Milan coach Stefano Pioli applauded the "team spirit" shown by his players even though they only claimed a 1-1 draw at home to a Hellas Verona side that had a man sent off.

A lacklustre start contributed to Milan falling behind early on, with Marco Davide Faraoni converting from close range after a left-wing cross.

Hakan Calhanoglu's 29th-minute free-kick deflected in off Valerio Verre to restore parity, though Verona looked the more threatening in the initial stages of the second period.

That was until Sofyan Amrabat was shown a straight red for a high tackle on Samu Castillejo. Yet, although they piled the pressure on towards the end, Milan – who were without the ill Zlatan Ibrahimovic – had to settle for a point.

Pioli acknowledged it was frustrating, but he opted to focus on the team's attitude and the positives.

"We conceded six shots on goal and we were not very careful because they were all dangerous occasions," he told Sky Sport Italia.

"Verona attacked us so much. The regret is having not won after the equaliser and having not taken advantage of the numerical superiority.

"There was a lot of time to put things right, instead it seemed that there were five minutes left. We had some opportunities, and we could've won even in a moment of difficulty given the many absences.

"I believe that even now the team spirit has been seen and it is making a difference. We are building something, the next four games are important, so we are recovering energy and players to be able to make the right choices in view of the next matches."

Up next for Milan is the Derby della Madonnina against bitter rivals Inter and Pioli is hopeful Ibrahimovic will be back in contention, with their central striking options somewhat limited following the departure of Krzysztof Piatek.

"I hope he [Ibrahimovic] is available in the derby," Pioli said. "He suffered a little with fatigue and flu, but there is a good chance [he can face Inter]."

Milan are set to be without Zlatan Ibrahimovic when they face Hellas Verona on Sunday, Stefano Pioli has confirmed.

Ibrahimovic's return to San Siro has coincided with a marked upturn in form from Milan, who have won five of their past six matches in all competitions.

But the 38-year-old – who has scored two goals since his move to Milan, including one in extra-time in the 4-2 Coppa Italia win over Torino last time out – is unlikely to feature in Sunday's encounter after coming down with an illness.

"Over the last two-three days, Ibrahimovic and [Simon] Kjaer have been suffering from flu and I doubt we're going to be able to call them up," Pioli told a news conference.

"There are muscular problems for [Rade] Krunic too, so yes, we have more than a few problems.

"Hellas Verona are in good shape, doing great work this season and will arrive at San Siro very determined. They run hard and it has been a difficult week for us."

Ibrahimovic's absence means Rafael Leao and Ante Rebic are Milan's forward options, with the club having sold Krzysztof Piatek to Hertha Berlin late in the January transfer window.

Milan did not get a deal for Wigan Athletic defender Antonee Robinson over the line but recalled Diego Laxalt to fill the void left by Ricardo Rodriguez, who departed on loan to PSV.

Suso also left for Sevilla, with Alexis Saelemaekers joining Milan on Friday to add to the signings of Ibrahimovic, Kjaer and Asmir Begovic.

"We brought in players of quality and experience, but also interesting young prospects," Pioli said of Milan's business. 

"Whoever plays instead of Ibrahimovic, he will do well, and it's not the system that decides victory.

"We've turned a corner lately because the team understood that only with the spirit of sacrifice can we achieve a win. It was a good January, but that is behind us now and we have new important games to play."

The January transfer window is over, meaning the top clubs in Europe have to go with what they have got for the remainder of the season.

There have been some huge deals across the continent, with much of the major action was completed early on in the window.

Namely, Erling Haaland joined Borussia Dortmund, and the Norwegian sensation has already made a flying start in the Bundesliga.

Haaland's former Salzburg team-mate Takumi Minamino has joined runaway Premier League leaders, while there was also the small matter of Zlatan Ibrahimovic returning to Milan.

Here, we take a look at the best deals that went through.

Erling Haaland: Salzburg to Borussia Dortmund (€22.5m)

Haaland was arguably the most sought-after player in the January transfer window, with Dortmund reportedly beating RB Leipzig, Juventus and Manchester United to his signature. It already looks like the striker will take the Bundesliga by storm, having scored five goals in two substitute appearances that have lasted a cumulative 59 minutes.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic: LA Galaxy to Milan (free transfer)

At 38, not many players would have their pick of clubs, but Ibrahimovic certainly did. He took his time in deciding his next move after leaving LA Galaxy but, amid links to Bologna and Napoli, the Swede plumped to join his former club Milan. His impact at San Siro has been instant, with Milan unbeaten since his return, winning five of their six games in all competitions.

