Theo Hernandez had a goal harshly disallowed by VAR as Milan were held to a 0-0 draw by Sassuolo in their final home Serie A game of 2019.

In-form Hernandez thought he had scored his third goal in as many games just after the half-hour mark at San Siro on Sunday, only for VAR to rule it out for a handball from Franck Kessie.

Chasing a third successive league win for the first time since last season, Stefano Pioli's side piled on the pressure after the interval, only to be frustrated by some brilliant Gianluca Pegolo goalkeeping.

Substitute Rafael Leao twice beat Pegolo in the closing stages, but the crossbar and then the post came to Sassuolo's rescue.

Early in the game, Giacomo Bonaventura's effort forced Pegolo into an unconvincing save, but Sassuolo's goalkeeper reacted brilliantly to deny Kessie's follow-up.

After turning provider for a Hakan Calhanoglu chance, Hernandez thought he had put Milan ahead with a first-time strike which took a wicked deflection on its way through.

A VAR verdict, however, intervened when picking up what appeared to be Kessie's accidental handball.

A terrible back-pass then left Pegolo in no man's land prior to the break, yet Ismael Bennacer - after rounding the stranded goalkeeper - failed to apply the finish.

Jeremie Boga struck wide as Sassuolo caught Milan on the counter early in the second half, while Gianluigi Donnarumma had to keep out a stinging shot from Georgios Kyriakopoulos.

Bonaventura was denied by a brilliant Jeremy Toljan block, before Pegolo made an outstanding stop from Lucas Paqueta's close-range effort and kept out another Bonaventura attempt.

Veteran goalkeeper Pegolo was beaten late on, but Leao's curling strike cracked away off the bar before the substitute hit the right upright. There was still time for a final stop by Pegolo to deny Hernandez as Milan's efforts proved fruitless.

 

What does it mean? Milan entrenched in mid-table

It has been a frustrating season for Milan and, approaching the halfway stage, the Rossoneri sit 10th. Pioli will at least be able to take solace in the fact his side are only four points shy of eighth-placed Atalanta, though Milan will require a mighty upturn in form to make a push for the Champions League places.

Hernandez hitting his stride

Though he was unfortunate to have his goal ruled out, Milan's full-back put in another accomplished display in both defence and attack. If there is one bright mark from the Rossoneri's season so far, it is the form of the ex-Real Madrid youngster.

Piatek's struggles continue

Having netted from the spot against Bologna last time out, Piatek will have been hoping for an upturn in his fortunes, but he cut a frustrated figure in a lone striker role and was well contained by Sassuolo's defence.

What's next?

Atalanta are Milan's final opponents of 2019 on December 22, while Sassuolo face struggling Brescia on Wednesday before rounding off their year against Napoli.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been offered the chance to join ex-Milan associates Silvio Berlusconi and Adriano Galliani at third-tier Monza on a two-and-a-half-year deal.

Galliani, the Rossoneri's former chief executive, said he had spoken with the Swede in an audacious attempt to lure him to the Serie C side.

Confirmation of the contract offer comes after former Milan owner Berlusconi, who purchased Monza in 2018, publicly outlined his desire to reunite with Ibrahimovic.

The 38-year-old has been a free agent since leaving LA Galaxy after two seasons in MLS.

"After Berlusconi gave me a mandate, I made the offer to [Ibrahimovic's agent] Mino Raiola," Galliani, now CEO at Monza, told Corriere della Sera.

"He suggested I talk about it directly with Zlatan, who I speak with every night."

Galliani explained his pitch: "Come to us, stay six months in Serie C. Then next year we go up to Serie B and in two seasons we are in Serie A."

Monza are on track to win promotion this term, but signing Ibrahimovic would still represent a major surprise.

The former Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester United star has been heavily linked with either a return to Milan or a move to Napoli.

Rumoured suitors Bologna have ruled themselves out of the race, with director Walter Sabatini telling Tuttomercatoweb: "Ibrahimovic will not be coming to Bologna. He has made other choices."

Stefano Pioli has urged his Milan players to mark the club's 120th anniversary celebrations with a victory against Sassuolo on Sunday.

