Stefano Pioli called for his AC Milan side to be more “cynical” in front of goal ahead of their Serie A trip to Lazio as they look to turn the heat up on second-placed Juventus.

Milan were held to a 1-1 home draw by Atalanta in their last fixture – having lost to Monza and Rennes in their previous two matches – leaving them four points behind Juve in the Serie A standings and just five ahead of in-form Bologna in fourth pace.

The Rossoneri will now be eager to get back to winning ways against Lazio on Friday and coach Pioli wants his side’s performance to be consistent, calling for additional cutting edge up front.

“We want to produce the same performance as last week whilst aiming for a different result,” Pioli said on his club’s website.

“We analysed the positives after Atalanta but also tried to understand why we couldn’t score one more than them because we had the chance to. We need to be more cynical”.

Lazio have lost three of their last five Serie A matches, winning the other two, and will also be keen to get back on track after surrendering a half-time lead to lose 2-1 at Fiorentina last time out.

That was the second time in three matches Lazio have ended up empty-handing after taking the lead, and left them eighth in the table, eight points off the top four.

Pioli believes Maurizio Sarri’s “motivated” team will bring the fight to them at the Stadio Olimpico, where Lazio are playing only their second home match in six league outings.

Pioli also ruled out resting any of his players ahead of next week’s Europa League last-16 first leg at home to Sparta Prague.

“They (Lazio) are a team with great quality that comes off the back of an unsatisfactory performance,” said Pioli.

“They will be motivated but can also be thrown off by playing with intensity. The game against Slavia Prague will be very important, we are studying them but are fully focused on Lazio.

“Then we will have an almost full week, there won’t be changes in Rome in order to rest players. I believe that both sides will try to play with different ideas. The midfield battles will be very important”.

While Milan will still hold hope of overhauling Juve in second spot, Pioli concedes that city rivals Inter are unlikely to be caught by any team.

Runaway leaders Inter sit 12 points at the top of the table having won 22 of their 26 matches this season, losing just once and conceding only 12 goals.

Pioli said: “I think that the top spot in the league is decided, Inter are recording incredible numbers as Napoli did last year.

“April 21 (Milan derby) is too far away. We have a big game ahead of us and there are various goals to meet before we think about the derby.”

Stefano Pioli believes the outcome of AC Milan’s home clash with Serie A rivals Atalanta could determine the trajectory of the rest of their season with the title not yet out of their reach and a chasing pack turning up the European heat.

The Rossoneri head into Sunday’s match 11 points behind city foes Inter Milan in the Scudetto race while fourth-placed Bologna and Gian Piero Gasperini’s Atalanta are both in excellent form and pushing hard for Champions League football.

Defeat at San Siro and Milan could lose the initiative in that battle, especially considering the fact Atalanta – in fifth – have a game in hand and are riding a five-game winning streak.

Pioli said at Saturday morning’s press conference: “Tomorrow’s match is very important in terms of the league standings.

“Various teams below us continue to pick up points, and we want to get back to winning ways.

“It’ll be difficult, as we’ll be up against a side who are doing well, but we are also doing well. They’ve beaten us twice this season, so we’re preparing for the game with the aim of doing better.”

Milan celebrated reaching the Europa League last 16 this week with an aggregate victory over play-off opponents Rennes, and next up will be two legs against Slavia Prague in March.

This offers the Rossoneri further incentive to up their game and fight for honours on multiple fronts across the run-in.

“We progressed through our tie in the Europa League, and we’re in the competition to give it a go and fight to win it,” said Pioli. “Our destiny depends on ourselves, not on our opponents and the draw.

“In Europe, easy opponents don’t exist; Slavia Prague won their group ahead of Roma and are fighting to win their league domestically.”

Striker Luka Jovic is suspended but the boss hopes to have Pierre Kalulu back in the squad, with the French defender completing a full week of training following an injury lay-off.

