Goals from Rafael Leao and Theo Hernandez put Milan on the brink of their first Serie A title in 11 years as Stefano Pioli's men claimed a 2-0 win over Atalanta.

After both sides struggled to create clear-cut chances in a nervy first-half, Leao broke clear to open the scoring, and Hernandez capped an incredible run with a fine left-footed finish to provoke jubilant scenes at San Siro.

Boasting a head-to-head advantage over Inter, the Rossoneri will be confirmed as champions if the second-placed Nerazzurri fail to beat Cagliari later on Sunday.

If Inter do pick up maximum points, Milan will only need to avoid defeat at Sassuolo on the final day of the season to clinch their 19th Scudetto after winning their fifth consecutive Serie A contest.

Sandro Tonali dragged a long-range effort wide as both sides made a tentative start to the game, before in-form forward Leao clipped a tame effort into Juan Musso's arms.

Luis Muriel drew a smart save from Mike Maignan from distance after half an hour, before Leao sent a wild effort high and wide as Milan struggled to create first-half opportunities.

Atalanta went close when Davide Zappacosta's effort deflected over within three minutes of the restart, before Hernandez came within inches of breaking the deadlock when he hit a 30-yard free-kick into the side-netting. 

But Milan made the all-important breakthrough after 56 minutes, Leao racing onto Junior Messias' pass to finish neatly through the legs of Musso, with the furious visitors believing Matteo Pessina was fouled in the build-up.

Hernandez then sealed the victory with a goal worthy of deciding any title race, picking the ball up near his own box and driving towards the Atalanta area before finishing into the bottom-right corner, leaving Milan within touching distance of glory.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Pioli will accept whatever decision Ibrahimovic makes, however.

He added: "My opinion of him is immeasurable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stefano Pioli believes his Milan players do not get the credit they deserve after Sandro Tonali's stoppage-time goal sealed a vital 2-1 win over Lazio on Sunday.

Olivier Giroud had cancelled out Ciro Immobile's early opener at the Stadio Olimpico, but it looked like the Rossoneri would hand the title initiative to Inter after a series of wasted chances.

Tonali had other ideas, though, the midfielder popping up in the second minute of added time to secure a win that lifted Milan two points clear of Inter at the top of the table, although they have played a game more.

The result meant they have won three games against Maurizio Sarri's men in a single season (two in Serie A, one in the Coppa Italia) for the first time since the 2004-05 campaign.

Speaking to DAZN immediately after the game, Pioli spoke of his pride at his players' efforts and insists they do not receive the plaudits they should.

"I am so proud of my players and if I was in their shoes, I'd be angry," he said. "People don't give them enough credit. For years, they have been proving themselves at the highest level.

"We will try to win all the remaining games. We might not achieve that, but we will give it our best.

"We know it's a tricky fixture list. All we can do is take it one game at a time and try to do the best we possibly can."

The result confirmed Milan's qualification for next season's Champions League – an achievement Pioli says demonstrates the strides his side have made.

"The important thing is we are in the Champions League," he added. "This time last season, we weren't sure if we would be in the top four, so this shows further progress.

"There are still some steps to climb, but those are the ones that will give us the greatest satisfaction."

Tonali echoed Pioli's sentiments, saying that no one is talking about Milan being genuine title challengers despite their position in the table.

"We have to take it one game at a time," he explained. "We came here and nobody other than us and our fans believed in us.

"We are in front without hearing anyone say Milan are the leaders or that Milan are a strong side. We're used to it now."

Milan return to action next Sunday when Fiorentina visit San Siro.

Stefano Pioli responded angrily to refereeing decisions following Milan's elimination from the Coppa Italia after a 3-0 loss to arch-rivals Inter on Tuesday. 

Pioli abruptly walked out of his post-match interview with Mediaset after reviewing footage of a disallowed goal for Ismael Bennacer where Pierre Kalulu was ruled offside for obstructing Samir Handanovic's view in the Inter goal. 

With Milan 2-0 down in the 68th minute of the second leg of the semi-final clash, Bennacer's goal would have been timely and provided them with critical late momentum. 