Previous Rossoneri stars will be in attendance at San Siro as Milan, who have won Serie A 18 times and the Champions League or European Cup on seven occasions, remember their fine history.

The glory days appear an awfully long time ago given Milan started this round of fixtures 10th in the table with a return of 20 points from 15 games.

Pioli's side have recorded back-to-back victories, though, and the head coach wants to make that three in a row on a special day for Milan.

"Tomorrow's celebrations are just a reminder to the players that this is not just any club," Pioli told a news conference.

"Tomorrow's game is very, very important; we get to honour a great history of this club, we have the chance to honour it if we play well and we win.

"I'm not interested in anything after tomorrow at the moment; I'm solely focused on the game tomorrow. We'll be facing a team that play very good football, they have very gifted players especially up front, and so we need to be at our best."

Pioli became Milan's third manager of 2019 when he was hired in October.

The club have not qualified for the Champions League since finishing third in 2012-13 and Pioli knows he faces a challenge to restore Milan to the previous heights.

"Milan – for Italian football, European football and world football – has been a top club," he added.

"For a very long time it was one of the best clubs in the world with a winning spirit and incredible play. A very well-organised club, Milan was an example to follow for everyone.

"Tomorrow's game will be very important on an important day, a lot of football coaches and players will be present.

"I hope to do well, but I don't know what I will be remembered for in the future. There are things I'd like to be remembered for, but this is not the right moment."

Mattia Caldara, who is yet to feature for Milan in Serie A since joining in 2018 due to a knee injury, has been named in the squad for Sunday's game.

Arsenal appear to have strengthened their interest in Nuno Espirito Santo.

Just over two weeks after dismissing Unai Emery, the Gunners are reportedly ready to hold talks with one of the top contenders to take over at Emirates Stadium.

But the Portuguese is not alone when it comes to candidates with Premier League experience.

 

TOP STORY – GUNNERS STEP UP NUNO CHASE

Arsenal will ask Wolves for permission to conduct formal discussions with Nuno next week, according to the Daily Mail.

The north Londoners are reportedly ready to "set to accelerate their interest" in the 45-year-old former Valencia and Porto head coach.

Belgium boss Robert Martinez is also said to have been approached, while Mauricio Pochettino, Mikel Arteta and Patrick Vieira continue to be linked.

Freddie Ljungberg has overseen two draws, a defeat and a solitary victory since taking charge on an interim basis.

ROUND-UP

- Like his former employers, ex-Arsenal boss Emery will not be rushed into a decision on his next move. Marca says the Spaniard has turned down the chance to speak to two Chinese clubs and managerless Everton since becoming a free agent on November 29.

- Premier League champions Manchester City hope to bring wantaway winger Jadon Sancho back to the Etihad Stadium after losing him to Borussia Dortmund in 2017, reports the Daily Mail.

- On the outer at Chelsea, Olivier Giroud appears to be moving closer to the Stamford Bridge exit door. L'Equipe claims the France striker is close to agreeing personal terms on a January switch to Inter, where he would reunite with Antonio Conte.

- Serie A side Milan will be offered the chance to sign Luka Jovic on loan from Real Madrid in January, according to Tuttomercatoweb.

- Barcelona will listen to offers of €10million for teenage defender Jean-Clair Todibo, reports Mundo Deportivo. The Spanish newspaper claims Bayer Leverkusen, Milan, Monaco, Southampton and Watford have submitted bids.

- Real Betis have sealed a deal to sign former Atletico Madrid winger Yannick Carrasco from Chinese Super League side Dalian Yifang, according to Deportes Cuatro.

Gennaro Gattuso has been appointed the new head coach of Napoli, the Serie A club have confirmed.

The former Milan coach and midfielder takes charge at the San Paolo following Tuesday's dismissal of Carlo Ancelotti.

Gattuso twice won the Champions League as a player under Ancelotti in a hugely successful spell with Milan.

Ancelotti's exit was announced just hours after Napoli's 4-0 win over Genk secured their place in the last 16 of the Champions League.

