Milan coach Stefano Pioli is keen to retain Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who he called "a champion with a capital C", but knows the forward will make the final decision on his future.

Ibrahimovic is still going strong at the age of 40, but is out of contract at the end of the season.

Milan top the Serie A table heading into their final home game of the campaign against Atalanta on Sunday, though they hold only a two-point lead over city rivals Inter.

Should the Rossoneri win or draw and Inter fail to beat Cagliari, then a first Scudetto in 11 years will be confirmed with a game to spare.

Ibrahimovic played a key role in that title win in 2010-11, and returned for a second stint at Milan in 2020. 

Injuries have limited him to just 11 Serie A starts this season, and 22 appearances in the competition in total, though he has still scored eight goals, and Pioli hopes he will be able to call on the Swede heading into the 2022-23 campaign.

"No, I don't think so," Pioli replied when he was asked in a news conference if Ibrahimovic would be playing at San Siro for Milan for the final time on Sunday.

"There are two games to go. Last at San Siro? I hope not, he is a champion with a capital C."

 

Pioli will accept whatever decision Ibrahimovic makes, however.

He added: "My opinion of him is immeasurable.

"I hope that we don't lose him, but Zlatan has the intelligence and the maturity necessary to understand what will be in his future.

"Now Sunday's match is as important for him as it is for all of us, it is useless to talk about his future and our future now.

Milan have won their last two Serie A meetings against Atalanta, after winning only once in their previous 11 (D6 L4). 

However, Atalanta are unbeaten in their last seven away Serie A games against Milan (W3 D4), keeping a clean sheet five times.

Indeed, Milan's last home win against Atalanta in the competition was in January 2014.

Stefano Pioli says he "doesn't care" about Inter's match at Cagliari as he urged his Milan side to focus on their own game in their quest to win Serie A.

the  Rossoneri could secure the Scudetto on Sunday if they beat Atalanta and their city rivals fail to defeat Cagliari.

Pioli's team have 80 points, two clear of Inter at the summit with two games left to play as the fierce rivals battle for the title.

Victory over Atalanta, who are unbeaten on their past seven league visits to face the Rossoneri, would mark the first time Milan have managed more than 80 points in a campaign since the title-winning 2010-11 term.

It would also leave Milan requiring just a point in their final game to win the league at Sassuolo; the leaders boasting a favourable head-to-head record over Inter, who host Sampdoria on the last day.

Head coach Pioli, speaking at a pre-match news conference on Saturday, reiterated that his thoughts remains solely with Milan and not on what Simone Inzaghi's team do.

"I don't care, I'm not thinking about what Inter can do," he said. "We don't need any other motivation because we are already at our best from this point of view.

"We don't have to think any further, we have to think about 17:59 tomorrow, when the match will start. We have to keep thinking only about the match, what will happen next will depend on how the match will be.

"Then what will happen, will happen, we have the strength to be able to determine our own path. I think the team will face the match with great awareness, both of the moment and of their qualities.

"We have overcome many stages, positive and negative, which have helped us to grow. We have been very good up to now, we will have to be better from here to the end."

 

Milan's reported pursuit of Maxence Caqueret might have to be put on ice after the Lyon midfielder signed a new contract with the Ligue 1 club.

France Under-21s international Caqueret was reportedly of interest to the Rossoneri, who are aiming to win Serie A this season for the first time since 2011 - they hold a two-point lead over rivals and defending champions Inter heading into the final two games of the season.

Milan are, however, set to lose midfield powerhouse Franck Kessie on a free transfer ahead of next season, with the Ivory Coast international reportedly set to join Barcelona.

As such, Milan will be hoping to line up a replacement, and 22-year-old Caqueret had apparently piqued their interest, with his contract at Lyon winding down.

But any hope of a free transfer has now been dashed after Caqueret agreed to a new deal, set to keep him at Lyon until 2026.

Having come through Lyon's academy, Caqueret has already played in 88 games for the French side. He has made 29 Ligue 1 appearances and played eight times in the Europa League this season.

Caqueret has attempted a team-high 70 tackles in Ligue 1 this campaign, winning 39 (55.7 per cent), while no team-mate can better his 40 interceptions. Though he has failed to score or assist, he has created 24 chances for others.

