Maurizio Sarri said Juventus' "growth has stalled" but the under-fire head coach is not worried after the Serie A champions snatched a draw against Milan in the Coppa Italia.

Cristiano Ronaldo's controversial 90th-minute penalty saw Juve escape with a 1-1 draw away to 10-man Milan in the first leg of their semi-final showdown on Thursday.

Coming off a shock defeat at Hellas Verona, which allowed Inter to move top of the Serie A table last week, Juve were far from their best again as Milan impressed.

Ante Rebic's 61st-minute opener looked set to be enough for Milan to secure first-leg honours, until Davide Calabria was harshly penalised for a handball at the death – Ronaldo making no mistake from the spot.

Juve have only won one of their past four matches in all competitions but Sarri is not unconcerned as pressure mounts amid links to former coach Massimiliano Allegri.

"I am not worried, as the only real worries in life are your health. It seems a normal phase to be going through, it's unthinkable for a team to be in a continual ascent," Sarri told Rai Sport.

"This is a sport and so much depends on the physical and psychological conditions of so many players.

"Our growth has stalled a little in the last three weeks, we concede avoidable goals. Having said that, we've conceded only three more than the best defence in Serie A, so it's not that much of an issue."

Sarri added: "We did better in terms of our passing and playing out from the back but were lacking in the final third. It's a process and we are continuing.

"We have conceded some avoidable goals, for example today the cross was quite slow and - in my view - easy to defend. We were coming off a bad performance in Verona, but picked up a positive result, especially as it's the first leg."

Juve – 13-time Coppa Italia winners – will welcome Milan to Turin for the return leg on March 4.

Stefano Pioli was angered by the late awarding of a penalty to Juventus as his Milan side had to settle for a frustrating 1-1 draw in the Coppa Italia semi-final first leg at San Siro.

Ante Rebic's volley just after the hour deservedly put Milan ahead and preceded a red card for Rossoneri full-back Theo Hernandez.

It took until injury time for Juve to make the most of the extra man with Davide Calabria harshly pinged for blocking Cristiano Ronaldo's acrobatic effort with his arm in the area.

Ronaldo rifled in the spot-kick, but head coach Pioli felt the decision does not marry with a separate incident in a fixture between Cagliari and Brescia earlier in the season, which he says referees said should not have been awarded.

Speaking to Rai, Pioli said: "I got angry first and foremost because there was a foul on Zlatan Ibrahimovic earlier in the move. 

"Plus I remember the referees showed footage of that Cagliari-Brescia penalty at the start of the season and said it was an error to award it because the player couldn't see the ball.

"Here the situation is the same as Calabria couldn't see it. Alberto Cerri, in that situation, jumped and could not just cut his arms off, you have to use your arms when jumping."

Pioli, who saw Milan denied on several occasions by veteran goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, believes his team can be proud of their performance though.

"I told the players to leave the pitch without regrets. I can say, they will have no regrets. I am very proud of their performance, so are the Milan fans," he added.

"We wanted to get the victory, we were in a strong position to do so, but this is just the first leg and we'll try to do even better in the second."

Cristiano Ronaldo scored a last-gasp penalty to earn Juventus a scarcely deserved 1-1 draw against 10-man Milan in Thursday's Coppa Italia semi-final first leg at San Siro.

It was the prolific Portugal forward's athletic effort that struck the arm of Davide Calabria to earn the spot-kick, awarded after a VAR check, and he duly rifled home in added time.

Prior to the late drama, Milan had made the breakthrough just after the hour. Having been thwarted on several occasions by veteran Gianluigi Buffon, Ante Rebic finally scored before Theo Hernandez was sent off for a second bookable offence.

The Rossoneri were made to rue their missed chances, however, and face a tricky task in Turin to reach the final at the expense of Juve, who have a huge table-topping clash with Inter and a Champions League last-16 first-leg tie in Lyon among their fixtures before the return clash.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a "phenomenon" and will have the final say on whether to extend his stay at Milan, says director of sport Ricky Massara.

Veteran striker Ibrahimovic returned to the Rossoneri in January on a deal that runs until June with the option to extend his stay by a further 12 months.

