Jose Mourinho is surprised Roma are being talked up as Serie A title contenders given "only Sampdoria and Lecce spent less than us".

The Giallorossi finished sixth last season and won the inaugural Europa Conference League in May.

Roma pulled off a huge coup by signing Paulo Dybala on a free transfer and have since brought in Georginio Wijnaldum on a season-long loan deal.

Mile Svilar and Zeki Celik have also joined the Eternal City giants, with Henrikh Mkhitaryan the most-high profile player to depart – joining Inter as a free agent – and Jordan Veretout also moving on to Marseille.

A 1-0 friendly victory over Tottenham and a 5-0 rout of Shakhtar Donetsk have increased the hype ahead of Roma's first Serie A match of the season at Salernitana on Sunday, but Mourinho is playing down expectations.

The Roma head coach told reporters on Saturday: "There are teams that have an economic potential that is not comparable, I'm not saying the distance between Earth and Mars, but there are people who spend €100-150million per season. 

"We go play and do the best we can. In the championship we finished in sixth place, our squad improved, we lost Mkhitaryan and Veretout, but we took on players with whom we improved, but other clubs also did. 

"For this reason, during this period where I didn't need to talk to journalists, it amazes me when it comes to us in one way, but not about the others. Roma can be a candidate for the Scudetto if they have won 18 titles. 

"Only Sampdoria and Lecce spent less than us. Milan and Inter finished with 25 and 23 points ahead of us and improved. There is a lot of noise around us for an interesting match against Tottenham and Shakhtar. 

"We talk about us, while there is silence around other teams. Lazio spent €39 million, are they candidates for the Scudetto?"

Brentford have announced the signing of Denmark midfielder Mikkel Damsgaard in a reported £12.6million (€15m) transfer.

Damsgaard leaves Serie A, where he had played for Sampdoria since 2020.

The 22-year-old scored only two goals in 46 league games in Italy, providing four assists, but he caught the eye at Euro 2020 last year as Denmark reached the semi-finals.

Damsgaard scored twice, including a spectacular first goal in the 2-1 last-four defeat to England, as well as adding an assist.

Brentford coach Thomas Frank said of Damsgaard, who has signed a five-year contract: "Mikkel is, in my opinion, another classic Brentford signing.

"He is a young player with big potential to develop further. We know we can help Mikkel reach his highest level, we have the staff here that have experience in doing that."

Damsgaard will hope to help plug the creative gap left by Denmark team-mate Christian Eriksen, who left Brentford for Manchester United after a successful short-term spell at the club last season.

Chelsea are hoping to raid Leicester City for both Wesley Fofana and Jamie Vardy during this transfer period, with the former reportedly telling the club he wants out, while the latter's contract is set to expire in 12 months.

Fofana, 21, has emerged as one of the most valuable young defenders in the Premier League despite missing most of this past season with a broken leg. He has represented France's Under-21s, and appears on track to a long international career at the senior level.

Vardy, 35, has scored at least 13 goals in each Premier League season since 2014-15, and if he indicates he has no interest in signing a new contract to stay in Leicester, this transfer window will be their last opportunity to cash-in on the club legend.

 

TOP STORY – CHELSEA SET SIGHTS ON DYNAMIC LEICESTER DUO

While Vardy will likely have a significant say in his future due to his contract situation, the same cannot be said for Fofana, who recently signed an extension that ties him to the club through 2027.

90min reports both Chelsea and Manchester United are monitoring Vardy's situation, with the thought that he could potentially be a relatively cheap replacement option after Romelu Lukaku was shipped out on loan to Inter, as well as Timo Werner having one foot out the door.

There is no word about an asking price for Vardy, but according to ESPN, Leicester are adamant Fofana is not available at any price, despite previous rumours that they value him at £85million. 

Meanwhile, the Mirror claims that since the Stamford Bridge side's interest became clear, the centre-back has been actively pushing for the move to Chelsea, and he has removed any mention of Leicester from his social media pages.

 

ROUND-UP

– Sky Sports is reporting that Sampdoria have accepted Brentford's £16.7m bid for 22-year-old Danish midfielder Mikkel Damsgaard.

– According to 90min, if Tottenham cannot secure Roma forward Nicolo Zaniolo, they will switch attention to Wolves winger Adama Traore.

– Football League World is reporting Sevilla and Wolves will battle it out for the signing of 23-year-old striker Ben Brereton-Diaz from Blackburn Rovers.

