Inter Milan maintained their stunning start to 2024 with a 4-0 triumph at struggling Lecce.

Lautaro Martinez (two), Davide Frattesi and Stefan De Vrij scored as Simone Inzaghi’s in-form team extended their winning run to 10 games in all competitions.

The result saw the Nerazzurri re-establish their nine-point cushion over second-placed Juventus, who earlier edged Frosinone 3-2, with a game in hand. In contrast, Lecce were left just four points above the drop zone having collected only five wins from 26 games.

Martinez was first to threaten for the visitors with an off-target header, before an Pontus Almqvist fired over for the Salentini at the other end after a free-kick had not been cleared.

Inter broke the deadlock in the 15th minute. Kristjan Asllani found Martinez with a neat pass and the Argentinian brought the ball under control before holding off Ahmed Touba and beating goalkeeper Wladimiro Falcone with a low right-foot finish.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan dragged a left-foot shot wide as Inter sought to increase their advantage, before Antonio Gallo lashed wastefully wide for the hosts just past the half-hour mark.

Alexis Blin headed over three minutes after the restart as Roberto D’Aversa’s team sought an equaliser. However, their hopes of a comeback were ended by two goals in the space of three minutes.

Firstly, Martinez found Alexis Sanchez and the Chile international squared for Frattesi to convert from close range.

Inzaghi brought on Marco Barella for Asllani immediately after the goal and it was 3-0 soon after, Frattesi turning provider with a square pass for Martinez, who tucked away his 22nd goal of the Serie A season.

Roberto Piccoli fired over from distance for the hosts but substitute Lameck Banda had their best chance in the 66th minute, firing a left-foot shot just wide of the far post.

Inter went up the other end and made it 4-0 when De Vrij headed in Federico Dimarco’s corner unchallenged in the 67th minute.

A dismal night for the hosts was summed up when Piccoli fired weakly at Inter keeper Emil Audero, making his Serie A debut because of illness to regular number one Yann Sommer.

Denzel Dumfries wasted a chance to make it 5-0 with a minute remaining when he headed wide from close range.

However, it was a great night for Inzaghi, who was able to rest players and also made five substitutions, with an eye on Wednesday’s rescheduled San Siro clash against Atalanta.

Dusan Vlahovic's fine volley saw Juventus end a five-game winless run with a 2-1 victory over Lecce in Serie A, boosting the Bianconeri's hopes of Champions League qualification. 

Vlahovic fired home on the turn to hand Massimiliano Allegri's men their first league win since April 1, deciding an entertaining contest at the Allianz Stadium.

Leandro Paredes had earlier seen his terrific free-kick cancelled out by Assan Ceesay's penalty, while both teams had goals disallowed for offside in an open first half.

While Lecce continued to test the Bianconeri backline after the break, Vlahovic's first league goal since February 7 ultimately proved decisive, piling the pressure on Juve's rivals in a fascinating battle for a top-four finish.

Juve survived an early scare as Ceesay was caught offside when tapping home, but the Bianconeri hit the front in spectacular fashion after 15 minutes, Paredes bending his free-kick around the wall and into the bottom-left corner from 25 yards out.

Fabio Miretti thought he had his first senior goal 10 minutes later as he volleyed Nicolo Fagioli's dinked pass home, but a VAR review saw the Juve youngster ruled offside.

Juve then suffered two further blows as they lost Mattia De Sciglio to a serious-looking knee injury before Danilo's clumsy handball allowed Ceesay to level from the penalty spot.

However, Lecce were level for just three minutes as Vlahovic spun on Filip Kostic's left-wing cross, finding the bottom-left corner from near the edge of the area.

Miretti was guilty of a glaring miss when he prodded wide after the interval, before Danilo crashed a header against the right-hand post.

Wojciech Szczesny's reflex save denied Ceesay as Lecce threatened another equaliser, but Juve stood firm to leapfrog Lazio into second, ahead of their game against Sassuolo later on Wednesday.

Stefano Pioli hailed Milan for replicating their strong Champions League showings in Serie A after Sunday's victory over Lecce arrested a slump in domestic form.

