Milan head coach Stefano Pioli is hoping to sign a new centre-back in the January transfer window following confirmation Simon Kjaer will miss the remainder of the season.

Kjaer injured his left knee during the early stages of Milan's 3-0 win against Genoa on Wednesday and was taken off on a stretcher.

Milan announced on their official website that the Denmark international underwent surgery on his anterior cruciate ligament on Friday and is expected to sit out the next six months. 

Speaking earlier in the day ahead of Saturday's clash with Salernitana, head coach Stefano Pioli confirmed Milan would look to bring in cover should Kjaer's injury be long term.

"It's clear that I believe an intervention will be needed if that's the case," Pioli said. "But we will only do it to try to improve the team.

"It's worth changing to improve the team. The club, if necessary, will be ready."

Kjaer has been a key player for Milan since joining from Sevilla in January 2020 on an initial loan deal and has started 13 of their 20 matches in all competitions this season.

The 32-year-old, who finished 18th in this week's Ballon d'Or voting, leads the way for interceptions (66) among Milan defenders in Serie A since making his debut.

Milan's first match without Kjaer will be at home to bottom side Salernitana this weekend in what is the first top-flight meeting between the sides since January 1999.

The Rossoneri have lost only one of their last 20 Serie A games against newly promoted sides, keeping 12 clean sheets across that period.

With Milan one point adrift of leaders Napoli, Pioli's side have a chance to build some momentum with victory over Salernitana.

"Tomorrow's match is important to give continuity," Pioli said. "We have another opportunity to demonstrate that we are a strong team.

"The opponents are tough, very annoying in the non-possession phase and come at you with aggression and conviction. It's a game that we want to do well in."

Milan star Zlatan Ibrahimovic wants to re-sign with the Scudetto-chasing Rossoneri after his latest goalscoring exploits for the Serie A high-flyers.

Ibrahimovic opened the scoring with a stunning first-half free-kick in Wednesday's 3-0 victory at Genoa, a result that moved Milan within a point of leaders Napoli, who squandered a 2-0 lead in a 2-2 draw against Sassuolo.

The victory was a welcome return to form for Milan, having gone from unbeaten domestically to licking their wounds following back-to-back league defeats.

Milan head coach Stefano Pioli signed a contract extension last week and Ibrahimovic wants to be the next to put pen to paper as the evergreen 40-year-old eyes silverware with the club.

"I have fun, before the match, we had already decided how long I would have played," Ibrahimovic said to Sky Sport Italia after the match. "These guys make me have fun and feel young.

"We had made errors that cost us the previous two games. It was all our fault, not our opponents' merit, but we won today and we remain up there.

"Now I have to renew. I am happy for [Pioli] because he deserves [his contract extension], if he renews, I renew. Pioli has done a great job.

"I am happy for the fans. For so many years, they have not enjoyed as they are enjoying now. I want to make them happy, but if we don't win a trophy we haven't done anything."

Ibrahimovic's goal was his 153rd goal in Serie A, drawing level with Stefano Nyers and Hernan Crespo in 26th place among the top scorers in the Italian competition.

His 73 league goals for Milan also took Swedish forward Ibrahimovic to 10th in Milan's standings, alongside Filippo Inzaghi.

Once Pioli had penned his own terms, the 56-year-old revealed that Ibrahimovic wasted no time in contacting him to ask for a new contract. 

The Milan boss praised his team's performance against Genoa, particularly the connection between Ibrahimovic and his team-mates.

"Zlatan is the only player who sent me a message as soon as I signed my contract," Pioli said to Sky Sport Italia. "It said congratulations, Mister, now sort mine out!

"That's Zlatan for you! This is a season that can give us satisfaction, I don't know how far we can go.

"We played with intensity and determination for the whole game this evening and unfortunately we are not a team that can do the bare minimum. We've got to give it our all, or we are not superior to the opposition.

"The arrival of Zlatan improved everything, certainly, but his team-mates also did well to accept his way of motivating them.

"At the same time, Zlatan has to thank his team-ates, because he has come back to being the great player he was a few years ago. It's give and take for them both."

Milan head coach Stefano Pioli admits he is seeing diminishing returns from his team after they crumbled to a 3-1 defeat against Sassuolo at San Siro.