Ibrahimovic, who won Serie A during his first stint with Milan, has scored three goals in six games across all competitions since re-joining and was in the starting line-up for Thursday's Coppa Italia semi-final first leg against Juventus.

Massara hailed Ibrahimovic's quality and said the Swede will be the one to decide his future.

Speaking to Rai Sport, Massaro said: "It'll ultimately be up to him, how he feels and how long he wants to continue.

"He truly is a phenomenon, and we are very happy with his performance."

Milan are 10th in Serie A after 23 games, 10 points adrift of the top four but only two away from Hellas Verona in sixth.

The Coppa Italia semi-final between Milan and Juventus will pit two of the greatest goalscorers of the modern era against each other.

Milan's Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Juve's Cristiano Ronaldo are set to renew acquaintances when San Siro plays host to Thursday's first leg.

Both Ibrahimovic and Ronaldo are in the latter stages of their careers, but the prospect of them sharing the pitch still adds an extra layer of intrigue to the occasion.

Here we look back at the previous meetings between two of world football's most feared finishers.

 

2009: Inter 0-0 Manchester United, Manchester United 2-0 Inter

Ronaldo got the better of Ibrahimovic and Inter in the last 16 of the Champions League as, after a goalless draw at San Siro in the first leg, the Portugal great headed United's second goal of the return to secure their progression.

2009: Barcelona 1-0 Real Madrid

Ibrahimovic left Inter for Barca at the end of the 2008-09 season, while Ronaldo made a then world-record move to Madrid following United's Champions League final loss to the Blaugrana. CR7 would again be frustrated by Barca as Ibrahimovic wrote his name into Clasico folklore with a superb far-post volley from Dani Alves' perfectly placed right-wing cross.

2010: Real Madrid 2-0 Milan, Milan 2-2 Real Madrid

Though Ibrahimovic lasted only one season at Camp Nou, he renewed acquaintances with Ronaldo in the Champions League group stages. Ronaldo set in motion a victory for Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu with a low free-kick from the edge of the area, but both players were held in check at San Siro in an entertaining draw.

2013: Portugal 1-0 Sweden, Sweden 2-3 Portugal

The second leg of the World Cup qualifying play-off between Sweden and Portugal proved unquestionably the best encounter featuring Ronaldo and Ibrahimovic so far, as they each delivered their best with a place in Brazil on the line. 

Ronaldo earned Portugal a 1-0 advantage in the first leg, and looked to have given them complete command of the tie five minutes into the second half in Solna. Ibrahimovic, though, turned the tie around with a headed equaliser followed by a rasping free-kick, only for Ronaldo to have the final say by superbly finishing off a counter and then emphatically converting from Joao Moutinho's throughball.

2015: Paris Saint-Germain 0-0 Real Madrid, Real Madrid 1-0 Paris Saint-Germain

The most recent meetings between the two featured no such fireworks as Madrid and PSG largely cancelled each other out across two Champions League group stage encounters, with Nacho scoring the goal that ultimately proved decisive in Los Blancos topping the group.

Manchester United or Chelsea?

The two Premier League giants are reportedly going head-to-head in the race to sign Borussia Dortmund teenager and England international Jadon Sancho.

And the Manchester club feel they can prise the 19-year-old to Old Trafford.

 

TOP STORY – UNITED BELIEVE THEY CAN PIP CHELSEA TO SANCHO

Manchester United are confident they will beat rivals Chelsea to the signing of in-demand Borussia Dortmund star Jadon Sancho, claims The Mirror.

Sancho is reportedly keen on returning to England, where the 19-year-old played for Manchester City's youth team before joining Bundesliga outfit Dortmund in 2017.

Dortmund are apparently willing to offload Sancho at the right price and Premier League giants United believe they can prise the England international to Old Trafford in a deal worth £120million (€142.5m).

 

ROUND-UP

- Will Mauricio Pochettino land at Old Trafford? According to journalist Duncan Castles, the former Tottenham manager is determined to take charge of United . His representatives are reportedly confident of convincing United's hierarchy that Pochettino is the right man for the job as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer struggles, with the Red Devils eighth in the Premier League.