Milan had won just one of their last six league games, denting their hopes of a top-four finish, but overcame Lecce 2-0 at San Siro after a Rafael Leao double.

The Rossoneri sit level on points with fourth-placed Roma, who visit Atalanta on Monday, while they trail Juventus by three after the Bianconeri's 15-point deduction was reversed this week.

Their struggles in the Italian top flight were in stark contrast to Champions League performances, having reached the last four for the first time since 2007 after a 2-1 aggregate win over Serie A leaders Napoli.

Pioli revealed his message to his Milan players before the Lecce clash was a call to replicate their recent outings in Europe.

Asked by DAZN how the Milan coach motivated his side, Pioli said: "That it was important to start strong and important to bring Champions League performances onto the pitch.

"We did many good things, we need to improve others."

Pioli's side will meet fierce city rivals Inter in the Champions League last four, while the pair battle for a place in Italy's top four – Inter sat in sixth, two points behind Milan.

Simone Inzaghi's side were 3-0 victors at Empoli earlier on Sunday, although Pioli insisted that result had no bearing on Milan's motivation.

He added: "Before today there were 8 days left. I told the team that the next two would determine our final position.

"We will try to win as many games as possible, we are fine and we must continue to work at our best."

Leao was the chief problem for Lecce down the left-hand side throughout, heading home Sandro Tonali's cross for the opener before a fine individual run culminated in his second goal that went in off the right post.

The Milan winger has scored 12 league goals this season, his best return in a single campaign, while he became just the second Portuguese player Cristiano Ronaldo to hit the 10-goal mark in back-to-back Serie A campaigns – after Cristiano Ronaldo did so for Juventus in three seasons between 2018 and 2021.

After his fourth brace in the Italian top flight and first double at home in Serie A since September 2022 against Inter, Leao was more focused on the team's achievements.

"I always try to play a good game, helping my team-mates," he told DAZN. "The most important thing today was to win, we haven't done it in a long time in the league."

As for his own exploits, Leao added: "I was thinking about it even before the match that I had to score. It's always nice to score with these fans and I'm very happy."

Rafael Leao scored a deadly double as Milan returned to winning ways in Serie A and boosted their Champions League qualification hopes with a 2-0 victory over Lecce.

Stefano Pioli's side reached the Champions League semi-finals on Tuesday after a 2-1 aggregate win over Napoli, but their recent domestic league form had left much to be desired.

The Rossoneri had managed just one win in their last six league games, but Leao scored in each half on Sunday at San Siro to halt that slide against their relegation-threatened visitors.

Victory moved Milan level on points with fourth-placed Roma, who visit Atalanta on Monday, and three behind Juventus after the Bianconeri's 15-point deduction was reversed.

Wladimiro Falcone pushed away an early 25-yard drive from Sandro Tonali before Theo Hernandez thought he had won a penalty for Milan.

Daniele Chiffi pointed to the spot after a Federico Baschirotto tackle on Hernandez, only for the referee to reverse his decision after consulting the VAR and touchline monitor.

Lecce's Lameck Banda squandered a glorious 19th-minute opportunity when heading onto the left post from close range, and Milan punished that miss five minutes before the break.

An inventive short-corner routine allowed Tonali to cross towards the back post, where Leao towered above Valentin Gendrey to head into the left corner.

Leao wastefully chipped over after 73 minutes, but he made amends a minute later with a fine individual run and a low left-footed drive that went in off the right post.

 

What does it mean? Milan avoid Champions League hangover

Milan battled to a 1-1 draw at Napoli to secure their first last-four appearance in the Champions League since 2007, and they avoided any previously common signs of a dip in form following that achievement.

The Rossoneri had drawn their last two league matches after a Champions League game, along with three stalemates in their past five Serie A outings, but Pioli's side were good value for victory over Lecce.

There remains the possibility Milan will not be playing in UEFA's top club competition next season, though, needing to overthrow Roma or Juve, or both, or win this year's Champions League outright.

Leao matches Ronaldo record

Leao was a central figure to Milan's Scudetto success last season, attracting interest from the likes of Manchester United and Chelsea.