– Fabrizio Romano claims Sevilla are also interested in United full-back Alex Telles, who is said to be behind both Luke Shaw and Tyrell Malacia in the club's pecking order. 

– The Guardian is reporting Chelsea are interested in Southampton's Kyle Walker-Peters, and that an offer between £35m and £40m could get the deal done.

Simone Inzaghi congratulated Milan on their "extraordinary" Scudetto triumph but vowed Inter will come back stronger next season.

Inter beat Sampdoria 3-0 in their final game of the 2021-22 season on Sunday, though it was not enough to stop fierce rivals Milan from claiming a first Serie A crown since 2011.

The Rossoneri had to lose if Inter were to pip them to top spot, but they showed no signs of final day nerves in a comfortable 3-0 win at Sassuolo.

It is only the second time in seven such instances in the three-points-per-win era that Inter have missed out on top spot despite registering 80 points or more.

Their final tally of 84 points were two fewer than Milan managed, with Stefano Pioli's men winning their final five games and going 15 without defeat to conclude the campaign.

While proud of his own side's form in the second half of the season, Inzaghi was quick to praise Milan for seeing out the job.

"Congratulations must go to them because they had an extraordinary season," he told DAZN. "Congratulations to them for managing 86 points.

"Over the last 30 points on offer, we managed three points more than Milan. I am proud of what we have done.

"In February we had a double-header with Liverpool in the Champions League and that had an impact [on our league form].

"Now, in the next few days, we will analyse where we could have claimed the extra victory that would have turned the season from beautiful to extraordinary."

Inzaghi may have fallen just short of retaining the title Inter won last season, but the ex-Lazio head coach won the Coppa Italia and Supercoppa Italiana in his first year in charge.

He is the third manager in Inter's history to win at least 25 matches in his maiden Serie A campaign, after Aldo Olivieri (1950-51) and Jose Mourinho (2008-09).

Reflecting on the campaign as a whole, Inzaghi said: "It has been a challenging journey. But we lifted two trophies and only lost to Liverpool and Real Madrid in Europe.

"Nobody likes being second, but this season will be hard to forget."

Milan and Inter have finished in the top-two spots in successive seasons for the first time ever and will be much fancied to battle it out for the Scudetto again next time around.

After losing a number of key men ahead of this season, Inzaghi is hoping for a positive transfer window to help Inter bounce back in the 2022-23 campaign.

"I'll meet with [chairman Steven] Zhang with a cool head and we'll discuss the future," he said. "We have to do things well because we have fans who deserve to be brought joy.

"[Romelu] Lukaku, [Achraf] Hakimi and [Christian] Eriksen were big losses. We've worked hard to stay competitive and the hope is we can make our squad more competitive."

Milan have been crowned as Serie A champions for the first time since the 2010-11 campaign after beating Sassuolo.

Stefano Pioli's men went into the final day of the season knowing they simply needed to avoid defeat to clinch their first Scudetto in over a decade.

The Rossoneri had established a two-point lead over rivals Inter – against whom they also held a head-to-head advantage – at the Serie A summit. 

And they made sure of their success with a 3-0 defeat of Sassuolo, thanks to goals from Olivier Giroud and Franck Kessie.

Milan travelled to Sassuolo having made light of a challenging run-in, winning five consecutive games to tee up their historic triumph, as they matched the Nerazzurri's tally of 19 Italian top-flight titles. Only Juventus (36) have more than the two Milanese giants. 

While Inter avoided handing the title to the Rossoneri following a hard-fought 3-1 win over Cagliari last weekend, their result against Sampdoria on the final day was ultimately immaterial as Milan made their advantage count at the end of an absorbing title race.

The Rossoneri's last title triumph came under the tutelage of Massimiliano Allegri some 11 seasons ago, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Alexandre Pato, and Robinho each scoring 14 Serie A goals apiece as Milan finished six points clear of Inter.

Pioli's men have been able to rely on a fantastic defensive record to get them over the line, conceding just eight league goals since the turn of the year.

Indeed, 11 of Milan's 17 Serie A clean sheets this season have come in 2022, and last week's crucial 2-0 win over Atalanta marked the first time they had kept five consecutive home clean sheets in Serie A since a run of six under Carlo Ancelotti in 2002.

The Rossoneri's title win also marks the first major trophy of Pioli's coaching career, and the club's first trophy win since the 2016 Supercoppa Italiana.

Inter's reign as Serie A champions came to an end on Sunday despite rounding off their campaign with a resounding 3-0 victory over Sampdoria at San Siro.

