Stefano Pioli bemoaned Milan's wastefulness in front of goal as their 22-match unbeaten streak in Serie A ended with a 2-1 defeat to Napoli on Sunday.

Matteo Politano put Napoli ahead from the penalty spot after Sergino Dest's clumsy foul on Khvicha Kvaratskhelia.

Olivier Giroud pulled Milan level in the 69th minute, but Giovanni Simeone headed home a winner in the 78th minute to ensure Napoli returned to the Serie A summit.

Milan had 22 shots to Napoli's nine, but Pioli says that is scant consolation after watching his side suffer a first league defeat of the campaign.

"I am not satisfied at all and neither should my players be," he told DAZN. "We only scored one goal, which isn't enough for all that we created.

"It's disappointing because nights can happen when the opponents play better, but in this case we really shouldn't have lost.

"I hope we will learn from this to be more clinical in front of goal because we did everything right except for errors and a lack of determination in both penalty areas.

"I could have said I was very happy because we played better than Napoli and created lots of chances, but seeing as we were the only side unbeaten in Europe's top five leagues for 22 matches – longer than Bayern Munich, Manchester City and Real Madrid – it's a shame to lose it with a performance like that.

 

"On Simeone's goal we had too many players attacking the man with the ball, forcing Messias to sit deeper, which freed up Mario Rui.

"It's difficult to blame our defensive movements when Napoli only really had that chance. I am more bitter about the lack of chances that we converted.

"We allowed very little to a side that usually creates and scores a lot of goals. It's true we are conceding too many at the moment and need to work on that, but my concern is more up front."

Milan, who dropped down to fifth following the defeat, travel to Empoli on October 1 following the international break. 

It's a bit early in the season to call Napoli's trip to Milan a "title clash" given we're only six games in, but for the Partenopei it is clearly an opportunity to make a statement.

Luciano Spalletti, a former Milan coach, has guided Napoli to 14 points from their first six matches, and they sit top of the fledgling table ahead of Atalanta and the Rossoneri on goal difference.

While Milan have already beaten bitter rivals Inter this term, Napoli haven't had the chance for such a signal of intent – at least, not in Serie A.

But neither Spalletti nor Stefano Pioli will be able to rely on their star men in San Siro on Sunday, adding to the unpredictability of a match that promises excitement.

Sorely missed

Rafael Leao and Victor Osimhen will miss this contest due to suspension and injury, respectively. Both absences are bitter blows to not only the teams, but fans tuning in.

Leao has been an especially key figure for Milan over the past year or so. Since the start of last season, he has played in 40 out of a possible 44 matches, with only Alexis Saelemaekers and Sandro Tonali (both 41) appearing more regularly.

Their win percentage with him stands at 70, while they average 2.3 points with Leao on the pitch. Of the four games he has missed, Milan have only won two.

Over the same period, Osimhen has missed 12 league games for Napoli. Their win rate increases from 58.3 per cent to 65.6 per cent when he plays, and their goals average goes up to 2.2 from 1.5 per game. Similarly, he's the only current Napoli player to score 10 or more Serie A goals (16) in that time.

The opportunity is there for others to step up in their absence.

 

At home on the road

As their position at the Serie A summit suggests, Napoli have enjoyed a fine start to the season, and their Champions League demolition of Liverpool made even more people sit up and take note.

Any successful team cannot just rely on a vociferous home support, however, and Napoli have made decent early strides in that regard, amassing seven points from their first three away Serie A games.

If they can avoid defeat on Sunday, they'll be unbeaten after the first four away games in an Italian top-flight season for the third campaign in succession, a feat no team has ever achieved before.

Granted, Milan's recent home form is decent, having won six on the trot in San Siro, which is their best run since 2013 (eight successive wins). But it was Napoli who ended that run, and the Partenopei are also hoping to rack up three consecutive away league victories over Milan for the first time in 43 years.

Party up front, business in the back

Yes, that's not quite how the saying goes, but this altered phrase is more applicable to Napoli. They have been exciting to watch going forward this term, with Osimhen, Khvicha Kvaratskhelia, Andre-Franck Zambo Aguissa and Piotr Zielinski all catching the eye on the offensive.

