Rudi Garcia is determined to hit AC Milan when they are down and relaunch Napoli’s Serie A title defence.

A rocky start to the season saw the Partenopei fall well short of expectations and critics of new head coach Garcia’s approach did not take long to make their voices heard.

But three league wins from four have thrust Napoli right back into contention and a home win against second-placed Milan, whose bubble has been burst by consecutive defeats to Juventus and Paris St Germain, could lift them to third.

“We have this home match against one of our direct rivals and it’s one we really want to win,” Garcia told reporters.

“There’s a good atmosphere in the camp. We’ve had a decent run of results but we know that if we really want to move up the table we need to keep winning back-to-back games.

“We want victory at home especially because we have the help of our fans after two wins on the road.”

Milan were one of the few sides to get the better of Luciano Spalletti’s Napoli last season, memorably winning 4-0 at Stadio Diego Armando Maradona as the hosts were trying to rubber-stamp their Scudetto.

“It will be a different game to last season,” Garcia said. “People keep saying this Napoli team is different to the one from last season so this game against Milan will be different too.”

Rossoneri boss Stefano Pioli, meanwhile, is demanding an instant response to last weekend’s San Siro reverse against Juve and a 3-0 humiliation at PSG in the Champions League on Wednesday.

He said at a press conference: “The team is hungry to turn things around.

“For the first time this season, we’ve lost two in a row in two big games and tomorrow we have another one.

“We’ll need to show that we have the quality to be a consistent side. We have to keep at it for 95 minutes against teams like this.

“We must live in the present; we’ve made mistakes and got results that we didn’t want. We have the chance in Naples to put in a better performance and show that we’re better.

“Garcia is a great coach. He had issues at the start – which is normal – but now they’re playing well and creating a lot.

“We need to be aware of Khvicha Kvaratskhelia because he can hurt you one-on-one. We’ll try to be alert.”

AC Milan head coach Stefano Pioli insists his side are full of confidence as they look to get their first Champions League Group F win at Borussia Dortmund.

The Rossoneri, last season’s semi-finalists, were held to a goalless draw at home by Newcastle in their opening match, while Dortmund lost away to Paris St Germain.

Pioli’s team, though, have since won three straight Serie A games, with their only defeat so far this season a 5-1 loss to city rivals Inter.

Defeat in Paris is Dortmund’s sole loss from eight games in all competitions – and Pioli is expecting a vociferous atmosphere when AC Milan run out at the Westfalenstadion on Wednesday night

“Our recent wins in the league have given us confidence but now, tomorrow is all that matters,” Pioli told a press conference.

“Two years ago, when we played at Anfield, we were probably a bit afraid. But after a journey in Europe like ours, we’re able to compete in the competition and with atmospheres like this.

“We need to play with the right mentality and do all we can to try to win. The game is important in the group but there’s a long way to go, regardless of the outcome tomorrow. It won’t be decisive but the result will definitely matter.”

Pioli also highlighted Dortmund’s incredible home record in the Champions League.

He added: “They’ve not lost at home in the Champions League in almost two years.

“Dortmund play attacking football; they’re quick and have a lot of quality. We’ll need to be intelligent enough to attack the spaces and control the game at various moments.

“BVB are backed by a fantastic home support; we’ve spoken about these little details in training to be in the best shape possible for tomorrow evening.”

AC Milan look set to be without English midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who went off during the first half of Saturday’s Serie A win over Lazio with a groin problem.

French defender Pierre Kalulu has missed the last five games with a thigh injury, while midfielder Rade Krunic is also out with a similar issue and not expected to return until after the international break later in October.

Dortmund won 3-1 at Hoffenheim on Friday night before turning their attention back on the Champions League.

Despite having three victories from their last four games in all competitions, Dortmund coach Edin Terzic wants his side fully focussed on the challenge ahead.

“It will be a completely different game to the one against Paris (in the opening group game),” Terzic told a press conference.

“We have to be braver when we don’t have the ball. Milan have a different way of playing, but we have introduced a lot of good things in the last few games that will be crucial again.

“At this level, no game will be easy, but we have our first home game, with our guys and the fans in the stadium, so we want to get our first win tomorrow.”

Dortmund midfielder Marcel Sabitzer is closing in on a return from an adductor problem suffered against PSG, but the Austrian is not expected to be involved on Wednesday night.

Milan secured a top-four Serie A finish with a 1-0 win at Juventus as Olivier Giroud's header dealt a knockout blow to the Bianconeri's own hopes of Champions League qualification.