The Nerazzurri needed to beat Sampdoria on the final day and hope Milan lost against Sassuolo if they were to pip their fierce rivals to top spot.

Inter completed their half of the bargain thanks to a couple of goals for Joaquin Correa after Ivan Perisic had opened the scoring early in the second half.

But it did not matter as Milan were three goals up at half-time against Sassuolo and protected that advantage for a 3-0 win, meaning they – and not Inter – were crowned champions of Italy.

 

At least three goals had been scored in the previous six league meetings between Inter and Sampdoria, but neither side could find a way through in a relatively low-key first half.

Lautaro Martinez grazed the outside of the post with a header and was thwarted by Emil Audero from the best of Inter's opportunities.

The Inter striker was denied again by Audero after the restart, although Simone Inzaghi's side soon found their groove.

In what could be his final game for the club ahead of his contract expiring next month, Perisic picked out the far corner four minutes into the second half to give his side lift-off.

Correa swept in a first-time finish to double Inter's lead, and the Argentina international added another on the turn two minutes later to completely kill off the contest.

Perisic was carried off on a stretcher after sustaining an injury in the build-up to that third goal, which proved to be the last of the meaningful action on the day Inter's spell as top dogs in Italy officially came to an end.

Simone Inzaghi insists Inter's season will be defined as a success even if they fail to win the Scudetto.

Inzaghi's side head into the final matchday of the Serie A campaign two points behind leaders and fierce rivals Milan, who require just a point at Sassuolo to win the title due to a superior head-to-head record.

Inter host Sampdoria, who have won just one of their last 19 league visits to the Nerazzurri, knowing the Serie A title is out of their hands as they rely on Stefano Pioli's Milan faltering on Sunday.

Regardless of the title outcome, Inzaghi views the season as a success after winning the Coppa Italia and Supercoppa Italiana, while making the Champions League last 16, where they were defeated by Liverpool.

"We have won two cups, expressed ourselves well, returned to the Champions League last 16 and are fighting for the title on the final day of the season," Inzaghi said at Saturday's pre-match news conference.

"The team has had a great year and I am very happy. It would be extraordinary to win the Scudetto as well, but we have given everything and we know we have given satisfaction to our fans."

Inter sit on 81 points heading into the final day, and 80-plus points have been enough for the Nerazzurri to win the title on five of the previous six occasions they have passed that mark.

However, should Milan avoid defeat at Sassuolo, the 2021-22 campaign will follow suit with the 2019-20 term when Inter finished second behind Juventus, despite collecting 82 points.

Inzaghi will be bitterly disappointed should Inter miss out to neighbours Milan, but he does not expect to come under criticism for failing to defend the title that Antonio Conte's Nerazzurri won last season.

"I have an excellent relationship with Antonio, there is mutual respect," he said of Conte. "Comparisons are normal, but I have never given those any weight.

"The club has always been with me from day one. It will have been a satisfactory year for our work anyway.

"The coaches are always under scepticism, we knew how things were and the demands of the club. Along the way we realised that we have gone beyond expectations."

Meanwhile, Ivan Perisic has hinted at a move away when his contract expires at the end of the season.

Asked about a renewal after the Coppa Italia win, Perisic told Mediaset: "I don't know, but with the important players [the club] doesn't wait until the last moment."

But Inzaghi assured there will be discussions with the Croatia international, who he feels is a special player.

"I think he went further; until you train a player you can't realise," Inzaghi said when asked if Perisic has lived up to expectations.

"Perisic has always been special to watch. He has had an extraordinary season – I think he has outdone himself.

"There will be a meeting with the club. I hope there will be progress. He is an important player for Inter. There is a great, open relationship and we will take stock of everything."

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.

Jose Mourinho confronted a journalist ahead of Roma's visit to Sampdoria on Sunday, saying the reporter "s***" himself in front of him. 

Journalist Alessandro Austini recently criticised Mourinho on Italian radio and the former Manchester United and Real Madrid boss took him to task at his pre-match media conference on Saturday.

Mourinho, 59, said he expected a tougher line of questioning from Austini and accused the journalist of cowering in front of him.

In response to his question, Mourinho said: "I was expecting a much more aggressive question, more negative and violent after I listened to you on the radio.

"I didn't expect such an easy question. My conclusion is that you are much more aggressive and violent on the radio but when you come here you s*** yourself a little bit in front of me."

Roma sit seventh in Serie A ahead of Sunday's visit to Sampdoria, having amassed 51 points from their 30 games.