Their success in Europe has belied a mostly troubling few months, marred by poor domestic form and disputes within the club.

Napoli are seventh in Serie A, with just five wins from 15 games leaving them 17 points adrift of leaders Inter.

Disharmony between the players and president Aurelio De Laurentiis appeared to reach a head last month when the first-team squad apparently refused to attend a week-long training camp.

The club suggested in a statement that it could punish players, possibly with fines, promising to do "everything in its power to protect its economic interests, assets, image rights and disciplinary interests".

Tuesday's win over Genk was Napoli's first since a 3-2 victory away to Salzburg on October 23, their nine-game winless run piling greater pressure on Ancelotti.

The 60-year-old former Bayern Munich and Real Madrid boss has been linked with Premier League clubs Arsenal and Everton.

"I would like to personally thank the club, its employees, my players, my staff and the president for the opportunity to live an unforgettable experience in a wonderful city such as Naples," Ancelotti tweeted on Wednesday.

Gattuso, 41, took over as Milan coach following Vincenzo Montella's dismissal in November 2017, but he left his post at the end of last season after failing to secure Champions League qualification.

With Neymar's future far from certain, Paris Saint-Germain are reportedly planning for life without the star forward.

Neymar appears to covet a Barcelona reunion, after leaving the LaLiga champions two years ago.

Should Neymar's wish be granted, an African sensation lighting up Anfield is said to be on the agenda.

 

TOP STORY – NEYMAR OUT, MANE IN

Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain want Liverpool star Sadio Mane to replace Neymar, report France Football and Mundo Deportivo.

PSG star Neymar wanted to leave Paris during the previous transfer window, but a proposed return to Barcelona did not materialise.

Doubts remain over Neymar – who left Barca for PSG in a €222million transfer in 2017 – and the French powerhouse are said to have identified Mane should the Brazilian depart the capital.

 

ROUND-UP

- According to Calciomercato, Napoli have agreed a deal for former Milan boss Gennaro Gattuso to replace head coach Carlo Ancelotti. It comes with Ancelotti on the brink amid a nine-match winless streak ahead of Tuesday's crucial Champions League clash against Genk.

Manchester City are set to rival Chelsea for Bournemouth's Nathan Ake, says Sky Sports. Chelsea want to bring Ake back to Stamford Bridge following his exit in 2017. However, Premier League champions City are reportedly interested amid their defensive woes.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been offered an 18-month contract by Napoli, reports Gazzetta dello Sport. The 38-year-old is a free agent after leaving MLS outfit LA Galaxy and he has been linked to Milan and Inter.

- Sport claims Inter want to sign either Ivan Rakitic or Arturo Vidal from Barcelona in January. Antonio Conte is determined to bolster his squad as Inter challenge for Scudetto honours and juggle Champions League commitments. Rakitic has also been linked to Serie A holders Juventus.

Everton hope to have Vitor Pereira installed as manager for Sunday's Premier League fixture at Manchester United, according to Sky Sports. After sacking Marco Silva, the Toffees are ready to offer the Shanghai SIPG coach a three-year deal. It comes as Sky Sports also reports former Arsenal boss Unai Emery was approached about the Everton job.

- The Mirror says Manchester United are ready to show their faith in manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer by backing him in moves for Atletico Madrid midfielder Saul Niguez and Salzburg sensation Erling Haaland. The spotlight was on Solskjaer following a poor run of form and Mauricio Pochettino's Tottenham exit. However, the Norwegian has overseen consecutive victories over Tottenham and Manchester City.

Bayern Munich and Manchester City are monitoring the progress of Rangers teenager Kai Kennedy, says the Daily Record.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic will not be joining Bologna, according to the club's director Walter Sabatini.

Ibrahimovic had been linked with a return to Serie A via Bologna after leaving MLS outfit LA Galaxy at the end of his contract.

But the 38-year-old striker will not be moving to Bologna amid speculation over a switch to either Napoli or former club Milan.

"Ibrahimovic will not be coming to Bologna. He has made other choices," Sabatini told Tuttomercatoweb.

A return to Milan has been mooted for Ibrahimovic, who won the 2011 Scudetto during his two years at San Siro.