Still reeling from their 10-point deduction and Monday's miserable 4-1 defeat at Empoli, Juve required a win at Allianz Stadium to take the top-four battle to the season's final matchday.

However, the Bianconeri's lack of attacking thrust was on full display once again, with Giroud scoring the only goal of the game with an outstanding header as half-time approached on Sunday.

The Rossoneri were comfortable from there as they ensured Juve's chaotic season will end on another sour note, piling more pressure on embattled head coach Massimiliano Allegri.

Sandro Tonali headed Junior Messias' delivery over as Milan started brightly, but Juve soon improved, with Angel Di Maria failing to hook Moise Kean's cut-back home on the stretch.

More Bianconeri chances came and went as Federico Chiesa hammered over and Kean worked Mike Maignan from distance, but Juve found themselves behind five minutes before half-time.

Davide Calabria's hanging cross from the right was met with a textbook header from Giroud, who planted the ball beyond Wojciech Szczesny's despairing dive.

Adrien Rabiot forced a comfortable save from Maignan as Juve toiled after the restart, failing to make any attacking headway without injured striker Dusan Vlahovic.

Szczesny stuck out a leg to deny Alexis Saelemaekers and Rafael Leao fired over on the break, while Danilo had a close-range effort blocked in a goalmouth scramble as Juve's bid for Champions League football ended with a whimper.

What does it mean? Milan profit from Juve woes

When Juventus' 10-point deduction was confirmed earlier this week, Milan were the chief beneficiary after being propelled into the top four.

Stefano Pioli's men were determined not to let that advantage slip here, the Rossoneri weathering the Juve storm midway through the first half and deserving the three points after Giroud's goal. 

Milan thus completed just their third Serie A double over Juventus in the last 50 years, also doing so in the 1990-91 and 2009-10 campaigns.

Giroud the man of the moment

Giroud has so often been the man for the big occasion for both club and country, and he gave Szczesny no chance with a firm header just as Juventus looked to be in the ascendency.

The 36-year-old striker has now scored 12 times in Serie A this season, his best return in one of Europe's top five leagues since he hit as many Premier League goals for Arsenal in the 2016-17 campaign.

Fatal blow for Allegri?

Allegri has faced stern criticism for most of the campaign, and the pressure may just become intolerable now they will finish outside of Italy's top four for the first time since 2010-11 (when they finished seventh).

Having also fallen short in the Europa League semi-finals, the Bianconeri have suffered three successive defeats for the first time since doing so in 2011 under Luigi Delneri.

What's next? 

Milan wrap up their Serie A season against Verona next Sunday, while Juventus will be playing for a Europa League place when they visit Udinese on the same day.

Milan's hopes of finishing in Serie A's top four received another blow on Saturday as they were beaten 2-0 by relegation-threatened Spezia.

The Rossoneri headed to Stadio Alberto Picco on a seven-match league unbeaten run but still stinging from Wednesday's 2-0 first-leg defeat to city rivals Inter in the Champions League semi-finals.

Stefano Pioli's men put in another frustrating display against stubborn Spezia, twice denied by the post before Przemyslaw Wisniewski and Salvatore Esposito struck late on as the hosts claimed three points for the first time in nine league games.

The result means fifth-placed Milan remain two points behind fourth-placed Inter and three ahead of Roma, though both of those teams could yet take advantage of their latest slip-up this weekend, leaving the Rossoneri with work to do to attain Champions League qualification. 

Milan hit the woodwork seven minutes in through Sandro Tonali, who sent a low effort flying towards the bottom-left corner but watched it come back off the post.

Bartlomiej Dragowski then made a crucial stop to tip Theo Hernandez's rasping drive over the crossbar as Milan failed to break through Spezia's resilient defence.

The hosts went close shortly after the break as Mehdi Bourabia curled just over from range, while Brahim Diaz hit the outside of the post for Milan from a very tight angle.

Spezia hit the front with 15 minutes remaining, Kelvin Amian hitting the post from a corner before Wisniewski poked in the rebound to send the home fans into raptures.

Their victory was made safe five minutes from time, Esposito curling a delightful free-kick over the wall and into the top-left corner as Milan's dismal week ended on another sour note. 

Milan pushed on in the battle for a top-four Serie A finish as Ismael Bennacer and Theo Hernandez scored in a 2-0 win over Lazio at San Siro.

Stefano Pioli's side were in full control from the off, though Lazio were masters of their own downfall for the opening goal as Marcos Antonio's error allowed Bennacer to bundle home. 

