Jose Mourinho seemingly has Gareth Bale in his Tottenham plans, but he will have to wait until before the start of next season.

Mourinho was named Spurs head coach on Wednesday, a day after the Premier League club sacked Mauricio Pochettino.

Unsurprisingly, there is plenty of talk around his potential movements in the transfer market – including a Tottenham return for Bale.

 

TOP STORY – MOURINHO EYES BALE, BUT CAN'T SPEND IN JANUARY

Mourinho's arrival at Tottenham offers Bale the perfect escape route from Real Madrid, according to AS.

The star attacker left Spurs for Madrid in 2013, but is set to leave the LaLiga giants at season's end, the report says.

Marca reports Madrid have ruled out a January exit for Bale. That would suit Mourinho, who has been told there is no money to spend in the January window, according to The Guardian.

ROUND-UP

- Mourinho has more pressing matters at Spurs. The Mirror reports Christian Eriksen, Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld, who are out of contract at season's end, are intrigued by the prospect of working under Mourinho and are open minded about their futures.

- It could have been different for Spurs. According to the Daily Mail, Leicester City manager Brendan Rodgers was Tottenham's first choice before they turned to Mourinho.

- Meanwhile, the sacked Pochettino may not be out of management for too long. Barcelona and Bayern Munich are ready to pounce for the former Spurs manager, according to The Sun. Ernesto Valverde is under pressure at Camp Nou, while interim boss Hansi Flick will coach Bayern until at least the end of the year.

- Zlatan Ibrahimovic may be getting closer to sorting out his future. Sky Sport reports AC Milan spoke to the departing LA Galaxy striker's agent Mino Raiola on Wednesday about the possibility of a return to San Siro.

- Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is in no rush to renew his Arsenal contract and with good reason. Sport reports the forward is waiting to find out how serious Barcelona's interest in him is before extending a deal that runs until 2021.

- Needing a striker, Manchester United are considering a January move for Roma's Edin Dzeko, according to ESPN FC. Dzeko has scored five goals in 12 Serie A games this season, and United are looking to finally bolster their attack after losing Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez in the close season.

- Olivier Giroud has made just one Premier League start for Chelsea this season and the striker could be set for a January exit. La Gazzetta dello Sport says Inter are considering a move for Giroud in January as they look for a back-up for Lukaku.

AC Milan striker Krzysztof Piatek wants to be worth as much as €70million by the time he eventually leaves the club. 

Piatek signed for Milan in January after enjoying an extraordinary start to life in Serie A at Genoa.

The Poland striker scored 13 league goals in 19 appearances during the first half of the 2018-19 season, leading to a big-money move for a reported fee of €35m.

He had no trouble maintaining his form following his switch to San Siro - scoring a further nine league goals - but has failed to recapture those levels so far this campaign, netting just three times.

However, Piatek remains confident in his ability to succeed with the Rossoneri.

"When I moved to Milan it all happened so fast that I didn't even ask questions," the 24-year-old, who scored in Poland's 2-1 win over Israel on Saturday, told television channel TVP Sport.

"I was focused on work, in football yes, it's always about setting new goals. Now I'm worth €38m, the next time I change clubs, I'd like to be worth €60-70m.

"I have to be ambitious, I'll work for it, I'm at the beginning of my career, it's only my second season in Serie A, one of the top five leagues [in Europe]."

Piatek also believes the reaction of the Italian press to his loss of form has made matters more difficult at Milan, who sacked coach Marco Giampaolo earlier in the season and currently languish down in 14th place in the table.

"I look in the mirror and look for the blame inside of me. At the beginning, as a team, we didn't create so many opportunities. We're improving, I'm going to score again," he said during the interview.

"For Italian journalists, one day you're the soccer pope and the next day you're the worst player.

"I accept it. Nobody put themselves in my shoes, the covers of the newspapers don't impact me."

Marco Giampaolo needed more time to have a genuine chance of implementing his plans for AC Milan, according to assistant coach Daniele Bonera.

Milan sacked Giampaolo following a 2-1 win over Genoa in October, his seventh match in charge.

The former Sampdoria boss presided over three victories and four defeats before the Rossoneri rushed to appoint Stefano Pioli – a move that, so far, has failed to lead to an upturn in the team's fortunes.