Italian rivals Napoli, however, have reportedly offered the ex-Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain star an 18-month contract.

Asked about Ibrahimovic on the eve of Napoli's Champions League clash with Genk, head coach Carlo Ancelotti told reporters on Monday: "I haven't spoken to Ibra today but I did yesterday [Sunday] evening."

"He told me he is in Los Angeles at the moment," added Ancelotti. "He feels really good and weather conditions are just perfect there."

Milan coach Stefano Pioli said he was so overcome with emotion following Sinisa Mihajlovic's return to the Bologna bench on Sunday that he just wanted to hug his opposite number.

Mihajlovic was back on the touchline for the first time since a bone marrow transplant last month, having been diagnosed with leukaemia earlier in the year.

Bologna were unable to make Mihajlovic's return a victorious one, however, as Milan claimed a slender 3-2 win despite Nicola Sansone's late penalty leading to a tense finish.

But Pioli spoke with more enthusiasm about Mihajlovic than he did Milan's performance.

"It was a real pleasure to see him," Pioli told Sky Sport Italia. "I wanted to hug him, but he said it was better not to [due to his condition]. But it was still exciting, a nice moment.

"I hope he is on the way to full recovery now. Having that moment together touched me, it really did."

Krzysztof Piatek wore an expression of relief after he ended a goal drought that stretched back almost two months, opening the scoring with an early penalty after he had been tripped, and Pioli hopes that will help the Poland international's state of mind.

"He was a fundamental point of reference for us today," Pioli said of Piatek. "He won many duels and made an important impact for the team.

"We predicted Bologna would press high up the pitch, so we thought we'd have to play direct and he held the play up very well. He too will come out of this with more confidence."

Theo Hernandez endured a mixed match, becoming the first player since Opta records began to score a goal, an own goal and concede a penalty in the same Serie A game, with Giacomo Bonaventura's strike ultimately proving crucial as Milan took home the points.

Despite there being more negatives than positives about the defender's display, Pioli was mostly pleased.

"Especially in the offensive phase, Theo is very strong," Pioli remarked. "He has great timing of his forward runs, is strong physically and has a great left foot.

"He is the sort of player that can disrupt defensive balance in the opposition if he's got space to run into ahead of him."

Milan secured successive Serie A wins for only the second time this season as they won 3-2 away to Bologna, who had coach Sinisa Mihajlovic back on the bench for the first time since his bone marrow transplant last month.

Mihajlovic, who was diagnosed with leukaemia earlier in the year, received a huge ovation as he walked out pre-match, though his presence was not enough to inspire Bologna to a first league win over Milan since January 2016.

Milan's opening goal will have come as a relief to Krzysztof Piatek as the Poland international scored his first club goal for almost two months from the spot, before Theo Hernandez netted one at either end to put Bologna back in contention.

They were soon trailing by two once again in the second half thanks to Giacomo Bonaventura's sumptuous strike and that proved decisive, giving Bologna too much to do despite Nicola Sansone's late penalty restoring a modicum of hope.

Piatek ended his goal drought from the spot in the 15th minute, converting after being sent tumbling by Bologna defender Mattia Bani.

The hosts failed to mount much of a response and found their task made even trickier just past the half-hour mark, Hernandez beating the goalkeeper from close range after collecting Suso's wonderful disguised pass.

Hernandez found the wrong net late in the half, however, directing a corner past Gianluigi Donnarumma after Stefano Denswil had ducked under the ball.

But any hope of a Bologna comeback was effectively ended within a minute of the second half starting, as Bonaventura curled a fine effort into the left side of the goal from 20 yards.

Sansone's penalty – given after a VAR review – in the 84th minute following Hernandez' clumsy foul on Riccardo Orsolini ensured it was a nervous ending for Milan, but the visitors held on.

Rumoured Milan, Napoli and Bologna target Zlatan Ibrahimovic would "increase the appeal" of Serie A, according to Mino Raiola, though his agent insisted a return to Italy is not a foregone conclusion.