The Milan winger became just the second Portuguese player to hit the 10-goal mark in two consecutive Serie A campaigns, after Cristiano Ronaldo did so for Juve three seasons in a row between 2018-19 and 2020-21.

Defensive fragility costs Lecce again

Lecce are just two points clear of 18th-placed Cremonese and a place in the Serie A relegation zone, with their defensive issues a driving factor for their struggles.

They may be the only Italian top-flight side to have not conceded more than twice in a game this term, but Lecce's three clean sheets mark the worst record in the league.

What's next?

Milan face Roma on Saturday in a crucial clash in the top-four race, while Lecce host Udinese the day before.

Rafael Leao scored a deadly double as Milan returned to winning ways in Serie A and boosted their Champions League qualification hopes with a 2-0 victory over Lecce.

Stefano Pioli's side reached the Champions League semi-finals on Tuesday after a 2-1 aggregate win over Napoli, but their recent domestic league form had left much to be desired.

The Rossoneri had managed just one win in their last six league games, but Leao scored in each half on Sunday at San Siro to halt that slide against their relegation-threatened visitors.

Victory moved Milan level on points with fourth-placed Roma, who visit Atalanta on Monday, and three behind Juventus after the Bianconeri's 15-point deduction was reversed.

Wladimiro Falcone pushed away an early 25-yard drive from Sandro Tonali before Theo Hernandez thought he had won a penalty for Milan.

Daniele Chiffi pointed to the spot after a Federico Baschirotto tackle on Hernandez, only for the referee to reverse his decision after consulting the VAR and touchline monitor.

Lecce's Lameck Banda squandered a glorious 19th-minute opportunity when heading onto the left post from close range, and Milan punished that miss five minutes before the break.

An inventive short-corner routine allowed Tonali to cross towards the back post, where Leao towered above Valentin Gendrey to head into the left corner.

Leao wastefully chipped over after 73 minutes, but he made amends a minute later with a fine individual run and a low left-footed drive that went in off the right post.

 

What does it mean? Milan avoid Champions League hangover

Milan battled to a 1-1 draw at Napoli to secure their first last-four appearance in the Champions League since 2007, and they avoided any previously common signs of a dip in form following that achievement.

The Rossoneri had drawn their last two league matches after a Champions League game, along with three stalemates in their past five Serie A outings, but Pioli's side were good value for victory over Lecce.

There remains the possibility Milan will not be playing in UEFA's top club competition next season, though, needing to overthrow Roma or Juve, or both, or win this year's Champions League outright.

Leao matches Ronaldo record

Leao was a central figure to Milan's Scudetto success last season, attracting interest from the likes of Manchester United and Chelsea.

The Milan winger became just the second Portuguese player to hit the 10-goal mark in two consecutive Serie A campaigns, after Cristiano Ronaldo did so for Juve three seasons in a row between 2018-19 and 2020-21.

Defensive fragility costs Lecce again

Lecce are just two points clear of 18th-placed Cremonese and a place in the Serie A relegation zone, with their defensive issues a driving factor for their struggles.

They may be the only Italian top-flight side to have not conceded more than twice in a game this term, but Lecce's three clean sheets mark the worst record in the league.

What's next?

Milan face Roma on Saturday in a crucial clash in the top-four race, while Lecce host Udinese the day before.

Stefano Pioli insists Milan are "focused" on domestic league objectives after Juventus' successful points deduction appeal saw the Rossoneri slip outside Serie A's top four.

The move to deduct Juventus 15 points in January due to alleged breaches in relation to historical transfers was reversed this week, lifting Massimiliano Allegri's side to third place in the Italian top flight.

Milan subsequently dropped to fifth – three points outside the Champions League qualifying places with eight matches remaining.

Fresh from reaching the Champions League semi-finals in midweek, Pioli's side return to Serie A action when they host Lecce on Sunday.

Last season's champions, Milan have won just once in their last six league matches, but their head coach is confident his players can address their recent struggles.

"The important thing is to stay focused on the things we can control," Pioli said at his pre-match press conference on Saturday. "The sooner there is a definitive position, the better.