- The Sun reports United are set for a double swoop to sign Aston Villa star Jack Grealish and Leicester City attacker James Maddison . Grealish has reportedly given the go-ahead for a move to Old Trafford, while Maddison has apparently been in talks over a contract extension with Leicester.

Marcelo Brozovic to Real Madrid? Mundo Deportivo says the Inter and Croatia international midfielder is wanted by the LaLiga giants. Madrid have also been linked to United's Paul Pogba and Ajax star Donny van de Beek

Barcelona have been told it will take €35m to sign Willian Jose from Real Sociedad, reports Marca. Barca are looking to strengthen their attack following long-term injuries to Ousmane Dembele and Luis Suarez.

- According to The Express, Tottenham boss Jose Mourinho is plotting a £120m transfer spree at the end of the season. Benfica defender Ruben Dias is a target, as well as Norwich City's Max Aarons, Bournemouth centre-back Nathan Ake and Leicester full-back Ben Chilwell.

Stefano Pioli is contracted to Milan until 2021 but the head coach – who replaced Marco Giampaolo at the start of the campaign – is no certainty to continue beyond this season. According to Calciomercato, Elliott Management want Ralf Rangnick but Paolo Maldini is reportedly pushing for former Milan striker and current Ukraine boss Andriy Shevchenko.

- Football Insider claims Liverpool are set to offer star defender Virgil van Dijk a new £50m deal amid reported interest from Serie A champions Juventus.

Romelu Lukaku said Inter demonstrated their never-say-die mentality after the Serie A title hopefuls produced a stunning comeback to beat Milan 4-2 in the Derby della Madonnina.

Inter trailed 2-0 at half-time but produced a memorable fightback to leapfrog defending champions Juventus atop the table in the race for the Scudetto.

Goals from Marcelo Brozovic, Matias Vecino, Stefan de Vrij and Romelu Lukaku ensured Milan was painted blue in honour of the Nerazzurri as the Rossoneri collapsed at San Siro.

"We did really well during the second half. They played well during the first half, as we left them too much space and we struggled," Lukaku, who netted his 17th league goal of the season to complete the scoring in stoppage time, told Sky Sport Italia.

"However, we came out well after the interval. We completed the comeback and we're delighted with the win. I think that everyone has seen this team's mentality, we never give up and we're always looking to win.

"I'm here to win and my only aim is to help the team get results. I want to thank all of the fans, my team-mates, Mister [Antonio] Conte and all of his backroom staff for the support that they're giving me."

Inter were outplayed in the first half before rallying in the second 45 minutes and De Vrij told Inter TV: "The coach made us understand what he wanted and where to improve during the break, fortunately we scored two goals in quick succession and we were back in the game. We won.

"The goals were incredible feelings and memories that will last forever. Winning is a unique feeling. It's tight in the table so we have to continue like this and win our games. We'll start focusing on Napoli now because it won't be an easy game on Wednesday."

Antonio Conte believes "everything will depend on Juventus" in the Serie A title race despite Inter moving top of the table with Sunday's Derby della Madonnina win.

A second-half comeback saw Inter recover from 2-0 down to beat Milan 4-2 in a pulsating derby at San Siro.

Marcelo Brozovic, Matias Vecino, Stefan de Vrij and Romelu Lukaku scored in the second half, moving Inter level on points with Juventus.

But Conte said the title was not in Inter's hands, with Juve chasing a ninth straight Scudetto.

"It is a dream for us, as well as for Lazio. It can be like that also for Atalanta or Roma," the Inter head coach told a news conference.

"We are talking about a championship dominated by one team over the years that fully deserved to win.

Conte added: "Everything will depend on Juventus. I have heard also some Juventus players saying so.

"At the same time, we must be ready."

Goals from Ante Rebic and Zlatan Ibrahimovic had put Milan in control before Inter's fightback, with Conte's side drawing level just eight minutes into the second half.

Conte said Inter's improved depth was helping, having added Christian Eriksen, Ashley Young and Victor Moses to his squad in January.

"Honestly, we never had major physical problems," he said.

"The only issue is that in the first part of the season we had to play mostly with the same players.

"When the same people play every three days it is inevitable that you will pay a price in terms of physical condition.

"Today, we have the chance to make some more turnover."