After seeing the replay, the 56-year-old Rossoneri boss could not hide his frustration. 

"Look at Handanovic's reaction, if he protests," Pioli told Mediaset. "He doesn't do anything, if a Milan player had blocked his view he would have immediately run to protest. Come on, now." 

Milan were marginally second best for the majority of a tightly fought match and Lautaro Martinez's first-half double was ultimately reflective of the game's complexion to that point. 

Regardless of how much the disallowed goal could have influenced proceedings, Pioli conceded Inter were the better side. 

"We wanted to win, we didn't succeed. We came up against a strong opponent," Pioli said. "The result is clear, but I don't think it was like there was a big difference and Inter scored at the right moments. 

"We continued to play and create, 2-1 would have given us the possibility because we were playing. After that, everything became more difficult. 

"Of course we can do more. When you concede three goals it means that others played with more quality. It was not our evening. It's too bad because we wanted to reach the final at all costs." 

Orlando City star Alexandre Pato suggested Milan technical director Paolo Maldini knows the striker is ready to return to San Siro.

Pato is plying his trade in MLS for Orlando, where he is contracted until December 2022, but hinted at his willingness to move back to Milan.

The Brazil international scored 51 goals in 177 appearances for the Rossoneri during his time in Serie A between 2007 and 2013 before joining Corinthians.

The 32-year-old believes he still has what it takes to compete in the Italian top flight, which Stefano Pioli's side lead by two points ahead of Inter, who have played a game fewer.

"Orlando is fine and I still have a contract, but Maldini knows it: I would be ready," he told La Gazzetta dello Sport. 

"Now I have matured, I have a different attitude towards football and maybe I would be useful with the younger players.

"I miss Italy and the Italians, the warmth of the fans. I always say to my wife, 'one day I'll take you to Milan and you'll understand what I'm talking about'.

"For me it was a fundamental city: I learned many things and I miss everything about Milan. And I'd like to go back to Milan, after all in Italy there are many players who are older in Serie A."

Milan and Inter face off in their Coppa Italia semi-final return meeting on Tuesday, level at 0-0 from the first leg, and Pato cannot pick between the two sides.

"It's a difficult one and Milan can't make mistakes,” he said. "They can win the title and beating their rivals in Coppa Italia would give them extra motivation.

"Olivier Giroud is strong, Rafael Leao can make the right moves. The game will be open, it always is against Inter."

As for the future, Pato has great expectations for Milan under the stewardship of Pioli and Maldini.

"I played in a team full of champions," added Pato. "This Milan side is improving and has a bright future because they are building the team well."

Milan's Coppa Italia semi-final against rivals Inter will not have a decisive effect on the Serie A title race, according to Stefano Pioli.

Inter trail Serie A leaders Milan by two points, though now the focus switches to the second leg of their Coppa Italia tie.

The Milan giants played out a 0-0 draw in last month's semi-final first leg at San Siro, and will do battle again on Tuesday with 10 editions of the Coppa Italia having passed since either lifted the trophy. 

While Milan will be desperate to lift Italy's domestic cup for the first time since 2003, Pioli does not believe Tuesday's result will give either team an advantage in Serie A.

"From now until the end, we need to try and win all our matches," Pioli said. "The team are very focused and motivated, and positive energy must accompany us.

"We know very well what we need to do in the league, and I don't think tomorrow's derby will be decisive in this regard. 

"We need to try and win all our Serie A games, regardless of what happens in the Coppa Italia."

Having picked up a win and a draw from the teams' Serie A encounters this term, Milan are on their longest unbeaten run against their rivals (three matches) since a 10-game sequence ending in 2005.

This is the 14th season in which Milan and Inter will face each other on four occasions, and the first since 2004-05, when Milan managed three wins and a draw. The Rossoneri have gone unbeaten throughout all four clashes on seven of the previous 13 instances, but Pioli was mindful of the threat posed by Simone Inzaghi's team.

"All of our past experiences have allowed us to become a team with more awareness," he added. "Every single one of our matches against Inter have been difficult, and the details will make the difference tomorrow.

