Stefano Pioli says Zlatan Ibrahimovic has a "fire within him" after he marked his return from injury on Sunday with a goal in Milan's 2-0 win over Lazio.

Ibrahimovic – making his return to action following a knee injury sustained in May – was introduced as a substitute in the 60th minute and wasted little time making an impact, tapping in just seven minutes later to double his side's advantage.

They had earlier gone ahead thanks to Rafael Leao's second goal of the season, while Franck Kessie saw a penalty crash back off the crossbar in first-half stoppage time.

The result means Milan have won their first three Serie A fixtures in consecutive seasons for the first time in the Italian top flight.

Ibrahimovic will turn 40 next month, but Rossoneri boss Pioli insists his age will be no barrier to him enjoying another successful season at San Siro.

"Zlatan hadn't played for four months, so I'm glad he scored a goal and will get stronger in the next games," he told DAZN.

"He has this fire within him. The way he battles in training as well as games, all aiming to be the best. You don't feel the years when you do that."

 

Leao has already scored a third of his Serie A tally from last season, with his strike against Lazio coming from a joint game-high three shots.

While Pioli is expecting big things from the Portuguese forward, he urged him to sharpen up on his finishing.

"Rafa was already a strength for this team last season, but he's still 22 years old. It's only his third campaign in Italy, the second working with me," he added.

"He needs to become more efficient in the finish, because he almost always gets past his defender and just has to finish off more of those chances."

There was drama at the full-time whistle when Lazio boss Maurizio Sarri was shown a red card for an altercation with Alexis Saelemaekers.

Sarri played down the incident but was clearly unhappy with the Belgium international's behaviour.  

"It was nothing in particular," Sarri said.

"The young lad made a gesture that you shouldn't do to older people and Ibrahimovic then calmed everything down. These things happen on the pitch."

Milan maintained their 100 per cent start to the Serie A season as goals from Rafael Leao and the returning Zlatan Ibrahimovic handed them a 2-0 win over Lazio at San Siro on Sunday.

After winning their opening two games of the 2020-21 campaign against Sampdoria and Cagliari, victory over Maurizio Sarri's Lazio, who had also won their first two games, means the Rossoneri have won their first three league fixtures in consecutive seasons for the first time in the Italian top flight.

Leao's second goal of the campaign set them on their way, although Stefano Pioli's side missed the opportunity to extend their advantage moments before the break when Franck Kessie struck the crossbar with a penalty.

Ibrahimovic – making his return to action following a knee injury sustained in May – spared his team-mate's blushes just seven minutes after being introduced as a second-half substitute, tapping in as Milan's superb start to the season continued in style.

There was drama at the full-time whistle, with Sarri shown a red card by referee Daniele Chiffi after Ibrahimovic and Lucas Leiva had exchanged heated words.
 

Milan were dominant in the opening stages, taking seven shots by the half-hour mark, yet Pepe Reina had only one save to make in that time.

Davide Calabria was guilty of squandering their best early chance, the full-back lashing wide from 10 yards after being teed up by Ante Rebic.

The hosts did go in at the interval ahead, though, Leao stroking the ball into the bottom-left corner after a one-two with Rebic.

Pioli's men should have doubled their advantage in first-half stoppage time, but Kessie struck his spot-kick against the crossbar after Chiffi penalised Ciro Immobile for a foul on the Milan midfielder following a pitchside review.

Milan picked up where they left off after the break and sealed maximum points in the 67th minute when Ibrahimovic stole in unmarked to nudge Rebic's cross into an empty net – the first time the Croatian has supplied two assists in a Serie A game.


What does it mean? Title tilt in Rossoneri’s sights

Their title charge faded in the closing months of the 2020-21 campaign, but Pioli's side have dusted themselves down and look ready to challenge again this term.

Lazio had scored nine goals in their opening two games of the season, yet Sarri’s outfit were swatted aside with the minimum of fuss at San Siro, with the hosts taking a whopping 21 shots to their opponents' eight.