Stefano Pioli vented his anger after Milan collapsed in an absorbing 4-2 derby defeat to Scudetto hopefuls Inter in Serie A.

Leading 2-0 at half-time thanks to Ante Rebic and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Milan conceded four goals in a stunning second half at San Siro on Sunday.

Milan were on track for their first Derby della Madonnina victory in Serie A since 2016, until two goals in as many minutes from Marcelo Brozovic and Matias Vecino levelled proceedings within eight minutes of the interval.

Inter exposed Milan defensively as Stefan de Vrij and Romelu Lukaku earned bragging rights for Antonio Conte's side and sent the Nerazzurri top of the table.

Unbeaten in seven matches prior to the derby, Milan head coach Pioli told Sky Sport Italia: "I am angry with my players, because we had some defensive duties in those situations and the moment we let it go, we were punished.

"It's a real pity, as we were in control and outplaying a strong team, making it look like there was never a 19-point gap between us. We had defensive duties and we did not perform them.

"It was absolutely our best first half of the season, but we lost a derby that we had been winning, and we must build on the qualities we showed in that first half. The match must be analysed on the whole.

"We cannot leave Brozovic unmarked on the edge of the box and we cannot allow Alexis Sanchez to spring the offside trap. These are things we know and ought to do properly.

"I have to be angry, I have to be upset, because I need to get it into the minds of these players that they are capable of great things if they avoid those errors."

Pioli, whose 10th-placed Milan almost snatched a 3-3 draw in the closing stages via Ibrahimovic's header which hit the post, added: "The first half saw our strategy work very well and perhaps we deserved to be more than 2-0 up.

"Unfortunately, those two incidents where we should've done much, much better changed the game on a level of mentality. Conceding two goals in three, four minutes made all the difference.

"We had the chance at the end to equalise 3-3 with Ibra, but we were too distracted on the goals. Inter are a much more experienced team than us and more accustomed to playing certain games, so they got back into it. We were also unfortunate, as we hit the woodwork twice."

Zlatan Ibrahimovic said Milan "stopped playing" as the star striker lamented the Rossoneri's collapse after they surrendered a two-goal lead against city rivals Inter in a thrilling Derby della Madonnina.

Milan's 2-0 half-time lead was wiped out in a matter of minutes by Serie A title hopefuls Inter, who turned the derby on its head with four unanswered goals to sensationally win 4-2 at San Siro on Sunday.

Ibrahimovic provided the assist for Ante Rebic's 40th-minute opener before becoming the oldest Serie A goalscorer in Milan derby history in first-half stoppage time.

Milan, however, were unable to hold on against Inter – who produced a stunning comeback to leapfrog defending champions Juve atop the table.

"It's difficult to explain what happened," the 38-year-old Ibrahimovic told Sky Sport Italia after scoring his third goal since returning to Milan in January.

"At half-time we told ourselves, the first 15 minutes going back out there will be crucial, and in that 15-minute spell we conceded two goals.

"We stopped playing, the team stopped believing, we stopped pressing, didn't pass it around enough. From the equaliser onwards, everything collapsed.

"I think a lot of it is down to experience, because you must know how to control a game at 2-0 up, not just winning at the end.

"It's strange, because our first half was practically perfect. I expected more from Inter and the first-half performance did not look like a team worthy of second place. They did after the break."

Inter are ahead of Juve on goal difference after 23 games, while Milan are 10th and 10 points adrift of the Champions League places.

Antonio Conte admitted Inter were at risk of "a hammering" before they came from two goals down to beat Milan 4-2 in the Derby della Madonnina and go top of the Serie A table.

Goals from Ante Rebic and Zlatan Ibrahimovic put Milan two ahead at half-time, but quickfire strikes from Marcelo Brozovic and Matias Vecino levelled the contest inside eight minutes of the restart.

Stefan de Vrij gave Inter the lead before Romelu Lukaku capped an unforgettable evening for the Nerazzurri with a stoppage-time goal, and Conte was full of praise for his gutsy side's comeback.

"It was a special night, that's for sure," Conte told Sky Sport Italia. "The first half saw us in real difficulty, perhaps more than we've ever been this season, and there was the risk of a hammering.