But credit where it's due to Spalletti's side when they're not on the attack, as Napoli have been solid defensively.

Stretching back into last season, they have kept six clean sheets in their past nine Serie A games, including three in six this term.

Even when they have conceded, Napoli possess the necessary mentality – and ability – to fight back, with their six points gained from losing positions second only to Milan's seven in 2022-23.

 

Milan unbeaten, Napoli with everything to prove

Milan's title success last season was helped massively by their exceptionally strong end to the campaign.

They finished 2021-22 with six successive wins and went on an undefeated run that stretched back to January 17 when they suffered a shock 2-1 loss at home to Spezia.

Milan have since stretched that unbeaten streak to 22 league games, which is their longest such run since a 27-match undefeated run ended in January 2021.

That form highlights the task that Napoli face on Sunday, though by the same token, being the team to halt such a sequence would surely show Spalletti's team mean business.

Milan head coach Stefano Pioli noted the "positive step" his team took as they earned their first win in the Champions League group stage this season against Dinamo Zagreb.

An Olivier Giroud penalty was followed by goals from Alexis Saelemaekers and substitute Tommaso Pobega, though Mislav Orsic briefly made a game of it as he pulled a goal back before the latter's late strike.

The win was Milan's first at home in the Champions League since September 2013 when they beat Celtic 2-0.

The six games without victory at San Siro was their longest run in the competition, having drawn three and lost three, but the win against their Croatian opponents on Wednesday gave the Rossoneri four points in Group E, having drawn 1-1 at Salzburg last week in their first game.

Speaking to Sky Sport Italia after the game, Pioli spoke of "dreaming" but noted caution as he felt his team could still play better.

"Dreaming is beautiful, the parallel is 'dreaming at night and working during the day to be able to achieve our dreams'," he said.

"Today's victory is yet another positive step, but we can do better."

Giroud's 45th-minute penalty was just his second goal in his last 12 Champions League appearances.

The France international had only taken six shots in his previous six appearances in the competition for Milan, but got four away against Dinamo, with three on target.

Speaking to Milan TV after the game, Giroud outlined his desire to keep scoring goals in Europe's premier competition, with back-to-back games against his former club Chelsea on the horizon.

"We started the match well, we could have improved the last pass and our finishing, but we are very happy," he said.

"It is always a special emotion to play the Champions League. I am very happy because I have one more goal and I want to continue like this."

Milan earned their first win of this season's Champions League group stage, but were made to work for it by Dinamo Zagreb as the Italian champions secured a 3-1 victory at San Siro.

Goals either side of half-time from Olivier Giroud and Alexis Saelemaekers gave Stefano Pioli's men a strong lead.

They were made to sweat after Mislav Orsic – who scored the winner against Chelsea for Dinamo last week – pulled his team within one goal again with a fine finish just before the hour mark.

The Rossoneri appeared to tire in the closing stages of the game, but sealed the points when substitute Tommaso Pobega swept in a third for Milan's first home win in the Champions League since they beat Celtic in September 2013.

Milan made the early running, with Sandro Tonali and Giroud seeing early efforts sail over the crossbar, while Ismael Bennacer and Saelemaekers had shots from range easily saved by Dominik Livakovic.

A rare moment of panic from an otherwise organised Dinamo cost them when Josip Sutalo kicked through the back of Leao as he tried to intercept a pass into the area, and the referee pointed to the spot, with Giroud calmly sending Livakovic the wrong way from 12 yards, putting his penalty to the goalkeeper's left to give Milan the lead just before the break.

It did not take long in the second half for Pioli's side to double their advantage, with Leao working space down the left before standing up a cross for Saelemaekers to head in from close range for his second goal in two group stage games this season.

The game was not done though, with the dangerous Orsic playing a neat one-two with Bruno Petkovic, cutting through the Milan defence before the former placed his shot into the far corner of the net to halve the deficit.

Pobega finished well to clinch it after 77 minutes, hitting a first-time shot from Theo Hernandez's cut back in off the bar as Milan move on to four points in Group E from their first two games, a point ahead of Dinamo.

Stefano Pioli has no worries about continuing to select Olivier Giroud to lead the Milan attack in the continued absence of Divock Origi.

