Milan head coach Stefano Pioli insisted that his side cannot be "obsessed with the past" as they battle to win Serie A, which no team has "managed to run away".

The Rossoneri climbed back to the summit with a 1-0 victory at fellow title contenders Napoli last time out, but could be leapfrogged by second-placed Inter, who have a game in hand.

Milan next host Empoli, who they have won their past two top-flight meetings against, and Pioli demanded his team take each game as it comes ahead of the clash on Saturday.

However, Pioli's men have won only two of their past six Serie A meetings with sides in the bottom half of the table, drawing their previous two against Salernitana and Udinese.

"We are satisfied, but it was not the final step," Pioli said of the win over Napoli at Friday's pre-match news conference. "The last step is the next game.

"We should not be obsessed with the past, every game is different. We must play with continuity, quality and rhythm to highlight our qualities.

"It's been a strange season. Nobody has managed to run away. I still think that the top five teams can win many games. Serie A is very difficult."

 

When asked if he was concerned about the run of Juventus, who are unbeaten in 14 Serie A games and sit just seven adrift of the leaders, Pioli responded: "I am concerned about Empoli, we saw what happened in the reverse fixture, they created problems for us, so we must play well.

"Players don't need my intervention to know how important tomorrow's game is. The experience of the past was useful, but we should not look back.

"Empoli are a dynamic squad. It's not easy to press them, we need to understand the right moment. Psychologically, we know which problems we'll face, but we are determined.

"Empoli are a team with many solutions up top. They have quality and are really close to reaching their target so compliments to them."

Olivier Giroud was the difference against Napoli, with his eighth league goal separating the two title challengers. The striker will now be aiming to become the third Frenchman in Serie A to score 10-plus goals in a single campaign for Milan, after Jean-Pierre Papin (13 goals in 1992/93) and Jeremy Menez (16 in 2014/15).

Pioli was also boosted by the return of the evergreen Zlatan Ibrahimovic against Luciano Spalletti's men and he spoke glowingly of his two veteran forwards.

"I like everything about Giroud, the way he helps the team, how he handles the pressure," he added. "He is a very serene and determined person and it's a pleasure to work with him.

"Zlatan gives a lot to the team in everything he does. He is a smart player. He knows when to attack the space or drop deep. He is feeling happy. Surely he will help us."

Antonio Rudiger's future at Chelsea has been the topic of plenty of speculation.

The 29-year-old centre-back has been with the Blues since 2017 when he joined on a five-year deal.

Rudiger is yet to extend his contract with Chelsea, with plenty of interest in the Germany international.

 

TOP STORY – NEWCASTLE AND MAN UTD IN FOR RUDIGER

Newcastle United are ready to compete in the race to sign Chelsea defender Antonio Rudiger, claims the Telegraph.

The Germany international has drawn interest from Real Madrid while the Express reports that Manchester United are also considering a move for the defender.

Rudiger's contract with Chelsea expires at the end of this season, although he has not ruled out staying at Stamford Bridge.

 

ROUND-UP

- The Express claims Harry Kane has informed his Tottenham team-mates that he will remain with the club should they clinch a top-four spot and Champions League football.

Arsenal may move to re-sign Serge Gnabry from Bayern Munich, who previously spent four years with the Gunners, according to Football.London. Gnabry is valued at €75million (£63m).

Arsenal, along with Leicester City, have sent scouts to track Sassuolo forward Domenico Berardi, according to Nicolo Schira. The Italians are asking for €30m for their club captain, with interest from Napoli and Milan also.

- FootMercato claims Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea are considering moves for Manchester City's Algerian winger Riyad Mahrez.

Milan coach Stefano Pioli thinks Inter remain Scudetto favourites despite seeing his Rossoneri side beat Napoli 1-0 to go top of Serie A on Sunday.

Both teams knew they could breathe new life into their respective title challenges with a win at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona, but it was the visitors who left with the victory.

Olivier Giroud's instinctive finish early in the second half following Davide Calabria's wayward shot proved decisive, that goal being enough to return Milan to the summit with 60 points, two clear of Inter.