A dismal day for the Rossoneri was bookended by moments of mixed fortune for Alessio Romagnoli, who scored the opening goal to put Milan ahead before being sent off late in the game, by which time Sassuolo had their winning lead.

Gianluca Scamacca and Domenico Berardi scored with excellent strikes for Sassuolo, either side of a Simon Kjaer own goal, as Milan struggled to keep pace with lively visitors.

Pioli's team finished second last season, after being overtaken by an Inter side who were relentless after chasing their city rivals off top spot. Milan went unbeaten for their first 15 games of the 2020-21 Serie A campaign and similar looked on the cards this time when they avoided defeat in their opening 12 fixtures.

Successive defeats to Fiorentina and now Sassuolo have checked that progress though, and Inter are on their heels, with Napoli right in the mix too.

Speaking about his side's performance against Sunday's mid-table visitors, Pioli said: "We lacked clarity, we made too many mistakes, especially in the opposition area.

"In the first half we got into their area many times and we missed the last pass. Clearly we had to manage the lead better. The first few minutes after scoring the goal were very important and instead we made a mistake for which we paid dearly."

Milan stood off Scamacca, who from 25 yards sent a scorching drive into the top right corner, finding the net off the underside of the crossbar.

 

A 4-3 defeat to Fiorentina last week was a jolt to Milan, and this was every bit as concerning. Pioli signed a new contract just days ago, committing until 2023, and he will expect more from his players in future. Mike Maignan made three saves, as Milan could have lost by a wider margin.

"If we conceded seven goals in two games, it is clear that something went wrong," Pioli said. "Mentally we weren't so lucid in our choices and so it becomes easier to make mistakes.

"We are aware of our qualities and our defects and we must continue to work to improve. We started very strongly, but in the last few games we have all done a little less, both from a technical and tactical point of view."

Pioli said there were "no justifications" for Milan delivering such a display, which came four days after they won away at Atletico Madrid in the Champions League.

"We have been built to face these double commitments and we hope to carry them forward," Pioli said, quoted by Sky Sport Italia. "Today five players who did not play in Madrid played in order to have the right mental and physical energy."

While Milan toiled and came away disappointed, Sassuolo savoured the moment.

This was Milan's second successive home league defeat to Sassuolo, after a 2-1 loss in April. Until this turnaround, that April game had been the last time that Milan dropped points from a winning position.

Sassuolo head coach Alessio Dionisi enthused about the performance of Italy international Berardi, who scored for a third successive Serie A game and now has seven goals for the season.

Dionisi even said the 27-year-old, who helped Italy win Euro 2020 in July, should be a target for elite clubs.

This was Berardi's 250th Serie A game for Sassuolo, becoming the second player to reach that milestone, after Andrea Consigli.

"His qualities are indisputable, he deserves the attention of the biggest clubs," Dionisi said.

"Because he has not yet gone to a big one, maybe he is proud to play for Sassuolo."

Mike Maignan has returned from injury ahead of schedule and will start Milan's Serie A clash with Sassuolo on Sunday, head coach Stefano Pioli has confirmed.

The France international began the campaign in fine form, starting every game as Milan collected 19 points to match their best start to a league campaign after seven games.

But Maignan, signed from Lille for €15million to replace Gianluigi Donnarumma, underwent surgery on his left wrist in mid-October and was expected to miss around 10 weeks. 

However, having recently returned to training, the 26-year-old is now considered fit enough to make his comeback against Sassuolo in place of Ciprian Tatarusanu, who made a calamitous error in Milan's 4-3 defeat to Fiorentina last time out in Serie A.

"Maignan is fine. He has been working with the team for a week and is ready," Pioli said at Saturday's pre-match news conference. 

"He is back sooner because he has a great mentality. He is fine and will play tomorrow. Tatarusanu has done his duties well, but [Maignan] will return."

Maignan kept a league-high 21 clean sheets in 38 games for Ligue 1 champions Lille last season – seven more than next-best Keylor Navas and Benoit Costil.

The Frenchman's save percentage of 78.26 in seven Serie A games this season, meanwhile, is behind only Sergio Romero (80.56) and David Ospina (80.65) among those to have played more than twice.

Tatarusanu, for comparison, has saved 60 per cent of the shots he has faced in the six league games he has filled in for Maignan this term, keeping only one clean sheet.

Pioli also confirmed that centre-back Fikayo Tomori is closing in on a return from injury and is likely to be available for Wednesday's trip to Genoa.