Takumi Minamino: Salzburg to Liverpool (£7.25m)

Haaland may have been the Salzburg player who drew the most attention, but Japan international Minamino should prove to be a bargain for Liverpool. The European champions moved quickly to bring in the 25-year-old for a measly fee of £7.25m. Able to play anywhere in the front three or even as an attacking midfielder, Minamino scored nine goals for Salzburg in all competitions this season before getting his big move and is a great back-up for Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah.

Dani Olmo: Dinamo Zagreb to RB Leipzig (up to €35m)

A star of Spain’s triumphant side in the Under-21 European Championships, Olmo has carried on his sparkling form from last season to become one of the most in-demand youngsters in European football. Having scored five Champions League goals this term, the 21-year-old was linked with a return to Barcelona, but ultimately opted to join Bundesliga leaders RB Leipzig – a team which would seem to be an ideal place for the playmaker to continue his development.

Raul de Tomas: Benfica to Espanyol (€20m)

Another club-record signing in LaLiga, De Tomas seems a gamble for such a fee, although one worth taking for an Espanyol side at serious risk of the drop. He might not have settled in Lisbon, but De Tomas was a persistent goalscorer at Real Valladolid and Rayo Vallecano and €20m will seem a snip if he keeps Espanyol in the top flight.

Paco Alcacer: Borussia Dortmund to Villarreal (€23m)

Ruthless in a Valencia shirt and too-often unused at Barcelona, Alcacer returns to LaLiga after scoring 23 goals in 37 Bundesliga appearances, despite problems with injury, after he was deemed surplus to requirements at Dortmund following Haaland's arrival. It might be a club-record purchase but, if he can fire Villarreal into top-four contention, it will be money well spent.

Julian Weigl: Borussia Dortmund to Benfica (€20m)

Weigl has had some of Europe's biggest clubs following his every move in recent seasons, with Manchester City said to be keen and Paris Saint-Germain reportedly prepared to pay up to €75m to reunite him with Thomas Tuchel. Having struggled for form and minutes under Lucien Favre, Weigl decided his best bet at this stage of his career was to pursue regular game time with Benfica. Still only 24, he will look an absolute bargain if he can recapture his early promise in Portugal.

Alvaro Odriozola: Real Madrid to Bayern Munich (loan)

It would be fair to say things have not quite worked out for Odriozola at Real Madrid, with the full-back having made just 18 LaLiga appearances in total for Los Blancos since his move from Real Sociedad. However, the 24-year-old has been handed the opportunity to prove he can cut it at the highest level at Bayern Munich, who were in desperate need of defensive reinforcements due to injuries to Lucas Hernandez and Niklas Sule.

Pablo Mari: Flamengo to Arsenal (loan with option to buy)

Mikel Arteta was desperate for a left-footed centre-back and in Mari he has found one that, after a string of loan spells away from Manchester City, made good on his potential at Flamengo, where he won the Campeonato Brasileiro and Copa Libertadores in the space of six months. He could be just what Arsenal needed and there is minimal risk involved in the deal.

Carles Perez: Barcelona to Roma (loan with option/obligation to buy)

After a bright start to the season, Perez found game time increasingly hard to come by at Camp Nou. The exciting winger will only cost an initial €11m if targets are met that turn Roma's option to buy into an obligation, which looks like it would be a snip. Given he is only 21, if Perez performs well there would be a good chance of significant profit further down the line.

Hakan Calhanoglu scored a double off the bench to take Milan from the brink of Coppa Italia elimination and into the semi-finals with a thrilling 4-2 victory after extra time against Torino.

Milan took the lead when Giacomo Bonaventura converted in the 12th minute, but a brace from defender Bremer looked set to be enough to send Torino into the semi-finals for the first time since 1993-94.

However, Calhanoglu replaced Rade Krunic in the 82nd minute and his stoppage-time strike from the edge of the box forced an additional half an hour.