While Caqueret's extension is a positive move, it has been a disappointing season for Lyon domestically, and they sit eighth in Ligue 1 with two games remaining.

With European qualification looking unlikely, the future of fellow midfielders Houssem Aouar and Lucas Paqueta may well lay elsewhere, with Bruno Guimaraes having already left for Newcastle United earlier this season.

Rafael Leao's pace, power and flair invokes memories of Brazil legend Ronaldo Nazario, while only Cristiano Ronaldo was as talented as the Milan winger aged 18 at Sporting CP.

That is according to former Sporting coach Tiago Fernandes, who worked with Leao as he came through the ranks at the Portuguese club and coached a young Ronaldo before he joined Manchester United.

Leao has become central to Stefano Pioli's plans at Milan this season as the Rossoneri seek a first Scudetto since the 2010-11 campaign, sitting two points clear of Inter with two Serie A games left to play.

The 22-year-old starred in the 3-1 comeback victory at Hellas Verona on Sunday, driving down the left flank to provide two almost identical assists for birthday boy Sandro Tonali to score.

Leao leads Milan charts for most goals (10) in the league this campaign, while only Theo Hernandez (6) boasts as many assists.

He has created 38 chances in total in the Italian top flight this season, a tally that only Hernandez (49) and Tonali (42) can better.

Fernandes, speaking to Italian publication Tuttomercatoweb, heaped praise on Leao as he drew comparisons between the forward and Brazil great Ronaldo.

"Leao has the power of Ronaldo, he has the talent to solve matches on his own," said Fernandes, who worked at Sporting between 2011 and 2018.

"He reminds me of the 'Phenomenon' [Ronaldo] with speed, technique and explosiveness in decisive moments, qualities that this season have emerged every game to drag Milan towards great results."

Fernandes reflected on his memories of developing Leao when he was at Sporting's academy, with Portugal compatriot Ronaldo the only other youth player to display so much potential.

"We are talking about a very special guy for me, I'm so happy with what he's doing," he added on the Milan star. "I met him when he was just 12-13 years old, coaching him in almost all the youth teams of Sporting until his first team debut at 18.

"I can assure you that only Cristiano Ronaldo in Lisbon had the same talent as him at that age. It is very exciting. It repays the many hours of work spent together on the pitch at Sporting.

"I am proud that he has landed in a great club like the Rossoneri, he is doing very well. I want him to win the Scudetto, now there are only two games left to finish the job."

As for the future of Leao, Fernandes believes he could play for any of Europe's elite given the qualities he possesses.

"Rafael has the talent to play in the best clubs in the world, from Real Madrid to Barcelona," Fernandes added. "I am convinced that he has an incredible career ahead of him."

Stefano Pioli declared he was "in love" with his Milan players after the Rossoneri came from behind to beat Hellas Verona 3-1, keeping the destiny of the Scudetto in their hands.

Marco Faraoni headed Verona into the lead after 38 minutes at the Bentegodi before Sandro Tonali, playing on his 22nd birthday, restored parity before the interval on Sunday.

Tonali was again on target four minutes into the second half before substitute Alessandro Florenzi sealed Milan's fourth comeback win – and second against Verona – of the Serie A season.

Victory moved Milan back to the Serie A summit as the Rossoneri, who are searching for their first Scudetto since 2010-11, sit two points clear of Inter with two league games left.

Coach Pioli was visibly delighted when speaking to DAZN after the game, heaping praise on his Milan group who never seem to know when they are beaten.

"I am very much in love with my players," the Italian said. "I know what they are putting in and what a journey we have been on.

"Courage and belief come from your experiences. Today we went behind despite having started well, but we believe in ourselves and step by step we are overcoming all obstacles. We have to continue like this.

"I am satisfied with today's victory, but we are already thinking about the next match [at home to Atalanta next Sunday] which will be complicated."

Rafael Leao, who created a game-high four chances, provided two identical assists, speeding down the left flank before squaring for Tonali to tap in either side of half-time.

Pioli was quick to praise the Milan duo for their efforts against Verona.