Before that, Milan welcome Sassuolo to San Siro with the aim of keeping their hopes of a first Scudetto success in 11 years on track.

Milan last lost successive games in Serie A in April, which includes a 2-1 home loss at the hands of Sassuolo, but Pioli is fully focused on bouncing back.

"We have a chance tomorrow to get back on track in the league," said Pioli, who signed a new contract with the club on Friday.

"Winning games makes a difference and we all know we need to raise our game. We showed in Madrid that we have good quality in the squad, both technically and mentally."

Milan head coach Stefano Pioli has signed a new contract with the Serie A club until 2023.

Pioli put pen to paper on a two-year deal to replace the sacked Marco Giampaolo at San Siro in October 2019.

The former Fiorentina boss led Milan to second in Serie A behind city rivals Inter last season, sealing Champions League qualification for the first time in seven years.

Pioli on Friday signed a contract to keep him at the club until the end of the 2022-23 campaign.

The 56-year-old told Milan TV: "I hope to be able to experience many emotions on this bench, we are ambitious and we want to continue like this."

Milan are second in Serie A, level on points with leaders Napoli, after amassing 32 points from their opening 12 games for their first time in the three points for a win era.

They were beaten 4-3 by Fiorentina in the thriller last weekend, but responded by keeping their hopes of qualifying for the Champions League round of 16 alive with a 1-0 win at Atletico Madrid on Wednesday.

Milan director and club legend Paolo Maldini said of Pioli's new contract: "There is a thrill of continuing a path that is bringing us great results.

"We don't want a team to win for just one year, but for a long time. We want to bring Milan back to being competitive."

He added: "We do not renew only with the coach Pioli, but also with the person. There is great harmony between us, there may be problems, but we will know how to overcome them."

It has been a turbulent period for Manchester United, but they appear on the cusp of solving one issue.

With Ole Gunnar Solskjaer gone, struggling United need a new manager and while Mauricio Pochettino seems to be the dream appointment, the Red Devils are reportedly closing in on a short-term solution.

Ralf Rangnick.

 

TOP STORY – UNITED TURN TO RANGNICK ON SHORT-TERM BASIS

Manchester United are set to appoint former RB Leipzig boss Ralf Rangnick as interim manager, according to The Athletic, ESPN and widespread reports.

After sacking Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, United outlined their plan to install an interim boss until the end of the season amid reported long-term interest in Paris Saint-Germain's Mauricio Pochettino and Ajax head coach Erik ten Hag.

There had been reports United could turn to Pochettino immediately but a deal to prise the former Tottenham boss from Paris proved difficult.

Instead, United have offered Rangnick a six-month contract at Old Trafford, where the 63-year-old German is set to take up a consultancy role once his interim tenure ends.

Rangnick is currently head of sports and development at Russian outfit Lokomotiv Moscow.

 

ROUND-UP

- Calciomercato claims Chelsea are plotting a move for Italy star Federico Chiesa, who is still on loan from Fiorentina. Juventus are set to sign Chiesa permanently at the end of the season, though he is wanted by a host of clubs, including Bayern Munich and Liverpool.

- United have emerged as a possible destination for in-demand Fiorentina forward Dusan Vlahovic, reports the Daily Mail. Vlahovic is wanted by Manchester CityAtletico Madrid, JuveInterArsenalTottenham and Bayern but the Red Devils are believed to have joined the race.

Barcelona could sell Memphis Depay to help in their efforts to prise Erling Haaland from Borussia Dortmund, per El Nacional. Depay only joined Barca on a free transfer at the start of the season, but the financially stricken LaLiga giants are among the long list of Haaland admirers. Haaland has been linked with CityUnitedReal MadridBayernLiverpoolChelseaJuve and PSG.

- Fabrizio Romano claims Stefano Pioli will sign a new contract with Milan on Friday. The Rossoneri head coach is set to extend his deal until June 2023, with the option of a further season.

Milan head coach Stefano Pioli hailed the "wonderful" story of Junior Messias, who scored the Rossoneri's winning goal in a crucial 1-0 Champions League victory over Atletico Madrid just three years after making his professional debut.

Messias, 30, moved to Italy to work as a delivery driver before ascending the ranks of Italian football in his late twenties.

