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."

Stefano Pioli was pleased to see Milan come through a potentially tricky test at Shamrock Rovers in Europa League qualifying.

The Rossoneri were clear favourites in Ireland and progressed 2-0 following goals from Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Hakan Calhanoglu.

But head coach Pioli felt Rovers represented tough opponents, particularly with Milan's season just starting.

"I'm satisfied because it was not easy," Pioli told Milan TV. "The first official match always involves many difficulties.

"I knew we had prepared well, but they are a good team and they were better prepared than us. It was a positive game to improve our condition. There were more good things than bad things tonight.

"We knew it could be the match of their lives for them, but it could also be for us. If we don't reach the Europa League, what we did last season would be partially nullified.

"We played well and won the game; it was just the first. I liked the team on the pitch. I am satisfied. We have to grow, improve, yes, but it was a tough game and we faced it well."

He added: "Victory was our goal and we did it, in my opinion, by playing good football.

"We weren't lucky in the draw, Shamrock were first in the standings, the next opponents [Bodo/Glimt] will be even stronger. They are 14 or 15 points ahead in the Norwegian league."

Bodo/Glimt currently sit 13 points clear of their nearest Eliteserien rivals, Molde, and are unbeaten in their 17 league matches this season.

Milan, by contrast, are undefeated in 14 games, their longest run since 2008.

"We will have to find another performance of another level. The pressure was all on us, we will have to be good at managing it and knowing how to live with it," Pioli said.

Calhanoglu spoke of his joy at starring again in tandem with Ibrahimovic, for whom he provided a first-half assist before netting himself.

"I hope to continue like this," the midfielder said. "We have a great feeling together. Thanks also to the team that we are so strong. We must continue like this."

Zlatan Ibrahimovic picked up where he left off last season as he opened his 2020-21 account with a goal in Milan's 2-0 Europa League second qualifying round win over Shamrock Rovers.

The veteran striker scored 11 times in 20 appearances after signing a short-term deal with the Rossoneri last term and he looked sharp in his first competitive outing for this campaign in Dublin.

Ibrahimovic fired the Serie A side into a 23rd-minute lead when he collected Hakan Calhanoglu's clever pass.

Calhanoglu perhaps outshone even Ibrahimovic on the night, though, and he got the goal his performance deserved midway through the second period to make sure of Milan's progress to a home tie with Norwegian side Bodo/Glimt.

Ibrahimovic ended the previous season with five goals in his last four appearances and he looked in the mood early when heading Calhanoglu's free-kick over.

Jack Byrne, Shamrock's own dangerman, then threaded a brilliant pass through to Aaron Greene, whose low effort was kept out by Gianluigi Donnarumma, but Ibrahimovic would soon open his account.

Defender Roberto Lopes failed to clear his lines and Theo Hernandez and Calhanoglu were both involved in Milan's build-up, the latter turning the ball around the corner for Ibrahimovic to produce a clinical finish.

Calhanoglu looked determined to double his side's lead in the second period, producing a bicycle kick that came back off the crossbar and then forcing Alan Mannus into a sharp save with a vicious free-kick.

Eventually he did find a way through when brilliantly picking out the top-right corner of the net following Alexis Saelemaekers' lay-off to make sure of the win.

Ante Rebic says Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the only on-field leader Milan need as he hailed the veteran striker's impact since returning to the club in January.

Ibrahimovic, 38, scored 11 goals in 20 appearances for Milan after joining on a free transfer at the turn of the year and signed a one-year extension last month.

The ex-Sweden international helped to revive the Rossoneri's flagging campaign, with Rebic among those to step up in a strong end to 2019-20 that ended with a 13-game unbeaten run.

Rebic has earned praise for his leadership qualities but insists Ibrahimovic is head coach Stefano Pioli's commander-in-chief on the pitch.

"Zlatan is a great player - he helps the team and has a major effect on everyone," he told Milan TV.