"The Champions League is locked away in a vault, now we're reopening the league vault. We have to push hard, we don't want this position in the standings.

"It's not all in our hands. We need to claim a lot of points and the calendar gives us the chance to do it.

"There are eight games left, five at San Siro. We can finish the season well thanks to the qualities we have.

"What we've done so far doesn't matter, the most important match is tomorrow."

Luciano Spalletti hinted that Victor Osimhen could be fit to play in Napoli's Champions League quarter-final first leg against Milan on Wednesday.

The striker has 25 goals in 29 games for I Partenopei this season, but sustained a thigh injury while representing Nigeria during last month's international break, causing him to miss last Sunday's 4-0 loss to Milan.

Napoli recovered from that humbling and took themselves closer to a first Scudetto in 30 years with a 2-1 win at Lecce on Friday, when Osimhen was again absent.

Giovanni Di Lorenzo's header was cancelled out by Federico Di Francesco, before a second-half own goal from Antonino Gallo handed Napoli three points.

"It wasn't easy to secure this result after last Sunday's defeat and some injuries," Spalletti said at a post-match press conference. "A delicate situation had arisen, due to how we lost [to Milan] and because the Rossoneri are our next opponents in the Champions League. 

"Then everyone thinks these are filler games but that's not the case. It was essential to demonstrate that we were able to express ourselves again on good levels and that we had that kind of character. 

"For this I congratulate the players. These three points give us peace of mind to face the next matches."

On Osimhen, Spalletti revealed: "We need to see how he reacts to strong physical activities, so far he's done some basic jogging.

"It's difficult without him, because he has this way of running into space, this physicality, he can draw everyone to him and create the space for his team-mates.

"[Giacomo] Raspadori had a good first half tonight, he linked up well with the midfielders. We could have done it even better, because we brought too many balls back to the two centre-backs when there wasn't a need. On the pitch, however, we were balanced."

Giovanni Simeone replaced Raspadori in the second half, but was forced off with a knee injury soon after, potentially giving Spalletti a selection issue for the Milan game should Osimhen not recover in time.

"We need to evaluate [Simeone] carefully," he said. "It appeared to be a muscular problem, then the knee, then above the knee. When he tried to come back on again, he felt the muscle harden and it was best not to risk it any further."

Napoli got back to winning ways as an own goal from goalkeeper Wladimiro Falcone handed them a 2-1 Serie A victory away at Lecce on Friday.

The league leaders were thumped 4-0 at home by Milan last weekend, but they bounced back by overcoming a stubborn Lecce, who can probably count themselves unlucky not to come away with a share of the spoils.

Giovanni Di Lorenzo headed Napoli in front early on, but the hosts equalised not long after half-time when Federico Di Francesco thumped home with a fine finish.

But an own goal gave Luciano Spalletti's men victory as Mario Rui's teasing delivery came off Antonino Gallo, with Falcone only able to paw it over the line as Napoli resumed normal service.

The hosts started brightly, Youssef Maleh forcing a great save from Alex Meret to palm over his rasping drive.

The visitors grew into the game though, and Di Lorenzo put them ahead in the 18th minute when he sent a powerful header from Kim Min-jae's cross flying past Falcone and into the back of the net.

A fingertip save from Falcone pushed Hirving Lozano's low shot past the post to keep Napoli's lead at just a single goal heading into the break, and Lecce levelled shortly after the interval.

A free-kick into the visitors' box caused havoc, and Assan Ceesay saw a header come back off the bar before Di Francesco rifled into the bottom corner.

Napoli went on to win though in bizarre fashion, as a mix-up between Gallo and Falcone from Mario Rui's cross ended with the goalkeeper clawing into his own net to give the league leaders their 24th Serie A win of the campaign.

Napoli coach Luciano Spalletti is hopeful Victor Osimhen will be fit to face Milan in the Champions League quarter-finals, but the striker has "no chance" of playing at Lecce on Friday.

Osimhen sustained a thigh injury while representing Nigeria during last month's international break, causing him to miss last Sunday's Serie A meeting with Milan.

His absence was felt as Milan thrashed the champions-elect 4-0, but Napoli are positive regarding his prospects of featuring in the first leg of their European tie against the Rossoneri.