England international Fikayo Tomori is “also doing better but slightly behind in the recovery process” and Pioli is optimistic that their returns will give Milan more bite in the backline as both players are “aggressive and fast and contribute well to our build-up play”.

Defender Isak Hien and Jose Luis Palomino are sidelined for Atalanta, who triumphed 3-2 in a wild December meeting with Milan before going to San Siro and knocking them out of the Coppa Italia last month.

AC Milan will be without Pierre Kalulu and Fikayo Tomori for the Europa League visit to Rennes.

The Rossoneri put one foot in the last 16 with a 3-0 win over the French side in last week’s first leg.

Both players are on the way back from long-term injuries but are not ready for Thursday’s match, though might make the weekend clash with Atalanta.

Boss Stefano Pioli said on Milan TV: “It’s clear that Kalulu and Tomori haven’t trained with us for a long time, so getting them back will be very important.

“They won’t be available for tomorrow night, if anything we’ll see for Sunday. It’s clear that we were happy to have some important players back in the group.”

Piolo stressed that the tie is not over, despite Milan’s dominance in the first leg.

“We approach it with great concentration, great desire to pass this round,” he said.

“It is clear that we took a good lead in the first game but it is equally true that we cannot consider it over.

“We are playing against a team that, despite changing five or six players, won in the league match.

“We know each other well, both us and them. That can be an advantage but we can also expect different things because they will try to come back.

“We are just focused on what we have to do to get through the round.

“Their verticality, their speed for sure and also their positions, in the first leg they tried to put us in trouble with different positions than we thought.

“We can also expect something different tomorrow night. It’s a fast team, it’s a quality team that absolutely will not raise the white flag easily.

“We will have to be good at reading the game with great attention, with great conviction, managing well and trying to hit the opponents.”

Ruben Loftus-Cheek scored twice as AC Milan took control of their Europa League play-off against Rennes with a 3-0 victory in the first leg at San Siro.

Stefano Pioli’s men finished third in their Champions League group, but continue to build momentum on the back of just one defeat in 13 games now through all competitions.

Former Chelsea midfielder Loftus-Cheek put Milan in front in the 32nd minute with a glancing header and nodded home another at the start of the second half before Rafael Leao swiftly fired in a third, leaving the Italian giants within touching distance of a place in the last 16.

The Rossoneri almost took an early lead when Leao’s close-range effort struck the crossbar before Theo Hernandez blazed over from the edge of the penalty area following a corner.

Loftus-Cheek then burst down the right and cut the ball back to Yunus Musah, who sent his shot wide.

After soaking up plenty of early pressure, Rennes went close in the 21st minute when captain Benjamin Bourigeaud’s long-range effort flew just off target.

Milan broke the deadlock just after the half-hour when England international midfielder Loftus-Cheek guided a cushioned header into the bottom corner from Alessandro Florenzi’s floated cross for his fourth goal in five appearances.

The hosts – currently third in Serie A, a point behind Juventus – continued to press as Olivier Giroud’s low drive from the edge of the area was clawed away by Rennes goalkeeper Steve Mandanda.

Rennes, who had been unbeaten in nine games, threatened on the counter when teenage winger Desire Doue drove forwards and drilled in a 20-yard effort, which was straight at Milan keeper Mike Maignan.

The French side fell further behind just two minutes into the second half when Loftus-Cheek nodded in from close range after Mandanda had palmed out a flicked header at the near post from Milan defender Simon Kjaer.

Before Rennes could look to regroup, Leao had fired in Milan’s third – his 50th goal for the club – after a neat exchange with Christian Pulisic down the right in the 53rd minute.

Rennes made a couple of changes to try to sharpen up the team and had a good spell of pressure heading into the final 20 minutes, with a low 22-yard drive from substitute Amine Gouiri testing Maignan.

Milan had a late chance to score a fourth when Pulisic broke down the left wing. The American’s shot was parried by Mandanda and then substitute Noah Okafor saw his follow-up hacked off the line by Rennes midfielder Azor Matusiwa.

