next weekend.

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