Pioli has led the team to four points from five games since his arrival, with their solitary triumph coming at home to lowly SPAL.

"In a few months, two coaches arrived with different working methods, two ways of thinking on a defensive level," Bonera, an assistant under both coaches, told La Gazzetta dello Sport.

"With Giampaolo, we thought more about the ball. With Pioli, we are more practical and we work on the positioning of players.

"Giampaolo did not have the time he needed, but at a club like Milan there is never much time."

Asked about the players, Bonera said: "I see guys who are very committed. Many are really young, in their twenties. It takes time.

"We need patience, which is a rare commodity in football. We are trying to do better every day. I've never seen any of the players holding back because of fatigue."

Milan's problems could grow further if Ligue 1 side Paris Saint-Germain launch a January bid to sign goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, as has been rumoured in recent days.

Bonera, who made over 150 Serie A appearances for Milan during his nine-year spell with the club as a player, recommends the 20-year-old Donnarumma remains with his boyhood club.

"As a fan and someone in love with Milan, I would recommend he stay with us," Bonera said.

"But he has staff and family who advise him."

Inter have a fight on their hands to retain the services of star forward Lautaro Martinez.

Martinez has been heavily linked to LaLiga champions Barcelona as they search for Luis Suarez's long-term replacement.

But Manchester City and United are both reportedly interested in the Argentina international.

 

TOP STORY – CITY & UNITED TARGET MARTINEZ

Manchester City and Premier League neighbours United want to sign Inter star Martinez, according to The Mirror.

Martinez – who is only in his second season in Milan after joining from Racing Club in 2018 – has flourished this term with eight goals across all competitions for Antonio Conte's Inter.

LaLiga champions Barcelona have been linked, while the two Manchester clubs are also reportedly targeting the 22-year-old forward.

 

ROUND-UP

- Unhappy at Barcelona, Ivan Rakitic could remain in LaLiga. The Croatia international has attracted interest from the likes of Inter, United and Paris Saint-Germain in his pursuit of more game time. However, Movistar+ claims Atletico Madrid are willing to meet Barca's €40million valuation of Rakitic. Marca adds that Atletico do not plan to replace Diego Costa due to salary constraints.

- The Mirror says Arsenal scouted Leicester City defender Caglar Soyuncu during Turkey's Euro 2020 qualifier against Iceland on Thursday. Soyuncu moved to Leicester from Freiburg in 2018 and the 23-year-old has stepped up to fill the void left by Harry Maguire, who joined United in a world-record deal.

- Zlatan Ibrahimovic out and Edinson Cavani in for LA Galaxy? According to Gianluca Di Marzio, MLS side the Galaxy are targeting Paris Saint-Germain's Cavani following Ibrahimovic's exit. The Uruguay forward is out of contract at the end of the season and has been linked to David Beckham's Inter Miami franchise, who will open their inaugural season against the Galaxy next year.

Inter will need to fork out €30m if they want to sign Udinese's Rodrigo de Paul in January, reports Calciomercato. The Express also reports that Inter are ready to offer out-of-favour Chelsea striker Olivier Giroud an 18-month contract. Conte is determined to add depth up front, with Martinez and Romelu Lukaku leading the way in the absence of injured loanee Alexis Sanchez.

- Corriere dello Sport claims Roma have joined the chase for Everton forward Moise Kean. The 19-year-old has struggled since moving to the Premier League from Juventus, and the likes of Sampdoria and AC Milan are lining up to bring the teenager back to Serie A on loan.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic wants to see out his career in Italy, according to LA Galaxy head coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto.

Ibrahimovic revealed on Wednesday that he will not be renewing his contract with MLS side the Galaxy, where the 38-year-old arrived from Manchester United in 2018.

The ex-Paris Saint-Germain striker has been strongly linked with a return to Europe, with MLS commissioner Don Garber last week suggesting former club AC Milan are the frontrunners to re-sign the soon-to-be free agent.

Napoli, Bologna and Roma have also been touted as possible options for the former Sweden international should he return to Serie A, while A-League team Perth Glory have confirmed their interest in bringing Ibrahimovic to Australia on a guest deal.

Asked about Ibrahimovic's future, Galaxy boss Schelotto told Radio Kiss Kiss: "He does not know what he will do now.