"They are young, but strong," he said of Leao and Tonali. "I told them on the second day of the summer training camp. I found two different guys than at the end of last season."

Elaborating on Tonali, who is the youngest midfielder to have scored five or more goals in Serie A this season, Pioli drew comparisons to Rossoneri great Gennaro Gattuso and Roma legend Daniele De Rossi.

"Seeing the training sessions and the matches, you discover new characteristics also of the players," Pioli said. "If we build with two midfielders, we make more use of the full-backs, like Sandro did tonight.

"Tonali has an incredible engine and work rate, he can become a great mezzala [a wide central midfielder]. He's showing incredible growth.

"It's difficult to compare two players. When I met him for the first time, I asked him what his favourite position on the pitch was, and he replied that everyone compares him to Pirlo.

"But he said he feels more like Gattuso. If I really have to name a name, I would say De Rossi."

Sandro Tonali marked his 22nd birthday by scoring twice as Milan moved a step closer to the Serie A title with a 3-1 triumph at Hellas Verona on Sunday.

Inter leapfrogged Stefano Pioli's side at the summit with victory over Empoli on Friday, and Milan's response at the Bentegodi started poorly when Marco Faraoni headed Verona in front.

However, Tonali struck either side of half-time – with the excellent Rafael Leao assisting both – to turn the game around.

Alessandro Florenzi's late third made sure as the Rossoneri remain on course for their first Scudetto since 2010-11, back two points ahead of Inter with two games to play.

 

Lorenzo Montipo had produced a fantastic save to deny a Rade Krunic header in the opening stages, before Tonali saw a low finish ruled out for offside following a VAR check.

David Calabria's volley was turned away by Montipo, while Gianluca Caprari and Giovanni Simeone each arrowed narrowly wide at the other end in a frantic first half.

Verona broke the deadlock when Darko Lazovic chipped in for the unmarked Faraoni to nod home, but Tonali equalised 10 minutes later, prodding in after a mazy left-wing run by Leao.

Leao repeated the trick after the interval, driving forward on the counter-attack before drilling across the face of goal for the incoming Tonali to tap in and nudge Milan ahead.

Adrien Tameze fired a presentable opportunity wildly over as Verona searched for a response, but Milan instead sealed victory when substitute Florenzi – on the pitch just 119 seconds – powered into the bottom-left corner with four minutes to go.

Milan boss Stefano Pioli has called on the Rossoneri to show they are "the best" side in Serie A when they attempt to return to the top of the table against Hellas Verona on Sunday.

The Rossoneri are unbeaten in 13 league games, winning eight and drawing five, with only Liverpool on a longer unbeaten run than Pioli's team in the top-five European leagues, ahead of the Reds' Premier League clash with Tottenham on Saturday.

However, Milan dropped to second in Serie A after rivals Inter beat Empoli 4-2 in a thrilling contest on Friday, as the local rivals remain locked in a tense battle for the title.

Milan have more points at this stage of a Serie A season (77 from 35 matches) than they have taken since picking up the same amount in 2010-11, when they went on to win the Scudetto under Massimiliano Allegri. 

Speaking ahead of the crucial trip to Verona, Pioli said his side are on the cusp of an incredible achievement and the time has come to show their quality.

"Now we are missing seven points to do something extraordinary and to show that we are the best in this league," he said.

"We are now at a point where all the matches will have a weight for the final goal. I have seen great attention and motivation. 

"We know that Verona can create difficulties for us, but the difficulties we have faced lately have made us grow. It's time to show that we are not only good, but that we can be better."

Milan have conceded just one goal in their last eight league games, boasting the best defensive record across the top-five European leagues since March, and have earned a reputation for grinding out crucial results recently.

The Rossoneri needed late goals to beat Fiorentina and Lazio in their last two outings, and Pioli said his team's willingness to fight to the end could prove crucial in the title race, calling on Milan to follow the example set by Real Madrid in their extraordinary Champions League semi-final win over Manchester City on Wednesday.

"We have to play as Milan, then if we win 1-0, or with a few more goals, the important thing is to be a team and play with emotion," he added. "It's our attitude. Even if the match is long, as always, we will try to change characteristics during the match.