"It's always a pleasure to play with him, but I just focus on my own work and to do well in my role. I hope to do even better.

"We have one leader on the bench, the coach, and another on the pitch, Zlatan. For now we don't need other [leaders]."

Rebic turned his loan from Eintracht Frankfurt into a permanent move on Saturday after finishing 2019-20 as Milan's top scorer with 12 goals in 30 appearances.

And the Croatia international is now looking to better that tally in his second season at San Siro.

"I'm very happy to have signed for Milan," he said. "I'm happy I was able to prove I have the quality to play here.

"When I first arrived last season, I said I wasn't a striker, that I help the team in other ways. Then I scored 12 goals - I hope I can score more this season."

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has set his sights on bringing Milan back "where they deserve to be" after signing a new one-year contract with the Serie A club. 

The former Sweden captain made a considerable impact following his arrival in January, scoring 11 goals in 20 appearances. 

He has now penned a fresh deal with the club and expects the Rossoneri to challenge for silverware in the 2020-21 campaign. 

"I came here to bring Milan back to their level, where they deserve to be," he told Milan TV. "I do everything to achieve the goals I set.

"We have to work and sacrifice, but the last six months we have shown we have what it takes to reach certain goals.

"We must not forget, however, that we have not won anything. In my head, the goal is always to win something. This season we have to win."

Milan ended their 2019-20 Serie A campaign on an unbeaten run of 12 games to finish sixth and secure a Europa League spot, and Ibrahimovic insists those standards need to be maintained. 

"Milan must continue how the season ended, we must work and believe, as we have done recently," he added.

"We must play with pride and confidence, remembering that when you put on the Milan shirt it's a great privilege but at the same time a source of pressure.

"The whole team did well and understood what it takes to get to the top. Now, we must work well from the first day."

The 38-year-old spent two seasons with Milan between 2010 and 2012 and says it feels like home. 

"I have always felt part of Milan, even when I played with other teams," he explained. "They always treated me well from day one.

"When I first arrived at Milan, I smiled. Something I have never done before in my job. I feel at home and I don't feel like I have been away."

Zlatan Ibrahimovic will be a Milan player again in the 2020-21 season after signing a new contract with the Serie A club.

The long-running saga surrounding the former Sweden captain's future is finally over, the Rossoneri confirming on Monday he has penned a one-year deal.

Ibrahimovic was expected to remain at San Siro having made a considerable impact since rejoining in January, scoring 11 goals in 20 appearances in the second half of the 2019-20 campaign.

The 38-year-old striker had given an indication over his intentions on social media, tweeting out a picture of him in action for Milan - with a shirt doctored to have the number 11 on the back, rather than 21 - as he wrote: "Like I said I'm just warming up @acmilan". 

Ibrahimovic re-joined his team-mates for training at Milanello Sports Center before his new deal, that runs until June 30 next year, was confirmed later in the day.

One of the best strikers of his generation, Ibrahimovic spent two years with Milan earlier in his distinguished career, a stint that included securing the Serie A title in 2011. 

He moved on to Paris Saint-Germain the following year and then had spells with Manchester United and LA Galaxy before opting to return to Italy.

His decision to continue at Milan is a boost for head coach Stefano Pioli, who signed a contract extension in July following a strong finish to the season.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic will be a Milan player again in the 2020-21 season after signing a new contract with the Serie A club.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has declared "everything is sorted" for him to stay at Milan for the new season.

The long-running saga surrounding the former Sweden international's future appears to be over, with Milan tweeting a video accompanied by a message saying Ibrahimovic "is back".

"Finally, everything is sorted out and I could come back to where I feel at home," said the 38-year-old.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has given his firmest indication yet that he will stay on with Milan for the 2020-21 season. 

The 38-year-old scored 11 times in 20 matches for the Rossoneri last season after returning to the club on a short-team deal in January. 

That contract expired at the end of 2019-20 but Milan have been working hard to keep Ibrahimovic at San Siro, with technical director Paolo Maldini making it a priority. 