Giroud has played in all seven of Milan's matches so far this season, starting five of those, due to the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Ante Rebic and new signing Origi being injured.

Origi has managed just 80 minutes of action since arriving as a free agent in the transfer window and has yet to open his goalscoring account for the club.

Pioli had hoped to call on the ex-Liverpool striker before next week's international break, but he has been ruled out of Wednesday's Champions League tie with Dinamo Zagreb.

France international Giroud, who turns 36 later this month, is now expected to start at San Siro as he looks to add to his tally of three goals and an assist so far this term.

Milan head coach Pioli is not overly concerned by Origi's injury-plagued start to life at the club and is happy for Giroud to continue in the role.

"Olivier can play every game, and I have many other players who can also play in that position," Pioli said at Tuesday's press conference.

"I'm not worried about Origi's injury, but sorry. He is a player we strongly wanted and I'm now hoping to have him back after the [international] break."

 

Giroud has scored only one goal in his past 11 Champions League appearances, managing just eight shots in total across that period – only five of which were on target.

Milan could do with the former Arsenal and Chelsea striker stepping up on Wednesday as they aim to improve on last week's 1-1 draw away at Salzburg in their Group E opener.

However, Zagreb enter the contest in good form having won six games on the spin, including a 1-0 victory over Chelsea that leaves them top of the early standings.

"We have to put our full potential into every game," Pioli said. "Tomorrow's match is very important, but not yet decisive because there are many other matches remaining.

"We could be on top of the group with a win. We have a chance, but it will be difficult because Dinamo deservedly won the first game [against Chelsea].

"If we play at a high level, we have a good chance to win both in Italy and in Europe. We have to play at our best."

Stefano Pioli "will work something out" after the "decisive figure" of Rafael Leao was ruled out of next weekend's clash with Napoli following a red card in the 2-1 win over Sampdoria.

Leao had been sensational in the first half at Stadio Luigi Ferraris, setting up Junior Messias' sixth-minute opener with one of three key passes – a total not bettered by anyone on the pitch.

However, his match ended just two minutes into the second half when he received a second booking after he struck Alex Ferrari in the face when attempting an overhead kick. 

Samp pulled level through Filip Djuricic, but Milan sealed a fourth win in six Serie A games this season when Olivier Giroud powered home from the penalty spot after Gonzalo Villar had handled in the area.

The champions have now won three successive Serie A games against Sampdoria for the first time since September 2016.

Second-placed Milan are level on points with leaders Napoli, who visit San Siro on Sunday, and Pioli accepted he might have to play a different way in the absence of Leao. 

"Both teams are missing a lot, but we're missing Leao and Ante Rebic; both players who cover that role," he told Sky Sport Italia.

"We had to play 50 minutes with 10 men. We know there's a big Champions League game coming up [at home to Dinamo Zagreb on Wednesday], so we'll focus on that first and then see what to do against Napoli.

"Rafa is becoming a decisive figure in our attack, but we have other alternatives and will work something out with different characteristics.

"I saw Leao joking around a lot in the warm-up, but I told him he tends to play well when he's that relaxed and he said 'don't worry, boss'. In hindsight, I should've worried.

"It's disappointing. I had told him to be careful on the yellow, but he wanted to attempt this move. Never mind, someone else will play."

Samp went agonisingly close to rescuing a point in a late scramble as Mike Maignan twice denied Manolo Gabbiadini either side of a Fabio Quagliarella effort that struck the post.

Pioli was thrilled with his side's ability to grind out the result and believes it is evidence they are moving in the right direction.

"We played a good first half and could've scored more goals, but this was a hard-fought victory," he added.

"We had to grit our teeth when we went down to 10 men and the lads worked hard on every ball. Sampdoria had already drawn with Juventus and Lazio here, so it was by no means easy.

"We had told ourselves we wanted to make fewer technical errors and I think we did that today, so we're on the right track."

Stefano Pioli hinted Divock Origi could make his first Serie A start when Milan go to Sampdoria on Saturday, as he emphasised the importance of competition in his Rossoneri squad.

Origi joined Milan in July after leaving Liverpool on a free transfer, but has been a peripheral figure during their promising start to the new campaign. 