Hernandez doubled Milan's advantage before the break with a terrific solo effort, helping the Rossoneri to fourth in Serie A ahead of Inter's crucial clash with Roma later on Saturday. 

However, Milan's victory was marred by the sight of star forward Rafael Leao limping from the field early on, with the first leg of their Champions League semi-final tie against Inter just four days away.

Having rested several players for Wednesday's draw with Cremonese, Pioli may have regretted naming a more familiar lineup when Leao was withdrawn just 11 minutes in – the forward appearing to suffer a groin injury.

Yet Milan made light of his absence as Bennacer pounced on a Lazio mix-up, combining with Olivier Giroud before volleying into the ground and over Ivan Provedel.

Milan doubled their lead from a lightning break 12 minutes later. Hernandez received the ball from Mike Maignan near his own penalty area before driving forward and lashing home from 20 yards via a slight deflection.

Lazio failed to record a single shot on target before the break, and Milan continued to dominate after the interval as substitute Malick Thiaw powered a header over from Sandro Tonali's corner. 

Milan were denied a late third when Ante Rebic slotted home from an offside position, but it was of little consequence as they warmed up for Wednesday's Champions League derby in style.

Stefano Pioli feels Milan dropped two points against Roma despite Alexis Saelemaekers snatching a draw with a 97th-minute equaliser at Stadio Olimpico on Saturday.

The Rossoneri headed into the match in the Champions League places but above fifth-placed Roma on just goal difference, and it appeared the Giallorossi would leapfrog Pioli's men as Tammy Abraham scored in the 94th minute with the match's first shot on target.

But with Roma seconds away from a huge win, Saelemaekers turned home from Rafael Leao's deep cross to break the hosts' hearts and keep Milan in the top four.

Despite his team snatching a draw at the death, Pioli still felt Milan dropped two points, with city rivals Inter just three points behind and with a game in hand.

When asked if Roma had dropped points, Pioli replied: "For us too, it means that tonight we all go home unhappy. It's not the result we wanted.

"We didn't play badly, we lacked the right decisions in the last 30 metres. It's a shame we didn't exploit situations. We knew that the difficulty was to unlock the match, we didn't succeed."

Roma may have seen a crucial three points slip through their fingers with seconds to play, but head coach Jose Mourinho remained appreciative of his players' efforts, telling reporters: "I'm sad, but I'm more proud than sad. 

"Only we can do what we've done, only us with all our limitations, only us with all the players we've lost, could play this match against Milan. Milan have two teams, one on the pitch and one on the bench. I'm not envious of Pioli; he is always fair and nice to me.

"I'm super proud and I'm sure Roma fans go home like I do, sad but proud."

Milan's game against Roma on Saturday is "worth double" as both teams vie for Champions League qualification, says Rossoneri head coach Stefano Pioli.

Milan occupy the all-important fourth place in Serie A, but only by virtue of their superior goal difference, with Roma also on 56 points ahead of Saturday's vital clash.

Pioli's men head to Stadio Olimpico where the Giallorossi have kept seven clean sheets in their last eight home league matches, with no other team in the top five European leagues keeping more since the turn of the year.

Pioli acknowledged the importance of the fixture in his pre-match press conference, telling reporters: "We need to give continuity to our performances, making sure that the next match is the most important one.

"Tomorrow's match is worth double and we need to face it with the right spirit and convictions.

"It's worth a lot. After tomorrow there will be six games left. The more points we get, the more chance we have of getting into the top-four places, which is our great goal."

Pioli was asked about his close relationship with winger Rafael Leao, who recently said his head coach was like his "father" having accumulated 22 goal involvements in 41 appearances for Milan this season in all competitions.

"My players are all my children, from morning to night," Pioli said. "Even when I'm at home I think of them.

"I talk to them every day, both about football and about other situations: they are lucky, but they have the problems of 20-year-olds.

"Rafa is the player who has been in my office the most in recent years, so there is the strongest bond."

Stefano Pioli hailed Milan for replicating their strong Champions League showings in Serie A after Sunday's victory over Lecce arrested a slump in domestic form.

Milan had won just one of their last six league games, denting their hopes of a top-four finish, but overcame Lecce 2-0 at San Siro after a Rafael Leao double.

The Rossoneri sit level on points with fourth-placed Roma, who visit Atalanta on Monday, while they trail Juventus by three after the Bianconeri's 15-point deduction was reversed this week.