Agent Mino Raiola denied on Wednesday that fresh terms had been agreed, but the former Sweden international appeared to confirm on Friday that a new deal has been either signed or is a formality. 

He wrote on Twitter, alongside a picture of himself in Milan kit: "Like I said I'm just warming up @acmilan" 

The picture was doctored to indicate Ibrahimovic will wear the number 11 shirt in the new season, rather than the 21 he took on joining the Serie A giants.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has not yet agreed a new contract with Milan, insists agent Mino Raiola.

Ibrahimovic returned to San Siro in January after his Los Angeles Galaxy deal expired and scored 11 times in 20 matches for the Rossoneri.

However, the 38-year-old forward is not under contract for next season as things stand.

Reports in Italy on Wednesday claimed there had been a breakthrough in negotiations, with Ibrahimovic apparently agreeing a one-year deal on an initial wage of €6million.

But Raiola soon took to Twitter to deny this was the case.

"Ibrahimovic has NOT renewed his contract with AC Milan," the agent wrote.

He shared an image of one report, branding it "fake news".

Raiola last week told Sky Sport Italia: "We're talking, but we don't have an agreement yet."

He added: "We are negotiating. If I were not optimistic, I'd stay in bed with the blinds down."

Lionel Messi wants to leave Barcelona, but where will he go?

Manchester United, Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain, Inter and Juventus are possible destinations.

But, both Manchester clubs are believed to be targeting the six-time Ballon d'Or winner.

 

TOP STORY – UNITED EYE MESSI, BUT LIONEL WANTS CITY

Manchester United are in position to sign wantaway Barcelona captain Lionel Messi, according to Deportes Cuatro.

Messi wants to sensationally leave embattled LaLiga giants Barca and United are reportedly one of the clubs capable of signing the six-time Ballon d'Or winner.

However, The Athletic claims neighbours Manchester City and Messi have held talks, with the superstar open to playing for Pep Guardiola again.

Paris Saint-Germain, Inter and Juventus have also been linked.

 

ROUND-UP

- The Telegraph reports Real Madrid outcast James Rodriguez is close to joining Everton. James has previously worked under Carlo Ancelotti at Bayern Munich and Madrid.

Chelsea will complete the signing of Leicester City full-back Ben Chilwell, says Fabrizio Romano. The transfer will be announced soon as Chelsea also look to bring in Bayer Leverkusen star Kai Havertz and PSG captain Thiago Silva.

- Calciomercato claims Zlatan Ibrahimovic is close to signing a new deal with Milan. The 38-year-old is out of contract after returning to Milan for a second spell in January.

Barca want City's Gabriel Jesus to replace veteran forward Luis Suarez, according to Globo Esporte. Suarez has been told he can leave Camp Nou, and former club Ajax are reportedly trying to re-sign the Uruguayan.

Mino Raiola does not expect Zlatan Ibrahimovic to report for pre-season training with Milan on Monday but is "optimistic" the striker will remain with the Rossoneri.

The former Sweden captain rejoined Milan on short-term deal from MLS side LA Galaxy in January and scored 10 goals in 18 Serie A appearances.

Ibrahimovic became a free agent at the end of the season, but talks are ongoing over a deal to keep him at San Siro.

Milan report back to training on Monday, but Raiola, Ibrahimovic's agent, says terms have not been agreed for his client to link up with the squad.

Yet Raiola is hopeful the enigmatic 38-year-old will lead the line for Milan in the 2020-21 season.

He told Sky Sport Italia: "I don't think he'll be at the meeting [on Monday]. We're talking, but we don't have an agreement yet.

"I believe it's not a financial problem, but one of conviction and style. It takes two to make a marriage.

"If Ibra didn't want to stay there, there would be no negotiations, and instead, we are negotiating. If I were not optimistic, I'd stay in bed with the blinds down.

"We always have to be optimistic. I don't work to create problems but to find a solution."

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