"The steps to take are always the same, we want to try to dominate the games, so we must be a team from start to finish, [with] the mentality from Real Madrid. 

"I don't see my players anxious and worried, I see them motivated. We are focused, not anxious and frantic. There has been an exceptional growth. I thought I had to be here to calm them down, but not really, they are always calm and smiling, happy to be here."

Finally, Pioli revealed he did not see the Nerazzurri come from 2-0 down to beat Empoli, as he was too busy watching teenage sensation Carlos Alcaraz beat Rafael Nadal at the Madrid Open.

"I reviewed our training and then watched a great tennis match," he laughed. "Alcaraz is a phenomenon!"

Three matchdays remain in Serie A, and yet there is plenty still to be decided at both ends of the table – not least which side will be crowned champions.

Milan occupy top spot in their quest for a first Scudetto since 2011, but fierce rivals Inter are just two points behind and arguably have an easier set of fixtures to conclude the campaign.

Napoli and Juventus are not officially out of the title race just yet, though they are seven and eight points off first place respectively, therefore requiring a remarkable set of results.

Both Napoli and Juventus are already assured of a top-four finish, but there are several other teams still battling it out for the three remaining European spots.

Venezia appear doomed at the opposite end of the table after losing to fellow strugglers Salernitana on Thursday, with the latter's victory lifting them out of the bottom three – in all, six teams remain in trouble.

But just how will the remaining two and a half weeks of the season unfold? Using the Stats Perform League Prediction Model, we can try to forecast the final standings.

Created by Stats Perform AI using Opta data, the model has analysed the division to assign percentages to potential outcomes for each club.

The model estimates the probability of each match outcome (win, draw or loss) based on teams' attacking and defensive qualities, which considers four years' worth of results.

Weighting is based on recency and the quality of opposition, with the rest of the matches then simulated 10,000 times to calculate the likelihood of each outcome.

Let's take a look...

 

MILAN TO SEE THE JOB THROUGH

Milan still have Hellas Verona (ninth), Atalanta (eighth) and Sassuolo (11th) to face, whereas Inter's final fixtures are against Empoli (14th), Cagliari (18th) and Sampdoria (15th).

However, it is worth noting that if they finish level on points, Milan would be crowned champions by virtue of a superior head-to-read record against their rivals this term.

With that in mind, while Inter are only two points behind, they essentially need to take three more points than Milan over the final three matchdays.

And our model suggests the Rossoneri have a 62 per cent chance of retaining top spot, compared to a 37.7 per cent chance of defending champions Inter overtaking them.

Just to highlight how unlikely it is either Napoli or Juventus will pip the current top two to the summit, they have a 0.2 and 0.1 per cent chance of winning the title respectively.

A ROME ONE-TWO FOR EUROPA LEAGUE?

The Champions League places may now officially be wrapped up, but five teams are still battling it out for the three remaining European berths.

The sides that finish in fifth and sixth, currently occupied by Roma and Lazio, will qualify for the Europa League group stage.

Roma, according to the model, have a 59.1 per cent chance of nailing down fifth place – though if they were to drop to seventh, the Europa Conference League finalists could get into the Europa League by winning UEFA's third-tier competition.

Lazio would take great enjoyment from finishing above their neighbours and have a 36.9 per cent chance of doing so.

The first priority for Maurizio Sarri will be locking down sixth, though, and there is a 46.7 per cent likelihood of achieving that with Fiorentina three points further back.

ATALANTA TO PIP FIORENTINA

While the top six are forecast to remain where they are, our model predicts seventh-placed Fiorentina will miss out to Atalanta in the Europa Conference League play-off position.

After losing three games in a row, La Viola now have a 31.2 per cent chance of staying seventh, compared to 47.6 for Atalanta, whom they are currently level with on 56 points.

Verona are four points further back and that appears to be too big a gap to bridge, with the Gialloblu seemingly certain to remain in eighth.

Indeed, the 80.8 per cent likelihood of Verona finishing in that position is bettered only by the chances of Empoli staying 14th (90.2 per cent) and Venezia remaining bottom (87.4 per cent) given the points margin either side.