Their struggles in the Italian top flight were in stark contrast to Champions League performances, having reached the last four for the first time since 2007 after a 2-1 aggregate win over Serie A leaders Napoli.

Pioli revealed his message to his Milan players before the Lecce clash was a call to replicate their recent outings in Europe.

Asked by DAZN how the Milan coach motivated his side, Pioli said: "That it was important to start strong and important to bring Champions League performances onto the pitch.

"We did many good things, we need to improve others."

Pioli's side will meet fierce city rivals Inter in the Champions League last four, while the pair battle for a place in Italy's top four – Inter sat in sixth, two points behind Milan.

Simone Inzaghi's side were 3-0 victors at Empoli earlier on Sunday, although Pioli insisted that result had no bearing on Milan's motivation.

He added: "Before today there were 8 days left. I told the team that the next two would determine our final position.

"We will try to win as many games as possible, we are fine and we must continue to work at our best."

Leao was the chief problem for Lecce down the left-hand side throughout, heading home Sandro Tonali's cross for the opener before a fine individual run culminated in his second goal that went in off the right post.

The Milan winger has scored 12 league goals this season, his best return in a single campaign, while he became just the second Portuguese player Cristiano Ronaldo to hit the 10-goal mark in back-to-back Serie A campaigns – after Cristiano Ronaldo did so for Juventus in three seasons between 2018 and 2021.

After his fourth brace in the Italian top flight and first double at home in Serie A since September 2022 against Inter, Leao was more focused on the team's achievements.

"I always try to play a good game, helping my team-mates," he told DAZN. "The most important thing today was to win, we haven't done it in a long time in the league."

As for his own exploits, Leao added: "I was thinking about it even before the match that I had to score. It's always nice to score with these fans and I'm very happy."

Stefano Pioli insists Milan are "focused" on domestic league objectives after Juventus' successful points deduction appeal saw the Rossoneri slip outside Serie A's top four.

The move to deduct Juventus 15 points in January due to alleged breaches in relation to historical transfers was reversed this week, lifting Massimiliano Allegri's side to third place in the Italian top flight.

Milan subsequently dropped to fifth – three points outside the Champions League qualifying places with eight matches remaining.

Fresh from reaching the Champions League semi-finals in midweek, Pioli's side return to Serie A action when they host Lecce on Sunday.

Last season's champions, Milan have won just once in their last six league matches, but their head coach is confident his players can address their recent struggles.

"The important thing is to stay focused on the things we can control," Pioli said at his pre-match press conference on Saturday. "The sooner there is a definitive position, the better.

"The Champions League is locked away in a vault, now we're reopening the league vault. We have to push hard, we don't want this position in the standings.

"It's not all in our hands. We need to claim a lot of points and the calendar gives us the chance to do it.

"There are eight games left, five at San Siro. We can finish the season well thanks to the qualities we have.

"What we've done so far doesn't matter, the most important match is tomorrow."

Stefano Pioli wanted to focus on enjoying Milan reaching the Champions League last four on Tuesday rather than a potential semi-final meeting with fierce rivals Inter.

Olivier Giroud's first-half strike proved the difference as Milan progressed 2-1 on aggregate past Napoli, who pulled a late goal back through Victor Osimhen at the Diego Armando Maradona Stadium.

Inter could await in the next knockout round for Pioli's side if the Nerazzurri can overcome Benfica on Wednesday, Simone Inzaghi's side leading 2-0 on aggregate heading into the return leg at San Siro.

But Pioli was insistent on celebrating Milan's achievements in reaching their first Champions League semi-final since 2007 after a 1-1 draw sent them through in Naples.

"I prefer to enjoy this qualification, whoever happens will happen," the Milan coach said at his post-match press conference when asked about facing Inter.

"Whoever makes it through, it will be a great semi-final of the Champions League."

The last-four clash will mark Milan's seventh semi-final in UEFA's premier club competition, the joint-most from an Italian side along with Juventus since the Champions League rebrand in the 1992-93 term.

"Another big step that the group has climbed," Pioli added. 

"I thank the club for helping us and I'm happy for the fans who helped us to overcome difficult moments with their support."

Napoli have failed to progress from four of their five Champions League knockout ties, with their only success coming in the last-16 round this season against Eintracht Frankfurt.

Luciano Spalletti's side are also without a win in their last three games in all competitions (D2 L1), having failed to win just three of their 16 previous games (W13 D1 L2).

Yet Napoli will likely soon be crowned Serie A champions, leading the Scudetto race by 14 points with eight games remaining, which made the triumph even sweeter for Pioli.