With the likes of Rafael Leao, Junior Messias and Olivier Giroud preferred by Pioli, Origi has made just three substitute appearances in the league, playing a total of 47 minutes.

But speaking ahead of the trip to Sampdoria, Pioli said the Belgium international is ready to make his full debut.

Asked whether it was time for Origi to feature more heavily, Pioli said: "I think so, because he is better and has had time to pick up the pace.

"We have various solutions. Charles [De Ketelaere] is doing everything I am asking of him, he is inserting himself more and more and better and better, I am happy with his performance. 

"Brahim [Diaz] has certain characteristics to give us numerical superiority. It is inevitable that you always ask me about who does not play, but I always choose based on the game.

"We have to play with energy for 95 minutes. At the end of the game we must have no more energy."

Milan have only been beaten once in Serie A this year, with Spezia prevailing in January). No other team has lost fewer games than the Rossoneri across the top five European leagues in 2022.

The Rossoneri have also averaged 2.29 points per game this calendar year, a figure bettered only by Liverpool (2.4) and Manchester City (2.38) across the continent's biggest leagues.

Milan enjoyed a busy transfer window after ending their 11-year wait for the Scudetto in May, bringing in the likes of Origi, De Ketelaere and Sergino Dest. Pioli, however, insists a renewal of his squad was not necessary, highlighting the need for competition in every position.

"I don't like the term turnover. It's not only the first 11 who are chosen," he added.

"I know that I have strong players, a very specific identity and I am sure that everyone, when called upon, will give their all. 

"Tomorrow I will field what, in my opinion, is the best formation: I go ahead for what I see and for what I feel. It is not that if I rotate, I do it as a bias. I put players on the field to win games."

Meanwhile, Milan have been forced to recover from a series of slow starts this season; each of Udinese, Atalanta, Inter and Salzburg (the latter in the Champions League) have opened the scoring against the Rossoneri in recent weeks.

But Pioli is impressed with the character the Serie A champions have shown when overcoming those deficits, adding: "As an approach, we only made a mistake with Udinese, but it is clear that it is a fact that we want to reverse. 

"Then, however, the great awareness of the team is confirmed. Despite the disadvantage, they continue to believe in themselves to change the game." 

Stefano Pioli claimed Milan could have done more in their 1-1 Champions League draw at Salzburg, as he acknowledged next week's clash with Dinamo Zagreb has already taken on extra importance. 

Milan fell behind to a terrific solo effort from Noah Okafor after 28 minutes of their Champions League opener, but claimed a share of the spoils thanks to Alexis Saelemaekers' fierce left-footed finish.

The Rossoneri have now avoided defeat in 14 of their last 15 opening group-stage matches in the competition (W10 D4 L1), but they struggled to break down their resolute hosts despite taking charge in the second half.  

Milan enjoyed 65 per cent of the possession in Salzburg – their highest such figure in the Champions League since records began – but Rafael Leao's late deflected effort was the closest they came to a winner.

Speaking to Sky Sports, Pioli expressed his satisfaction with the point, but highlighted the Rossoneri's need to improve. 

"It was a good result with a sufficient performance but not of a high level. If the quality level is not raised there are dangers," Pioli said.

"We could have done better, but they are strong, we bring home a positive result. 

"The boys know how to recognise when they are good on the pitch, today we struggled on the second balls and they could start again with their dangerous forwards. 

"There was a lack of speed in the construction, we could have found better solutions and when we did, we were dangerous.

"We could have taken up the space better to play a little more of the game in their half."

Having watched Group E favourites Chelsea slip to a demoralising defeat at Dinamo Zagreb earlier on Tuesday, both sides had the chance to take charge of the race for qualification.

Milan face Dinamo in their next continental outing next Wednesday, and Pioli admits the Croatian outfit's victory over the Blues has heightened the importance of that match.

"I did not expect the result between Dinamo Zagreb and Chelsea," he admitted. "This teaches us that in football there are no obvious matches. 

"Salzburg are a good team and last year they never lost at home. The next match for us will have an important weight." 