They are unbeaten in their last nine Italian top-flight matches (W5 D4), winning three of their last four. They last went 10 unbeaten in a row in a single campaign in 2015-16 (17 back then, under Luciano Spalletti).

Sinisa Mihajlovic is facing a new leukaemia battle after the Bologna head coach revealed he is heading back to hospital for treatment.

The Serie A stalwart, who played for Roma, Sampdoria, Lazio and Inter, was first diagnosed with the disease ahead of the 2019-20 season and underwent a bone marrow transplant in October 2019. He was back in the dugout six weeks later.

He has remained boss of Bologna since then but will step away from his responsibilities for an indeterminate period after revealing he has encountered a setback.

Mihajlovic announced the news on Saturday, telling reporters in a news conference that a routine test had given cause for concern.

"In recent years the recovery was excellent, but unfortunately, from the latest analysis some alarm bells have emerged and there is a risk of a reappearance of the disease," Mihajlovic said.

"This disease is very courageous in returning to face an opponent like me."

Former Yugoslavia hard man Mihajlovic, who has coached teams including Sampdoria, Milan and Fiorentina, spoke of the challenges of always knowing there might be a bump in the road after his initial recovery.

"You can fall, and you have to find the strength to get up," he said. "At the beginning of next week I will have to be absent, and I will be hospitalised again at Sant'Orsola. I know I am in excellent hands. Unlike two and a half years ago, when I was in tears, this time you see me calmer.

"I know what I have to do, and my situation is very different than it was then."

Mihajlovic is hoping for a swift return to his Bologna duties, but it will not be immediate. "I will certainly have to skip some matches," he said.

Bologna sit 12th in Serie A and have won just one of 10 league games since the turn of the year, losing six times. Mihajlovic is convinced his players can thrive without him and rise to his encouragement which will come from afar.

Their next match is an April 4 clash with leaders Milan.

"I know they will fight for me. They are all good guys and good players," said 53-year-old Mihajlovic. "I ask the wonderful Bologna fans to support and help them, I am sure it will happen both in training and in matches. 

"None of us will give an inch, we'll move up in the table, and I'll be back with the team soon."

Juventus secured a 3-1 win away at Sampdoria on Saturday to move within a point of third-placed Napoli in Serie A.

An own goal from Maya Yoshida and an Alvaro Morata brace were enough to give all three points to Massimiliano Allegri's side at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris, despite a late strike from Abdelhamid Sabiri.

The hosts had previously squandered a golden chance to get back into the game in the second half when Wojciech Szczesny saved Antonio Candreva's penalty, sealing the win and giving the Bianconeri momentum going into their Champions League last-16 second leg against Villarreal on Wednesday.

Likely with that game in mind, Dusan Vlahovic started on the bench as Moise Kean was given a start alongside Morata.

It was a quiet opening to the game, with the first shot on target from either team coming from Candreva in the 22nd minute, which was palmed away by Szczesny.

However, Juve went straight up the other end and took the lead as Juan Cuadrado's cross from the right was turned into his own net by Yoshida.

Bizarrely, Allegri's men were ahead before they had taken a single shot at goal, and their first effort of the game made it 2-0 as Morata coolly slotted home from the spot after Omar Colley had clumsily brought down Kean in the box.

A listless second half finally came to life when Adrien Rabiot was judged to have handled in the box, but Szczesny got a good hand to Candreva's spot kick down to his right to briefly keep it at 2-0.

The Polish shot-stopper could do nothing about Sabiri's free-kick in the 84th minute, which deflected in off substitute Vlahovic to give the home side late hope, but Juve had their two-goal cushion back shortly after when Morata headed in Manuel Locatelli's cross at the back post to seal victory.

Juventus head coach Massimiliano Allegri warned that "a moment can change everything" heading into a decisive stage of the season.

Allegri's side started the season in mixed fashion, but a 14-game unbeaten streak in Serie A has them back on track and they are one of only five teams still unbeaten in Europe's top-five leagues in 2022.

Juve sit fourth in the league, six points clear of fifth-placed Atalanta and just seven adrift of leaders Milan, and are still in the Champions League with the return leg of their last-16 clash against Villarreal to come on Wednesday.

The Bianconeri next head to Sampdoria, who Juve have won their last six against in all competitions and scored at least two goals in each of those games, but Allegri is expecting a tough test on Saturday.

Juve boss Allegri also referenced a frantic Champions League clash between Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid as a warning sign for how quickly things can change in football.