"He is a wonderful player, but I don't know what his next step will be - perhaps he'll finish his career in Naples or with Milan. 

"I don't know where he will go but he deserves and wants to finish his career in Italy."

Ibrahimovic spent two seasons with Milan – winning the Serie A and Supercoppa Italiana – before leaving in 2012 for French giants PSG, where he worked under current Napoli coach Carlo Ancelotti.

"They know each other well," Schelotto said. "Zlatan evidently has the characteristics that Napoli needs."

Jadon Sancho could be about to spark a bidding war.

The England international is reportedly ready to leave Borussia Dortmund, a development that will have his numerous European suitors on red alert.

Manchester United have long been linked to Sancho, but could face stiff Premier League competition for his signature.


TOP STORY – SANCHO SEEKING DORTMUND DEPARTURE

Jadon Sancho has become unsettled at Borussia Dortmund and wants to leave, according to the Daily Mail.

The exciting teenage winger is said to have grown dissatisfied with life at Signal Iduna Park after being dropped for a Bundesliga fixture last month for disciplinary reasons.

Head coach Lucien Favre further tested their relationship when he withdrew the Manchester City product before half-time of the heavy Der Klassiker loss to Bayern Munich.

News of Sancho's decision to depart will be noted at Old Trafford, but the report claims Manchester United's bitter Premier League rivals Liverpool are also showing strong interest. 

LaLiga giants Real Madrid appear to be another potential destination for one of the continent's most coveted young stars.

 

ROUND-UP

- Sancho could be heading in the opposite direction to Leroy Sane. The Daily Mirror says Bayern Munich have reignited their interest in the Germany international, who has been sidelined since the start of the season due to a knee injury.

- Granit Xhaka is not the only Arsenal midfielder on AC Milan's radar. According to Calciomercato, the Rossoneri are even more eager to land Lucas Torreira, and will make a move in June after failing to prise him away from north London at the end of last season.

- Chelsea are set for another fight to keep in-form winger Willian as Juventus and Barcelona circle the 31-year-old, the Daily Mirror reports. Frank Lampard wants to keep the Brazilian at Stamford Bridge but Willian's contract is up at the end of the campaign.

- Manchester City captain David Silva could follow in the footsteps of Andres Iniesta, Fernando Torres and David Villa by seeing out his career in Japan. Spanish television programme El Chiringuito says the 33-year-old is in talks to join Vissel Kobe following the completion of his 10-season spell at the Etihad Stadium.

- Leicester City and Aston Villa have been linked to Alfredo Morelos but Rangers are in no rush to sell. That is the assurance of the Scottish side's new sporting director Ross Wilson, who "categorically" stated that an annual loss of £11.3million would not impact the club's determination to keep their Colombian striker.

Riccardo Montolivo insists he holds no grudge with AC Milan even as he retires 18 months on from his final Serie A appearance.

The 34-year-old has been without a club since his Milan contract ran out at the end of the 2018-19 season and has now decided to call a halt to his career.

However, Montolivo had not played a professional match since a 1-1 draw at Atalanta on May 13, 2018, being named on the bench 17 times in Serie A last term without making a single appearance.

Discussing his retirement with Corriere dello Sport, Montolivo revealed he had accepted a fringe role for his final campaign at the club but was disappointed not to feature at all.

"I last played in May 2018, at Atleti Azzurri d'Italia, the same stadium where I had started sixteen years before," he said.

"I had two seasons at Atalanta, seven at Fiorentina and seven at Milan, although the last year-and-a-half has been an ordeal. I was marginalised, answers were never given.

"I don't hold a grudge. Those who have been wrong with me, those who have disrespected me, repeatedly, will probably come to terms with their conscience."

Montolivo added of Gennaro Gattuso, his last coach at Milan: "In the end, I also received the compliments of the coach.

"And do you know what he added? That he would have been crazy had he been in my place. I felt cheated once more."

Montolivo lost the Milan captaincy to Leonardo Bonucci upon the latter's arrival from Juventus in 2017, a decision made without any input from the deposed skipper.

"I didn't deliver [the armband] to him," the midfielder said. "They told me that [then owner] Li Yonghong had decided the armband would be passed to one of the new signings.