"There will be moments where we need to put our foot on the pedal, and others where we need to slow down. Inter can be dangerous when given space, and we need to manage the ball as best we can."

Milan's pursuit of silverware has been boosted by a run of seven consecutive clean sheets in all competitions, a sequence that began with Pioli's men denying Inter an important away goal in the first leg.

"Not conceding is important," Pioli added. "I'm a bit surprised because we're a team that takes a few risks in our defending, but the whole team have grown in a significant way. We need to reach high standards when it comes to our application, intensity and focus.

"Our attitude against Inter has always been very consistent, even if it's difficult to prevent them from creating dangerous situations. They take up positions that will force us to do a lot of running, but we have a strategy that we'll try to implement as best we can."

Stefano Pioli explained that his Milan side avoided discussing Inter's earlier win ahead of facing Genoa.

Milan claimed a 2-0 victory thanks to goals from Rafael Leao and Junior Messias in San Siro on Friday.

Their game came hot on the heels of Inter's 3-1 victory at Spezia, a result that had seen the reigning champions briefly move into top spot in Serie A.

However, Milan got the job done, winning for the first time in three games to restore their two-point advantage with five matches left, though Inter do have a game in hand.

Milan are attempting to win their first Serie A title since 2010-11 and Pioli noted that although he knew Inter had won, his side had not discussed the possible ramifications.

"I knew their result, but we didn't talk about it with the team," he told DAZN.

"We had to go back to winning. We knew that whatever happened, we would try to win every game.

"I think we had the right approach and hunger this evening, we ran very few risks and that is an important factor."

Pioli suggested it is difficult to know how to best handle the pressure of the title race, though he backs the character of his players.

He added: "We have to keep going, the tension is rising and so is the pressure. Now we have to feel the pressure as nothing but positive energy.

"Every day [in training] I am undecided whether to increase the pressure or to release it. But, I have to expect a lot from these guys because they are strong.

"We are more aware of our strength, I am pushing for this. There are few games left and we have to do well. Many of us are fighting for the Scudetto for the first time, it is a path that will help us. We want to be winning again."

Milan kept a sixth straight clean sheet, making Pioli only the third coach in the club's history to achieve such a feat in a single Serie A season, after Fabio Capello (twice in 1993-94: seven and nine) and Nereo Rocco (seven in 1971-72).

Key to that has been the form of goalkeeper Mike Maignan, who made a stunning save to deny Genoa's Hernani a consolation in stoppage time.

"We have to continue like this," Pioli said. "Maignan is incredible, he is receiving the right compliments. He must give his contribution to this young team."

Milan have picked up more than 70 points after 33 Serie A games for the first time since their last Scudetto-winning season 11 years ago.

Milan boss Stefano Pioli is sick of discussing who is the favourite to win the Scudetto after his side dropped points in a 0-0 draw against Torino.

It was not a strong performance for Milan going forward, finishing with 0.8 expected goals compared to Torino's 1.1, as both teams registered three shots on target.

The result leaves Milan two points clear of Inter and Napoli, while Inter have one game in hand.

Speaking with post-game media, Pioli said he is tired of overreacting to every "misstep" from the title contenders.

"It's been two or three weeks that all those who claim to be favourites have made missteps," he said.

"Our approach was to create difficulties for Torino – with a little more clarity, we could have been more dangerous. 

"It's not for me to give percentages, I never guess. 

"Three weeks ago, during the break, we were super-favourites. Then, Napoli was super-favourite, then Inter. 

"Until the last two days there will be great balance."

Touching on his side's performance against Torino, Pioli discussed the challenge that the 11th-placed side presents.

"It is quite evident that we have done everything to move and give them few points of reference," he said.

"We knew about the difficulties of the game – Toro creates difficulties for everyone in their defensive phase. 

"It is true that we have not created very clear scoring chances, but we created many [dangerous] situations. 

"It's a moment like this, we're not very precise, [but] I can't say anything to the team for spirit and application.

"We are missing that spark, and clearly it's a positive result, but we wanted a win."

Stefano Pioli says Milan are ready to approach the final eight Serie A games with "energy, strength and motivation" as they battle to end an 11-year title drought.