But Inter do still have a game in hand, and as such Pioli recognises the defending champions have to still be considered the team to beat.

Speaking to DAZN after the game, Pioli said: "For sure, we've not done as well against the so-called smaller teams, however, we won't have many direct clashes [with title rivals].

"But since the calendar tells us we have many of these games to come, honestly we have to do more.

"It is clear that there are difficulties for everyone, we are not a perfect team. We have to show that we have learned the lessons [against lesser sides]. Attitude and quality will be important in the next matches.

"The favourites are still Inter. Inter are a very strong team and the standings are still virtual. I'm sorry that there are games left over to be played, it would be more correct if we had all played the same number of games at this point in the championship.

"We have to concentrate on getting a lot of points."

Giroud once again proved his value to Milan, with the Frenchman scoring his eighth Serie A goal despite starting just 12 games.

There were many who questioned his signing when Milan spent just €1million in acquiring him from Chelsea at the start of the season, but for Pioli there was never any doubt what Giroud could add.

"My idea and the club's idea was to include players of experience, who had already won something, who know what it means to work to win," Pioli added.

"There is always a great need for people with stature. A video call was enough for us to understand what a professional he was.

"The more players with charisma and personality you have – especially for us who have a very young team – the better."

Olivier Giroud provided the decisive touch as Milan claimed a potentially vital victory in the Serie A title race, beating fellow Scudetto hopefuls Napoli 1-0 at Stadio Diego Armando Maradona.

Milan's record in Naples is dreadful, having gone into Sunday's clash with one win in their most recent 14 visits, but the rare success here put them back to the top of the table.

Both teams had penalty shouts controversially turned down inside the opening 15 minutes, though otherwise there were few major flashpoints in an even first half.

Proceedings opened up following Giroud's 49th-minute poacher's effort, yet Milan held firm to leave with a valuable win that puts them three points clear of Napoli and two ahead of Inter.

A ferocious start saw Amir Rrahmani blaze over from inside the box for the hosts and Milan's Ismael Bennacer have a penalty claim ignored after being nudged over by Kalidou Koulibaly inside the first five minutes.

Napoli then thought they were unfairly denied a spot-kick soon after, with Victor Osimhen seemingly tripped from behind by Fikayo Tomori in the box.

A closely contested first half finished goalless and the breakthrough arrived soon after the restart, Giroud instinctively turning in Davide Calabria's wayward shot.

Napoli substitute Adam Ounas almost levelled with 15 minutes to go when his curling left-footed effort went agonisingly wide.

Osimhen tested Mike Maignan from a tight angle following a surging run, and that proved to be the final chance for the hosts, who were fortunate not to concede again in stoppage time when Alexis Saelemaekers wasted a glorious opportunity.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic could make a timely return from injury when Milan face fellow Serie A title contenders Napoli on Sunday.

The talismanic striker has been sidelined since damaging his Achilles in a goalless draw with Juventus on January 23.

Rossoneri head coach Stefano Pioli on Saturday revealed Ibrahimovic could feature in a huge battle between second and third at Stadio Diego Armando Maradona, where Ante Rebic could also have a part to play.

Pioli told reporters: "Ibrahimovic is doing better. He trained with the group both yesterday [Friday] and today and will probably travel with us tomorrow.

"Rebic is doing fine physically and getting back to optimum condition. He needs to make the most of his opportunities.

"I think it'll be important to start with the best team possible but also bring on players who can stop our opponents from having reference points and can have a positive impact on the game. I've already decided tomorrow's starting line-up."

Milan have drawn three consecutive matches in all competitions and are level on points with second-placed Napoli, just a point behind leaders Inter.

They have won only one of their past 14 Serie A meetings with Napoli – that victory coming in November 2020 – and have lost the previous two encounters 1-0.

Pioli says his side must be resolute when they do battle with Luciano Spalletti's men.

He said: "Napoli are a great team and coached very well by Spalletti, but teams without weaknesses don't exist.

"They have the best defence in the league, they pass it well and are good in behind. Tomorrow, the team that defends better has more chance of winning.