A stunning drive from the same player just 29 seconds into the second half of extra time was followed two minutes later by Zlatan Ibrahimovic's second goal since returning to the club, sending the Rossoneri through to face Juventus in the last four.

Bonaventura turned Ante Rebic's cross home from six yards to put Milan ahead, but the Croatia international failed to convert a brilliant cross from Samu Castillejo in the 33rd minute to double the lead.

It proved costly 51 seconds later, with Bremer letting a delightful lofted pass from Simone Verdi bounce before guiding a clever finish underneath the onrushing Gianluigi Donnarumma.

Ibrahimovic replaced the disappointing Krzysztof Piatek in the 65th minute but Torino moved in front when Ola Aina's cross from the left was nodded in by Bremer.

Torino were unable to hang on until the final whistle, though, with Calhanoglu's stoppage-time effort from the edge of the box beating Salvatore Sirigu after deflecting off Bremer's replacement Koffi Djidji.

Ibrahimovic missed a glorious chance to wrap things up in normal time from six yards with the goal gaping, while Theo Hernandez failed to guide the ball beyond Sirigu, who also kept him out the follow up, in the 103rd minute.

The crucial fifth goal eventually arrived in the second half of extra time, with substitute Franck Kessie releasing Calhanoglu for a fierce effort that had too much power for Sirigu.

Ibrahimovic squeezed a pass from fellow sub Rafael Leao inside the near post to seal the deal in the 108th minute, ensuring there will be no Turin derby in the semi-finals.

Stefano Pioli said the arrival of Zlatan Ibrahimovic has "raised the level of training" at Milan, who are unbeaten in three Serie A matches with the 38-year-old striker involved.

The Rossoneri on Sunday beat Udinese 3-2 in an entertaining encounter at San Siro, where an error by Gianluigi Donnarumma allowed the visitors to take the lead after six minutes through Jens Stryger Larsen.

Second-half strikes from Ante Rebic and Theo Hernandez turned the game on its head before Kevin Lasagna's 85th-minute equaliser.

There was one final twist, though, as Rebic won it deep into stoppage time and Pioli revelled in a third successive victory, but warned Milan have plenty of room for improvement.

"I have to congratulate my players on their performance against the team that caused us a lot of problems," the Milan boss told DAZN.

"We still have to work a lot, because today we showed our quality but there were also moments of relaxation where we exposed to rival blows."

He added: "I asked my players that this week would be perfect and we succeeded, although it was hard.

"This should teach us that the match never ends. We will still work on efficiency."

Ante Rebić's first Rossonero brace and Theo's stunner clinch the win against Udinese Read more https://t.co/eo7djPvp3V

La prima doppietta rossonera di Rebić e la magia di Theo decidono #MilanUdinese  Scopri di più https://t.co/iY1DYC4enn#SempreMilan pic.twitter.com/B2LleqOJ2y

— AC Milan (@acmilan) January 19, 2020

Ibrahimovic played the full 90 minutes and Pioli was full of praise for the veteran striker's performance, as well as that of Rebic after he scored three minutes after coming on as a second-half substitute and struck again at the death.

"Ibra is an added value in our daily work," Pioli said of Ibrahimovic. "He raised the level of training.

"Rebic has been hoping for more opportunities, he always trains well, and after Christmas he returned very determined and willing.

"Everyone who wants to help the team will be given chances."

Zlatan Ibrahimovic helped Milan to a 3-2 victory over Udinese on Sunday to break yet another record.

Milan's success in Ibrahimovic's 222nd Serie A appearance made the veteran striker the fastest player to 150 wins in the Italian top flight in the three-points-for-a-win era - which started in 1994-95.

The 38-year-old was making only his third appearance since arriving at San Siro for his second spell at the club, as two goals from Ante Rebic and one from Theo Hernandez steered Milan to a third consecutive victory in all competitions.

Ibrahimovic has played for Juventus, Inter and Milan across the course of two decades in which he has won seven Scudettos, two of which were revoked due to the Calciopoli scandal.

He has achieved 150 wins in eight fewer matches than former Inter team-mate Esteban Cambiasso, and 10 fewer than Napoli forward Lorenzo Insigne.

Milan head coach Stefano Pioli said the signing of Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been "really important" for the Serie A side.