With Tuesday's result, Salzburg are unbeaten in five home Champions League games (W3 D2), while they have not started any of their five campaigns in the competition with a loss (W1 D4).

Only Deportivo La Coruna (also five times) also played in as many Champions League seasons without ever losing their opening match.

Rossoneri defender Fikayo Tomori echoed his coaches' views, expressing relief at remaining unbeaten against resolute opponents.

"It was the game we expected. They are strong on pressing and very fast up front," he said. "We played well, we could have done better, but a point on this field is difficult to take. 

"So we are happy, even if we are also aware that we can do more. We knew it would be difficult. Taking a point in Salzburg is not bad at all. 

"We played well, but not at our level. The group is open, the next match against Dinamo Zagreb, we have to do better and win. We can qualify." 

Milan came from behind to clinch a hard-fought 1-1 draw at Salzburg in their Champions League opener, as Alexis Saelemaekers cancelled out a superb solo goal from Noah Okafor.

Okafor's outstanding strike gave Salzburg the lead midway through an evenly matched first half, only for Saelemaekers to smash home an equaliser shortly before the break on Tuesday.

Stefano Pioli's men failed to build on the Belgium international's effort but almost grabbed a stoppage-time winner through Rafael Leao, who was denied by the frame of the goal.

Having failed to escape the group stages in the Champions League last season, however, the Serie A champions may still be relieved to escape without defeat ahead of meetings with Dinamo Zagreb and Chelsea.

Both sides created openings in an entertaining start, with Nicolas Capaldo heading over the crossbar before Olivier Giroud drilled a poor effort straight at Philipp Kohn from a tight angle.

But Salzburg hit the front through a tremendous goal after 28 minutes, as Okafor collected Fernando's pass before slipping the ball between Pierre Kalulu's legs and finishing neatly beyond Mike Maignan.

Milan drew level five minutes before the break, however, as Leao teed up Saelemaekers to slam a left-footed effort past Kohn from 10 yards out.

Salzburg missed a golden opportunity to regain their lead eight minutes after half-time, with Fernando somehow lifting his effort over the bar from six yards out when meeting Maurits Kjaergaard's cross.

Nicolas Seiwald then tested Maignan from range before the hosts appeared to run out of steam, allowing Sando Tonali to dictate the play for the Rossoneri.

Leao went agonisingly close to snatching the win in the 93rd minute, but saw his long-range effort deflect against the post and away to safety.

What does it mean? Group E looks wide open

With Chelsea succumbing to a dismal 1-0 defeat in Zagreb earlier on Tuesday, either side could have taken control of Group E with a victory.

But Milan were unable to push for a winner after levelling shortly before half-time, leaving the Rossoneri with just one win in their last 10 Champions League games (D3 L6), beating Atletico Madrid last November.

Meanwhile, no team will enjoy a trip to Austria; Salzburg are now unbeaten in their last five home games in UEFA's flagship club competition (W3 D2). 

Salzburg rely on youth once again

Salzburg have acted as a springboard for several top-class talents in recent seasons, and if Okafor's excellent solo goal is anything to go by, the 22-year-old Swiss forward could be another. 

Excluding own goals, each of their last 15 Champions League goals have been scored by players aged 23 or younger, the longest such run by any side in the competition's history.

Leao lays on a leveller

Having fired Milan to victory in the Derby della Madonnina on Saturday, Leao continued his electric form by teeing up Saelemaekers to get the Rossoneri back on level terms.

Leao has now delivered 11 assists in all competitions since the start of 2022, the most of any Serie A player.

What's next?

Milan travel to Sampdoria for their next Serie A outing on Saturday. Salzburg go to SV Ried in the Austrian Bundesliga on the same day, before facing Chelsea next Wednesday.

Rafael Leao was Milan's hero in the derby against Inter and head coach Stefano Pioli says the Rossoneri are determined to tie the in-demand forward to a new deal.

Leao scored twice and provided an assist for Olivier Giroud as the Serie A champions defeated their city rivals 3-2 in an entertaining clash at San Siro on Saturday.

It was a welcome performance for Milan supporters, who had seen their star linked with a move to Premier League big-spenders Chelsea on transfer deadline day.

