Milan head coach Stefano Pioli insisted "four teams can still win the Scudetto" after his side moved back to the top of Serie A with a 1-0 victory over Cagliari, which was marred by abuse directed at Mike Maignan.

The Rossoneri dominated for large parts on Saturday, but a lack of clinical finishing left them frustrated until just before the hour.

Ismael Bennacer stepped up with an exquisite volley into the bottom-left corner to edge Milan past Walter Mazzarri's side, who spurned two great opportunities through Joao Pedro and Keita Balde in response.

Victory meant Milan restored their three-point lead over Napoli, who defeated Udinese 2-1 earlier on Saturday, and they are six ahead of defending champions Inter, who have played a game fewer, after they were held by Fiorentina.

Juventus could cut the gap on the leaders to seven when they host Salernitana on Sunday, and Pioli believes the Scudetto race is far from over with eight games remaining for his side.

"Every game is an important crossroads now. I liked the team, even when we didn't score in the first half, as we played with quality and intensity," Pioli told Sky Sport Italia.

"Cagliari caused us problems, but that's inevitable when you have two teams with such strong motivation."

Milan's triumph was their third straight win by a 1-0 scoreline and, while delighted with the result, Pioli would look to see his team be more ruthless in front of goal.

"We would like to score more and went close again several times today, but the important thing is to win," he added.

"We're doing great things, but we also know there are four sides that could still win the Scudetto. There's no point looking too far ahead, there's a long way to go and we need to concentrate only on our own path."

Milan's win was tainted, however. There was a commotion between the players after the final whistle, and Pioli confirmed that goalkeeper Mike Maignan had made claims he was racially abused by some Cagliari fans.

"Mike told me there was racist abuse from behind the goal," Pioli responded when asked about the scenes at full-time.

"It's always sad when these things happen, nobody deserves that."

Milan coach Stefano Pioli downplayed the importance of his side's 1-0 win over Empoli, insisting there are many twists remaining in the Serie A title race. 

Pierre Kalulu's superb 19th-minute goal was enough to win a tight affair for Milan at San Siro, stretching their unbeaten run to seven league matches.

Kalulu's long-range strike made him Milan's 16th different scorer in this Serie A campaign, with only Fiorentina and Atalanta (both 17) possessing more, as the hosts went five points clear of rivals Inter, although the Nerazzurri have two games in hand.

Pioli was pleased with how his side managed a tense encounter, but he acknowledged there was room for improvement after Milan registered just three shots in a dour second half.

Milan created chances worth just 0.88 expected goals, with Kalulu's winning goal the Rossoneri's 10th from outside the area this season – a tally unbeaten in the top five European leagues.

"Our opponents [in the title race, Inter and Napoli] have to play tomorrow, there are still games to catch up," Pioli told Sky Sport.

"I think it would be much more regular if everyone had played the [same number of] games, then it is clear.

"But today it was a complicated game and we managed it well. We found an opponent who put us in difficulty, but in the defensive phase we conceded very little.

"At the beginning of the second half we lost a few balls, because in my opinion there was too little movement. 

"It is clear that we are always thinking about improving things, but it is equally true that having failed to dominate the game, we didn't risk anything [defensively]. 

"I'm sure that the more we go on, the better we will improve. Now the goals for everyone are maximum, so the effort must certainly be high."

"[Juventus are] inside [the title race]," the 56-year-old said. "Nine games [remaining] are a lot, 27 points are a lot. 

"All the top five are definitely inside [the race]."

Milan moved five points clear at the Serie A summit with a 1-0 win over Empoli, as Pierre Kalulu's stunner settled a cagey match at San Siro.

French defender Kalulu netted a superb first-half opener for the Rossoneri, who restricted Empoli to just one shot in the first 45 minutes during a dominant showing.

Although the visitors improved after the break, they struggled to create clear-cut chances against the title challengers, as Milan took an important three points from a tight affair.

The result gave Stefano Pioli's men breathing space at the top of Serie A, while Empoli remain without a win in 2022.

Milan were denied an early lead when Guglielmo Vicario saved well from Alessandro Florenzi's curling effort, and they again went close when the ball ricocheted off Sandro Tonali and rolled wide.