Leao ready to shine

Leao has already scored a third of his Serie A tally from last season and looks set for a breakthrough campaign. The Portuguese prospect was a handful for the Lazio defence throughout and had taken three shots when he was substituted on the hour mark – a tally not bettered by anyone on the pitch by the end of the game.

Immobile sums up Lazio's woes

Immobile scored four goals in Lazio's first two Serie A games this season, but he did not get a sniff against Milan's miserly defence. The Italy international had just one shot and conceded a penalty before his substitution late on.

What's next?

Milan travel to Liverpool in the Champions League on Wednesday before visiting Juventus in the league on Sunday. Lazio take on Galatasaray in Turkey on Thursday in the Europa League before a home Serie A clash against Cagliari three days later.

Olivier Giroud scored his first two goals for Milan to help his side maintain their winning start to the Serie A campaign with a convincing 4-1 victory against Genoa at San Siro on Sunday.

The Rossoneri were made to work hard for last week's 1-0 win over Sampdoria but proved far too strong for Genoa as they put on a show for their returning supporters, scoring all four goals in the first half.

Alessandro Deiola netted Genoa's first goal in six league games versus Milan to cancel out Sandro Tonali's opener, but Rafael Leao's heavily deflected strike and Giroud's double gave the hosts breathing space at the midway point.

Milan were happy to keep hold of possession from that point on as they cruised to a seventh league game without defeat stretching into last season.

Tonali lifted the ball over the Genoa wall and just out of back-up goalkeeper Boris Radunovic's reach to get Milan up and running inside 12 minutes with just his second Serie A goal.

Stefano Pioli's side were pegged back soon after through a Deiola header after the midfielder was picked out by a smart Joao Pedro pass – the first goal Milan had conceded in seven league matches.

But Leao restored his side's advantage in rather fortuitous circumstances as his shot took a big touch off the back of Brahim Diaz – Milan's match-winner last weekend – and flew past Radunovic.

Giroud's first Milan goal followed seven minutes later, the Frenchman curling a first-time shot into the far-left corner when played in by Diaz, and he had a second before half-time when converting a penalty awarded for a Kevin Strootman handball.

Milan then went through the motions and did not register a single attempt on target in the second period, with Charalampos Lykogiannis going closest to scoring for the visitors when testing Mike Maignan 10 minutes from time.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been ruled out of Milan's clash with Lazio, but head coach Stefano Pioli is confident fit-again Mario Mandzukic is ready to step up and fill the void.

Sweden international Ibrahimovic sat out Wednesday's 2-1 home loss to Sassuolo with a muscular problem and is not ready to return for Monday's Serie A trip to Stadio Olimpico.

The 39-year-old, who this week signed another 12-month extension with Milan, also missed the recent win against Genoa through suspension.

Rafael Leao filled in for Ibrahimovic in those two matches, but Mandzukic - a second-half substitute in both games - is in line for a first league start since joining in January after shaking off an injury issue of his own.

"Ibrahimovic is better but he won't be there tomorrow. He should be back for the following match," Pioli said at a pre-match news conference on Sunday. 

"Mandzukic and Leao will play for the place tomorrow. Mario is feeling better and has the characteristics to give himself the right contribution in the opposition box."

Former Juventus striker Mandzukic has featured seven times in total for Milan, his only start coming in the 2-2 Europa League last-32 first leg with Red Star Belgrade in February.

He has yet to score, assist or create a chance across his 119 minutes of Serie A action for the Rossoneri and has managed just three four shots, three of those on target.

Rafael Leao has played double the number of league games over that same period of time, scoring one, assisting one and creating nine chances.

The versatile Portuguese forward can play right across the frontline, but Pioli is not yet sure where he will be used in the long term.

"The Leao project continues regardless of his role," Pioli said. "It only goes to show his maturity and willingness to grow, which is normal for such a young player.

"It is difficult to establish what Rafael's final role will be. The growth of a player allows you to find a job and a position. 

"The important thing is he continues to grow and we will continue to evaluate the position along the way."