"The environment we'll be playing in is something else to factor in when it comes to our preparations and the match: it'll be fantastic and exciting for both teams.

"The fact we’ve done well against the top sides is a sign of our strength and should give us confidence heading into tomorrow night's game.

"From now until May 22, 33 points are up for grabs. It'll be a rollercoaster that no one wants to get off. It'll be difficult for any side to be really consistent, but we need to stay focused and play to the best of our abilities."

Manchester United's search for a permanent manager continues to take up plenty of column inches, with a new name now entering the mix.

Paris Saint-Germain boss Mauricio Pochettino and Ajax chief Erik ten Hag have long been considered the two frontrunners to take over at Old Trafford.

But a somewhat surprise candidate is now reportedly being considered to succeed interim manager Ralf Rangnick on a short-term basis at the end of the campaign.


TOP STORY – ANCELOTTI A CONTENDER FOR UNITED

According to ESPN, United may look to appoint Real Madrid head coach Carlo Ancelotti as they explore contingency plans in their pursuit of a new manager.

While Pochettino and Ten Hag remain on the Red Devils' managerial shortlist, Ancelotti is said to be seen as an ideal short-term fix thanks to his vast experience.

The Italian has previously spent time in English football with Everton and Chelsea, winning a Premier League and FA Cup with the latter in 2009-10.

Ancelotti is currently in his second spell with Madrid and has another two seasons to run on his contract at the Santiago Bernabeu.


ROUND-UP

- PSG have offered Kylian Mbappe a contract worth €50million a year to fend off interest from rival clubs, according to Le Parisian. Madrid are the strong favourites to sign the France international should he depart the Parc des Princes as a free agent in July.

- Andreas Christensen and Cesar Azpilicueta are also set to be out of contract at Chelsea in the next few months and are not short of potential suitors. Mundo Deportivo reports that Barcelona are confident of signing the pair, while Ajax's Noussair Mazraoui and Jose Gaya of Valencia are also targets.

- Madrid are hoping to replace Dani Carvajal at right-back ahead of next season and have a few potential options already lined up. That is according to El Nacional, with Man Utd's Diogo Dalot, Norwich City's Max Aarons and Pedro Porro of Sporting CP all mentioned.

- Sport claims that Barcelona are on course to wrap up contract extensions for Ronald Araujo and Gavi before the end of the month. Rising star Gavi will supposedly be offered a five-year deal that will include a mammoth release clause to ensure he stays at Camp Nou for the long term.

- Former Germany international Julian Weigl is nearing the end of his time at Benfica and has been offered to teams across the continent, according to Calciomercato. The Italian outlet suggests than Milan would prefer to sign Renato Sanches, potentially giving Roma a clear run for the €35m-rated midfielder.

Inter boss Simone Inzaghi blamed fatigue levels for his team's limp performance against Milan in the Coppa Italia semi-finals, admitting the Nerazzurri are still "licking their wounds" after losing to their rivals in Serie A last month.

Inzaghi's men managed just seven shots at goal and created a disappointing 0.30 expected goals in the 0-0 first-leg stalemate, extending their winless run to five matches in all competitions.

That is their longest such streak since a sequence of 10 without winning in February 2018, and has also seen the reigning champions surrender top spot in Serie A to Napoli.

Inter have also failed to win any of the three Milan derbies played this season, going down to an Olivier Giroud double in league action just last month, and Inzaghi believes their previous loss to the Rossoneri, as well as their recent physical exertions, have taken a heavy toll.

"I think the draw was the right result," Inzaghi told Mediaset. "We are still licking our wounds after losing the Serie A derby 2-1, that looked completely different until the 75th minute [Inter led for the majority of that contest].

"I think this derby was less spectacular compared to the other two, as there was a lot at stake. The two teams were anxious and looking at the 180 minutes.

"We want to reach the Final and win another trophy [but] knowing this was our 36th game of the season, we need to regain sharpness, but we are working on it.

"We're playing a lot. Apart from one error we made playing out from the back and a Handanovic save, I don't remember other Milan chances."