VENEZIA AND TWO OTHERS TO DESCEND

Thursday's 2-1 defeat away to Salernitana looks to have spelled the end for Venezia's brief stint back in the top flight as it leaves them seven points from safety. Their chances of escaping the drop sit at 0.1 per cent.

Salernitana still have a 36.2 per cent chance of dropping into the bottom three, but given they face the team directly below them – Cagliari – and Empoli in their next two games, they will surely like those odds.

Another win for Salernitana on Sunday would be massive at the bottom, as such a result will relegate Venezia and potentially Genoa, whom the model gives only a 1.2 per cent likelihood of climbing up to 17th.

Spezia and Sampdoria aren't quite out of the woods yet, but their five-point cushions should be enough to keep them in Serie A. Everything points to Sunday's contest being almost a straight relegation play-off between Salernitana and Cagliari.

The model suggests with a 63.3 per cent probability that Cagliari will go down, but their fate is in their own hands.

Barcelona's financial volatility has necessitated a cut of overall wage spend, and Philippe Coutinho has long been viewed as dispensable.

Since his big-money signing from Liverpool, the incompatibility the Brazil international has represented has only been reinforced with loan spells at Bayern Munich and Aston Villa.

However, in need of funds, the Blaugrana have reportedly set the Birmingham club a timeframe for confirming his permanent signing.

 

TOP STORY – BARCELONA GIVE ASTON VILLA COUTINHO ULTIMATUM

Barcelona have given Aston Villa until the end of the month to confirm whether they will sign Coutinho on a permanent deal, Sport is reporting.

The cash-strapped Catalan giants loaned Coutinho to Villa in January with a €40million (£33.7m) purchase option, but Villa have now been given until the end of May to finalise the deal.

Barcelona have reportedly insisted that the finances be resolved by the end of June, as it would help balance their accounts for the season. 

The 29-year-old has played erratically despite four goals and three assists in 14 appearances, not directly contributing to a league goal since early March against Leeds.

ROUND-UP

- Romelu Lukaku has no intention of joining Milan or Newcastle United despite frustration over a lack of opportunities, according to the Evening Standard.

- Chelsea want to sign 20-year-old Croatian defender Josko Gvardiol from RB Leipzig, Goal reports.

- Football Insider reports Inter Milan are looking to sell Stefan de Vrij, with Tottenham and Aston Villa among the clubs interested.

- Lazio are willing to lower their asking price for Sergej Milinkovic-Savic to around €80million, per Calciomercato.

Manchester United reportedly have a clear runway to sign West Ham midfielder and England international Declan Rice in the upcoming transfer window.

Rice, 23, has emerged as one of England's brightest young talents after being released from Chelsea's youth setup back in 2014.

He is expected to command a transfer fee in excess of the £100million Jack Grealish was signed for by Manchester City in a British record – but United may not be engaged in a bidding war.

 

TOP STORY – RED DEVILS LOOM AS RICE'S SOLE ENGLISH SUITOR

ESPN are reporting that United will not be facing competition from fellow Premier League clubs in the pursuit of Rice.

Sources have allegedly claimed the goal is to make Rice into a "modern day version of [Paul] Ince", who helped ignite the rise of legendary boss Alex Ferguson with his arrival from West Ham in 1989.

City are said to be using their resources on Erling Haaland; Chelsea are hampered by their ownership situation and the need to replace Antonio Rudiger, Andreas Christensen and Romelu Lukaku; and Liverpool would prefer to wait for Borussia Dortmund's Jude Bellingham at a cheaper price.

Despite a lack of bidders to drive up Rice's price, West Ham are reportedly firm on their £100m-plus valuation.

 

ROUND-UP

– Everton would accept a £50m fee for Brazilian striker Richarlison, and are confident of getting such an offer, according to Football Insider.

– According to ESPN, Milan and Juventus are the leaders in the race to sign United's Jesse Lingard.

– Sport are reporting Wolves midfielder Ruben Neves has chosen Barcelona over Premier League clubs United and Arsenal.

– Lazio's Sergej Milinkovic-Savic is said to be for sale for a €80m price-tag, with Sky Sport claiming United and Paris Saint-Germain are the leading suitors.