"We've reached the decisive moment of the season," he told reporters at Friday's pre-match news conference. 

"With two months to play, this is the run-in. There's the international break in a week, but in the meantime, we have an intense week ahead of us. 

"Our first objective is to defeat Sampdoria, then the second is to qualify to the quarter-finals of the Champions League.

"Our objective is to finish in the top four. Whether fourth, third or second, it's not important. What is important is that we continue our positive run and hold down fourth place.

"Football is played on a knife's edge - as was demonstrated during the week between Real Madrid and PSG.

"When the situation appears to be going well, a moment can change everything. So, concentration needs to be kept to a maximum."

 

Sampdoria are eyeing three straight home league wins for the first time since a run between December 2018 and January 2019, and Allegri reiterated the challenge that a new-look side under Marco Giampaolo pose.

Allegri added: "In their two matches at home with Marco Giampaolo as coach, Sampdoria have scored six goals and conceded none, while 25 per cent of their goals were scored in the opening 15 minutes, so our approach needs to be right. 

"Winning in Genoa is always difficult, either against Genoa or Sampdoria. They are transformed when they play at home. We need to have the character to obtain the result we’re looking for."

Juve will be hoping that new signing Dusan Vlahovic can continue his fine scoring run against Sampdoria, who are his favourite opponent in Serie A having scored five goals in five games against them.

Allegri still wants to see more from the former Fiorentina striker Vlahovic, despite the forward topping Juve's scoring charts with three goals in five league games since his arrival, averaging a goal every 143 minutes in Serie A.

"I am happy with how Dusan Vlahovic is coping with the mental stress of playing every three days," he continued. 

"Every ball is decisive. I told him yesterday that he needs to be more precise in each action he’s involved in, to spare some energy and increase his skill."

While Vlahovic has impressed in recent weeks, Juve have been without talisman Paulo Dybala but Allegri hinted at a return for the Argentina international against Villarreal.

"I still need to decide who will play because I'm aware that some players need a rest," Allegri said of his team for the Sampdoria clash. 

"The good news is that Mattia De Sciglio and Alex Sandro are back with the team, and Juan Cuadrado feels fine. Federico Bernadeschi is suspended, but Danilo will definitely play. It will be his 100th game for Juventus, so how can he not play?

"Paulo Dybala is improving. He could be available for the Champions League, so could Leonardo Bonucci.

"On Sunday, Giorgio Chiellini should be back with the team. When the Champions League arrives, it's like honey, it attracts everyone."

Rafael Leao was likened to Thierry Henry by Milan head coach Stefano Pioli after firing his side to a slender victory against Sampdoria.

The Portugal international scored the only goal of the game eight minutes into Sunday's clash at San Siro to send Milan top of Serie A.

Leao controlled a pass from Mike Maignan – the first Milan keeper to assist a league goal since Dida in 2006 – powered past Bartosz Bereszynski and coolly converted.

He now has 10 goals for the season in all competitions, making him the Rossoneri's joint-leading goalscorer alongside Olivier Giroud.

That is already three goals more than Leao managed in 39 appearances last season, and four more than in his first season at San Siro in 2019-20.

Of those 10 goals this season, seven have been scored in Serie A and four of them have been the opening goal of the match.

Pioli has been pleased with Leao's development and is confident there is more to come from the 22-year-old striker.

"I believe he can always do better, he must not be satisfied," Pioli said at his post-match news conference. "He has the qualities to reach the top of Europe and the world.

"He reminds me of Henry, but it is true that Rafa must be himself. Leao is an extraordinary player, but he mustn't rest on his laurels."

Milan took full advantage of Inter's 1-1 draw with Napoli on Saturday to leapfrog both sides into top spot with their win over Sampdoria.

The Rossoneri are two points in front of Napoli and one better off than Inter, who have a game in hand to play.

Pioli's side have gained 55 points from their opening 25 matches – in the era of three points for a win, they have had so many only in 2003-04 (64).

But while his side occupy top spot in a tight battle for the Scudetto, Pioli insisted he is not yet thinking about ending Milan's 11-year wait for a league title.

"Our goal does not change," he said. "We printed last year's standings at the beginning of the season and our goal is to improve on the 79 points collected last season.

"We had a perfect week and I'm happy for the guys who really gave everything, playing with intensity and determination, which allowed us to achieve these results. 

"We also know that the championship is still long: let's concentrate as we have always done to better prepare for the next match to get the best out of it."

 

Milan may be flying high in Serie A and through to the Coppa Italia semi-finals, but not every player is in the good books of supporters.