The Rossoneri have not won the Scudetto since 2011, but they are three points clear of second-placed Napoli with seven weeks of the season remaining.

Rivals Inter are six points adrift of Milan – albeit with a game in hand – after faltering before the international break, and the defending champions face a tough Derby d'Italia clash with in-form Juventus on Sunday.

Leaders Milan go into a San Siro meeting with Bologna on Monday looking to extend their unbeaten run to 11 matches in all competitions and secure a fourth consecutive victory.

Head coach Pioli is backing his players to maintain the high standards they have set with so much at stake.

He said: "I know that I have a responsible team and that the boys are aware of how well they are playing right now. They are doing everything possible to keep up the level of football and their focus.

"We can't let ourselves be influenced by results elsewhere; we need energy for our own games. We don't want to back out and we'll approach these final eight games with energy, strength and motivation."

And Pioli says it is of no importance that the other title contenders will already have played before his side take on Bologna.

He added: "I don't think that the break will have changed the balance. The schedule is tough for every team because we're talking about highly motivated teams with a lot of quality. I'm certain that the team is ready both mentally and physically.

"Playing first or after the others? That doesn't matter. We just need to focus on ourselves and our own performance. Knowing how the teams around us have got on this weekend won't change how we prepare. It doesn't matter what the others do, we need to think about what we are doing."

Asked how he would view Inter's trip to Juve, the coach said: "I will certainly watch it, but I will be very detached because it matters what we do tomorrow and no longer so much what others do.

"The team doesn't have to be influenced by today's [Sunday's] results. What matters is trying to win our game, and we know how to do it."

Pioli revealed striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic is fit to face Bologna, who Milan have beaten 11 times and drawn with once in the past 12 games between the two clubs.

The Rossoneri boss says Ibrahimovic has a key role to play in Milan's quest to be crowned champions, whether that be as a starter or off the bench.

He said: "It's not important whether you start or come on part way through, what matters is making a contribution to the team.

"Ibra will need to help the team – as he always does – to try to get the best out of them. It's his aim, and he has always done so – it's his motivation."

Milan head coach Stefano Pioli wants to "write a new page of history" as the Rossoneri chase a first Scudetto in 11 years.

Pioli's side sit three points clear at the Serie A summit after edging past Cagliari 1-0 on Saturday, their third consecutive victory by that scoreline.

Fellow title contenders Napoli and Inter remain in close company, with Luciano Spalletti's team three points back and the defending champions six adrift, albeit with a game in hand.

Massimiliano Allegri's Juventus are also just seven behind the league leaders as Milan nudge towards a first Serie A title since the 2010-11 campaign.

While his players continue to deliver on the pitch, Pioli was keen to credit his relationship with the club's former centre-back and current technical director Paolo Maldini as the pair look to lay their marker on Italian football.

"I'm lucky to talk to him daily, he's an indispensable point of reference," Pioli said at the Expo 2020 in United Arab Emirates, which he is attending with Milan's academy. 

"I've always said that I’ve been lucky enough to coach a great group, players who perfectly embody the values of this club. Together, we are trying to write a new page in history.

"After just a few days at Milan, I felt something that I'd never felt anywhere else, I felt immediately at home. That's what Milan is for me: home. Pressure is part of my job, but it is also motivating because it reminds me that I can always do better.

"During a journey there may be moments when you slow down, but the important thing is to keep going and never stop.

"Our goal is to make our fans happy. That is why we play. We are fortunate to have extraordinary supporters and we will never stop thanking them because their passion has always been contagious."

Veteran duo Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Olivier Giroud have been integral both off and on the pitch for Milan, and Pioli heaped praise on the pair for their influence this season.

"Milan needs everyone. Zlatan and Olivier know what it means to win and the sacrifices needed to achieve great results. I think this team has great potential," he added.

"We've never ruled out anything, but this is my current opinion, let's collect more points than last season, let's play every game as if it were absolutely decisive and then see where we end up."

Milan will look to continue their title charge after the international break when they host Bologna on Monday, April 4.

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