"When they told me about it, I explained that I found it unfair, that they were making a big mistake because there are hierarchies in the locker room that should always be respected.

"I put forward the names of [Giacomo] Bonaventura and [Alessio] Romagnoli. But nothing - Bonucci.

"In today's football, everyone thinks for himself. Solidarity, the sense of the group, this is stuff of the past. Anyway, [his team-mates] couldn't do anything."

AC Milan are desperate to add some firepower, but the Serie A side may not be opting for Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Ibrahimovic, 38, has been linked with a return to San Siro as the superstar prepares to leave LA Galaxy at the end of his contract.

However, Milan are considering their options.

 

TOP STORY – MILAN LOOK ELSEWHERE AMID IBRAHIMOVIC LINKS

AC Milan are eyeing Napoli star Dries Mertens and Juventus striker Mario Mandzukic, according to Tuttosport.

Stefano Pioli's men are struggling in 14th in Serie A, having scored just 11 goals in 12 league games.

Krzysztof Piatek is Milan's leading goalscorer in the league, but he has managed just three in 12.

The report says Ibrahimovic remains an option in the background.

ROUND-UP

- Juventus stars are expecting an apology from Cristiano Ronaldo after his outburst on Sunday, according to Gazzetta dello Sport. Ronaldo reportedly left the stadium after being substituted in the second half of Juve's 1-0 win over Milan.

- Expect movement at Barcelona in January. Sport reports the LaLiga champions could sell Ivan Rakitic, Carles Alena and Moussa Wague without making any additions. Meanwhile, ESPN FC says Barcelona consider €100million too high a price to pay for Salzburg star Erling Haaland.

- Dani Olmo is still attracting interest from Europe's biggest clubs. CalcioMercato reports the Spanish attacker is ready to leave Dinamo Zagreb, who want €40m amid interest from Manchester City, AC Milan and Roma.

- Amid a lack of playing time at Real Madrid, Brahim Diaz and Mariano have been offered to Espanyol, according to Sport. Brahim has played just 18 LaLiga minutes this season, while Mariano is yet to feature in 2019-20.

- Andrea Belotti is set to re-sign with Torino. The striker – who has scored seven goals in 12 Serie A games this season – will get higher wages and a release clause of €100m, which will apply only for foreign clubs, according to CalcioMercato.

- Inter want to make as many as three signings in January, according to Tuttosport. Second in the Serie A table, one of those additions is set to depend on how much Inter bring in from the sale of Gabriel Barbosa – the forward is on loan at Flamengo.

AC Milan, Bologna, Perth Glory, Inter and even Juventus have been linked to Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Ibrahimovic's LA Galaxy contract is set to expire before the end of the year and the veteran striker is not short of suitors.

And a return to Old Trafford could be on the cards for the 38-year-old.

 

TOP STORY – UNITED TARGETING IBRAHIMOVIC

Manchester United are preparing to make a move for former striker Ibrahimovic, reports Mail Online.

Ibrahimovic left United for MLS outfit LA Galaxy in 2018 and he has flourished in the United States, where he has scored 53 goals across two seasons.

But with Ibrahimovic – who has been linked to AC Milan, Bologna and A-League side Perth Glory – coming off contract and United looking to bolster their attacking options following the departures of Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez, a Manchester comeback has been mooted.

ROUND-UP

Inter are set to back Antonio Conte in the January transfer window. Following Conte's outburst over a lack of squad planning after Inter's Champions League defeat to Borussia Dortmund, Calciomercato says the Nerazzurri are ready to sign Parma duo Matteo Darmian and Dejan Kulusevski. Darmian only arrived from Manchester United at the start of the season, while teenage midfielder Kulusevski is on loan from Atalanta.

- Pressure is mounting on Unai Emery but Arsenal are not worried. According to the Mail, the Gunners will not be panicked into sacking head coach Emery – whose side have gone four league games without a win and sit sixth, eight points outside of the top four. Former Spain and Barcelona boss Luis Enrique has emerged as a possible replacement.

- Despite Southampton's poor form, the Premier League strugglers are still behind boss Ralph Hasenhuttl according to The Sun. The Saints are 19th and three points adrift of safety amid a seven-match winless streak in the league – highlighted by a record 9-0 humiliation against Leicester City.