He headed Franck Kessie's cross into the bottom corner of Jan Oblak's net in the 87th minute at Wanda Metropolitano to earn Milan victory and rescue their hopes of qualifying for the knockout stages, which were hanging by a thread.

Messias is on loan at Milan from Crotone, and Pioli indicated he may have a bright future at San Siro.

"His story is wonderful," Pioli told Amazon Prime Video Italia.

"But I think this is just the beginning for him, because he has real quality.

"He had some difficulties when he first arrived, but now will really help the team."

Milan face Group B winners Liverpool in their next Champions League game with any one of Milan, Porto and Atletico still in the hunt to qualify alongside the Reds.

Pioli made no apologies for the touchline celebrations that followed Messias' goal, saying: "It's only right to celebrate with my players, because they put in a wonderful performance.

"They played with quality and courage, they always believed in themselves and it's right now that I celebrate with them.

"This is the right path and tonight we saw an important show of this team's maturity."

Pioli's opposite number Diego Simeone brushed off the disappointment of the result and turned his focus to Atletico's final Group B game against Porto.

Victory over Porto would secure Atletico's place in the knockout stage if Milan fail to beat Liverpool, and Simeone told reporters: "I am optimistic, I always was and I will not change.

"The team will compete well. I have no doubt that the Champions League does not forgive you, and who deserves it makes it.

"Milan can win at home, Porto at home and we away. Whoever deserves it will win."

Stefano Pioli sees Milan's clash with Atletico Madrid as "a great opportunity" as they fight to stay in European competition this season.

The Rossoneri sit bottom of Group B with just one point from four matches against Atleti, Liverpool and Porto.

They must beat the LaLiga champions on Wednesday to keep alive their hopes of qualifying for the last 16 or claiming the Europa League place, although they will be unable to finish in the top two regardless if Porto defeat Liverpool.

A controversial last-minute penalty from Luis Suarez saw Atleti beat 10-man Milan in the reverse fixture in September, a third-straight defeat for the Italian side against these opponents.

Indeed, Milan have only managed one victory in their past 16 Champions League meetings with Spanish sides and have lost all of the most recent four.

Despite history and the odds being against them, Pioli is looking at the game at the Wanda Metropolitano as a chance to prove themselves.

"It's a great opportunity, perhaps our last to stay in this competition against strong opponents whose style of play we have studied carefully, and that we know well having played them a few weeks ago," he said on Tuesday.

"We didn't need the ending [against Atleti] to know the qualities of our opponents, especially their great quality of staying in the game until the end. I think they're among the best in Europe to recover at the death.

"We must always play to believe until the 95th minute."

Milan are level at the top of Serie A with Napoli, having won 10 and lost just one of their opening 13 games of the season, but their Champions League campaign has been marked by narrow defeats.

They let a 2-1 lead slip to lose 3-2 at Anfield prior to their home defeat to Atletico before a 1-0 loss in Porto on matchday three.

Pioli insists his inexperienced side are not far from matching their more experienced opponents in Europe.

"We're built for this, to be competitive in both competitions," he said. "For many, it's their first time in the Champions League, we've faced opponents of the highest level, but we have shown we're not too far away from them.

"We're aware we've always lacked a certain something. In terms of intensity, quality and concentration, we'll have to perform at 100 per cent tomorrow."

Stefano Pioli is confident his Milan side will learn from a "painful" loss to Fiorentina after their unbeaten start to the Serie A campaign came to an end at Stadio Artemio Franchi.

Milan fell to a 4-3 defeat in Saturday's thrilling contest as they missed out on the chance to move three points clear of Napoli, who play their game in hand at Inter on Sunday.

The Rossoneri last tasted defeat in the top flight 18 games ago against Lazio in April, while not since August 2015 had they lost away to Fiorentina in the league.

Pioli's side were without a number of players through injury, including Fikayo Tomori, Davide Calabria, Ante Rebic and Mike Maignan, and that told in a poor display.

A mix-up between back-up goalkeeper Ciprian Tatarusanu and Matteo Gabbia gifted Joseph Alfred Duncan the opening goal, which ex-Milan player Riccardo Saponara added to before half-time.

Dusan Vlahovic also scored twice, either side of a Zlatan Ibrahimovic double that had set up a tense period in the game, before Lorenzo Venuti put into his own net from the last action of the game.