Franck Kessie appeared to be targeted by the club's ultras on Sunday amid suggestions he is not planning to sign a new contract, with his current one set to expire in July.

A banner was unfurled at San Siro that read: "Those who love Milan show it with facts; cordial goodbyes to those who are dissatisfied."

Kessie was also booed by some supporters during the warm-ups, which Pioli was not pleased with.

"I heard it. I don't think it's the right thing because we need everyone. The past teaches us it is the attitudes and behaviours of the players that make the difference," he said. 

"When I train, I don't care if he has renewed or if it's about to expire. I know these players and I see them, I see how they behave. 

"As long as they have the right attitudes, I will put them on the pitch. The Milan fans have a great heart and a great passion and are giving us great support."

Rafael Leao's early goal proved the difference as Milan beat Sampdoria 1-0 at San Siro on Sunday to climb to the top of Serie A.

Saturday's 1-1 draw between Inter and Napoli provided Milan with the opportunity to leapfrog both sides and they did exactly that without ever being at their best against Samp.

Leao calmly converted inside eight minutes after being assisted by keeper Mike Maignan and that was enough for the hosts, who have now won three in a row in all competitions.

Milan are two points clear of third-place Napoli and one point better off than reigning champions Inter, who still have a game in hand to play.

 

Milan had collected just one point from their past two home matches but started brightly and took the lead early on through Leao's 10th goal of the campaign.

The Portugal international controlled a long pass from Maignan, drove away from Bartosz Bereszynski into the opposition box and coolly fired away from Wladimiro Falcone.

Falcone produced a fine one-handed save to keep out a powerful Junior Messias drive and the Milan midfielder flashed another attempt narrowly wide the other side of half-time.

Sampdoria had a brief moment on top but the big chances continued to fall Milan's way, with Olivier Giroud twice being denied by the visiting keeper from a volley and a header.

The visitors never truly looked like finding a leveller, though, with Stefano Pioli's side seeing out the job to climb to the summit.

 

What does it mean? Tight at the top

After following up a late 2-1 comeback win over Inter with a 4-0 Coppa Italia quarter-final victory against Lazio in midweek, this latest result caps a fine week for Milan.

The Rossoneri will end a gameweek top of Serie A for only the second time this season in what is by some distance the tightest title race in Europe's top five leagues.

As for relegation-threatened Sampdoria, this was their 67th Serie A defeat to Milan – only against Inter (70) have they lost more games in the competition.

Route-one Rossoneri

Leao profited from Maignan's quick thinking to release the ball early for Milan's early breakthrough goal.

Maignan is the eighth goalkeeper to assist a goal in Europe's top five leagues this term, and the first Milan shot-stopper to do so in Serie A since Dida against Ascoli in 2006.

Giroud awakening

Milan's in-form striker had scored braces in back-to-back matches heading into this contest but simply could not find a way past man-of-the-match Falcone.

Giroud had five shots in total with an expected goals (xG) return of 0.40 without finding the net, compared to one shot and one goal for Leao, who had an xG of 0.33.

What's next?

Milan travel to Serie A's bottom side Salernitana next Saturday, while Sampdoria host Empoli the same day.

Juventus assistant manager Marco Landucci applauded his players' attitude and believes they are building consistency following their Coppa Italia victory over Sampdoria.

The Bianconeri made a strong start to their title defence with a commanding 4-1 win over the Blucerchiata at the Allianz Stadium.

Goals from Juan Cuadrado and Daniele Rugani put the hosts in control and despite Andrea Conti's reply for the visitors, further strikes from Paulo Dybala and Alvaro Morata sealed the passage into the quarter-finals.

Landucci oversaw Juve's fortunes in the absence of Massimiliano Allegri, who is serving a touchline ban in the Coppa Italia held over from his first stint in charge of the club.

And the assistant hailed the efforts of his squad, who are now unbeaten after 90 minutes in their last 11 across all competitions.

"We put in a good performance, which wasn’t easy with so few people in the stadium," he told Sport Mediaset.

"We had the right attitude, were fired up, and it was very important that we go through to the next round, as the Coppa Italia is a great tournament. Everyone did very well.

"The attitude is crucial, and we had many games with the right attitude, even missing key players. There are no easy games; we saw that [when] we lost more points against the so-called smaller sides like Verona, Empoli and Udinese.

"The only thing that matters is hard work, attitude and desire. We are finding some consistency now; we need to speak with actions rather than words."

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