Dries Mertens could be set to leave Napoli. Second on the club's all-time scoring list, Corriere dello Sport and Gazzetta dello Sport claim Mertens has agreed to join Inter as a free agent at the end of the season. The 32-year-old has called Naples home since arriving from PSV in 2013.

Maurizio Sarri has no qualms with Cristiano Ronaldo's frustrations at being substituted and says Juventus must thank the superstar forward for attempting to play through the pain barrier.

Eyebrows were raised when Ronaldo was withdrawn after 55 minutes of Sunday's 1-0 Serie A win over AC Milan with his replacement Paulo Dybala scoring the winner in Turin.

It came just five days after Ronaldo was substituted with eight minutes remaining against Lokomotiv Moscow and in need of a goal, which eventually arrived from Douglas Costa deep into injury time of the Champions League clash.

Ronaldo gave a sulky reaction on that occasion and headed straight down the tunnel when brought off against struggling Italian rivals Milan.

Juve head coach Sarri again insisted Ronaldo – who reportedly left the Allianz Stadium before the final whistle – is struggling with a knee injury that is affecting his performance and believes his frustrated reactions are a result of that.

"We must thank Ronaldo, because he made a sacrifice to be there at all tonight in a difficult situation," Sarri told Sky Sport Italia.

"He did everything possible to play, but I saw he was not well and thought it best to take him off.

"It's only natural a player is going to be irritated to leave the pitch, especially when he worked so hard to be there. 

"Over the last month, he has had this little knee problem, he had a knock in training and it hurt the collateral ligament. 

"When he trains at high intensity or plays, it unbalances him, so he ends up overcompensating and it damages the calf and thigh muscles.

"It is affecting his performances and he is not at his best at the moment. All players who are trying to give their best will have at least five minutes of being annoyed when they are substituted, but a coach would in general be much more worried if he didn't seem upset."

In isolation, scrappy wins over Lokomotiv Moscow and AC Milan in the space of five days hardly scream significant moments in Juventus' season.

But it is the bold measure taken by Maurizio Sarri to achieve those victories that make this week seem particularly important in the wider picture for the Bianconeri and their legendary forward Cristiano Ronaldo.

Needing a goal against Lokomotiv in midweek with the score locked at 1-1, Sarri made the audacious call to hook Ronaldo in the 82nd minute.

Juve huffed and puffed and finally blew the door down thanks to Douglas Costa in the third minute of added time.

After the game, Sarri insisted he made the decision because Ronaldo had been suffering with a knee injury in the build-up, a line he repeated after Sunday's game. The hunched shoulders, sullen face and refusal to shake his coach's hand suggested it was a decision that did not have the approval of the Portugal captain. 

It was an infinitely more drastic call against Milan on Sunday. Spare for a decent disguised pass into the area for Gonzalo Higuain and a long-range effort shortly before half-time, it was unquestionably another subdued performance from Ronaldo, who stormed straight down the tunnel after being withdrawn.

But to haul off one of the greatest goalscorers of all time after 55 minutes with your team needing a goal is brave at best, reckless at worst.

And yet, Sarri's decision was again entirely justified as Ronaldo's replacement Paulo Dybala jinked and weaved his way through the Milan defence and coolly picked out the bottom-left corner with 13 minutes left to play to seal a 1-0 victory.

What feels so pertinent about all this is the way Sarri is considering ordinary decisions for a player who throughout his career has been out of the ordinary.

It is worlds apart from the Sarri we saw nine months ago during the EFL Cup final, where his then Chelsea side were eventually beaten on penalties by Manchester City.

On that occasion, Sarri's authority was left in tatters by goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga's shocking act of insubordination when he seemingly refused to be substituted at Wembley.

The sight of a seething Sarri trudging down the tunnel, only to return to the dugout moments later was an uncomfortable one.

Perhaps that moment has instilled in Sarri a take-no-prisoners attitude that even a player of Ronaldo's history and calibre cannot escape. Perhaps he genuinely, and justifiably from the fact they won both games, felt others were more capable of earning his team the result. 

What is certain, is that none of Ronaldo's coaches during his record-breaking days at Real Madrid, regardless of personal relationship, would have had the nerve to make such calls.