However, the Blues were rebuffed in their attempts to strike a deal for a player who reportedly has a €150million release clause in his contract, which runs until June 2024.

Pioli said he was never fearful Leao would depart and has now confirmed the plan is to tie the 23-year-old to a longer contract.

"These are not things that I can decide, but I believe the club wants to offer Leao a new deal soon. He is working at the best level," he told reporters.

"Rafa has beautiful attitudes, he knows that he has been gifted with talent.

"Then for the contract, whoever has to do what he has to do."

Giroud says he was always confident his Leao would stay with Milan, saying: "I was not worried about him. I knew he would remain here."

Pioli is sure there is plenty more to come from the Portugal international.

Speaking to DAZN, he said: "In order to improve, you need talent and intelligence, so Leao has both of those. We gave him the time and freedom to make mistakes so he could learn.

"Naturally, every time we put him in one-on-one situations, he's an important weapon in our armoury. 

"Rafa has a body language that might confuse people, but I can assure you he knows what potential he has and is very eager to learn."

Simone Inzaghi blamed an Inter "blackout" for the 3-2 derby defeat to Milan at San Siro as Rafael Leao's double settled the Derby della Madonnina.

The Inter head coach was unimpressed with his team's defensive performance as the Rossoneri took local bragging rights, with Leao's double and an Olivier Giroud strike countered by goals from Marcelo Brozovic and Edin Dzeko.

Inzaghi, whose title hopefuls have lost two of their first five games of the Serie A season, praised Milan goalkeeper Mike Maignan, although the Frenchman only made three saves.

"We found a great Maignan and they scored against us very easily," said Inzaghi. "To win the derby we needed to do more, half an hour is not enough."

Brozovic gave Inter an early lead, but Leao levelled in the 28th minute, on his 100th Serie A appearance.

The Portuguese winger set up Giroud to put Milan ahead, before dancing through a ragged Inter defence to fire the nominal home side 3-1 ahead, at the stadium the clubs share.

Dzeko halved the deficit, but Inter could not get back on level terms.

"Now we will analyse the game and our mistakes," Inzaghi told DAZN. "At the beginning the game was balanced. After the 1-1 we had a blackout half an hour which cost us two goals that we cannot concede. We probably deserved more, but we had to do better."

He added: "I have to try to understand what happens to us in those moments: we are the same as last year, but we have conceded eight goals in five games."

Milan boss Stefano Pioli saw his side go at least briefly to the top of the table.

"There is a great rivalry that has strengthened in recent years," Pioli said of the derby. "Inter wanted to prove themselves superior, but they did not succeed. I coach lads who continue to amaze me with their energy and their constant desire to improve.

"We were good at reading the game, Inter made us dribble and we did it without forcing hasty plays.

"We had prepared for the game in this way, precisely knowing how Inter would play. We have shown maturity on the pitch, we have an awareness that makes me happy. For 70 minutes we played like a great team."

Pioli's lone complaint was that he felt Milan let their attention drift after going two goals clear, saying that at that point, "we thought we had already won, and it is a mistake we must not make".

All eyes turn to one of the biggest derbies in world football this weekend, as Milan and Inter battle it out at the San Siro.

The two arch-rivals went toe-to-toe in the hunt for the Serie A title last season, with Milan emerging victorious on the final day to clinch the league crown for the first time since 2011.

Stefano Pioli's side have begun their title defence with an unbeaten start to the campaign, securing two wins and two draws, while Inter have won three of four, losing to Lazio last Friday.

Still early in the season, a single point separates the two and bragging rights are on the cards on Saturday, though neither side has a particularly good record against one another in recent years.

Milan seek to end poor derby return

A 2-1 victory over Inter in February, where Olivier Giroud netted a brace, puts Milan in hunt of consecutive league wins against Inter for the first time since 2011 – which were the first two league derbies played under Massimiliano Allegri.

While they were victorious in that particular clash, the two Coppa Italia semi-final ties in March and April saw Milan unable to score in either tie, meaning they could go three consecutive derbies without scoring for the first time since 1980.

Milan's last win as the designated host at San Siro against Inter came in Serie A back in January 2016, with Inter winning three and drawing three against the Rossoneri since then.