Arsenal have renewed their interest in Inter striker Lautaro Martinez, per The Times. 

Simone Inzaghi is adamant the Serie A title race is far from over after Inter bounced back from defeat to Bologna by beating Udinese on Sunday.

Inter's 2-1 victory came after Milan had secured a late 1-0 win at home to Fiorentina, temporarily putting them five points clear at the summit.

A shock 2-1 loss to Bologna last week saw Inter lose their place at the top of the table, and Milan have a relatively kind run-in.

But Inzaghi is not giving up as Inter look to win back-to-back Scudetti after first-half goals from Ivan Perisic and Lautaro Martínez were sufficient to see off Udinese.

"At 2-0 we conceded [Ignacio] Pussetto's goal, that made us dip slightly, but we stayed in the game and risked almost nothing," he told DAZN.

"I think it's the 50th game since the beginning of the season but we play well, we want to win. There are three games to go plus the final of the Coppa Italia.

"We played seven games in 22 days but the team is healthy and wants to believe until the end."

Udinese offered very little until Pussetto's 72nd-minute goal, but Inter did then come under slightly more pressure in the closing stages.

But Inzaghi felt their ability to see out the win and bounce back from a bitterly disappointing defeat last week was a evidence of Inter's mentality.

"It was a great proof of character against a team that in April was second only to mine [in terms of points], and I want to thank the fans, who followed us in large numbers," said the former Lazio coach.

"It made us feel almost as if we had San Siro behind us to the end."

Inter face Empoli at home next on Friday, while Milan go to Hellas Verona two days later.

Milan moved closer to a first Serie A title triumph in 11 years thanks to a late strike from Rafael Leao in Sunday's 1-0 home win over Fiorentina.

Inter's shock 2-1 loss to Bologna in midweek handed the Scudetto initiative to Milan and the Rossoneri just about took full advantage with this third league victory in a row.

The visitors had lost three games in a row in all competitions but frustrated their table-topping opponents until Leao made the most of an error to fire in an 82nd-minute winner.

That strike was enough as Milan moved five points clear of Inter, who travel to Udinese later on Sunday. Should it come to it, the Rossoneri boast the better head-to-head record.

Despite the change and uncertainty at Manchester United since Sir Alex Ferguson's retirement, the one constant on the pitch has been a dysfunctional midfield.

The Red Devils appear intent on changing that, amid the backdrop of Paul Pogba's contract expiring at the end of the season, while a season remains on Nemanja Matic's deal after the end of this term.

Their idea of a solution will reportedly come from within the Premier League.

 

TOP STORY – MANCHESTER UNITED TARGET WARD-PROWSE

Incoming Manchester United boss Erik ten Hag wants James Ward-Prowse to spearhead a transformation of his new side's midfield, The Sun is reporting.

Ten Hag faces a substantial rebuild at Old Trafford and with the club set to miss out on Champions League qualification, a £150million asking price from West Ham for Declan Rice reportedly appears too steep.

Ward-Prowse appears to be the alternative, with Ten Hag reportedly an admirer and reportedly costing half the price of Rice. 

The 27-year-old's contract with Southampton runs until 2026, but the lure of a club of United's stature would be hard to resist.

ROUND-UP

- Ousmane Dembele has a more lucrative offer from  Paris Saint-Germain but the 24-year-old is intent on staying at Barcelona, Sport is reporting.

- Manchester City are confident Pep Guardiola will sign a new deal at the end of the season, with the Sunday Mirror reporting talks have taken place to extend his tenure to 2025.

- The Sunday Mirror is also reporting that Manchester United are interested in signing Feyenoord's 22-year-old left-back, Tyrell Malacia.

- Milan have agreed terms with Lille to sign  Renato Sanches, per Calciomercato, with the midfielder set to join for €20million plus add-ons.

Stefano Pioli has called on Milan to show "fire in our hearts and ice in our veins" to see out the club's bid for a first Serie A title since 2010-11.

The Rossoneri's late 2-1 win at Lazio last week, coupled with rivals Inter losing to Bologna on Wednesday, leaves Pioli's men two points clear at the Serie A summit with just four games remaining.