Ronaldo has clashed with coaches who boast far superior records to the one major honour Sarri has won in his career and one wonders how long he is willing to accept being the fall guy if Juve continue struggling to fire.

But the fact remains whether you consider Sarri to be inspired, brave or reckless, ultimately the decision to replace Ronaldo in two straight games with his side chasing a goal has proven to be the right one.

And that absolutely seems like a significant moment.

Stefano Pioli rued AC Milan's profligacy in the 1-0 defeat to Juventus, especially given he felt his side "were at least on a par" with the Serie A leaders.

Milan put in one of their better performances of the season at Allianz Stadium but a mixture of questionable finishing and excellent goalkeeping from Wojciech Szczesny proved the Rossoneri's undoing as substitute Paulo Dybala scored a 77th-minute winner.

Head coach Pioli was unable to hide his frustration and urged Milan to be more clinical following Sunday's loss in Turin.

"We were at least on a par with our opponents, if not more, but if you don't turn those chances into goals, you are going to pay," Pioli, whose side are 14th, told Sky Sport Italia in quotes reported by Football Italia.

"We've got to keep working and improving. Our current position is unworthy of Milan and that must keep us worried and concentrated at all times.

"Unfortunately, it's the same thing I said last Sunday after Lazio, which is that we had the opportunities and I don't think many have 15 shots on goal the way we did at the Juventus Stadium, but we need to convert more of them.

"We also conceded a goal when we should've been tighter in our defending and marking. I can only underline that the performance is good, but we need the results too. We have to improve our position in the table, it's time to take some punches and work hard.

"I see improvements every day, I saw them in recent matches, as we were by no means inferior to Lazio or Juventus. We must understand that at this level, every single ball can be decisive.

"We haven't had as many points as we expected, nor as many as we probably deserved lately, but the performances have been there."

Paulo Dybala vindicated Maurizio Sarri's decision to introduce him for the underwhelming Cristiano Ronaldo as the Argentina international clinched underwhelming Juventus a slender 1-0 win over AC Milan on Sunday.

Sarri's men were well below par for the visit of Stefano Pioli's Milan and Ronaldo was no different, as the Portugal star failed to inspire an Old Lady attack that looked bereft of creative ingenuity until matchwinner Dybala replaced the five-time Ballon d'Or winner.

Belying the form table, Milan looked considerably more fluent and inventive in attack during the opening 45 minutes, but questionable finishing and a wonderful save from Wojciech Szczesny prevented them going into half-time ahead.

Juve remained short of ideas going forward initially in the second period and that resulted in the withdrawal of Ronaldo – who was also hooked in the Champions League against Lokomotiv Moscow.

While the Portugal captain looked utterly unimpressed as he headed straight down the tunnel, Dybala made the difference late on with a fine goal to retain Juve's status as Serie A pacesetters.

Milan should have taken the lead with 18 minutes on the clock, but Krzysztof Piatek miscued his header from Suso's excellent delivery from deep, before Szczesny thwarted Lucas Paqueta's nodded effort.

It took Ronaldo until the 42nd minute to threaten the Milan goal, but his 25-yard strike was easily kept out by Gianluigi Donnarumma.

Sarri's response to Juve's ineffectiveness in front of goal was to withdraw Ronaldo for Dybala before the hour, while Douglas Costa – the hero in Wednesday's 2-1 win in Moscow – came on soon after.

The Brazilian went as close as any of his team-mates with a 30-yard strike that Donnarumma stopped, before Blaise Matuidi curled just off target.

But fittingly it was Dybala who got the decisive goal, as he played a one-two with Gonzalo Higuain on the edge of the box and then swept home right-footed 13 minutes from time, confirming an undeserved defeat for Milan, who have not won at Juve since March 2011.

What does it mean? Juve remain top as Ronaldo's mortality becomes clear

Inter's 2-1 comeback win against Hellas Verona put Antonio Conte's men top and that looked to be where they would stay until after the international break before Dybala's strike.

But arguably more signficant than the result is Ronaldo's status in the squad. Having spent much of his career as an untouchable, that no longer appears to be the case.

Szczesny gives Juve a hand

While Dybala was undoubtedly vital to victory, it is fair to say Juve owe much thanks to Szczesny in goal. The Poland international was dependable on every occasion and had he not been at this level Milan probably would have won.