 

Inzaghi's unwanted record

Simone Inzaghi has only won one point in his first two derbies in Serie A since joining the Nerazzurri and is seeking a win to prevent an unwanted record, as failure to do so would see him become the first Inter coach not to win any of his first three matches against Milan in the top-flight since Osvaldo Bagnoli in 1993 (D2 L1).

In order to secure victory, Inter could turn to Joaquin Correa who has scored four goals in Serie A against Milan, more than any other side. The Argentine has also scored four goals in his last five appearances in the competition, having gone goalless in his previous 18.

Either way, there should be goals and a victor as Inter are the only team, excluding relegated and promoted sides, not to draw a Serie A match since last April.

During that sequence, Inter have 11 wins, at least three more than any other team, and two losses – one of which was the 3-1 defeat to Lazio last Friday.

 

Leao vs Lautaro

Having fended off transfer interest from Chelsea, Rafael Leao is set to make his 100th Serie A appearance in Saturday's game and the Brazilian's record sees him stand as one of the finest young players in the division.

Among players born since 1999, Leao has provided 16 Serie A assists, more than anyone else, and has scored 24 goals – putting him behind only Juventus' Dusan Vlahovic (55) and Inter's Andrea Pinamonti (25), who is on loan at Sassuolo.

With Romelu Lukaku absent through injury, Inter will turn to Lautaro Martinez to find the difference and the Argentine enters the tie in a fine vein of form.

Martinez has been involved in a goal in each of his first four appearances this season (three goals, one assist), only Zlatan Ibrahimovic (2007-08) and Nicolo Barella (2021-22) have had a hand in a goal in their first Serie A appearances in a second for Inter since 2004-05, when Opta started collecting assist data.

 

Pioli's perfect return

Though Milan's recent record against Inter does not make for pretty reading, their overall record heading into Saturday's derby is encouraging as they have won five consecutive home matches in Serie A.

A sixth in a row with victory against Inter would see Milan hit that tally for the first time since August 2014, under Clarence Seedorf and Filippo Inzaghi.

Milan's defence is also looking strong, having kept a clean sheet in their last two Serie A matches. A third this weekend would see Milan secure three clean sheets in the first five top-flight seasonal games in three campaigns in a row for the third time in their history (after 1952-23, 1953-54, 1954-55 and 1978-79, 1979-1980 and 1981-1982).

Stefano Pioli is set to unleash Rafael Leao on Inter in Saturday's Milan derby after keeping suitors at bay before the transfer window closed.

The exciting Portuguese forward was thought to be a target for Chelsea but remains with Milan and is poised to make his 100th Serie A appearance against the Nerazzurri.

Up to this point, Leao has started in 69 of his 99 league games, and among players born from 1999 onwards he has provided the most assists (16) in the competition.

In terms of goals scored among that age group, the 23-year-old stands third on the list with 24, behind only Dusan Vlahovic (55) and Andrea Pinamonti (25).

Pioli never believed he would lose Leao before the shutters went up on the market on Thursday, but the finality will have come as a relief to many associated with the club.

"I have never been worried about the possible departure of Leao, I have always seen him fully involved and determined," Pioli said on Friday.

Milan won the last league derby, a 2-1 victory in February when Olivier Giroud's double saw the Rossoneri come from behind to take the points, an important result on the way to a first Scudetto since 2010-11, dethroning Inter in the process.

It means Milan will be looking to win consecutive league games against their city rivals for the first time since 2011, although Inter got the better of the two-leg Coppa Italia semi-final between the teams in March and April.

Pioli said Giroud had "a crucial role" to play in Saturday's game, and stressed Milan have prepared "down to the smallest detail".

"I expect a vibrant contest: the derby is the derby and so it will be an even contest," Pioli said. "We must not lose focus for even a second, we'll have to move hard and fast. Effort, aggression and sacrifice will all be required."

The transfer window has been an inevitable distraction despite Pioli's best efforts to focus on Inter. Milan look to have traded prudently in its closing stages, agreeing loan deals for Barcelona's American full-back Sergino Dest and Wolfsburg's teenage Belgian midfielder Aster Vranckx, while also signing Schalke's young centre-back Malick Thiaw.