But the hosts did hit the front on 19 minutes when Kalulu finished brilliantly from the edge of the area, firing home with his left instep after the ball deflected to him.

However, Mike Maignan was forced into two stops within five minutes of the restart, turning Sebastiano Luperto's header around the post before punching Nedim Bajrami's goal-bound corner away.

Two tame Junior Messias shots, both drawing routine saves from Vicario, were the sum of Milan's efforts for much of a dull second half in which chances were at a premium.

However, Milan's solid defensive display was enough to hand them the victory and strengthen their position in one of Europe's closest title races.

 

What does it mean? Rossoneri claim vital win in Scudetto hunt

With rivals Inter travelling to Torino on Sunday, Milan have, at least for the time being, established a five-point lead at the top of Serie A.

The Rossoneri are now unbeaten in seven league games, earning four wins and three draws, as they hit form at the ideal time in the hunt for a first league title since 2011.

They must now hope Inter drop points in their two games in hand.

Landmark goal for coach Pioli

Kalulu's fantastic opener was his first goal of the season and was also a landmark moment for Milan boss Pioli.

The 56-year-old, who is looking for the first league title of his career, became just the seventh coach to see his teams score 600 Serie A goals in the three-points-for-a-win era.

Milan improve record against strugglers

Milan's title challenge has, at times, been held back by an inability to beat lowly opponents in Serie A. This win represented just their third victory in their past seven games against bottom-half teams.

Meanwhile, the result represented a third successive win for the Rossoneri against Empoli, after they only won two of the previous seven head-to-head meetings (four draws and one defeat).

What's next?

The Rossoneri's next Serie A fixture takes them to Cagliari in a week's time, while Empoli will host Verona in league action the following day.

Milan head coach Stefano Pioli insisted that his side cannot be "obsessed with the past" as they battle to win Serie A, which no team has "managed to run away".

The Rossoneri climbed back to the summit with a 1-0 victory at fellow title contenders Napoli last time out, but could be leapfrogged by second-placed Inter, who have a game in hand.

Milan next host Empoli, who they have won their past two top-flight meetings against, and Pioli demanded his team take each game as it comes ahead of the clash on Saturday.

However, Pioli's men have won only two of their past six Serie A meetings with sides in the bottom half of the table, drawing their previous two against Salernitana and Udinese.

"We are satisfied, but it was not the final step," Pioli said of the win over Napoli at Friday's pre-match news conference. "The last step is the next game.

"We should not be obsessed with the past, every game is different. We must play with continuity, quality and rhythm to highlight our qualities.

"It's been a strange season. Nobody has managed to run away. I still think that the top five teams can win many games. Serie A is very difficult."

 

When asked if he was concerned about the run of Juventus, who are unbeaten in 14 Serie A games and sit just seven adrift of the leaders, Pioli responded: "I am concerned about Empoli, we saw what happened in the reverse fixture, they created problems for us, so we must play well.

"Players don't need my intervention to know how important tomorrow's game is. The experience of the past was useful, but we should not look back.

"Empoli are a dynamic squad. It's not easy to press them, we need to understand the right moment. Psychologically, we know which problems we'll face, but we are determined.

"Empoli are a team with many solutions up top. They have quality and are really close to reaching their target so compliments to them."

Olivier Giroud was the difference against Napoli, with his eighth league goal separating the two title challengers. The striker will now be aiming to become the third Frenchman in Serie A to score 10-plus goals in a single campaign for Milan, after Jean-Pierre Papin (13 goals in 1992/93) and Jeremy Menez (16 in 2014/15).

Pioli was also boosted by the return of the evergreen Zlatan Ibrahimovic against Luciano Spalletti's men and he spoke glowingly of his two veteran forwards.

"I like everything about Giroud, the way he helps the team, how he handles the pressure," he added. "He is a very serene and determined person and it's a pleasure to work with him.

"Zlatan gives a lot to the team in everything he does. He is a smart player. He knows when to attack the space or drop deep. He is feeling happy. Surely he will help us."