Ibrahimovic is back at Milan for a second time after returning to the Rossoneri – where he won the Scudetto in 2010-11 – at the end of his LA Galaxy contract.

The 38-year-old star has made an immediate impact, scoring in Milan's 2-0 Serie A victory away to Cagliari last week – only his second appearance.

Ibrahimovic was an unused substitute as Milan eased past SPAL 3-0 in the Coppa Italia last 16 on Wednesday, ahead of Udinese's league visit on Sunday, and Pioli hailed the striker amid the club's struggles.

"Signing Ibrahimovic has been really important," Pioli told reporters. "Absolutely, it's been really important for what he does every day during the training, for what he did at Cagliari and for what he will do.

"Ibra will improve giving us great satisfaction. He is so professional, he is so driven in all the things he does. It is unbelievable seeing a great champion like him working hard. It's important for a young team like us.

"After Cagliari he said to work hard and with passion so we can get a reward. This is the most important thing."

Without a Scudetto since Ibrahimovic's first spell, Milan are 10th in Serie A and 10 points adrift of fourth-placed Atalanta, while they are 23 points behind leaders Juventus.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic plans to "celebrate like a God" when he scores at San Siro having opted to strike a calm pose after netting in his first start since returning to Milan against Cagliari.

Milan ended a miserable run of three straight games without a goal with a 2-0 away win on Saturday, Ibrahimovic scoring his side's second midway through the second half with an excellent first-time finish. 

A deflected strike from Rafael Leao had given Stefano Pioli's men the lead just after half-time.

Ibrahimovic, who came off the bench in the 0-0 San Siro draw with Sampdoria, is saving his biggest celebration until he scores on home soil.

"I'll celebrate like a God at San Siro, not here," the 38-year-old told Sky Sport Italia. 

"I celebrate God every time I score, that way I feel alive! It's important for a striker to try and be there, then sometimes it goes in, sometimes it doesn't. 

"I got a few balls wrong at the start of the game, but I need a few matches to get into shape."

Of Pioli checking on Ibrahimovic in the second half, the striker added: "I feel good, the coach just wanted to think about my age and see if I needed a rest, but there's no problem. My mind is still sharp and the body has to follow.

"We played with two strikers and two wingers to push the whole team further forward, and it went well."

Pioli felt Ibrahimovic's presence was already being felt, adding: "This was certainly a different performance to recent outings. 

"We were more effective, more solid. Zlatan's presence clearly gives us a reference point to build around and it will take us a while to really get to know each other.

"Ibrahimovic probably won't run into space that much, so we need someone around him who can do the running, as we saw Leao, Samu Castillejo and Hakan Calhanoglu, then Giacomo Bonaventura do. 

"We have only just started working on this system, but the early signs are positive."

Zlatan Ibrahimovic inspired Milan to victory on his first start since returning to the club, netting in a 2-0 Serie A win at Cagliari.

With Milan having gone three straight games without scoring, the 38-year-old netted the decisive second goal with an excellent finish after 64 minutes.

The visitors had moved ahead on Saturday through Rafael Leao's deflected effort, his first goal since September, which arrived just 32 seconds after the restart.

Cagliari remain sixth in the table but have lost four straight Serie A matches and are on their worst run since October 2017.

The only chance in a quiet first half hour was Theo Hernandez's shot from a tight angle that was saved by the legs of Robin Olsen.

Milan almost broke through when Ibrahimovic's header was touched onto the upright by Olsen and they came close again from the resulting corner, which was flicked on by Alessio Romagnoli to a stretching Leao, who could not convert at the far post.

Cagliari rarely threatened but an audacious Nahitan Nandez lob from the right touchline had to be saved by a back-tracking Gianluigi Donnarumma.

Milan made an ideal start to the second half when Samu Castillejo's lofted pass found Leao, who controlled neatly before seeing his shot deflect off defender Fabio Pisacane and loop in over a helpless Olsen.

Midway through the half, Ibrahimovic sealed victory as he swept a first-time, left-footed effort into the far corner from 12 yards after latching on to Hernandez's delivery from the left.

Ibrahimovic thought he had a second late on but was denied by an offside flag having headed in a cross from Ismael Bennacer, Donnarumma not having a save to make in the closing stages as Milan held on comfortably.
 