Before Wednesday's trip to San Siro, Napoli will look to get their title charge back on track at Lecce, where Spalletti will not have Osimhen available.

Asked about Osimhen's chances of facing Lecce, Spalletti said: "Tomorrow there is no chance. With the schedule, we said we must get to the following week. 

"There are many possibilities to see him against Milan, but we have to wait for the practical development of next week's work."

Osimhen's tally of 21 goals in Serie A this campaign is at least seven more than that of any other player, with Inter's Lautaro Martinez second in the scoring charts with 14.

The 24-year-old has hit 15 goals across all competitions since the turn of the year – a tally only bettered by Karim Benzema and Marcus Rashford (17 each) among players from the top five European leagues.

Despite Osimhen's absence, Spalletti expects Napoli to respond to last week's disappointment as they look to close in on a first Scudetto since the 1989-90 season.

"The week developed in the best possible way, I saw some great training sessions," Spalletti said. "It always amazes me, I've only had this a few times in my career.

"It's a very important match, we know how to face it. A performance is needed in these cases, after a defeat. 

"We still need five victories, 15 points, then everyone can say what they want."

Harry Kane's future at Tottenham remains in limbo, given his contract status and the departure of Antonio Conte.

The 29-year-old forward, who recently became Spurs' all-time leading scorer, is out of contract in 2024.

Kane has previously spoken about his desire to contend for silverware and almost joined Manchester City in 2021.

TOP STORY – MAN UTD SANCTION KANE MOVE

The Manchester United bosses have sanctioned a potential £80million deal for Tottenham striker Harry Kane, reports the Daily Star.

United are ready to ramp up their interest in the England captain, who has interest from Bayern Munich, Barcelona and Chelsea.

The report claims United hope to get the jump on their rivals and open up talks soon, with a view to having a deal agreed with Kane within weeks.

 

ROUND-UP

– The Times reports Bayern Munich want to sign Chelsea midfielder Mason Mount who previously worked with the German champions' new boss Thomas Tuchel.

Arsenal are circling for Eintracht Frankfurt's Danish midfielder Jesper Lindstrom who may be available for €30m, reports Sport1.

– The Mirror claims Liverpool have joined the battle to sign Evan Ndicka from Eintracht Frankfurt as a free agent in the off-season.

– Barcelona may cash in on Samuel Umtiti's revival on loan at Lecce and look to recoup a transfer fee this off-season according to SPORT.

– Sky Italy claims former Real Madrid boss and France World Cup winner Zinedine Zidane is on Tottenham's shortlist to replace Conte, along with Mauricio Pochettino, Julian Nagelsmann and Luis Enrique.

Simone Inzaghi challenged Inter to "continue at this pace" after returning to winning ways in Serie A with a comfortable victory over Lecce on Sunday.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Lautaro Martinez were on target as Inter responded to a 1-0 defeat against Bologna with a much-improved showing in a 2-0 triumph over Lecce at San Siro.

Victory moved the Nerazzurri back to second in Serie A, albeit some 15 points behind runaways leaders Napoli, who were surprise 1-0 losers to third-placed Lazio on Friday.

With a crucial Champions League last-16 tie at Porto, who trail 1-0 after the first leg, to come on March 14, Inzaghi urged Inter to replicate their form after an impressive response.

"We know how things work: we came from a bad defeat like the one in Bologna, so there was a lot of talk about it," the Inter coach said at a post-match press conference. 

"I talked about it a lot with my players and my club. We responded well and we have to continue at this pace."

Lecce defeated top-four chasers Atalanta just two matches before the Inter visit and also boast a victory over Lazio, as well as draws with Napoli and Milan this season.

That suggests Marco Baroni's men are by no means pushovers in the Italian top flight and Inzaghi was glad to negotiate what could have been a tricky task.

"We played an excellent game, approached very well and the boys were intense for the entire 93 minutes," he added.

"We conceded nothing to a team that has had excellent games against big teams in this league. I'm very happy."

Speculation began to grow over wing-back Robin Gosens' future after failing to make the starting spot on the left-hand side his own following his move from Atalanta in January 2022.