Milan coach Stefano Pioli thinks Inter remain Scudetto favourites despite seeing his Rossoneri side beat Napoli 1-0 to go top of Serie A on Sunday.

Both teams knew they could breathe new life into their respective title challenges with a win at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona, but it was the visitors who left with the victory.

Olivier Giroud's instinctive finish early in the second half following Davide Calabria's wayward shot proved decisive, that goal being enough to return Milan to the summit with 60 points, two clear of Inter.

But Inter do still have a game in hand, and as such Pioli recognises the defending champions have to still be considered the team to beat.

Speaking to DAZN after the game, Pioli said: "For sure, we've not done as well against the so-called smaller teams, however, we won't have many direct clashes [with title rivals].

"But since the calendar tells us we have many of these games to come, honestly we have to do more.

"It is clear that there are difficulties for everyone, we are not a perfect team. We have to show that we have learned the lessons [against lesser sides]. Attitude and quality will be important in the next matches.

"The favourites are still Inter. Inter are a very strong team and the standings are still virtual. I'm sorry that there are games left over to be played, it would be more correct if we had all played the same number of games at this point in the championship.

"We have to concentrate on getting a lot of points."

Giroud once again proved his value to Milan, with the Frenchman scoring his eighth Serie A goal despite starting just 12 games.

There were many who questioned his signing when Milan spent just €1million in acquiring him from Chelsea at the start of the season, but for Pioli there was never any doubt what Giroud could add.

"My idea and the club's idea was to include players of experience, who had already won something, who know what it means to work to win," Pioli added.

"There is always a great need for people with stature. A video call was enough for us to understand what a professional he was.

"The more players with charisma and personality you have – especially for us who have a very young team – the better."

Zlatan Ibrahimovic could make a timely return from injury when Milan face fellow Serie A title contenders Napoli on Sunday.

The talismanic striker has been sidelined since damaging his Achilles in a goalless draw with Juventus on January 23.

Rossoneri head coach Stefano Pioli on Saturday revealed Ibrahimovic could feature in a huge battle between second and third at Stadio Diego Armando Maradona, where Ante Rebic could also have a part to play.

Pioli told reporters: "Ibrahimovic is doing better. He trained with the group both yesterday [Friday] and today and will probably travel with us tomorrow.

"Rebic is doing fine physically and getting back to optimum condition. He needs to make the most of his opportunities.

"I think it'll be important to start with the best team possible but also bring on players who can stop our opponents from having reference points and can have a positive impact on the game. I've already decided tomorrow's starting line-up."

Milan have drawn three consecutive matches in all competitions and are level on points with second-placed Napoli, just a point behind leaders Inter.

They have won only one of their past 14 Serie A meetings with Napoli – that victory coming in November 2020 – and have lost the previous two encounters 1-0.

Pioli says his side must be resolute when they do battle with Luciano Spalletti's men.

He said: "Napoli are a great team and coached very well by Spalletti, but teams without weaknesses don't exist.

"They have the best defence in the league, they pass it well and are good in behind. Tomorrow, the team that defends better has more chance of winning.

"The environment we'll be playing in is something else to factor in when it comes to our preparations and the match: it'll be fantastic and exciting for both teams.

"The fact we’ve done well against the top sides is a sign of our strength and should give us confidence heading into tomorrow night's game.

"From now until May 22, 33 points are up for grabs. It'll be a rollercoaster that no one wants to get off. It'll be difficult for any side to be really consistent, but we need to stay focused and play to the best of our abilities."

Milan boss Stefano Pioli believes his side deserved to beat rivals Inter in the first leg of their Coppa Italia semi-final clash, but also claimed the goalless draw represented a "good result".

The Milanese giants, who are split by just two points in a fierce Serie A title race, could not be separated at San Siro, with the lively Rafael Leao and Rade Krunic going closest for the more adventurous Rossoneri. 

Milan managed 13 attempts to Inter's seven in a cagey encounter, also creating 0.70 expected goals to the below-par Nerazzurri's 0.30, but were unable to break the deadlock. 

Although Pioli felt his team merited more from the encounter, he also professed himself pleased with the result, with Italy's preservation of the away goals rule perhaps making the Rossoneri slight favourites ahead of April's second leg.