Maignan saved again from Gouiri before Ludovic Blas fired over as Rennes were left with it all to do in next week’s second leg at Roazhon Park.

AC Milan boss Stefano Pioli hopes his side can exorcise their Champions League disappointment in Thursday’s Europa League play-off against Rennes.

Milan face Ligue 1 side Rennes in the first leg at the San Siro Stadium after finishing third in their Champions League group.

The Rossoneri lost out on goal difference to second-placed Paris St Germain despite a 3-2 win at Newcastle in their final match.

Pioli told a press conference: “We go again from the disappointment in Newcastle and we’re focusing all of our energy on the Europa League.

“We know that you need to be at your very best in Europe and that’s what we want to do (on Thursday night).

“There are some good teams in this competition. We have to be ambitious, but we can’t look too far into the future. The tie will be decided in a week and this game is a huge one.”

Milan are currently third in the Serie A title race, one point behind Juventus and eight adrift of leaders Inter Milan.

Pioli’s side have dropped only two points in their last five league games and have lost only one of their previous 12 games in all competitions

“We need to look at both tournaments,” added Pioli, who hinted at making changes amid a heavy fixture schedule and after Sunday’s 1-0 home win against Napoli.

“I know where we want to finish in the league in terms of points and I know how far we want to go in Europe.

“I hope to play a lot from here until the end. All of the players will be involved because, for example, with five games in 15 days, it would be tough for a lot of them to play the full 90 in all of those.

“Making choices and excluding players is always difficult, but it’s also true that I know that I have players coming off the bench who can change a game.”

Netherlands midfielder Tijjani Reijnders is hoping to return to the starting line-up after missing out at the weekend through suspension.

Germany defender Malick Thiaw is back in contention after a long-term hamstring injury, while Nigeria forward Samuel Chukwueze (muscle strain) has targeted Sunday’s Serie A game at Monza for his return.

Stefano Pioli believes his longevity in the AC Milan top job speaks for itself amid ceaseless speculation the boss could soon be replaced at San Siro.

Milan, who won the Serie A title under Pioli in 2022, have won six of their last eight games in an unbeaten spell but nevertheless sit eight points behind league leaders and city rivals Inter Milan ahead of Sunday’s showdown with Napoli.

Pioli took charge of the Rossoneri in October 2019 and is poised to draw level with Milan great Arrigo Sacchi – a 1988 Scudetto winner and twice a European champion with the club – on 220 matches coached this weekend.

However, reports in Italy continue to suggest the likes of Julen Lopetegui and Antonio Conte are being lined up to replace him, a situation which the 58-year-old is growing increasingly fed up with.

He told a press conference: “Sacchi was a fantastic coach of his era, an innovator. Equalling him for the number of appearances in the Rossoneri dugout can only make me proud.

“I love my work, I have great passion for it, I have been fortunate in my career as a coach and a player.

“The pleasure of coaching always trumps the pressure and criticism, the positive elements prevail, in particular having a group of special people.”

Despite Napoli being the reigning champions, they are languishing down in seventh place under Walter Mazzarri. Pioli is suitably wary of their many threats, though.

“Napoli are not doing great in the table but they have great statistics, especially in attack,” he said. “Tactics have changed with Mazzarri. Napoli have quality, we need to face them with respect and focus.

“Both sides have forwards that can change the game, we will also need to be tight in the midfield. There needs to be a high level of organisation and play.”

Mazzarri has endured his own share of negative appraisals from Naples and beyond as he looks to steer the Azzurri back towards the Champions League places following a disappointing start to the campaign under predecessor Rudi Garcia.

The former Watford manager hopes Napoli turned a corner after last weekend’s victory over Hellas Verona.

He said: “Sixteen finals remain and perhaps the curse is lifting, let’s hope this is start of a new journey for us.”