What does it mean? Ibra gives Milan much needed boost

Coming into the game, Milan were on their lowest Serie A goal total after playing 18 games since 1985.

Enter Ibrahimovic, whose fine finish sealed victory after he went the closest of anyone to scoring in a quiet first half. His return and Milan's seventh top-flight win of the season gives them something to build on in the second half of the season.


Castillejo creativity boosts Milan

Castillejo was handed a rare start and made the most of it, setting up Leao's opener and finishing with three chances created, level with Hakan Calhanoglu for the best on the pitch.


Simeone struggles for hosts

Ahead of the match, Giovanni Simeone revealed he used to wear an Ibrahimovic shirt when he grew up as a Milan fan, but the striker could not match the former Sweden international on the pitch, substituted after 69 minutes having struggled to make an impact.


What's next?

Milan have the chance to continue their momentum when they host a poor SPAL side in the last 16 of the Coppa Italia on Wednesday, a day after Cagliari have a challenging trip to Inter in the same competition.

Inter coach Antonio Conte has welcomed Zlatan Ibrahimovic back to Serie A following his move to rivals Milan and recounted attempting to take him to Chelsea.

Ibrahimovic, 38, became a free agent after his contract with LA Galaxy expired at the end of the 2019 MLS season and a return to Italy always looked his most likely next step.

Napoli and Bologna were both linked with the Swede, but he ultimately opted for Milan, whom he previously spent two years with – the first on loan from Barcelona – until 2012.

Ibrahimovic made his second comeback from the bench in Monday's clash with Sampdoria but was unable to inspire Stefano Pioli's men to victory, as they were held to a goalless draw at San Siro.

Conte expects the former Manchester United, Barca, Inter and Paris Saint-Germain striker to make a big impact at Milan, however, and lauded the personality of the man he tried to lure to Stamford Bridge.

“First of all, I want to say welcome back Ibra," Conte told reporters ahead of Saturday's Serie A clash with Atalanta.

"He is a great champion. I tried to get him when I was at Chelsea. I have a lot of respect for him, he has lots of personality after having a tough upbringing - he is a great player.

"I think he can give Milan a lot. His personality will help Milan, he will help the others grow. I think it is important for coaches to have players who lead the way, players who know what you want and lead the team.

"I think this is vital for a coach to have in a team. When a coach has those players then things are a lot easier."

Inter have been strongly linked with several players in the transfer window after such an impressive first half of the season.

Christian Eriksen, Arturo Vidal and Ashley Young are all said to be key targets, though Conte was not forthcoming regarding potential new arrivals.

"I have said in the past that I will not talk about it," he said. "It is pointless asking me these questions.

"I don't want to be rude, but I will not talk about the transfer market. That is something for the club, not me.

"The January transfer window is always a bit peculiar. One must also be smart and understand that there can be many voices [publications].

"The right weight must be given, but for us coaches it is a difficult month to handle certain situations.

"Sometimes untrue news comes out and you find yourself having to prepare a game while untrue rumours come out, but football is also this, you have to face this and be smart."

Zlatan Ibrahimovic said he wanted to score a goal and "celebrate like a God" after playing a Serie A match for Milan for the first time in 2,794 days.

Ibrahimovic made his return to San Siro on Monday but he was unable to enjoy a winning comeback following Monday's 0-0 draw against Sampdoria.

The 38-year-old, who was part of the last Milan side to win the Scudetto in 2010-11, came on for Krzysztof Piatek 10 minutes into the second half as the Rossoneri's winless streak extended to three matches.

"I could feel a lot of adrenaline, emotion, and feelings I'd been carrying around with me for nine or 10 years," Ibrahimovic – who arrived on a free transfer until the end of the season, told Sky Sport Italia.

"The rapport with the fans remains wonderful and gives me so much motivation. I wanted to get on to the pitch, score a goal and then celebrate like a God in front of the Curva!"

Milan are 12th in Serie A, 13 points adrift of fourth-placed Roma and just eight points above the relegation zone after 18 games.

Ibrahimovic added: "You can see that the team is lacking confidence and aggression in scoring goals, so we aren't as effective. We need to understand what to do in order to get the best out of this squad.

"I've been here for four days and I will try everything possible to get Milan going again. There is a lack of faith here."