"Milan played well and deserved something more," Pioli told Mediaset. "But if we look at it over the two legs, it is a good result. I still think we deserved a victory.

"It's only a partial result, we know the second [leg] will be very difficult, but I am satisfied with the performance. 

"We've made progress over the last two and a half years, we would like to win something and make this a wonderful season.

"The team was aggressive against an Inter side with a great deal of quality. We didn't allow Inter any real shots on goal and had chances of our own.

"It's disappointing we were unable to win the match and it all goes down to the second leg, [but] I really liked the performance and we should gain even more confidence from it, because we are a team who belong at this level."

Stefano Pioli called for Milan to "turn into winners" and battle through an underwhelming run of form ahead of crucial clashes with Inter and Napoli.

The Rossoneri sit level on points with Serie A leaders Napoli, who required a last-gasp winner against Lazio on Sunday, after being held in consecutive games by strugglers Salernitana and Udinese.

Pioli's side are two points ahead of Inter, who they face in the first leg of their Coppa Italia semi-final tie on Tuesday, but the Nerazzurri boast a game in hand on both their fellow title contenders.

Ahead of what is likely to be a pivotal week, Pioli demanded improvements from his team, though he insisted Milan can only focus on the future from now on.

"It's only the first leg, but it's an important step. The help from our fans will be decisive," Pili said at Monday's pre-match news conference ahead of the cup meeting with Inter.

"We are in the decisive moment of the season. We've done an extraordinary path in the last two and a half years, but only what we'll do from tomorrow will count.

"We can be better than in the last two games. We've done a lot and it's time to reap the rewards. It's the last step, the most difficult one, which is turning into winners."

While stressing the importance of improving sooner rather than later, Pioli acknowledged that there still remains a healthy portion of the season left to play as the title race continues to ebb and flow.

"The table is telling that this is a balanced league, it's a difficult season for everybody and there are no favourites in the derby," he added.

"Those who win the most duels will have more chances to win. It's an important week, but not decisive. There is a second leg in Coppa Italia and there will be 10 more Serie A games after the match with Napoli."

Pioli also did not hide away from his side's recent struggles, after they recorded consecutive top-flight draws for the first time since December 2020.

"Numbers do not lie. We've had difficulties," Pioli continued.

"We were not able to kill the games off and we should have kept more control. Anything can happen when you defend deep, we must be more aggressive when we do not have the ball.

"We do well when we go at full pace, but we must improve handling certain situations, especially when the opponents are waiting for us. 

"We have analysed what didn't work and we are ready to put what we've learned into practice."

Juventus head coach Massimiliano Allegri previously suggested that 85 points will be required to win the Scudetto, and Pioli does not think his fellow boss was too far off the mark.

"The top five teams are in the race for the title and a Champions League spot," he responded when asked about the title race.

"Everyone has slowed down a little, 11 games are remaining and every game will be difficult. Surely more than 80 points will be needed."

Stefano Pioli believes Zlatan Ibrahimovic has the desire to help Milan beyond the end of this season, although his future still is not settled and the forward's immediate focus is on aiding the Rossoneri's 2021-22 title bid.

Ibrahimovic signed a one-year contract extension in April last year, meaning his Milan deal is again up in June.

And the superstar forward, who is now 40, is increasingly struggling for fitness, even if his goalscoring form has not deserted him.

Ibrahimovic has eight goals in all competitions this season, with no Milan player scoring at a greater rate than his average of one every 133 minutes.

However, Ibrahimovic has been limited to 12 starts and has not featured in over a month since injuring his Achilles tendon against Juventus.

Milan coach Pioli was asked for an update on both the striker's future and fitness before Friday's match against Udinese and offered a mixed response, with his recovery not as rapid as anticipated.

"[His future] would be a question for Zlatan," the league-leading coach told a news conference. "His will is very important.

"As I know him, for the determination he has, for the ambition he has and for the desire he has to help the team, I am convinced that he would want to continue playing.

"His condition is improving, albeit a little slower than we expected, but he is better.