Milan boss Stefano Pioli believes his side deserved to beat rivals Inter in the first leg of their Coppa Italia semi-final clash, but also claimed the goalless draw represented a "good result".

The Milanese giants, who are split by just two points in a fierce Serie A title race, could not be separated at San Siro, with the lively Rafael Leao and Rade Krunic going closest for the more adventurous Rossoneri. 

Milan managed 13 attempts to Inter's seven in a cagey encounter, also creating 0.70 expected goals to the below-par Nerazzurri's 0.30, but were unable to break the deadlock. 

Although Pioli felt his team merited more from the encounter, he also professed himself pleased with the result, with Italy's preservation of the away goals rule perhaps making the Rossoneri slight favourites ahead of April's second leg.

"Milan played well and deserved something more," Pioli told Mediaset. "But if we look at it over the two legs, it is a good result. I still think we deserved a victory.

"It's only a partial result, we know the second [leg] will be very difficult, but I am satisfied with the performance. 

"We've made progress over the last two and a half years, we would like to win something and make this a wonderful season.

"The team was aggressive against an Inter side with a great deal of quality. We didn't allow Inter any real shots on goal and had chances of our own.

"It's disappointing we were unable to win the match and it all goes down to the second leg, [but] I really liked the performance and we should gain even more confidence from it, because we are a team who belong at this level."

Neither Milan nor Inter could establish a lead in the first leg of their Coppa Italia semi-final tie, as the Serie A title contenders played out a goalless draw at San Siro.

Rafeal Leao caused problems for Inter in a match where chances were at a premium, but the Rossoneri were unable to make their superiority count against their out-of-form city rivals.

With Italy's domestic cup not following UEFA's example of removing the away goals rule, however, the stalemate will certainly be more kindly looked upon on the red side of Milan, who are level on points with Napoli at the top and two ahead of Inter in a fierce race for the Scudetto.

Alexis Saelemaekers tested Samir Handanovic during a frantic start after the stadium observed a heartfelt message from Milan's Ukrainian legend Andriy Shevchenko, who scored in their last Coppa Italia final win in 2003.

Milan's Theo Hernandez shot wide after a trademark burst forward, while Alessio Romagnoli denied Inter with a superb defensive header on 20 minutes before limping out of the contest injured.

Stefano Pioli's men enjoyed the better of the first period, with Rade Krunic shooting over from a great position and the lively Leao troubling Inter in an otherwise uninspiring opening 45 minutes.

Stefano Pioli called for Milan to "turn into winners" and battle through an underwhelming run of form ahead of crucial clashes with Inter and Napoli.

The Rossoneri sit level on points with Serie A leaders Napoli, who required a last-gasp winner against Lazio on Sunday, after being held in consecutive games by strugglers Salernitana and Udinese.

Pioli's side are two points ahead of Inter, who they face in the first leg of their Coppa Italia semi-final tie on Tuesday, but the Nerazzurri boast a game in hand on both their fellow title contenders.

Ahead of what is likely to be a pivotal week, Pioli demanded improvements from his team, though he insisted Milan can only focus on the future from now on.

"It's only the first leg, but it's an important step. The help from our fans will be decisive," Pili said at Monday's pre-match news conference ahead of the cup meeting with Inter.

"We are in the decisive moment of the season. We've done an extraordinary path in the last two and a half years, but only what we'll do from tomorrow will count.

"We can be better than in the last two games. We've done a lot and it's time to reap the rewards. It's the last step, the most difficult one, which is turning into winners."

While stressing the importance of improving sooner rather than later, Pioli acknowledged that there still remains a healthy portion of the season left to play as the title race continues to ebb and flow.

"The table is telling that this is a balanced league, it's a difficult season for everybody and there are no favourites in the derby," he added.

"Those who win the most duels will have more chances to win. It's an important week, but not decisive. There is a second leg in Coppa Italia and there will be 10 more Serie A games after the match with Napoli."

Pioli also did not hide away from his side's recent struggles, after they recorded consecutive top-flight draws for the first time since December 2020.

"Numbers do not lie. We've had difficulties," Pioli continued.