Ibrahimovic is a free agent after leaving LA Galaxy following two seasons in MLS, and the former Juventus, Inter and Milan striker hinted he was heading back to Serie A when he said "see you soon in Italy" earlier this week.

However, Ibrahimovic's agent stressed his client could still join a club in another country

"It's not been said that he will necessarily return to Italy," Raiola told Gazzetta dello Sport.

"Which of the three interested clubs will he choose? Who knows, we're all free men.

"Could he retire? I'm not going to exclude anything but it is very unlikely. Ibra is still very well."

I came, I saw, I conquered. Thank you @lagalaxy for making me feel alive again. To the Galaxy fans - you wanted Zlatan, I gave you Zlatan. You are welcome. The story continues...Now go back to watch baseball pic.twitter.com/kkL6B6dJBr

— Zlatan Ibrahimović (@Ibra_official) November 13, 2019

The 38-year-old Swede certainly helped enhance MLS during his two years Stateside, and Raiola feels he would have a similar impact in Italy, should that be his chosen destination.

"Certainly if he returned, the appeal of Serie A would increase, both technically and on television," Raiola added.

"How many countries would turn on the TV every weekend?"

Ibrahimovic spent two seasons with Juventus, three campaigns with Inter and two years with Milan, scoring a combined 122 goals across 219 appearances.

He was part of title-winning teams with all three clubs, though Juventus' two championships in that time were later revoked due to the Calciopoli scandal.

Out-of-sorts striker Krzysztof Piatek is not the root of Milan's problems, according to head coach Stefano Pioli.

Piatek joined Milan 11 months ago from Genoa and made an instant impression, scoring seven times in his first six games.

The Polish star finished the 2018-19 campaign with 22 Serie A goals, but he has struggled to hit those heights this season, finding the net just three times and failing to score in six successive matches.

Milan, down in 11th in the table, have struggled as a result, but Pioli feels their issues are collective, rather than individual.

"There is no Piatek problem," he said at a news conference to preview Sunday's game against Bologna.

"There is a Milan that is playing well, that is working hard to climb out of this slump, a team that knows we need to do more."

Pioli feels he has no like-for-like replacements for Piatek in his squad as he considers talented 20-year-old Rafael Leao a different type of forward.

"If Piatek plays tomorrow that is because I've decided he is important for our team," Pioli added.

"If he plays like he did against Parma [in last week's 1-0 away win], it means he will have had a good game, like the rest of the team.

"Each player brings their own characteristics; Piatek is a striker, a poacher, Leao is a movement striker. There are many ways to play but the important thing is the characteristics on the field match up.

"The individual isn't important; we don't have anyone like [Lionel] Messi or [Cristiano] Ronaldo - that means we have to work as a team."

With Piatek unable to replicate last season's form, Milan have been linked with a reunion with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who is available on a free as he leaves MLS side LA Galaxy.

Asked if he wanted Ibrahimovic to sign as an early Christmas present, Pioli replied: "Christmas comes on December 25 but you've been talking about these things from November.

"If I was to think about a present for now, I'd want the three points for tomorrow."

Christian Eriksen is back on Manchester United's transfer radar.

The Red Devils are said to be preparing a January bid for the Tottenham midfielder, whose contract expires at the end of the season.

Eriksen reportedly turned down a move to Old Trafford earlier this year.

 

TOP STORY – UNITED REIGNITE ERIKSEN INTEREST

Could Jose Mourinho unintentionally do his old employers another favour?

Tottenham lost to United in midweek and are now about to receive an offer for playmaker Eriksen from their Premier League rivals, reports The Mirror.

The Denmark international has not featured in the starting XI since Mourinho replaced Mauricio Pochettino and, though he prefers a move abroad, might have a decision to make when the transfer window reopens.

Seemingly not convinced by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side a few months ago, Eriksen can sign a pre-contract agreement with clubs overseas from January.

ROUND-UP

- Leicester City are set to hand in-demand manager Brendan Rodgers a bumper new deal in a bid to end interest from Arsenal, according to The Telegraph.

- David Moyes wants a long-term commitment from Everton before agreeing to a second stint in charge at Goodison Park, says The Sun.