"His path is day by day – you have to understand how the tendon responds when he starts to run. Between today and tomorrow he will return to running on the grass; in these days he has done individual work and ran on the sand."

Stefano Pioli maintained that nobody expects Milan to win the Serie A title as he was left to rue a lack of quality in their 2-2 draw at Salernitana.

The Rossoneri spurned a chance to go four points clear of second-placed Inter, and they would have slumped to a shock defeat but for Ante Rebic's 77th-minute equaliser.

It had all started so well for the leaders at Stadio Arechi, where Junior Messias put them in front just five minutes in on Saturday.

But Federico Bonazzoli levelled in the first half with an acrobatic volley after Milan goalkeeper Mike Maignan flapped at a cross, and Milan Djuric gave the bottom side the lead with a header with 72 minutes played.

Substitute Rebic came to the rescue with his first goal since September, scoring from long range, but this will go down as two points dropped for Milan in the title race.

Rossoneri head coach Pioli does not believe his team are considered to be capable of dethroning Inter, but he expects them to perform far better than they managed in a game they really ought to have won.

Pioli told DAZN: "The situation around Milan is strange. Nobody thinks we can win the Scudetto and then you ask me if we can still win the Scudetto.

"We are undoubtedly disappointed and for this reason we will try to do better from the next match. We had to produce a different performance. We were not lacking mentally, but quality was lacking."

Inter have the chance to return to the summit when they face Sassuolo on Sunday, as they only trail their city rivals by two points.

Pioli says Milan must not dwell on a setback that halted their run of three consecutive wins.

He said: "We are disappointed. We had started well and there were all the conditions to manage our advantage better. We could have dominated the game better.

"We manage to equalise, but we have to try to do better. We had to be more lucid because then the right opportunity would have come.

"We have to think about playing as we are able to do, during the week we will analyse the goals scored. It is useless to think about what we could have done, we try to secure as many points as possible and do better the things we know how to do."

Milan head coach Stefano Pioli is confident his side can handle the pressure of being top of Serie A but concedes their "table position is not correct".

After beating Inter a fortnight ago, the Rossoneri capitalised on the Nerazzurri's 1-1 draw with Napoli last weekend, moving into top spot with a 1-0 home win over Sampdoria.

Milan and Napoli had set the early pace before Inter surged into the lead in Serie A prior to the winter break, with the Rossoneri returning to the summit by one point having played one game more than their city rivals.

"The league table is not correct, because Inter and Atalanta have to recover their matches," Pioli told a news conference prior to Saturday's league game with Salernitana.

"We are focused on us. The pressures are there and it is a privilege to have them, it means that we have risen up the level and it means that the team can handle them too.

"In my players I see a lot of positivity, a lot of confidence and concentration. We know that the season is long and that we have to push hard. For us tomorrow is a very important match, not a secondary one.

"We just have to think about giving our best and the best. We need great conviction in the things we do by giving our best."

Veteran Milan forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic has not played since picking up a knock in the January 24 draw with Juventus but hinted he was close to returning on Italian radio. Pioli, however, downplayed his chances of facing Salernitana as continues to battle a niggling Achilles issue.

"He is certainly better, if not tomorrow or Sunday he will start running again and then we will evaluate his condition," he said.

"We do not yet know when he will be able to re-join the group."

Pioli added that Croatian forward Ante Rebic would come into consideration to start against Salernitana after recently returning off the bench from an ankle injury.

"He is better. The minutes with Sampdoria helped him, he entered well even if he missed the winning play," he said.

"He is a very important player for us and he will give us his contribution."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stefano Pioli believes the contract renewal of Theo Hernandez epitomises Milan’s vision of returning "to the highest level".

The France international, who had been due to be out of contract in July 2024, had been linked with a move to Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain.

However, the defender ended speculation surrounding his future by putting pen to paper on fresh terms that will keep him at San Siro until the end of the 2025-26 season.

Hernandez has been a key figure for Milan since arriving from Real Madrid in July 2019, racking up 105 appearances across all competitions – a tally only matched by Franck Kessie during that period.

He has had 37 goal involvements in all competitions (19 goals, 18 assists), a tally bettered only by Zlatan Ibrahimovic (45) among Milan players since Hernandez's first outing.