Milan’s Dutch midfielder Tijjani Reijnders is banned for the Sunday clash with Mario Rui suspended for the visitors, while Victor Osimhen is away contesting the Africa Cup of Nations final with Nigeria.

Defiant AC Milan boss Stefano Pioli has brushed off talk that Antonio Conte is being lined up to replace him.

Milan head into Saturday’s Serie A trip to Frosinone sitting in third place in the table but seven points adrift of Juventus in second and eight behind leaders Inter Milan, who have a game in hand on both.

The top two meet at the San Siro on Sunday evening, by which point Pioli’s men will hope to have closed the gap – although whether that would placate his critics is doubtful, with the club’s receding title hopes having been dealt a further blow by last weekend’s 2-2 home draw with Bologna.

Asked about the speculation linking former Italy boss Conte with his job, the 58-year-old told a press conference: “It doesn’t bother me at all. Maybe it bores me a little.

“What matters is that I and my players think we can do our best between now and the end of the season.

“The future doesn’t worry or bother me. We just want to demonstrate, the team and I, all our value.”

Milan will run out at the Stadio Benito Stirpe defending a seven-game unbeaten league run, with Atalanta the last side to beat them in the competition on December 9.

Wins over Monza, Sassuolo, Empoli, Roma and Udinese, coupled with draws against Salernitana and Bologna, since have helped them keep pace with Inter and Juve, if only just, but Pioli insists they simply have to concentrate on themselves as they attempt to claw back lost ground.

He said: “The season is still long and can give us further satisfaction. We have to put all our attention on the next match. Inter v Juve shouldn’t interest us.”

Frosinone will take to the field having halted a five-game losing run with a home victory over Cagliari followed by a draw at Verona, although the quality of the opposition this time around is significantly higher.

Eusebio Di Francesco’s men lost 3-1 at Milan on December 2 and have won only one of the eight league games they have played since.

Di Francesco will make late decisions on a lengthy list of injury doubts including Sergio Kalaj, Riccardo Marchizza, Anthony Oyono, Jaime Baez, Pol Lirola, Kevin Bonifazi, Mateus Lusuardi, Nadir Zortea, Marvin Cuni and Arijon Ibrahimovic.

AC Milan coach Stefano Pioli has admitted his side must strengthen in the January transfer window if they are to chase down leading duo Inter Milan and Juventus in Serie A.

Milan head to struggling Udinese on Saturday looking to close a seven-point deficit to second-placed Juve, and with Pioli eyeing reinforcements in defence and midfield.

“Our decisions don’t change and the club are working on it. There are two weeks remaining,” he said.

Pioli pointed out the need for a “complete” defender, saying any new recruit would need to be able to help with build-up play from the back.

Milan have improved defensively since Simon Kjaer returned from injury, but the Denmark centre-half’s future is uncertain with his contract due to expire in the summer – perhaps a contributing factor in their search for a new defender.

“Simon is a leader,” Pioli said. “He knows what to say and he takes position. But for all of us, it’s too early to speak about the future.”

Udinese claimed a 1-0 win over Milan at San Siro in November, one of only two games they have won all season, and Pioli is determined to avoid a repeat.

“Only tomorrow’s game counts, not what we did in the past against them,” he said. “We are different teams now. They are in a good moment, but the same is true of us.

“We must be fearless and try to perform at our best. It’s a hard game tomorrow, but we want better results than in the first part of the season. Surely, we’ve had a good week.

“Milan must earn as many points as possible, that’s what we want from every single game. All games are worth three points and we want to take them home tomorrow.”

Reserve goalkeeper Marco Sportiello and defender Alessandro Florenzi have returned to training after injury, but Malick Thiaw, Fikayo Tomori and Pierre Kalulu all remain out while Ismael Bennacer and Samuel Chukwueze are at the Africa Cup of Nations.

Udinese sit only one point above the relegation zone, but have taken four points from their last three games to offer some hope amid a miserable run.