Milan have now taken just one point from their last two games, having previously been held by Inter, but Pioli is hopeful his side will bounce back.

"We have to feel the pain of this defeat and make sure it doesn't happen again," he told Sky Sport Italia. "Even in this defeat I am convinced that I have a very strong team. 

"We have to learn from this. Losing hurts, as does conceding four goals. We showed that we are able to recover, but perhaps we could have done without conceding the fourth. 

"The team played as a team and with rhythm. Sometimes we missed the last pass. We had twice as many shots as our opponents, so the performance was there. 

"We are sorry because after the international break we wanted to restart with a victory."

 

Ibrahimovic became the oldest player – and the first over 40 – to score two or more goals in a single game in Europe's top five leagues this century with his double.

However, Vlahovic stole the show with a brace of his own as he made it 27 Serie A goals in 2021, equalling Kurt Hamrin (in 1960) for the most in a calendar year for Fiorentina

Indeed, only Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski (38) has scored more goals than Vlahovic (27) since the start of 2021 in the big five European leagues. 

The Serbia international has been linked with a number of the continent's big-name clubs, but Viola boss Vincenzo Italiano wants his side to make the most of the rising star while they can.

"Right now he is a player destined for an important career, not only because he knows how to score but because of how he trains," Italiano told Sky Sport Italia. 

"If he stays this same player he is destined for a great career. I don't know what his future will be, but for now we enjoy it. In this game he was loaded with buckshot and I'm happy for him."

Stefano Pioli is remaining positive despite Milan missing the chance to go top of Serie A with a 1-1 derby draw against Inter at San Siro.

Former Rossoneri midfielder Hakan Calhanoglu scored an early penalty before Stefan de Vrij's own goal levelled the scores, and Ciprian Tatarusanu was needed to deny Lautaro Martinez after a second spot-kick was conceded.

However, the result means Milan have picked up 32 points in the opening 12 games of a Serie A season for the first time in the three-points-for-a-win era (since 1994-95) and remain unbeaten in the league after 12 games.

Rossoneri boss Pioli feels there is plenty to be encouraged by from his side's season so far and from the performance against reigning champions Inter.

"The glass is half-full," Pioli said to DAZN. "You aim to win, but it was complicated, the team showed a lot of spirit and we struggled a bit too much in the first half, but then emerged after the break.

"In all of Europe's top five Leagues, only Napoli and Milan are still unbeaten this season, and that says a lot about how we are doing.

"Inter are a strong side and we proved that we are strong too. It was a positive performance. Look at the average age difference for the starting 11 between Milan and Inter.

"We needed time to gain that experience, form that confidence and now we can fight it out with the best in Serie A. There can be difficulties, but we showed courage tonight again and both teams had the opportunities to win.

"We made a naive error on the penalty but maintained our ideas and approach to turn this around. We could've sought Zlatan Ibrahimovic more, as we didn't give him enough service, but it's also true that we fought for every ball and never stepped back.

"We were courageous in attack, but also in defence, where we accepted one-on-one situations with players like Edin Dzeko and Lautaro Martinez. We were eager to bring home another positive result."

Ante Rebic's introduction off the bench following his recovery from an ankle injury coincided with Milan's best period of the game and Pioli was full of praise for the 28-year-old, while admitting that Rafael Leao looked a little jaded after featuring in every game for the club so far this season.

"Ante is very important, as he has that change of pace and is very aggressive," Pioli continued. "We saw Rafael Leao was a little less sharp tonight, inevitably because he played practically every game for the last three weeks."

Milan travel to face Fiorentina after the international break as they look to maintain their unbeaten league record and keep the pressure on Napoli in the title race.

"There is a great talent here. He has a great future but it all depends on him," Zlatan Ibrahimovic said of Rafael Leao after Milan beat neighbours Inter in the derby last October.

Ibrahimovic knows what it takes to reach the top better than most.

There has been no doubt about Leao's quality, the 22-year-old has pace to burn and an arsenal of attacking weapons up his sleeve. But he has split opinion since being prised from Lille in 2019 – a result of mixed performances amid hype and expectations after Milan made a significant investment.

However, after an inconsistent start in the north of Italy, Leao is now flourishing under the guidance of Zlatan and Stefano Pioli as part of the Rossoneri dream of conquering Serie A for the first time in over a decade.