Pioli described the newcomers as "important players with ample room for improvement".

Dest arrives in the wake of Milan losing right-back Alessandro Florenzi to a leg muscle injury that will reportedly sideline him for around eight weeks.

"We are gutted for Florenzi's injury," said Pioli, quoted on Milan's official website. "He is a leader on and off the pitch. We're still evaluating how to proceed in order to manage his recovery in the best possible way."

Assessing what Dest brings, Pioli said: "He has quality and pace, we got him to play the full-back position but he has the right characteristics to play in other roles too."

Stefano Pioli criticised Milan after a poor performance resulted in a goalless draw with Sassuolo, but the head coach expects better in Saturday's derby against Inter.

The Rossoneri have two wins and two draws in the first four games of their Serie A title defence, though the display on Tuesday away at Sassuolo left much to be desired.

Pioli's side were far from their best, perhaps fortunate to share the spoils after Mike Maignan was required to save a Domenico Berardi penalty in the first half.

Having missed a chance to collect three points, Milan opened the door for Inter, Roma and Napoli to leapfrog them in the early stages of the 2022-23 Scudetto race.

Fierce rivals Inter are next up for Pioli and the Milan coach acknowledged there must be an improvement on this latest showing.

"It was not a Milan of quality, technique or decision-making," Pioli said. "We played football that was too frenetic, we weren't able to read the game and this made it complicated.

"It made it dirty, ruffled and with little rhythm. We struggled to find spaces. We started well, I liked the beginning very much, then we lost calmness and we were in too much of a hurry in the search for the opponent's goal.

"I have already seen the players, they have spoken more. We lacked quality and calmness, they are aware and it is important. I think that the next matches will be different."

Asked whether preparations were different due to the looming clash with Inter, Pioli added: "We recovered after [Saturday's 2-0 win over] Bologna and tried to prepare for the game well from a tactical point of view.

"Saying something to the team for the derby will be easy. It is a derby, the rivalry is high and we know how much the result can weigh and we will prepare for it in the best possible way."

Fast-paced play and a never-say-die attitude characterised Milan's route to Scudetto glory last season – a facet that was largely missing against Sassuolo.

Milan's championship-winning season has changed the way Pioli's side are judged, and the coach urged his players to rise to that challenge.

Pioli said: "Our expectations have increased and we have to hold them up, but that's right, it's a privilege."

Rafael Leao scored one goal and assisted another as Milan downed Bologna 2-0 on Saturday, with Stefano Pioli hailing his talented winger.

The Portugal international wrong-footed goalkeeper Lukasz Skorupski in the first half to open the scoring – his eighth Serie A goal at home since the start of 2022.

No Serie A player has managed more strikes on their home ground in that period, and Leao turned creator after the interval as he teed up Olivier Giroud, who acrobatically volleyed home to double Milan's lead.

Another dazzling performance from Leao, who played a large part in Milan's Scudetto triumph last season, came just days after reports in Italy claimed Chelsea want to sign the 23-year-old.

Milan are reportedly attempting to tie the forward down to a contract renewal and Pioli will be desperate to keep his star attacker, who he feels is beginning to fulfil his talent.

"A player with such potential must continue to think he can improve," Pioli told Sky Sport Italia.

"He has never made a mistake in his attitude, he has never missed a training session and wants to grow.

"He has body language that can fool people, but he's really smart. He must never stop trying to improve."

Charles De Ketelaere was another to impress against the Rossoblu, with the midfielder creating the opener for Leao after regaining possession inside his own half before powering forward to find his team-mate.

The former Club Brugge man also laid on a game-high four chances, and Pioli is delighted to see the new arrival settling in already after his reported €36million move earlier in August.

"There is no doubt that Charles is a great talent," the Milan head coach said. "It's normal that he has to grow and get to know his team-mates, but they are processes that take some time.

"He is already showing important qualities and he will only grow."

Milan remain undefeated after three Serie A games this term, extending a run that began last season to 19 unbeaten top-flight matches – the longest such streak in Europe's top five leagues.

The Rossoneri will hope to carry on their fine run of form when they head to Sassuolo on Tuesday, before a derby clash with Inter next weekend.

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