Milan have an identical league record with and without Ibrahimovic in their side this season (W10 D3 L3), and they average 1.9 goals with him in the side compared to 1.8 without.

Since rejoining the club at the start of 2020, Ibrahimovic has scored 25 goals in 35 Serie A appearances - only Luis Muriel (26), Romelu Lukaku (32), Ciro Immobile (36) and Cristiano Ronaldo (46) have found the net more often across that period.

Meanwhile, his scoring rate of 108.24 minutes per goal is bettered only by Ronaldo (88.41) and Muriel (64.42) among players to have scored at least 10 times.

"Ibra has raised the level of quality and personality, his charisma has helped everyone to grow," Pioli said following confirmation of Ibrahimovic's new contract on Saturday.

"His teammates have been good at following this path and having a growth with great constancy and will. 

"We have all grown and have become a team of a higher level. Everyone has given their contribution."

Ten-man Milan were made to sweat in their 3-1 win against Parma at Stadio Ennio Tardini after having Zlatan Ibrahimovic sent off for dissent as they tightened their grip on second place in Serie A.

Last week's 1-1 home draw with Sampdoria all but ended the Rossoneri's Scudetto hopes, but they responded with all three points on Saturday to boost their top-four prospects.

Ibrahimovic claimed an impressive assist for Ante Rebic's early opener and played a big part in Franck Kessie's goal that had Milan in control at the midway point.

However, the veteran striker was dismissed on the hour mark for something he said to the referee and Riccardo Gagliolo pulled back a goal soon after, but substitute Rafael Leao settled Milan's nerves with a third goal in added time.

Stefano Pioli did not see any shortage of commitment from his Milan side in the 1-1 Serie A draw with Udinese, but conceded the quality was lacking.

Franck Kessie scored a 97th-minute penalty with the last kick of Wednesday's encounter at San Siro, as Milan's title hopes took another hit – Inter now have the chance to move six points clear should they beat Parma on Thursday.

Milan's equaliser came courtesy of a remarkable error from Jens Stryger Larsen, who inexplicably handled in the area as Udinese looked to see out what would have been just a second away win in their last eight league matches on the road.

The Rossoneri were without their talisman Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who is set to miss up to three weeks with a thigh injury, and Milan head coach Pioli acknowledged his team were missing the "characteristics" the 39-year-old brings, while also bemoaning Mario Mandzukic's absence.

"We wanted to win, it's a shame," Pioli told DAZN. "We knew that it would be difficult against a team with everyone behind the ball.

"I saw determination and a lack of clarity. There was a lack of quality and rhythm, not anger and determination.

"We start again as always with the next match. Each game has its own story. On Sunday we found an opponent who wanted to play, Udinese instead play this [defensive] type of game.

"Today we lacked the right characteristics to face this type of match, we lacked the two real strikers in the squad. [Rafael] Leao and [Ante] Rebic have other characteristics.

"Now we must try to resume our run. A half positive result, let's think about the next game."

Leao and Rebic both struggled to assert themselves against Udinese's three-man defence.

Rebic – the second-highest scorer in Serie A in the back half of the season (since January 29), behind Inter's Romelu Lukaku – failed to have an attempt on goal or create a chance, while Leao only tested Juan Musso with a tame flick late in the first half.

Pioli did not look to single out his attackers, however, though he acknowledged Leao in particular has a lot to add to his game.

"I always expect a lot from my players," Pioli said. "Rafa has characteristics more suited for attacking spaces.

"When he finds a closed defence, he still doesn't have the shrewdness to anticipate the defender."

Ibrahimovic was watching on from close to the bench and was seen looking disgruntled at Milan's display.

"We didn't come out of this game satisfied, he's like everyone else," Pioli explained.

The good news for Milan is that, in Kessie, they have a midfielder on 10 goals in all competitions this season, though nine of them have come from the penalty spot.

Kessie's cool finish, timed at 96:20 was the latest Milan have scored in Serie A since 2017, while the Ivory Coast international has now netted 25 league goals in total for the Rossoneri – matching Robinho's tally.

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