However, an injury to Federico Dimarco saw the Germany international start for a second successive league game for Inzaghi's side and Gosens assured his commitment remains with Inter.

When asked about his future, the 28-year-old told DAZN: "Only Inter."

Inter's performance was in stark contrast to the defeat against Bologna last time out, with Gosens acknowledging that disappointing loss was a reality check.

"After Bologna we told each other to shut up and work because this is the only way to win matches in Serie A and we did so," added Gosens after his 150th match in Serie A.

"We saw a ready Inter who showed from the start that we wanted to win this important match, the victory was deserved and I felt good on the pitch, playing helps me."

Inter will look to build on their return to winning ways when they travel to relegation-threatened Spezia on Friday.

Inter moved back to second place in Serie A after Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Lautaro Martinez were on target in a 2-0 victory over Lecce on Sunday.

Simone Inzaghi's side underwhelmed in a 1-0 defeat to Bologna last weekend but produced a much-improved performance to return to winning ways at San Siro.

Mkhitaryan's first-half opener set Inter on their way before top scorer Martinez's 14th league goal of the season made sure of the three points in the second half.

Victory saw Inzaghi's men leapfrog Lazio and cut Napoli's sizeable advantage at the summit to 15 points after the Partenopei lost to Maurizio Sarri's side on Friday.

Hakan Calhanoglu stung the palms of Wladimiro Falcone, while Andre Onana kept out a low Assan Ceesay drive in an opening bereft of clear-cut chances.

Edin Dzeko headed narrowly wide from Calhanoglu's corner soon after, before Mkhitaryan delivered the first moment of quality for his 29th-minute opener.

The midfielder swept a right-footed finish from Nicola Barella's offload into the top-right corner after the Italy international evaded two challenges inside the area.

Martinez finished in similarly clinical fashion after 53 minutes, brushing Denzel Dumfries' low right-wing centre past Falcone to double Inter's lead.

Dzeko fired another presentable opportunity straight at Falcone and Alessandro Bastoni dragged wide as an insipid Lecce never threatened a late response.

 

What does it mean? Inter encouragement after another Lecce win

Defeat to Bologna last Sunday left Inzaghi and Martinez furious, with the pair warning Inter will achieve nothing with such poor performances.

The Nerazzurri responded with a dominant showing, though, as they won a ninth straight Serie A home game against Lecce, scoring 22 times in that run.

A Scudetto challenge may be off the cards but Inter can take encouragement from this display with the second leg of their Champions League round of 16 tie, which they lead 1-0, at Porto to come on March 14.

Classy Calhanoglu

While Mkhitaryan scored in two consecutive home appearances in Serie A for the first time since May 2021 for Roma and Martinez once again impressed, Calhanoglu also deserves credit.

The Turkey midfielder was central to all of Inter's attacking promise as he created four chances – no player managed more.

Dire Dzeko

Dzeko was preferred up top by Inzaghi as he replaced Romelu Lukaku in the starting XI but the Bosnia and Herzegovina international failed to take his chance.

The striker missed a great first-half opportunity to compound his miserable run in front of goal, having scored just twice in 14 appearances in 2023.

What's next?

Inter visit relegation-threatened Spezia on Friday, while Lecce host Torino two days later.

Stefano Pioli ordered Milan to cut out "trivial mistakes" after a 2-2 draw at Lecce left the Rossoneri nine points behind runaway Serie A leaders Napoli.

Last season's champions trailed Lecce 2-0 after 23 minutes on Saturday, before Rafael Leao and Davide Calabria hauled them back to level terms.

An exciting final 20 minutes could have brought a winner for either team, yet there were to be no more goals, and while the point nudged Milan up to second place, that gap to Napoli will be difficult to overcome.

Head coach Pioli told DAZN: "In the first half, we missed everything we could possibly miss. We made unforced mistakes and the match became more difficult."

Theo Hernandez turned a cross from Federico Di Francesco into his own goal to give Lecce a third-minute lead, and Pioli said after the game: "We need to be more clear-headed."