Deployed as a left-sided wide forward or lone striker, Leao has showcased his ability with the ball at his feet, leading the league this season in average carry progresses (9.1 metres), shot-ending carries (14), goal-ending carries (two) and total chance created carries (17) – Napoli captain Lorenzo Insigne and Juventus star Federico Chiesa are just some of the names left behind on those lists.

A key member of Milan's Scudetto charge, Leao has a chance to further enhance his growing reputation on the big stage when city rivals Milan and champions Inter meet in a blockbuster Derby della Madonnina on Sunday.

Another off the long list of Sporting CP's famed production line, Leao dazzled in Lisbon, where he drew comparisons to Cristiano Ronaldo before his time at Estadio Jose Alvalade ended abruptly in 2018. After players and coaches were sensationally attacked by fans at the club's training facility, Leao terminated his contract prior to moving to Lille on a free transfer.

 

"The first time I saw Rafael was when I took the job as the technical director of the Sporting academy. Every time I saw Rafael in his first few sessions for the Under-17s, he was different and he was special. You know, at Sporting, we've created so many good players – like Ronaldo and [Luis] Figo. Because of that, we are qualified to see when we have special talents in front of our eyes. Then it was easy to see, Rafael was different from the others," Luis Martins – Leao's first coach at Sporting – told FTF.

After eight goals and two assists in one season with Lille, Milan came calling and splashed out around €30million to usher in a new era for the Italian powerhouse, desperately craving a return to their glorious past after years in the wilderness.

Following a tough start to life under Marco Giampaolo, Leao showed glimpses when Pioli stepped into the Rossoneri hotseat, but he was far from convincing, proving a frustrating figure due to the consensus that he lacked consistency.

Leao only managed one goal in his first 19 appearances for Milan across all competitions. While he ended his debut campaign with six Serie A goals at an average of 232 minutes per goal and a sole assist, there were already questions whether the Portuguese was a future star or a gamble that hadn't paid off.

The key takeaway was Leao's involvement in Milan play. In 2019-20, he was the orchestrator of just 58 sequences in open play. In those 31 appearances, not one of those sequences started and ended in a goal. For context, he tallied nine goals and six assists the following season.

A raw talent finding his feet, Leao shot conversion rate was 17.7 per cent, well down on the 27.6 per cent mark he reached the season prior with Lille.

"It's true, I expected more from him tonight. When coming on, he was meant to give changes of pace, fresh energy, work with the team," Pioli said after a loss to Lazio in November 2019 as Leao was eventually linked with a move away heading into 2020-21. "He has a lot of potential, but he absolutely has to do more. His contribution tonight was not up to his standards."

 

Leao has seemingly heeded the advice of those around him, delivering on a more regular basis just as his team-mates are under Pioli's watchful eye.

Capable of delivering an incredible pass, Leao has mastered the art of attacking space with his blistering pace and it has well and truly come to the fore since 2020, with his 21 dribbles this season only exceeded by Sassuolo's Jeremie Boga (24) among forwards. Leao has also scored the most goals from fast breaks in Serie A (three).

Despite not yet having a fixed position at Milan, Leao's movement – predominantly on the left flank – has him first for carries with a shot (14), carries with a goal (two) and fourth for total carries by distance (1995.79) in the league this season.

"The Leao project goes on regardless of the role. He continues his growth and maturation, as is normal for such a young player," Pioli said in April.

"Then it is difficult to establish what Rafael's final role will be. The growth of a player allows you to find a job and a position. The important thing is the growth of its value, then we will evaluate the position along the way."

Leao's rise and development has been evident since the turn of the year, having become the second-youngest foreign player to score 10-plus Serie A goals for Milan back in January, older only than Alexandre Pato.

No one has scored more goals for Milan this term – level with France World Cup-winning striker Olivier Giroud on four goals through 11 matchdays – than Leao, who has outperformed his xG (2.6) while scoring every 205 minutes in Italy's top flight (more frequent than the likes of Chiesa, Tammy Abraham and Alvaro Morata among forwards) with a shots to goal conversion rate of 18.2 per cent.

It's not just the goals when it comes to the new and improved version of Leao. The two-time Portugal international has become more of a team player, leading the way at San Siro in attacking sequence involvements (40) across shots (25), chances created (seven) and build-up to shot (eight), ahead of Alexis Saelemaekers (38), Davide Calabria (33), Brahim Diaz (30), Ante Rebic (24) and Theo Hernandez (24) in 2021-22.