He added: "Napoli will deservedly win the championship and we are all the more proud of having managed to eliminate them.

"We have put so much into these two games and we won."

Simon Kjaer is relishing being back in the knockout stages of the Champions League, as Milan aim to secure a semi-final spot.

Milan hold a 1-0 lead from the first leg, having last reached the Champions League semi-finals in the 2006-07 campaign.

They have only been eliminated twice after winning the first leg of a knockout tie, though have kept a clean sheet in their last five Champions League matches, the best run by a side since Manchester City in the 2020-21 season.

The Rossoneri have beaten Napoli twice in April, though overcoming the Serie A leaders at home will be no easy task.

For Kjaer, he is revelling in having another shot at playing in the latter stages of UEFA's flagship club competition.

"We are very happy to be here, we deserved this chance and last time we were in this stadium, it went well, so we hope to repeat it," Kjaer said in a press conference.

"You never know when this opportunity will come around again.

"These are evenings that stay with you for the rest of your life, whether good or bad. This is why we play football.

"The other night at San Siro was one of the best experiences of my career with our fans. It will be different tomorrow, but it gives you a sensation that you cannot find anywhere else."

Napoli's star striker Victor Osimhen returned from an adductor injury on Saturday, though could not help Luciano Spalletti's team beat Verona.

Even if Osimhen is fit to start on Tuesday, Kjaer does not hold any fear.

"We will meet Osimhen, just as we do other strikers," he said. "It is never just the work for one defender, it is teamwork and respect."

Stefano Pioli echoed Kjaer's sentiment when it comes to Osimhen, who has netted 25 goals this season.

"He is such a powerful, impressive and decisive striker, so we take his characteristics into account, but at the same time we have our own way of playing football and we won’t move away from that," said Pioli.

"We saw with previous Napoli games that a lot of it is about knowing the moment to slow down and speed up, and that is even more crucial with a player like Osimhen."

Stefano Pioli was left wishing Milan capitalised further against 10-man Napoli but insisted no first-leg result would ensure progression to the Champions League semi-final.

Ismael Bennacer's first goal in UEFA's top club competition proved the difference on Wednesday at San Siro as Milan secured a 1-0 lead to defend in Naples in eight days' time.

The Rossoneri perhaps could have compounded Napoli's misery, though, as Milan played the last 15 minutes with a one-man advantage following Frank Anguissa's dismissal for two quickfire bookable offences.

Milan have progressed from seven of their previous nine two-legged ties in the Champions League knockout stages after winning the first clash, though Pioli suggested Napoli could overturn any given deficit.

The Milan coach told Amazon Prime Video: "Napoli got off to a better start than us, we started badly at the beginning, they were more aggressive.

"Then we had a good game, we regret not taking advantage of the numerical superiority in the final [stages].

"It's a result that gives us a chance to go through. No result would have guaranteed qualification.

"Now we will go to Naples with confidence and concentration, we know the difficulties we will encounter."

Milan will head to the Diego Armando Maradona Stadium for Tuesday's quarter-final second leg buoyed with confidence from an impressive record against Napoli this season.

Pioli's side have inflicted two of Napoli's five defeats this term, with Milan the only team to beat the Serie A leaders more than once in the 2022-23 campaign.

The Rossoneri are also the only side to stop Napoli scoring in two separate games this term, keeping Luciano Spalletti's men at bay in Europe and a 4-0 thrashing of the Partenopei in Naples just 10 days ago.

Spalletti will hope for key striker Victor Osimhen to return from injury in time for the return leg, where Bennacer vowed Milan will "work even harder".

"We played well, we tried to do what the coach asked us and it worked," the Algeria international told Amazon Prime Video. 

"There's still one game left, we'll play [Bologna] in-between, we have to recover as best we can.

"Today we had a good attitude. We suffered, then we settled well, we were good man-for-man."

Milan coach Stefano Pioli is embracing his team's history of fulfilling their dreams as they prepare to face Napoli in the Champions League quarter-finals as underdogs.

With Napoli running away with the Serie A title, sitting 16 points clear already, Milan are generally considered outsiders for their upcoming Champions League duel.

But Milan beat Napoli 4-0 at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona as recently as April 2 in a major shock, and the Partenopei will once again be without talismanic striker Victor Osimhen.

Milan not being favourites is no issue for Pioli, however, as he pointed to their Scudetto success last season as being somewhat out of the ordinary.