It could have been better, but last weekend they conceded a late penalty in a 2-2 draw with Fiorentina, the seventh time this season they have lost a lead – having dropped 14 points from winning positions.

With away games against Atalanta and Juventus to come, things will not get any easier so coach Gabriele Cioffi would love what would be a third straight win over Milan.

Martin Payero could return from the muscle problem that kept him sidleined against Fiorentina, but Gerard Deulofeu, Jaka Bijol and Enzo Ebosse remain out.

Teun Koopmeiners fired a double as Atalanta dumped AC Milan out of the Coppa Italia after a 2-1 win at the San Siro.

The Netherlands midfielder struck a superb equaliser just 90 seconds after Rafael Leao had opened the scoring for Milan at the end of the first half before converting a penalty in the second period.

Atalanta’s surprise win secured them a semi-final tie against Fiorentina and is the second time they have beaten Stefano Pioli’s side in just over a month, following their 3-2 home Serie A victory on December 9.

The Rossoneri entered the cup tie in top form, winning five and drawing one of their six matches in all competitions since their league defeat to Atalanta, but the visitors fully deserved to progress.

A first half of few chances burst into life just before the interval when Leao combined with Theo Hernandez at pace down the left and brilliantly converted the latter’s ball inside from the edge of the penalty area.

Atalanta’s response was immediate. With the clock ticking into first-half stoppage time, Emil Holm burst clear on the right edge of the area and his pin-point cut-back was expertly swept home by Koopmeiners.

The visitors then went close to snatching the lead when substitute Mario Pasalic’s effort was blocked by Milan captain Davide Calabria.

Up until a frantic finale to the first half, Milan midfielder Yunus Musah was the only player to have a shot on target, with his 19th-minute shot saved by Marco Carnesecchi.

Milan defender Matteo Gabbia and Atalanta midfielder Marten de Roon had both been forced off following a heavy 38th-minute collision and replaced by Simon Kjaer and Pasalic respectively.

Koopmeiners forced Milan goalkeeper Mike Maignan into a fine low save with a low effort from outside the box at the start of the second half and threatened again as he fired wide soon after.

Atalanta were awarded a penalty – confirmed by the video assistant referee – after Aleksey Miranchuk went down under Alex Jimenez’s challenge and Koopmeiners converted into the bottom corner in the 59th minute.

Carnesecchi turned away Christian Pulisic’s goalbound shot from the edge of the area as Milan chased an equaliser.

Musah’s long-range shot was also saved by Carnesecchi and Milan substitute Jan-Carlo Simic headed wide from a late corner as Atalanta held firm.

The visitors were given a scare in stoppage time when VAR checked for a possible handball moments before the final whistle, while Milan’s unused substitute Antonio Mirante was shown a red card as the players left the field.

AC Milan goalkeeper Mike Maignan is focused on winning more silverware ahead of the Coppa Italia quarter-final against Atalanta.

Maignan’s first season at the San Siro in 2021-22 ended with Milan winning their first Scudetto for 11 years.

But there was no sequel to Serie A glory last term as Milan finished the campaign empty-handed.

France international Maignan, who arrived in the summer of 2021 from Lille to replace Gianluigi Donnarumma, is determined to savour that winning feeling again.

“The atmosphere during the parade with all the fans, when we paraded through the city on the bus, was an extraordinary and unique moment,” Maignan told GQ Italia magazine about Milan’s 2022 title celebrations.

“At Milan I found incredible team-mates and fans. A family. Here I would like to win as many titles as possible.

“I don’t feel like a spectacular goalkeeper. I try to do things in the simplest way possible.

“My philosophy, also written on my gloves and boots, is ‘foi discipline travail patiente et humilite’.

“It means ‘faith, discipline, work, patience and humility’. This is my daily mentality.”

Milan are in a rich vein of form heading into the San Siro tie with Atalanta.