 

Stefano Pioli was pleased with Zlatan Ibrahimovic's performance but was frustrated Milan did not make better use of him in the 0-0 draw with Sampdoria.

Ibrahimovic, who returned for a second spell at the club this week, made his first Serie A performance in 2974 days as a second-half substitute at San Siro.

The 38-year-old saw a header saved by Emil Audero but was generally starved of service as Milan controlled possession but failed to offer enough cutting edge in attack.

Pioli now hopes the players can get used to having Ibrahimovic in the side in order to make the most of his goalscoring threat.

"From my perspective, his impact was positive," the Rossoneri boss told Sky Sport Italia. "He gave us presence and support. In my opinion, the team isn't yet used to having that presence. At the end of the game, I think we could have looked for him more.

"When it comes to quality, it's also down to the choices made, particularly in the last quarter of an hour, when the energy was lower.

"We've always been a skilled team in the build-up, skilled in dribbling, and we did that today. Now, there are other solutions we have to be good at exploiting."

Pioli admitted a lack of quality continues to hold Milan back, with Monday's San Siro stalemate leaving them 12th in the table, 13 points adrift of the top four.

"We obviously wanted to win and the fact we didn't manage to is certainly disappointing," he said.

"We almost played in the middle of Sampdoria's half. We put an impressive number of balls into their area but lacked quality. We didn't lack for desire and generosity, but we couldn't find the right chance."

When asked where more quality should come from, he said: "From all AC Milan players. We needed more precision but, I repeat, we got into their box many times."

Milan spent much of the previous decade battling Manchester United to decide which of Europe's grandest clubs could fall hardest from their perches.

Such has been their relative misery that each team was linked with bringing back a former star, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, to inject a little optimism at the start of 2020.

It was Milan who made that particular move, Ibrahimovic returning this week to much fanfare to the club he led to the 2011 Serie A title. He came on as a substitute against Sampdoria on Monday, the self-professed lion greeting the San Siro cheers with an encouraging roar of this own.

If bravado bought points, Ibrahimovic's arrival would have Milan pushing Juventus at the top of the table before the season is out. As it is, his 35 minutes on the pitch served only to show how far the Rossoneri find themselves from those title-winning standards of nine years ago.

Ibrahimovic came on for Krzysztof Piatek, a one-time goal machine who at the moment looks about as likely to escape a man-marking centre-back as his own shadow.

Piatek managed one shot, 14 touches and five passes in his 55 minutes on the pitch. The Poland international showed lots of endeavour, but when you have scored just six league goals in eight months, hard work counts for little.

As a whole, Milan cannot be accused of a lack of effort since Stefano Pioli took charge in October, but the dearth in quality in their play has reached alarming levels. This is a team assembled at no little expense, under the directorship of former stars Paolo Maldini and Zvonimir Boban, who must spend each passing week remembering the Rossoneri's seven European Cups and wondering how much further from those standards they can drift.

Ibrahimovic, of course, has never won the Champions League – a blot on a career trophy haul that is otherwise the envy of entire football clubs – and that will not change at San Siro. This draw leaves Milan 12th in the table, 13 points adrift of the top four and only eight above the relegation zone, and only some rather panicked finishing from Samp striker Manolo Gabbiadini prevented this result from being worse. Realistically, Ibrahimovic will be in his 40s by the time Milan are even close to Champions League football again.

But Zlatan was brought back with a more immediate impact in mind. He certainly injected something into this Milan performance, starved of service as he was: he led the attack tolerably well, saw a header saved by Emil Audero and set up Rade Krunic for a chance he failed to take.

It was Mateo Musacchio who set up Rafael Leao for their best chance, only for the winger to give a non-committal stab at the ball and lift it over the bar. It was a finish unbecoming of this club, or even of Ibrahimovic himself, who watched on impassively.

"I don't come as a mascot, to stand next to the devil [Milanello] and dance," Ibrahimovic said this week. "I'm here to help out on the pitch."

Monday's stalemate means Milan have won four of their past 15 league games. Given the quality around him, perhaps a little cheerleading is the best Zlatan can do for now.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic was unable to make a winning return to Milan as the Rossoneri were held to a 0-0 draw by Sampdoria at San Siro on Monday.

Veteran striker Ibrahimovic rejoined Milan on a free transfer at the start of the window and made his first appearance as a second-half substitute.