"Instead, we did well to get the balance back, to understand where we had to improve, to have faith in what we were doing and the credit goes to these lads.

"Aside from the result, I am happy to see them resist under blows and turn it around, as that means they are preparing for something truly important.

"It's still very early to talk about something we can for now dream of. We can have a dream."

Despite Inter's second-half transformation, Conte had little to say about his half-time team-talk and instead claimed his share of responsibility for a calamitous first-half display.

Inter face Napoli in their Coppa Italia semi-final first leg on Wednesday before taking on fellow title-chasers Lazio in Serie A on Sunday, and Conte looked ahead to a crucial run of games.

"It's going to be a very intense period for us coming up and, after that, I think we'll have a better idea of our potential and our real capabilities," said the Inter boss.

"We can't achieve everything from one day to the next, but we are building. These lads proved they have great strength and guts today.

"I didn't need to talk much at half-time. I think in difficult situations, you have to be very clear and take responsibility. I had a large share of the responsibility for the fact we were losing 2-0 at half-time.

"We stayed together, from start to finish, and found our way out of a tough situation. We have to keep this evening in mind, as it will help us be a team in future and deal with similar difficulties."

When the Inter and Milan starting XIs lined up before a cacophonous San Siro on Sunday, there were all the usual sights.

Fierce, steely stares, necks being flexed, legs shaken out. Big-match anxiety writ large.

Then there was Zlatan Ibrahimovic, turning around wide-eyed to survey the scene and wearing a big grin.

Perhaps he knew all along. Or thought he did.

Ibrahimovic's return to this fixture was a blessing for Milan, largely because it diverted the attention away from the gulf that has opened up between themselves and their great rivals since Antonio Conte took charge of the Nerazzurri.

"He is a champion who gives Milan quality and charisma," Conte said of Ibrahimovic in the build-up, although even in acknowledging this he could scarcely have envisaged the first-half evisceration his title-aspirants would endure, before turning the tables to top the table with a 4-2 derby win for the ages.

Now 38, Ibrahimovic's frequent aggrandisement – which always seemed to pinball between self-deprecation and a yawing lack of self-awareness – has come to grate as much as it entertains.

It was easy to conclude a Milan marooned in mismanagement and mediocrity had bought into the myth rather than the aging man the wrong side of major knee surgery when they offered him a route back from his expected retirement home in Major League Soccer.

The Rossoneri entered Sunday's game seven places and 19 points shy of Inter, but yet to taste defeat in the seven matches since Ibrahimovic's second debut.

In this Derby della Madonnina – a fixture where he, of course, knows both sides of the divide – he was Milan's talisman.

Stefano Pioli's team drove forward from kick-off and there were 67 seconds on the clock when Ibrahimovic lashed over on the volley from Samu Castillejo's cross.

The most striking element of the veteran's early contribution was his capacity to elevate those around him. Castillejo always had someone to hit from the right flank and was a constant threat, while Ante Rebic looked more like the player from Croatia's run to the 2018 World Cup final as opposed to the beleaguered individual Milan were recently hoping to send packing back to Eintracht Frankfurt.

The twinkle-toed Hakan Calhanoglu was the pick of the bunch, rifling against the post after nine minutes and popping up with palpable menace across the final third thereafter, never far away from a shrewd pass or lay-off to Ibrahimovic.

Inter were struggling to get out of their own half and, in line with trepidation painted across a touchline-prowling Conte, they fell behind.

Of course Ibrahimovic was involved, muscling above Diego Godin to knock down Castillejo's cross for Rebic to scramble past a bizarrely hesitant Samir Handanovic.

A VAR review did not spare Godin, the sort of reprieve it is hard to imagine would sit well with the gloriously grizzled centre-back. In mano-e-mano combat he simply came off second best to an opponent on a mission.

If Ibrahimovic's role in the opener was about brute strength, for number two he resorted to stealth, stealing into space at the far post as Milan Skriniar's gaze was diverted to the ball. Soon enough it was behind him and being nodded into the net by the man of the moment. Arms aloft, script fulfilled.

Only Conte and his warriors in blue and black, with the blood of an undulating Scudetto race in their nostrils, had other ideas.