The last six games in all competitions for Stefano Pioli’s side have produced five wins and a draw.

Ivorian teenage Chaka Traore has scored in the last two games, wins over Cagliari and Empoli, as the 19-year-old has stepped up with Nigeria striker Samuel Chukwueze away on Africa Cup of Nations duty and Noah Okafor sidelined by injury.

Filippo Terracciano, the 20-year-old defender who this week signed from Hellas Verona on a four-and-a-half-year deal, said: “I noticed that many youngsters have been getting opportunities.

“I’ve been pleased to see many of them play and I hope to be able to play with them too.”

Atalanta were the last side to beat Milan on December 9 when Colombia striker Luis Muriel struck a 90th-minute winner in a 3-2 victory for the Bergamo side.

“Milan are third in the standings and at the moment they are strong at home,” said Atalanta boss Gian Piero Gasperini.

“But we won against them a month ago and this can give us confidence to do it again.

“Football is perhaps the only sport where there is also a draw, but someone will have to come out on top here.

“Taking the Scudetto and the Europa League as unlikely, the Coppa Italia is the most attainable trophy for us.”

Teenager Chaka Traore scored his second goal in six days as AC Milan beat Serie A strugglers Empoli 3-0 at the Stadio Carlo Castellani.

The 19-year-old Ivorian winger, who had opened his Milan account in Tuesday’s 4-1 Coppa Italia victory over Cagliari, came off the bench to notch a third for Stefano Pioli’s men in the 88th minute.

That added to Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s 11th-minute opener and an Olivier Giroud penalty just past the half-hour mark.

Third-placed Milan’s third win in four league games closed the gap to second-placed Juventus to four points ahead of the Turin giants’ match at Salernitana later on Sunday.

Aurelio Andreazzoli’s Empoli remain second bottom as their winless run in the league extends to a seventh match.

As the visitors sought to make an early breakthrough, Tijjani Reijnders drilled wide in the third minute and Davide Calabria produced a dangerous cross from the right that flashed across the face of goal without a finishing touch being applied.

Milan then moved in front when Rafael Leao got past Tyronne Ebuehi on the left and laid the ball to Loftus-Cheek, who slotted past Elia Caprile.

Caprile subsequently dealt with a shot from Theo Hernandez before Empoli were forced into a change, with Ebuehi having pulled up injured and replaced by Filippo Ranocchia.

Moments later, Loftus-Cheek’s acrobatic effort hit the hand of Youssef Maleh, a VAR check ensued and after referee Federico La Penna watched footage back pitchside the verdict was a penalty, which Giroud dispatched in emphatic fashion off the crossbar for his 10th club goal of the season in all competitions.

It was then Milan having to make an early substitution due to injury as Alessandro Florenzi came off for Alex Jimenez.

Empoli’s Nicolo Cambiaghi was unable to make the most of a decent chance in first-half stoppage time, shooting wide, and Tommaso Baldanzi then saw an attempt saved by Milan goalkeeper Mike Maignan early in the second half.

Milan returned to the front foot with Loftus-Cheek striking wide from outside the box, Caprile tipping over a Christian Pulisic header and Leao curling into the stand.

Empoli’s continued efforts to hit back saw Cambiaghi put a couple of attempts wide, either side of Maignan blocking a Matteo Cancellieri shot and Francesco Caputo’s follow-up deflecting behind.

Milan then wrapped things up on the counter-attack in the closing stages as Pulisic burst forward and fed Traore, who sent a composed finish into the bottom corner.

AC Milan manager Stefano Pioli insists his side’s match against Sassuolo is not do-or-die, but demanded a return to winning ways in Serie A.

The Rossoneri have picked up just one victory from their last three league appearances to slip 11 points behind rivals Inter Milan at the summit of the table.

But speaking ahead of Milan’s home clash against Sassuolo on Saturday, Pioli said: “We need a win and I expect a convincing performance.

“Tomorrow’s game isn’t about me, nor is it do or die, and there’s still a long way to go in the season.