Despite his introduction it was Samp who looked more dangerous and Stefano Pioli had goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma and the profligacy of Manolo Gabbiadini to thank for things remaining level.

Milan, who lost 5-0 to Atalanta in their last game before the mid-season break, were unable to find a winner in the closing stages and remain 12th due to Hellas Verona's 2-0 win over SPAL on Sunday.

Ibrahimovic received a warm welcome at the warm-ups but the low-key action on the pitch during the early exchanges stood in stark contrast to the excitement and anticipation around his return.

Milan finally threatened in the 23rd minute, but Giacomo Bonaventura's volley from the edge of the box was blocked by Omar Colley.

Theo Hernandez clipped the crossbar with a curling cross from the left and on the stroke of half-time Jakub Jankto – a 42nd-minute substitute for Fabio Depaoli, who went off 12 minutes after replacing Gaston Ramirez – had a goal correctly ruled out for offside.

Donnarumma stopped Gabbiadini putting Samp ahead early in the second half, though a clearance from Hernandez ensured the ricochet did not drop into the net.

Ibrahimovic was introduced to a great roar in the 55th minute but it was the visitors who continued to look more threatening, Donnarumma rushing off his line to keep out Gabbiadini before Davide Calabria's block denied Ronaldo Vieira on the follow-up.

Gabbiadini lost his composure after rounding an out-of-position Donnarumma before the hour mark, with Ibrahimovic mustering a couple of headers as he made himself a nuisance in the box.

Substitute Rafael Leao wasted a glorious chance to take all three points in the 71st minute, leaving Milan without a win in three Serie A matches.

 

What does it mean? Milan need more than Ibra

Ibrahimovic proved of more use to Milan than Krzysztof Piatek, who was barely involved before being replaced by the former Sweden international.

The 38-year-old offered a focal point to the Rossoneri's attack and regularly looked to link the play, but a lack of creativity and flair going forward continues to hamper Stefano Pioli's side.

Hernandez one of few bright strikes

Former Real Madrid left-back Hernandez motored up and down the wing to great effect at San Siro. He caused Samp problems going forward and made an important goal-line clearance in the second half.

Quagliarella goes quiet

Although Gabbiadini was unable to take any of the chances that came his way as Samp enjoyed a strong start to the second half, Fabio Quagliarella was the major disappointment. The veteran attacker was rarely involved and did not have a single shot on goal.

What's next?

Milan face a tricky trip to Cagliari on Saturday, while Sampdoria take on fellow strugglers Brescia the following day.

Stefano Pioli says Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a "champion" but cannot win games singlehandedly, as Milan target improvement across the team and potentially further January moves.

Ibrahimovic is in line to make his first appearance since rejoining Milan as Serie A returns from the mid-season break this weekend.

The 38-year-old is in the squad to face Sampdoria, having arrived from LA Galaxy on a free transfer.

Head coach Pioli is delighted to welcome Ibrahimovic back to the club, but he sees plenty more work to do, with the Rossoneri 11th ahead of this round of fixtures.

"It's not that we think Ibra is the saviour - nobody thinks that he can solve all the problems," Pioli told a news conference.

"He certainly has an added value in everyday life, but we all have to do something more. He won't make us win games alone - we will do that if we play as a team.

"Ibra is a champion. He will prove it again because he has the desire and passion, but it is the team that will have to do much better."

Discussing Ibrahimovic's condition, Pioli added: "He is in the squad. He is fine as a player who last played two months ago. He has had few training sessions but is improving.

"If he is in the squad, it means that he is available. There is a possibility that he will play."

Krzysztof Piatek was Milan's big signing last January, but he has scored only four times this season, prompting reports in England of a bid from Newcastle United.

But Pioli suggested Piatek could yet play alongside Ibrahimovic, although the coach will not leave his new veteran signing out just to keep others happy.

"Everyone can play together," Pioli said when asked of Piatek. "What matters is balance and creating more scoring chances than opponents.

"We are already putting the cart before the horse [discussing the response to potential line-ups], but I will not be influenced by this. My goal is only to deploy the best possible line-up."

Milan may not yet be done in the market either, as Pioli added: "We are looking for a defender.

"We already have clear ideas. If there is a chance to change something and improve, the club will do it."

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