Asked what he was expecting from Wednesday's contest at San Siro, Pioli told reporters: "I think we'll see balance.

"It's the first of two matches. It's impossible to repeat matches from in the league – we know we have to play a great game.

"We have to play a great game because the opponents require a great level of play. Napoli are the team with the best attack in the Champions League and who have won the most games after Bayern. They are a very strong team, they have great quality.

"We also need to be attentive. Napoli have great quality and know how to take advantage of every mistake.

"Serie A is another story. I think we have every chance to play and do well in the two games. With the power of our dreams we won the Scudetto last year, so dreaming is good for us."

 

The absence of Osimhen is a particularly significant boost for Milan, given Napoli had expected him to be fit again for the first leg after sustaining an abductor injury on international duty.

Osimhen has been a huge factor in Napoli's remarkable charge at the top of the Serie A table, with Luciano Spalletti's men closing in on a first Scudetto since 1990.

Osimhen has scored 25 times across all competitions, with none of those goals coming from the penalty spot – among players from the top five leagues, only Erling Haaland (38), Kylian Mbappe (28), Marcus Rashford (27) and Robert Lewandowski (26) have netted more non-penalty goals than the Nigerian.

Nevertheless, the defeat to Milan earlier this month was the only match Napoli have failed to win out of nine without Osimhen this term, and this was not lost on Pioli.

"We're talking about a great centre-forward, he's scored repeatedly both in the league and in the Champions League [but], up until the match against us, Napoli had always won without Osimhen," Pioli told Sky Sport Italia.

"We're talking about a great team that has all the qualities to be fearsome."

He added: "The preparation has always been the same. With Osimhen, Napoli are stronger in depth, without him a little less. We keep everything in consideration, but we go ahead with our own concepts."

Stefano Pioli was left frustrated by Milan's 0-0 draw with Empoli, believing it showed a return to normality after their 4-0 win at Serie A leaders Napoli previously.

The Rossoneri were held to a stalemate by the visitors to San Siro on Friday, missing the chance to consolidate their top-four spot after Inter had also drawn at Salernitana.

Having stunned the runaway title favourites Napoli 4-0 on their own patch last Sunday, Milan could not find the net this time despite having 23 shots, though only four were on target.

Pioli felt his side did all they could, but also suggested their performance reflected an anticipated comedown of sorts.

"It's not the result we wanted," he told Sky Sport Italia. "We had to do better in the first half. We played with great intensity.

"We conceded little to them, and in the second half, we did everything [we had to]. The ball just didn't want to go in.

"Goals are expected from the forwards if we create the chances. We needed to fill the area better. We lacked something to win.

"It's been a long time since we played with this level of energy and intensity, and I'm sorry. We wanted to win again after Napoli.

"But in my opinion, we're returning to the level [where we should be]. We need to improve our game, and we are doing that."

Milan face Napoli again next week, this time with the pair meeting for the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final at San Siro.

Stefano Pioli says Milan are fully focused on their Serie A clash with Empoli, and not distracted by their upcoming Champions League quarter-final against Napoli.

The Rossoneri host the runaway league leaders in the first leg on Wednesday, but face Empoli at San Siro on Friday prior to that huge encounter.

Milan sit third in Serie A after their impressive 4-0 win at Napoli on Sunday, though with Inter, Roma and Atalanta all within three points of them in a tight race for the top four.

Pioli stressed the need for humility against 14th placed Empoli as their league campaign remains important despite the upcoming glamour of the Champions League last eight.

"It is crucial to stay in tension," he said at a press conference. "Matches are won first with attitudes and determination, and then with quality.

"We must be humble; the league is important to us and we must take advantage of this home game."

He added: "We have to stay on track. We produced an important victory in Naples, but we have to use it to play at that level there all the time. We just have to think about tomorrow."

When later asked how he can ignore the upcoming Champions League clash, Pioli said: "Because the objective in the league is very important and because otherwise the victory in Naples would be useless."

The Milan head coach was also asked about the club's former owner Silvio Berlusconi, who is in intensive care after being diagnosed with leukaemia.  

"We're all worried, but we don't have such precise news clearly," he said. "We hug him and hope he can recover and return to the stadium."

Inter striker Romelu Lukaku was allegedly targeted by racist chants from Juventus fans following his equaliser in their 1-1 Coppa Italia draw in midweek.

When asked if Italian football has a racism problem, Pioli said: "I don't know. I have many friends who go to the stadium with respect, but I'm very sorry because football and sport must be lived with a different spirit."

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