Milan's haul of 38 points from 18 games points to a sturdy start to their title defence, with the caveat Napoli have made a roaring opening to the season and have won 15 of their opening 18 matches.

Pioli said: "We are in line with last season, but it is also true that in this phase we are getting much less than we would like. We can do better and avoid trivial mistakes.

"We have to recover our principles of play and do it continuously."

Leao has had a goal involvement in each of Milan's last four league games, the first time he has had such a run, and his season's total of 13 involvements (eight goals, five assists) in 17 appearances is five ahead of where he was after the same number of matches in 2021-22.

Pioli denied the approaching Supercoppa Italiana game against Inter was a distraction to Milan.

That trophy game is coming up on Wednesday, and Pioli said: "It's a straight match against a great opponent, so we'll do everything to be ready."

He hopes to have Ante Rebic available for that game in Riyadh after recent muscle injury trouble, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic could also be in line for a return before long, the Milan boss added.

Ibrahimovic has yet to play this season, having undergone knee surgery at the end of the Scudetto-winning campaign.

Milan fought back from two down to draw 2-2 at Lecce in Serie A on Saturday, but the comeback did little to distract from their continuing slump.

Stefano Pioli's men threw away a 2-0 lead against Roma last Sunday and were then knocked out of the Coppa Italia by 10-man Torino in midweek.

Things looked to be going from bad to worse for them at Stadio Via del Mare, with Theo Hernandez's early own goal added to by a Federico Baschirotto header in the 23rd minute.

A Rafael Leao snapshot pulled one back, before Davide Calabria equalised 20 minutes from the end, and although the champions could not complete the turnaround, the draw was enough to put Milan second.

The Rossoneri were facing an uphill battle within three minutes as Federico Di Francesco saw his cross turned in by Hernandez.

The lively Di Francesco then shot agonisingly wide either side of Tommaso Pobega shooting at Wladimiro Falcone and Olivier Giroud blazing the rebound over, with Lecce largely in control.

A deserved second did arrive before the half-hour, though, as Baschirotto was left with a free header in the box following Morten Hjulmand's deep cross.

Valentin Gendry should have followed suit a few moments later when inexplicably heading off target after yet more threatening play by Di Francesco.

Milan got a lifeline just before the hour when Leao latched on to a rebound, shifted the ball onto his right foot and beat Falcone at his near post.

Calabria then got on the end of a Giroud header to nod in the leveller 12 minutes later, but a later winner was not forthcoming from either side despite a gripping finale.

Stefano Pioli understands the criticism Milan have received following a pair of demoralising results, but he insists the Scudetto race remains alive ahead of Saturday's trip to Lecce.  

Milan have endured a frustrating week, throwing away a two-goal lead in a dramatic Serie A draw with Roma on Sunday before crashing out of the Coppa Italia against 10-man Torino three days later.

The Serie A champions are seven points adrift of leaders Napoli ahead of Saturday's clash with a Lecce side unbeaten in their last five league games, but Pioli is backing his team to recover.

"It's normal that there is a more critical eye towards us because we won the Scudetto with excellent football," Pioli said. "When that fails, the finger is pointed more, but that's what we want.

"Criticism affects us because we didn't bring home the results we were supposed to bring home. 

"The season is long, the championship won't end tonight either. Let's not forget how we won the Scudetto."

Although Milan have been hamstrung by a lengthy injury list featuring the likes of Mike Maignan and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the Rossoneri will not look to strengthen in this month's transfer window as Pioli is content with his options.

"I remain convinced that our only problem is not having our complete squad in every department," Pioli said. "There is no need to intervene."

However, the Milan coach is hopeful of some important business being done by the club in the near future, with the Scudetto holders reportedly working on contract renewals for Olivier Giroud and Rafael Leao after Ismael Bennacer penned a new long-term deal on Thursday.

"I'm delighted for Isma. It's deserved for his will and determination," Pioli added. "Isma is very ambitious, with the humility of someone who knows he still has to improve. 

"I'm also very happy for the club, we are confirming a group of players that have become mature, it's important."

Asked specifically about the club's talks with Leao and Giroud, Pioli replied: "I hope more good news arrives. I hope so."

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