Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been ruled out of Milan's clash with Lazio, but head coach Stefano Pioli is confident fit-again Mario Mandzukic is ready to step up and fill the void.

Sweden international Ibrahimovic sat out Wednesday's 2-1 home loss to Sassuolo with a muscular problem and is not ready to return for Monday's Serie A trip to Stadio Olimpico.

The 39-year-old, who this week signed another 12-month extension with Milan, also missed the recent win against Genoa through suspension.

Rafael Leao filled in for Ibrahimovic in those two matches, but Mandzukic - a second-half substitute in both games - is in line for a first league start since joining in January after shaking off an injury issue of his own.

"Ibrahimovic is better but he won't be there tomorrow. He should be back for the following match," Pioli said at a pre-match news conference on Sunday. 

"Mandzukic and Leao will play for the place tomorrow. Mario is feeling better and has the characteristics to give himself the right contribution in the opposition box."

Former Juventus striker Mandzukic has featured seven times in total for Milan, his only start coming in the 2-2 Europa League last-32 first leg with Red Star Belgrade in February.

He has yet to score, assist or create a chance across his 119 minutes of Serie A action for the Rossoneri and has managed just three four shots, three of those on target.

Rafael Leao has played double the number of league games over that same period of time, scoring one, assisting one and creating nine chances.

The versatile Portuguese forward can play right across the frontline, but Pioli is not yet sure where he will be used in the long term.

"The Leao project continues regardless of his role," Pioli said. "It only goes to show his maturity and willingness to grow, which is normal for such a young player.

"It is difficult to establish what Rafael's final role will be. The growth of a player allows you to find a job and a position. 

"The important thing is he continues to grow and we will continue to evaluate the position along the way."

Milan have an identical league record with and without Ibrahimovic in their side this season (W10 D3 L3), and they average 1.9 goals with him in the side compared to 1.8 without.

Since rejoining the club at the start of 2020, Ibrahimovic has scored 25 goals in 35 Serie A appearances - only Luis Muriel (26), Romelu Lukaku (32), Ciro Immobile (36) and Cristiano Ronaldo (46) have found the net more often across that period.

Meanwhile, his scoring rate of 108.24 minutes per goal is bettered only by Ronaldo (88.41) and Muriel (64.42) among players to have scored at least 10 times.

"Ibra has raised the level of quality and personality, his charisma has helped everyone to grow," Pioli said following confirmation of Ibrahimovic's new contract on Saturday.

"His teammates have been good at following this path and having a growth with great constancy and will. 

"We have all grown and have become a team of a higher level. Everyone has given their contribution."

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."

Stefano Pioli wants to see a reaction from his players in the Coppa Italia showdown with Inter following Milan's humbling home loss to Atalanta last time out.

The Serie A leaders went down 3-0 at home to Gian Piero Gasperini's side on Saturday, though they still have a two-point cushion over their next opponents at the halfway stage of the 2020-21 season. 

Next up is the small matter of a derby against Inter on Tuesday, an opportunity for Milan to quickly move on from such a disappointing result and reach the semi-finals of the Coppa Italia. 

The Rossoneri came out on top when the teams met earlier in the season, Zlatan Ibrahimovic's early double proving enough in a 2-1 triumph. 

"It's a different competition, but one we care about. The league is a different story," Pioli told the club's official website ahead of the game.  

"The next derby will be in a month, with other important games beforehand, so this is just a Coppa Italia match. However, it is an important quarter-final we need to face in the best way. 

"As always, there are opponents to face, dangerous opponents, but we are determined to bounce back with a good performance.  

"The Coppa is a competition we care about and aim to win, because in the end all the big teams in the league find themselves in this position, facing off in the quarter and semi-finals.   

"We weren't particularly lucky in the draw. We are in the toughest section, but if you want to win the Coppa, you have to face everyone.  

"It's important to us and we'll do our best to win."

Pioli confirmed Ismael Bennacer is not quite ready to return - the midfielder is on course to be available for Saturday's trip to Bologna, though - while Hakan Calhanoglu is also still out.

New recruit Mario Mandzukic suffered an issue at the weekend after making his debut as a second-half substitute, albeit the striker has not yet been ruled out entirely.

Milan have not lifted the Coppa Italia since 2003, while their last Scudetto arrived a decade ago. Pioli appreciates there is pressure to succeed, particularly after a strong first half to the campaign, but insists that is all part of the job when in charge of such a big club.

"Last Saturday reminded us that if we can't maintain our level, we run the risk of losing against these opponents," he added.

"So, our objective is to make an even greater effort, a more determined one to try to maintain our standing through until the end of the season. 

"We want to be ambitious and win all our games. When we don't, we work even harder to make sure the situation doesn't happen again.  

"That's why pressure is a privilege we must live with, or rather we must want this pressure because we're at a great club - pressure and expectations are a part of that."

Mario Mandzukic has returned to Serie A by signing a contract with league leaders Milan.

Former Juventus striker Mandzukic has agreed a deal until the of the season with the Rossoneri, though it includes the option for a one-year extension.