Indeed, only three defenders in Europe's top five leagues have been directly involved in more goals across the same stretch: Achraf Hakimi, Robin Gosens (both 39) and Trent Alexander-Arnold (45).

Pioli feels the Rossoneri have made a statement of intent by keeping the attacking full-back at the club.

"It's a beautiful sign of a club that has a vision for the present and the future," the head coach said.

"Theo's renewal is an important signal for the whole environment. Having players who feel this sense of belonging and a club that thinks about the present and the future is symbolic of a club that wants to return to the highest level."

Following last weekend's 2-1 victory in the Derby della Madonnina, Milan are one point behind leaders and city rivals Inter heading into the final 15 games of the Serie A season.

Pioli, who is aiming to guide the Rossoneri to a first Scudetto since 2010-11, has praised the growth in maturity demonstrated by his young squad.

"I am absolutely convinced that, beyond the other matches, the team is much more aware and mature than it was a year ago," he added. 

"But it is normal that this is so. We are very young, but we have gone through many experiences, and we have grown. 

"We know that every game has an important specific weight and will have to be approached with great attention. The only thing that matters is tomorrow."

Rafael Leao says Milan's sights are firmly set on lifting the Coppa Italia following their thumping quarter-final win over Lazio.

The Rossoneri reached the semi-finals of the competition after putting the Biancocelesti to the sword 4-0 in San Siro.

Leao and Franck Kessie were on target either side of an Olivier Giroud double as Stefano Pioli’s side built on the momentum from their Derby della Madonnina victory over Inter on Saturday.

Milan subsequently set up a rematch with their neighbours in the last four of the Coppa Italia, in which they have now won 13 of their last 18 home games.

And Leao, who also assisted the first of Giroud’s brace, says he and his team-mates have high expectations after the Portugal international found the net for the second successive round.

"After the derby – a very important game for us – we arrived for tonight fired up, and I thought we had an extraordinary performance. It was the right result," he told Sport Mediaset.

"Now we're in the semi-final, the Coppa Italia is a competition Milan wants to win. 

"I am always ready to help my team with goals or assists, but the most important thing is that the team got into the semi-final."

Pioli also heaped praise on the performance of Milan, who are full of confidence having now won six of their last eight matches – including the extra-time success over Genoa in the previous round of the Coppa – in all competitions.

"We made the most of the derby victory to give ourselves even more energy, belief and conviction," the head coach added.

"The whole atmosphere is very positive, we were focused and in control for the full 90 minutes.

"These are always special games to prepare and very stimulating. The Coppa Italia is a competition both clubs want to win, so we will try to give our best against opponents we know are very strong."

Stefano Pioli says Zlatan Ibrahimovic is like "a lion in a cage" in his quest to return from injury, but revealed he will not be available for Milan's Coppa Italia quarter-final showdown with Lazio.

His side's top scorer in Serie A this season with eight goals, Ibrahimovic is currently sidelined with an Achilles tendon injury, having limped off during the first half of last month's stalemate with Juventus.

The 40-year-old's absence was evident for most of last weekend's derby with Inter; the Rossoneri registering just one shot on goal until Olivier Giroud's quickfire double completed a dramatic turnaround.

Milan welcome Lazio to San Siro in the last eight of the Coppa Italia on Wednesday, although it comes too soon for Ibrahimovic.

But Pioli insists the striker is doing everything in his power to return as soon as possible.

"Zlatan is a lion in a cage," he told Sportmediaset. "His motivation is to help the team on the pitch. 

"Tomorrow, he won't be [available]; we'll see for the next ones."

Pioli also praised the contribution of Giroud, who has drawn criticism from some sections despite taking his tally to seven for the campaign with that derby brace, while also becoming the first Frenchman to net twice against Inter in Serie A.

When asked whether his display against the Nerazzurri deflected the criticism, the head coach said: "I don't know, the detractors are always there. What matters is the trust we have. 

"He is proving to be the footballer for whom he was purchased. [He is] a valuable player and a person of great depth who is making a great contribution to the team."

 

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.