"We were not able to kill the games off and we should have kept more control. Anything can happen when you defend deep, we must be more aggressive when we do not have the ball.

"We do well when we go at full pace, but we must improve handling certain situations, especially when the opponents are waiting for us. 

"We have analysed what didn't work and we are ready to put what we've learned into practice."

Juventus head coach Massimiliano Allegri previously suggested that 85 points will be required to win the Scudetto, and Pioli does not think his fellow boss was too far off the mark.

"The top five teams are in the race for the title and a Champions League spot," he responded when asked about the title race.

"Everyone has slowed down a little, 11 games are remaining and every game will be difficult. Surely more than 80 points will be needed."

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has vowed he will not call quits on his career until he has "won something with this Milan side".

The Sweden international celebrated Scudetto success in 2011 with Milan and lifted the Supercoppa Italiana the following season, but Stefano Pioli's side are yet to lift a trophy since the striker returned in 2019.

The Rossoneri sit second in Serie A this campaign, having been displaced by Napoli – who required a last-gasp winner to defeat Lazio on Sunday – following a disappointing 1-1 draw at home to strugglers Udinese.

Pioli's team are also still in contention for the Coppa Italia as they face neighbours Inter across a two-legged semi-final tie, the first leg of which comes on Tuesday.

Ibrahimovic, who has been sidelined with an Achilles injury sustained against Juventus on January 23, insists he will not retire until he has won something with the current Milan outfit.

"My future is football, my world is football," Ibrahimovic told reporters.

"I am disappointed that I am not able to play at the moment, this really pains me, especially when the team is doing well. 

"I want to be there and help the team. We've done great things since I arrived, and now we are only missing one element: a trophy.

"We are fighting to achieve this, I won't quit until I have won something with this Milan side."

Ibrahimovic penned a one-year extension at Milan last April to keep him at the club until the end of the season.

The 40-year-old has not featured in over a month but has eight goals in all competitions this season, with no Milan player scoring at a greater rate than his average of one every 133 minutes.

Milan, without Ibrahimovic, will look to get back to winning ways in the league when they visit fellow title contenders Napoli on Sunday after their Coppa Italia clash with Inter.

Milan produced a flat display as they were held to a 1-1 draw at home to Udinese on Friday, handing the initiative in the title race to Inter.

Stefano Pioli's men were rarely dominant in San Siro and subsequently passed up the opportunity to potentially finish the weekend five points clear at the summit.

Rafael Leao gave Milan the lead with a well-taken goal, but clear-cut chances for the home side were otherwise a rarity.

Udinese were good value for their equaliser through Iyenoma Udogie just past the hour, and Milan were lacking the requisite drive to retake the lead as they slumped to a disappointing draw.

Milan's start was hardly emphatic but they weathered some early pressure and went ahead before the half-hour mark, Leao brilliantly bringing down Sandro Tonali's deep cross before coolly slotting past Marco Silvestri.

The contest opened up more as the half progressed but Beto wasted a decent opportunity for the visitors as he headed straight at Mike Maignan.

Tolgay Arslan shot just wide of the right-hand post and Rodrigo Becao saw a deflected effort saved by Maignan as Udinese threatened twice in quick succession around the hour.

Another opportunity went begging soon after as Nahuel Molina questionably attempted a cut-back in the box when he had only Maignan to beat, albeit from a slightly tight angle.

The deserved equaliser did arrive in the 66th minute, though, Udogie nudging over the line after fellow substitute Roberto Pereyra sent an overhead-kick goalwards.

Leao might have made it 2-1 14 minutes from time, but the ball would not drop quickly enough for him after flicking over Silvestri, and Nehuen Perez cleared for Udinese.

Stefano Pioli believes Zlatan Ibrahimovic has the desire to help Milan beyond the end of this season, although his future still is not settled and the forward's immediate focus is on aiding the Rossoneri's 2021-22 title bid.

Ibrahimovic signed a one-year contract extension in April last year, meaning his Milan deal is again up in June.

And the superstar forward, who is now 40, is increasingly struggling for fitness, even if his goalscoring form has not deserted him.