The 34-year-old arrives on a free transfer after terminating his contract with Al-Duhail, having joined the Qatari club from Juve last year.

He will offer support to fellow veteran attacker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who has scored 12 goals in eight Serie A appearances this term.

Speaking about Mandzukic after scoring a double in a 2-0 win over Cagliari on Monday, Ibrahimovic told Sky Sport Italia: "I'm happy we have two that scare our opponents."

Mandzukic made 162 appearances in all competitions across four and a half years with Juve, scoring 44 goals and setting up another 19.

His 48 goal involvements (31 scored, 17 assisted) in Serie A from the start of 2015-16 until the end of 2018-19 – the last season in which he featured – were only the joint-18th most in the league.

While he may not have been prolific he was an important part of a Juve side that won four straight Scudetti, three of which came as part of a domestic double with success in the Coppa Italia.

Mandzukic scored a memorable overhead kick in Juve's Champions League final defeat to Real Madrid in 2017 but lifted the trophy during two seasons at Bayern Munich, where he also won two Bundesliga titles and the Club World Cup.

Across the nine seasons in Europe's top five leagues he has previously featured in, which covers his stints with Juve, Bayern, Atletico Madrid and Wolfsburg, he has averaged a goal involvement every 140.1 minutes.

Milan are also expected to sign Fikayo Tomori on loan from Chelsea for the rest of the season during the January transfer window.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic believes Mario Mandzukic will "scare" opponents like he does, with Chelsea's Fikayo Tomori also poised to join Serie A leaders Milan.

Ibrahimovic restored the Rossoneri's three-point lead over rivals Inter at the summit with both goals in Monday's 2-0 win at Cagliari.

And Milan are not resting on a position of strength, with their veteran top scorer under the impression a deal to bring in former Bayern Munich and Juventus forward Mandzukic on a free transfer is already done.

"Mario Mandzukic has signed his contract, he's joining AC Milan," Ibrahimovic told Sky Sport Italia.

"I'm happy we have two that scare our opponents."

Youth is set to join experience, with 23-year-old Chelsea defender Tomori on the verge of a loan switch to San Siro as he seeks regular first-team opportunities.

"We wanted Fikayo Tomori also last summer, he's always been one of our targets," Milan technical director Paolo Maldini said.

"He's perfect for our squad. We're working on the last details."

Ibrahimovic addressed Maldini directly after the game, saying a renewal of his own contract at Milan depended on his former team-mate.

The 39-year-old once again displayed evergreen form on his first league start since the end of November in Serie A, taking his tally to 12 goals in just eight Serie A appearances this term.

"Young people motivate me, they challenge me to see who runs more, I don't give up and show that I can run like them," he said.

“We are doing well, we are almost halfway through the season.

"Now the most difficult games are starting. It will be a very tough schedule, but with Mandzukic, [Monday debutant Soualiho] Meite, I don't know if more will arrive … more players available for the coach, they can help."

Asked whether he believed Milan could end Juventus' long reign as champions of Italy, Ibrahimovic inimitably replied: "I believe in me, in Zlatan."

Real Madrid star Sergio Ramos' future appears no closer to being sorted.

Ramos, 34, is out of contract at the end of the season and reportedly turned down a one-year deal from Madrid.

And the Spain international's future remains uncertain.

 

TOP STORY – RAMOS, REAL MADRID NEGOTIATIONS AT A STANDSTILL

Negotiations between Real Madrid and Sergio Ramos are at a standstill, according to Le 10 Sport.

Amid the uncertainty over his future, Ramos has been linked with numerous European giants.

But Telefoot reported there had been no contact between Ramos and Paris Saint-Germain.

 

ROUND-UP

- Starting to find form again for Borussia Dortmund, Jadon Sancho is set to be the subject of transfer speculation ahead of 2021-22. But Sky Sports reports talks about a move for the reported Manchester United target are unlikely in January, with an off-season switch possible.

- PSG seem keen to land Dele Alli in January. Fabrizio Romano claims the midfielder is pushing to join the Ligue 1 giants on loan and Mauricio Pochettino's PSG will not give up on a deal.

- Milan appear set to add depth to their squad. The Serie A leaders have agreed a deal with former Juventus striker Mario Mandzukic, according to CalcioMercato.

- Staying at Milan and they are also reportedly set to land Fikayo Tomori from Chelsea. Romano says Tomori is set to join on loan with an option to buy for €30million (£26.7m).

Stefano Pioli confirmed Milan will consider adding further to their squad in January amid speculation Mario Mandzukic is set to join the club.

Mandzukic – who previously played in Serie A with Juventus – is a free agent after terminating his contract with Al-Duhail by mutual consent in July.

The Rossoneri are reportedly going to sign the Croatian striker on an 18-month deal, boosting their forward options as they look to maintain their push to win the league for the first time in a decade.

Pioli was not willing to discuss individual names at his pre-match news conference ahead of Monday's trip to Cagliari but did admit the club are ready to act if the right player becomes available.

"I don't want to and cannot comment on players that I don't have," he told the media. "I have a lot of confidence in the club and the management team. I leave that task to them.