Milan are unbeaten in their last 12 league matches  – winning seven of those and drawing five – ahead of Sunday's potentially difficult clash with Fiorentina, who are aiming for their first Serie A double over the Rossoneri since 2000-01.

Speaking ahead of that encounter, Pioli said Milan were fully focused on the threat posed by the Viola, and said his team would need to display their character to end the season as champions.

"It will be a vital game, as will all of our remaining matches," he said. "The best thing for us is to just focus on our next game, as we have always done. 

"This has been our biggest strength. Fire in our hearts and ice in our veins. 

"We're not thinking about our last four games but just about Milan versus Fiorentina. The boys have been focused, determined and generous throughout the week, which we need going into tomorrow's game. 

"Every point is important at this stage of the season. A lot of games will be decided by individual moments, and you need to make these moments swing in your favour." 

Milan have conceded just eight goals in 15 league games since the turn of the year, with only quadruple-chasing Liverpool (six Premier League goals conceded) boasting a better defensive record across the top five European leagues in 2022.

The Rossoneri were not considered title favourites at the outset of the campaign, but while Pioli was pleased with how his "energetic" side had emerged as challengers in a competitive season, he demanded they improve after falling behind in last week's dramatic win over Lazio.

"We're concentrating on doing our job well. It's not time for words, but for actions. I never say that everything will go well, we just hope it goes the way we want," he added.

"I'm not bothered if people outside the team think we deserve it. The important thing is what we are doing; we've overcome various obstacles and we've never been down. 

"We have our limits which we are trying to break and we have some assets that need to be praised. We play energetic football, which will always make it easier to win.

"The objectives of a few teams have changed a few times throughout the course of the season; things change quickly. Serie A is a tough league with a lot of good teams.

"We need to improve our approach to games because we got it wrong ahead of the derby in the Coppa Italia [a 3-0 semi-final loss to Inter] and against Lazio. We've worked on that and we're trying hard to limit this type of error."  

Milan will hope to continue their fine goalscoring record against Fiorentina on Sunday, having scored at least two goals in each of their last three league games against the Viola, not recording a longer such streak since a run of six between 1992 and 1996.

Olivier Giroud says Milan's squad are fully focused on the Serie A run-in as the Rossoneri aim to achieve "something unique" by winning a first Scudetto since 2011.

Milan came from behind to record a last-gasp 2-1 victory over Lazio in their last outing, and remain two points clear at the top of Serie A after title rivals Inter lost their game in hand at Bologna on Wednesday.

Stefano Pioli's team are unbeaten in 12 Serie A matches ahead of Sunday's meeting with Fiorentina (seven wins, five draws), but each of their last four fixtures of the campaign pits them against top-half opposition.

Giroud, whose only league title to date remains a shock Ligue 1 triumph with Montpellier in 2011-12, says the Rossoneri are relishing being involved in an absorbing fight for the Scudetto, and insists being crowned champions of Italy would represent a "unique" achievement for Pioli's men.

"We're heading towards the end of the season and it's only normal that there's more pressure," Giroud told the club's media channels. 

"But the group, the whole squad, is fully focused on the goal, which is to win the next game.

"Each and every player has to dream, think, eat and breathe to win the Scudetto, we're so close and everyone wants to win it, we can't hide from this fact.

"I hope this final run-in will be great for our fans, and I hope we will experience something unique, all together."

Giroud netted his ninth goal of the Serie A season in Milan's comeback win over Lazio, making this his best goalscoring league campaign since he scored 12 goals for Arsenal in the Premier League in 2016-17.

France's 2018 World Cup winner has also scored more goals against Lazio than he has against any other opponent for Milan (three in two appearances), and said the dramatic nature of their victory made it "even better".

"We showed great team spirit, we never gave up and always believed we could win the game," he added. 

"To win like this is even better, it's a great emotion in front of 10,000 Milan fans at the Stadio Olimpico. We played a good game and believed in the win until the end."

Milan are looking to secure the Serie A title off the back of a tremendous run of defensive form. Since the start of 2022 across the big five European leagues, only Liverpool (six) have conceded fewer than the eight goals shipped by Pioli's men in their 15 league matches.

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