Ibrahimovic has eight goals in all competitions this season, with no Milan player scoring at a greater rate than his average of one every 133 minutes.

However, Ibrahimovic has been limited to 12 starts and has not featured in over a month since injuring his Achilles tendon against Juventus.

Milan coach Pioli was asked for an update on both the striker's future and fitness before Friday's match against Udinese and offered a mixed response, with his recovery not as rapid as anticipated.

"[His future] would be a question for Zlatan," the league-leading coach told a news conference. "His will is very important.

"As I know him, for the determination he has, for the ambition he has and for the desire he has to help the team, I am convinced that he would want to continue playing.

"His condition is improving, albeit a little slower than we expected, but he is better.

"His path is day by day – you have to understand how the tendon responds when he starts to run. Between today and tomorrow he will return to running on the grass; in these days he has done individual work and ran on the sand."

Kylian Mbappe to Real Madrid has often felt like a never-ending transfer saga, but it appears a resolution might now be in sight.

Los Blancos are apparently confident of getting the Paris Saint-Germain star in 2022 even though their performance did not impress him in the Champions League.

However, Madrid do have a back-up plan.

 

TOP STORY – MADRID CONFIDENT ON MBAPPE BUT MANE IS PLAN B

Real Madrid believe they will win the battle to sign Kylian Mbappe on a free transfer from Paris Saint-Germain in 2022.

Carlo Ancelotti's side are preparing to announce the deal at the end of the season, according to Goal.

However, should their efforts to sign Mbappe or Erling Haaland fail, Madrid have a back-up plan: Fichajes claims they will submit an offer for Sadio Mane.

ROUND-UP

Arsenal are interested in signing Joao Felix from Atletico Madrid, according to television show El Chiringuito.

Manchester United have been quoted €75million (£62.5m) for RB Leipzig star Christopher Nkunku, Bild says.

- Meanwhile, United striker Edinson Cavani is ready to listen to an offer to join Botafogo when his contract expires, Goal claims.

- According to Sport, Tottenham have submitted the firmest offer to sign Paulo Dybala from Juventus, but Barcelona and Inter are also interested.

Milan are resigned to losing Franck Kessie after this season and could replace him with Renato Sanches, Tuttosport says.

UEFA has decided to move the Champions League final from St Petersburg, according to the BBC. The game could be held in London.

Stefano Pioli maintained that nobody expects Milan to win the Serie A title as he was left to rue a lack of quality in their 2-2 draw at Salernitana.

The Rossoneri spurned a chance to go four points clear of second-placed Inter, and they would have slumped to a shock defeat but for Ante Rebic's 77th-minute equaliser.

It had all started so well for the leaders at Stadio Arechi, where Junior Messias put them in front just five minutes in on Saturday.

But Federico Bonazzoli levelled in the first half with an acrobatic volley after Milan goalkeeper Mike Maignan flapped at a cross, and Milan Djuric gave the bottom side the lead with a header with 72 minutes played.

Substitute Rebic came to the rescue with his first goal since September, scoring from long range, but this will go down as two points dropped for Milan in the title race.

Rossoneri head coach Pioli does not believe his team are considered to be capable of dethroning Inter, but he expects them to perform far better than they managed in a game they really ought to have won.

Pioli told DAZN: "The situation around Milan is strange. Nobody thinks we can win the Scudetto and then you ask me if we can still win the Scudetto.

"We are undoubtedly disappointed and for this reason we will try to do better from the next match. We had to produce a different performance. We were not lacking mentally, but quality was lacking."

Inter have the chance to return to the summit when they face Sassuolo on Sunday, as they only trail their city rivals by two points.

Pioli says Milan must not dwell on a setback that halted their run of three consecutive wins.

He said: "We are disappointed. We had started well and there were all the conditions to manage our advantage better. We could have dominated the game better.

"We manage to equalise, but we have to try to do better. We had to be more lucid because then the right opportunity would have come.

"We have to think about playing as we are able to do, during the week we will analyse the goals scored. It is useless to think about what we could have done, we try to secure as many points as possible and do better the things we know how to do."

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