- Contrary to recent reports, ESPN suggests Patrick Vieira is not at the top of Arsenal's shortlist of potential managers.

- Error-riddled Roberto's ill-fated period as a Premier League goalkeeper could soon be over. The Guardian reports West Ham will look to sell or loan the Spaniard in January, with Turkey a likely destination, as they pursue stronger competition for the injured Lukasz Fabianski.

- Serie A side  Milan have offered Zlatan Ibrahimovic a contract that could run for 18 months and will demand an answer from his agent Mino Raiola next week, claims CalcioMercato.

- Diego Simeone wants Atletico Madrid to prioritise signing a striker over Brazilian midfielder Bruno Guimaraes, according to AS. The Spanish newspaper links Krzysztof Piatek, Andrea Belotti of Torino, Chelsea centre-forward Olivier Giroud and Valencia's Rodrigo with moves to the Wanda Metropolitano.

- Staying with Atletico and the Rojiblancos have entered the race for rumoured Juventus, Inter and Borussia Dortmund target Sandro Tonali, says CalcioMercato. Tonali, 19, is in his third season in Brescia's first-team squad.

Corriere dello Sport claimed to be victim of a "lynching" over its controversial "Black Friday" headline as editor Ivan Zazzaroni suggested some clubs had expressed support.

The Italian sports publication sparked outrage when it used the term on Thursday's front page to accompany images of Romelu Lukaku and Chris Smalling.

The former Manchester United team-mates are set to square off in a Serie A fixture between Inter and Roma on Friday.

Inter striker Lukaku called it the "dumbest" headline he had ever seen and Smalling labelled it "highly insensitive".

But after hitting out at social media and criticism and declaring its "innocent" intentions, Corriere refused to backtrack with its next edition.

Friday's headline read: "Racist to whom? Lynching of a newspaper that has been defending freedom and equality for a century".

The front page included a collage of past headlines condemning racism and an editorial from Zazzaroni that insisted "Black Friday" was meant to be a celebration of diversity.

Roma and Inter's city rivals Milan responded by banning the newspaper from speaking to their players and attending training sessions for the remainder of 2019.

In an appearance on Telelombardia, Zazzaroni said: "The other clubs have expressed solidarity. I don't have to justify myself. In the newspaper we did many articles on the fight against racism.

"The headline has been explained and clarified. It was a pun on two champions of anti-racism.

"Lukaku's agent [Federico Pastorello] even said that there was an association with other [newspapers] with the aim of debasing both players.

"Let's say that the exchange between me and Pastorello wasn't very uplifting."

Racism controversies have plagued Italian football this season. Lukaku and Brescia's Mario Balotelli were separately subjected to taunts from supporters during matches in September and November.

Serie A clubs recently signed an open letter vowing to address the issue of racism within the Italian game, with football authorities criticised for not doing enough to punish examples or racial discrimination at matches.

Roma and Milan have banned Corriere dello Sport from their training grounds and told players not to speak to the newspaper for the rest of the year.

On Thursday, the Italian sports daily published the headline 'Black Friday' – accompanied by pictures of Roma's Chris Smalling and Inter's Romelu Lukaku – ahead of the Serie A clash between the two sides.

The headline was widely criticised as being racial insensitive, with Smalling and Lukaku both expressing disappointment.

However, Corriere dello Sport's editor described the headline as "innocent" and insisted the words reflected "the pride of difference, the wonderful wealth of difference", adding: "If you don't get it, it is because you can't or you don't want to."

The clubs announced their sanctions against the newspaper in a joint statement.

It read: "We believe that players, clubs, supporters and the media must be united in the fight against racism in football and we all have a responsibility to be very precise in the words we choose and the messages we deliver.

"In response to the 'Black Friday' headline published by the newspaper, Roma and Milan have decided to ban Corriere dello Sport from our training facilities for the rest of the year and our players will not carry out any media activities with the newspaper during this period.

"Both clubs are aware that the actual newspaper article associated with the headline did portray an anti-racist message and for this reason, we have only banned Corriere dello Sport until January. We remain totally committed to tackling racism."

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