"We know that if there is the possibility of strengthening the team, we will do it. We will be ready in January if there is the possibility of improving this group." 

Milan have already made one signing in the mid-season transfer window, midfielder Soualiho Meite arriving on loan from Torino.

"Meite makes a department that already had good solidity even more competitive," Pioli said of the new recruit.

"I really liked the move. We have combined quality and quantity. I also liked how he spoke, saying he was ambitious. To join our group, you have to be like that."

The Serie A leaders head to Cagliari without Hakan Calhanoglu and Theo Hernandez, both players currently isolating after testing positive for coronavirus.

Pioli admits it is a blow to be without the influential duo – they are also set to miss next Saturday's home fixture with Atalanta – but is confident he has the quality within his squad to cope with such situations during the course of the season.

"They are important absences, but this season is like that," the Milan boss said. "There are critical issues that can come at any moment, so we must always be prepared and attentive.

"The quality of the players that I will have available tomorrow will certainly make us have a good match.

"We are prepared, that's why I expect the players to always be ready. We can all be decisive and help the team."

Will a Juventus-Paul Pogba reunion become a reality?

The future of Manchester United star continues to dominate headlines.

A move back to Turin could be on the cards for Pogba.

 

TOP STORY – JUVE TO MAKE POGBA OFFER

Serie A champions Juventus will try to prise Paul Pogba from Manchester United at the end of the season, according to the Calciomercato.

Pogba appears set to leave United following the 2020-21 campaign after his agent Mino Raiola claimed the French midfielder was unhappy in Manchester.

Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain have been linked but Juve, who signed Pogba from United in 2012 before losing him to the Red Devils four years later, want to bring the World Cup winner back to Turin.

 

ROUND-UP

- The Telegraph reports Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola will be given £200million to spend on new players in the next transfer window. Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland and Inter forward Romelu Lukaku are on the list of potential targets, as well as Benfica's Darwin Nunez amid doubts over Sergio Aguero 's future. Haaland has also been linked with neighbours United , Madrid , Barca , Liverpool and Juve .

Bayern Munich are interested in Madrid defender Eder Militao , claims Mundo Deportivo. It comes as Bayern look to replace David Alaba , who is set to leave the Bundesliga champions on a free transfer. Alaba has been tipped to join Madrid .

Milan  are close to re-signing star pair Gianluigi Donnarumma and Hakan Calhanoglu , says Tuttosport. Corriere dello Sport reports Milan are also nearing a deal to sign veteran forward Mario Mandzukic .

- The Athletic claims Mesut Ozil is poised to leave Arsenal for Turkish giants Fenerbahce after reaching an agreement in principle to terminate his Gunners contract.

- The Transfer Window Podcast claims Madrid are considering the possibility of using Eden Hazard in a deal to lure Kylian Mbappe from PSG.

Memphis Depay has been strongly tipped to move to Barca , however, Ok Diario reports the Lyon captain could join Madrid following Luka Jovic's loan return to Eintracht Frankfurt.

Erling Haaland is one of the sought-after players in world football.

The Borussia Dortmund forward can reportedly take his pick from Europe's elite.

But if his agent Mino Raiola has his way, Camp Nou could be Haaland's next destination.

 

TOP STORY – HAALAND COULD LEAVE BVB AT SEASON'S END

Borussia Dortmund star Erling Haaland could leave the Bundesliga club for Barcelona at the end of the season, according to TV3 program Onze.

Haaland has been linked with the likes of Barca, Real Madrid, Manchester United, Manchester City and Juventus following his exploits for Dortmund.

The Norway international forward reportedly has a €75million (£66.8m) release clause at the end of his second season in Dortmund, though he could depart sooner rather than later.

 

ROUND-UP

- Fabrizio Romano says United are not working on a deal to sign Madrid captain Sergio Ramos. The Spanish superstar is out of contract at the end of the season, and he has been linked with Paris Saint-Germain, Juve, City, Chelsea and Liverpool. A move to Liverpool is reportedly not on the horizon due to his role in the injury to Mohamed Salah in the 2018 Champions League final.

City have joined Serie A champions Juve in the race to sign Sassuolo star Manuel Locatelli, reports the Daily Mail.

- According to Sky Sport Italia, Sportitalia and Tuttomercatoweb, Milan are set to meet with free agent Mario Mandzukic over the next 24 hours to discuss a short-term deal. Staying at San Siro and Sky Sport Italia says the Rossoneri are close to signing Torino midfielder Soualiho Meite on loan with the option to buy.

Arsenal are interested in Barca goalkeeper Neto, claims Sky Sports. With backup Runar Alex Runarsson struggling in London, the Gunners are hoping to bring in Neto on loan.

- Marca reports Barca are targeting Valencia star Jose Gaya to bolster their left-back position, while Villarreal's Alfonso Pedraza is another option.

Juventus are set to complete the signing of American defender Bryan Reynolds from MLS club Dallas, says Romano. The 19-year-old will join Benevento until June, before linking up with Juve.

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