Antonio Candreva thumped goalwards in the 51st minute. Blocked. Marcelo Brozovic thumped harder. 2-1.

In a flash, it was all square as a darting Alexis Sanchez was played onside by Andrea Conti's heal and he cut back for Matias Vecino to score.

Godin supplied the pass to Sanchez and the sense of Inter's centre-backs being freed from their earlier Ibrahimovic ordeal was underlined by Stefan de Vrij heading home, putting them on course for the sweetest of victories.

Ibrahimovic thundered a long-range free-kick just wide, crashing it into the advertising hoardings with the same force Milan's earlier dreams met reality, and a towering header hit the post.

Having just about negotiated the man with the occasional God complex, Conte brought on Victor Moses to set up a fourth for the prolific Romelu Lukaku. It's 54 points apiece with Juventus at the summit and Inter, with goal difference in their favour, might just have taken a significant step towards their promised land.

Inter came from two goals down to earn a famous 4-2 victory over Milan in a gripping Derby della Madonnina that sent the Nerazzurri top of Serie A.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic returned to haunt his former club with a goal and an assist for Ante Rebic as Milan raced ahead before half-time, but the 38-year-old striker could not maintain his unbeaten run since returning to San Siro in January.

The Rossoneri's hopes of causing an upset faded in the space of two second-half minutes that saw Marcelo Brozovic and Matias Vecino plunder quickfire goals to get Inter back on level terms.

Antonio Conte's men took the lead 20 minutes from time through Stefan de Vrij's superbly executed header and Romelu Lukaku scored in second-half stoppage time to make sure his side leapfrogged Lazio and Juventus into top spot.

Antonio Conte predicted the Milan derby will stoke strong emotions for Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and said he has "great respect" for the Rossoneri striker.

Milan are unbeaten in five Serie A games since Ibrahimovic arrived on a free transfer from LA Galaxy in January, the 38-year-old scoring once in the league and once in the Coppa Italia.

After missing Milan's 1-1 draw against Hellas Verona due to an illness, Ibrahimovic is expected to be available for selection on Sunday.

Stefano Pioli's men trail Inter by 19 points ahead of the Derby della Madonnina but Inter boss Conte said Ibrahimovic's uplifting effect on his team-mates would make for a better game at San Siro.

"I think it's nice to see all the players available in the most important games," Conte told reporters. "The spectacle benefits.

"He is a champion who gives Milan quality and charisma.

"I have great respect for Ibra, he is a former Inter player and I think that for him, in terms of emotions, it will be a strong game."

Conte was asked about the fitness of Samir Handanovic, after the Nerazzurri goalkeeper suffered a hairline fracture in his left hand, but gave little away.

"The medical staff can speak about specific situations - they are much more competent than I am," he replied.

He spoke more positively about Christian Eriksen's progress, the midfielder having played twice since joining Inter from Tottenham, in a 2-0 Serie A win at Udinese and a 2-1 Coppa Italia victory over Fiorentina.

Asked how long the 27-year-old needs to be 100 per cent fit, Conte said: "I hope not so much. He played part of the match against Fiorentina and started in Udine.

"He needs the right time to learn my ideas but he is a very intelligent boy. He quickly understands our game principles and I'm happy for that.

"Eriksen is a player who arrived at Inter with precise characteristics. We bought him for a certain way of playing.

"Let's not forget that in Italy there is much more tactical emphasis and more is asked than abroad. Often they are not very fixated on some situations: it is right that he has his time to get into his idea of ​​the game."

Milan will be without Rade Krunic for the Derby della Madonnina against Inter due to a metatarsal fracture that will keep him out for at least a month.

Krunic sustained a stress fracture to the third metatarsal of his right foot and will undergo further x-rays in March, Milan announced on Saturday.

The Bosnia-Herzegovina midfielder sat out last weekend's 1-1 draw with Hellas Verona and is now set for a prolonged period on the sidelines.

Krunic, 26, has made 11 appearances for the Rossoneri since joining from Empoli last July.

Milan, who are hopeful of having Zlatan Ibrahimovic back from illness to face Inter on Sunday, sit ninth in Serie A, 19 points adrift of Antonio Conte's men in second.

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