“We’ve studied Sassuolo. They are a side that builds from the back and creates chances. But they also concede a lot, too, so we’ll have to take advantage of their frailties, especially in defence.”

Sassuolo sit in 15th, just three points above the relegation zone, and head to the San Siro with only one point from a possible 12.

But Pioli will be aware that they have claimed high-profile victims in Juventus and Inter so far this season.

He continued: “The players have no fear and they want to overcome difficulties. We must always give our all.

“We have made some mistakes so far that we’ve paid for. We can’t find that consistency, even within the same game. But we are united and continuously looking to get better. We’re creating a lot, but we need to be more clinical and concede less.”

Pioli will hope to have Luka Jovic available. The former Real Madrid and Fiorentina forward, who has scored three times in his previous three league matches, sustained an ankle injury in his side’s 2-2 draw against Salernitana last Friday.

However, he trained with his team-mates this week and could feature.

Olivier Giroud, leading scorer for AC Milan in 2023, is set to lead the line, but the Frenchman has netted just three league goals at the San Siro this season.

AC Milan head coach Stefano Pioli will do his best to make amends for their disheartening Champions League exit by guiding the Rossoneri back into the competition through Serie A once again.

Milan are keen to get over the disappointment of their failure to progress to the knockout stages – Wednesday’s victory at Newcastle was only enough to secure third in their group and Europa League football – with a home win against Monza that will help them maintain their pursuit of second-placed Juventus, currently eight points clear.

Back-to-back league successes against Fiorentina and Frosinone were followed by a frustrating last-minute defeat at Atalanta last weekend and Pioli wants a response to both setbacks in Sunday’s lunchtime kick-off.

Pioli said at a press conference: “My big regret is that the team are not making the most of their potential right now, in Europe and in the league, so that’s what I must work on trying to change.

“This squad has so much potential, we created so many chances especially in the Champions League and lacked that bit of determination and quality. With that, we would have been here celebrating Champions League progress.

“Clearly, we can only now try to consolidate third place in Serie A and then try to do more. Our minimum objective is to qualify for the Champions League again, that is the very least we can aim for.”

Davide Calabria is suspended for the Monza clash after his dismissal in Bergamo so Theo Hernandez will be captain as Pioli tries to reckon with a defensive crisis.

Pierre Kalulu, Mattia Caldara, Marco Pellegrino and Malick Thiaw are all out injured, along with goalkeeper Marco Sportiello, and only one of academy product Jan-Carlo Simic and Simon Kjaer is likely to be fit enough to slot into the backline.

For Monza, Argentinian midfielder Alejandro Gomez is only two months into a two-year doping ban, with on-loan Torino defender Armando Izzo and Hellas Verona loan forward Gianluca Caprari among the key injury absentees.

Sunday’s visitors snapped a poor run of three games without a win by beating Genoa 1-0 last time out but away wins have been hard to come by so far for the mid-table side from the Stadio Brianteo.

Monza boss Raffaele Palladino said at his Saturday press conference: “We are satisfied so far but must keep our feet on the ground and improve on many aspects, such as being more effective in front of goal.

“Playing at San Siro is a source of pride. I believe Monza can do well and put Milan in difficulty. We are set up for this, to compete with anyone, anywhere. We must not be afraid of anybody.”

AC Milan boss Stefano Pioli has insisted he had no idea Sandro Tonali had a gambling problem before he was sold to Champions League opponents Newcastle.

The 23-year-old Italy international joined the Magpies in a £55million summer switch from Milan and played in a 0-0 draw against his former club in their Champions League Group F opener at San Siro in September.

However, he is now serving a 10-month ban for breaches of betting regulations during his time in Italy, robbing the Tyneside club of a key man for the remainder of this season.

Asked if he knew about Tonali’s problem when he was sold, Pioli said at his press conference at St James’ Park on Tuesday evening: “No, I didn’t know anything about Sandro’s problem.