Ronaldo fades into the background

With just one shot and a single key pass to show for his efforts, there is no doubt Ronaldo was not missed when he made way. Suddenly the hosts had more energy and impetus in attack, not usually something one could say about a team that hooks Ronaldo.

What's next?

After the international break, Juve face a tricky trip to Serie A's most prolific team Atalanta, while Milan host Napoli and former Rossoneri boss Carlo Ancelotti.

Maurizio Sarri is hopeful Cristiano Ronaldo will feature for Juventus against AC Milan, though conceded the forward may miss out with a knee problem.

Ronaldo was substituted off with eight minutes of normal time remaining in Wednesday's Champions League meeting with Lokomotiv Moscow, as Gonzalo Higuain's last-gasp effort secured a 2-1 win.

Juve return to Serie A action against struggling Milan, who sit 12th - with new coach Stefano Pioli having managed just one win from four matches in charge.

Asked for an update on Ronaldo's fitness on Saturday, Sarri revealed he is still uncertain if the former Real Madrid star - who has six goals in all competitions this season - will be able to play.

"How is Ronaldo? I still don't know, because yesterday he was with the physiotherapists and we will see today and tomorrow in the last training session," Sarri told a news conference.

"Let's see what he can do. He feels a little pain in his knee but it is nothing serious."

Ronaldo looked set to open the scoring for Juve in midweek when his free-kick squirmed out of Lokomotiv goalkeeper Guilherme's grasp, only for Aaron Ramsey to ensure the ball went over the line.

It brought up Juve's 300th Champions League goal, as well as marking a second strike of the season for Ramsey, who has been restricted to eight appearances.

Sarri, however, is looking forward to having what he sees as a crucial player more readily available.

"He has important technical qualities and can do both the roles I ask," Sarri said of Ramsey.

"He can be a modern midfielder. He can be an offensive midfielder, as an attacking midfielder he can also give cover."

Sarri has previously aired his frustrations with some profligate finishing from Juve this term, but the ex-Chelsea coach has been pleased with his side's ability to push for late winners.

"The fact is that the team is still unable to close out games," Sarri said. "The strength, however, is that until the end we go to look for the victory and often we succeed.

"Milan is a good team, which did not make a good start to the season. In football there are cycles; rebuilding to get back to a very high level is not easy. Milan have many young players and they are laying the foundations for an important future." 

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a "great player" but Stefano Pioli is unsure if the striker will return to AC Milan.

The 38-year-old's contract with MLS side LA Galaxy expires at the end of the year and he has been linked with a move back to European football.

MLS commissioner Don Garber claimed this week Ibrahimovic is "being recruited" by Milan, where he spent two seasons before leaving for Paris Saint-Germain in 2012.

Milan have been tipped to strengthen their squad in January following a poor start to the campaign, but Pioli was unwilling to confirm Ibrahimovic is a target.

"Ibra is a great player," he told a news conference on Saturday. "But the January market is far away. There will be time to make assessments."

Milan have won one of their four matches under Pioli, who was brought in to replace Marco Giampaolo last month.

The 18-time Serie A champions are in the bottom half of the table after 11 matches and travel to Juventus on Sunday.

Despite the 16-point gap to champions Juve, however, Pioli has full faith in his players and is relishing the chance to pick up a potentially season-defining result.

"I trust my players, even if the table says we are far away from Juventus," he said. 

"Matches start from 0-0, 11 players against 11. It's a great challenge, but the big challenges also mean having a great opportunity.

"Talking about turning points is always difficult. It is clear that on a mental level, doing well tomorrow would mean a lot for us. 

"It's a difficult challenge but a great opportunity, one that we need to be ready to fight for."

Ronaldo has failed to find the net in three of his past four outings, but Pioli is well aware of the Juve forward's capabilities.

"It is difficult to say how to stop him," he said. "He has many chances to hurt teams. We are talking about a phenomenon, a champion.

"Against him we must be much more careful and determined, giving him little space to work in. He is among the best players ever, alongside [Lionel] Messi, Pele and [Diego] Maradona."

Franck Kessie, Samu Castillejo, Mateo Musacchio and Fabio Borini are all out of Milan's squad to face Juve, but Suso returns after missing the 2-1 loss to Lazio last weekend.

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.