“He was very polite, respected and respectful to others, he was a very sensible boy.

“Even if I feel I have an open relationship with the players, I only talk to them about football. What they do outside, I don’t know everything about them.”

Asked further if he backed the player to get through his current difficulties, Pioli added: “Absolutely, yes. His football quality and tactical quality, technical, physical quality, there’s no doubt about him. He’s a great player.

“We’re close to Sandro. When he was with us, he was a really cheerful, positive young man, close to the team, popular, very important to the team’s rise, applied himself, worked hard, very willing to help the team.

“Unfortunately, he fell into a delicate situation. We’re with him, we’re close to him and we hope this experience will teach him and help him be better in the future.”

Tonali’s suspension came just 12 games into his Newcastle career, but Pioli is confident the Premier League club will reap the rewards of their investment.

He said: “At the moment they signed him, it was a good deal, they signed a very good player. Then what happened afterwards, no-one could have expected it.”

If Tonali’s departure left a significant gap in Milan, another was plugged this week when it was announced that former striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic had returned to the club as a “senior adviser”.

Asked for his reaction, Pioli said: “Zlatan is taking the next step of his career. He’s always been a top character, a top player. He’s faced every challenge with determination, with intelligence and this is a new challenge for him and he’ll show the same personality, the same characteristics to do everything to help the club.”

Both sides head into Wednesday night’s game able to finish second, third or fourth in the group, but neither have their fate in their own hands with victory a must if they are to stand any chance of making the last 16.

Pioli said: “We’ve got one objective, we’ve only got one chance – win the match.

“I know the team will do everything they can to win the game. I know what’s awaiting us, I know what kind of team they are, I know what kind of stadium it is, but our team will do everything we can to come through this big, big challenge.”

A first-half penalty from Theo Hernandez helped AC Milan return to winning ways in Serie A with a 1-0 victory over Fiorentina.

Stefano Pioli’s champions had not won in the division since October after home defeats to Juventus and Udinese were sandwiched between 2-2 draws on the road at Napoli and Lecce before the international break.

While it was far from vintage Milan, France defender Hernandez made the difference with his second goal of the season after he won and converted a spot-kick at the end of the first half to earn a much-needed three points.

History was made late in the victory when Pioli introduced 15-year-old Francesco Camarda for his debut, making him the youngest ever player to appear in Serie A.

Milan’s hopes of a first league win since October 7 were dented by the absence of the suspended Olivier Giroud and injured attacker Rafael Leao.

Christian Pulisic was back after a hamstring injury though and he forced Pietro Terracciano into action midway through a tense first half at the San Siro.

After chances had been few and far between, Milan started to take a stranglehold of the contest with Davide Calabria denied, but Fiorentina remained a threat.

Eight-goal hitman Nicolas Gonzalez fired wide before the break and the half looked destined to end goalless until Hernandez took matters into his own hand in stoppage-time.

Full-back Hernandez was fouled inside the area by Fabiano Parisi and was able to dust himself down to slot home from 12 yards and make it 1-0 to Milan.

Fiorentina boss Vincenzo Italiano had seen enough and introduced Maxime Lopez for Arthur at half-time.

 

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It had the desired effort with a string of opportunities created for Gonzalez, but a combination of Mike Maignan and the woodwork kept the hosts ahead.

Milan head coach Pioli brought off Pulisic on the hour mark after his prolonged absence, with ex-Chelsea midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek brought on after his own recent return from injury.

And the chance to clinch the points arrived for the home side with 15 minutes left when Hernandez sent Luka Jovic clear, but Terracciano was equal to his effort.

Pioli sent on Camarda for Jovic in the 83rd minute and in the process made the 15-year-old the league’s youngest ever player, but Milan were indebted to a fine late save from Maignan to keep out Rolando Mandragora’s close-range effort and help his team end their four-match winless run in Serie A.

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