Leao has gone from prospect to genuine star, and as he takes centre stage in one of football’s most historic fixtures, the sky is the limit.

Stefano Pioli is eager to take positives from Milan's second-half performance against Porto ahead of this weekend's huge Derby della Madonnina clash with Inter.

Milan ended a club-record run of five successive defeats in the Champions League with a 1-1 draw against Primeira Liga leaders Porto at San Siro on Wednesday.

That solitary Group B point after four matches all but ends the Rossoneri's hopes of qualifying for the last 16, though, as they must win both remaining games and hope other results go their way.

Pioli's side fell behind to a Luis Diaz strike with just five minutes and two seconds on the clock – the second-fastest goal they have conceded at home in the Champions League.

Porto looked a lot sharper and should have doubled their lead when Evanilson headed against the crossbar, but Milan earned a point through Chancel Mbemba's comical own goal.

Despite remaining bottom of the group, Pioli is remaining upbeat with his side flying high in Serie A ahead of the showdown with rivals and reigning champions Inter.

"The signs are positive for us, even if the team is disappointed," he told Amazon Prime. "We wanted to find our first victory in the Champions League. 

"It is true that their pressure was strong in the first half. In the second half we did better. We moved better and their intensity in the pressure dropped.

"It is clear that conceding a goal like we did influenced our way of playing. I can't say much about the second half, especially in terms of our aggression. 

"Porto are a strong team, who last year eliminated Juventus. The level in this competition is very high. To win in the Champions League you have to deserve it. 

"The next game will be just as difficult. Inter deservedly won the championship and remain favourites to retain the title. 

"We will have to play a high level match, but we have the opportunity to do well."

Milan have won just one of their past 11 Champions League games, whereas Porto have now lost just one in nine in the group stage.

The Portuguese side had a three-day gap between their 4-1 win against Boavista and the game at San Siro, compared to a couple of days off for Milan following their win at Roma.

That was also the case prior to last month's reverse fixture, which Porto won 1-0.

"They played a day before us twice in a row," Pioli said. "If you have seven or eight days to recover it doesn't make a difference.

"But if you have three instead of four in a period where you play seven times in 21 days, it can make a difference."

Olivier Giroud was selected ahead of Zlatan Ibrahimovic up top for Milan but could not find a way through as his scoreless run in the competition stretched to 326 minutes.

At 35 years, Giroud was the oldest member of Milan's line-up and feels a lack of experience has perhaps cost his side in Europe this term.

"We're a young team but I don't want to make excuses," he told Canal+. "We also needed a little more luck. We have played some good matches in the group.

"It's tough against teams who are used to Champions League football like Porto or Atletico. Experience is important.

"Now we've got the derby with Inter and we will look to come back with the same energy and desire for that game."

Davide Calabria fired a warning to Milan as he declared Wednesday's clash with Porto to be their last chance of staying in the Champions League.

The Rossoneri are bottom of Group B, having lost all three of their matches against Liverpool, Atletico Madrid and Porto, and are on a five-game losing streak overall in the competition – the worst such run in their history.

Should they lose to Sergio Conceicao's side at San Siro and Atletico beat Liverpool at Anfield, Milan will be unable to finish higher than fourth in the group, meaning their European campaign would be over for 2021-22.

While their domestic form has been strong – they have won 10 of 11 Serie A matches this season, something only three teams have achieved before – Milan were deeply unconvincing in the reverse match against Porto, registering only four shots, their lowest such figure in a Champions League game in almost eight years.

Calabria feels Milan deserve to have at least some points from the first three matchdays but accepts a win is now essential to their chances of going through.

"We have an outlook prepared; it's our last chance to stay in the Champions League," the defender said on Tuesday. "We believe in ourselves and we have the quality to put in a great performance right from kick-off and stay in the competition.

"Certain moments have led to the current standings. We don't deserve it but I am convinced that we have the potential to do better and take points, starting from tomorrow.

"The Champions League is a competition that comes down to the finer details and some of the details have gone against us. It's a shame because we deserve more but there's not much to say. We've been decent in the group until now, except for the game in Portugal."

Milan come into the match buoyed by Sunday's 2-1 league win at Roma, a result that ended Jose Mourinho's 43-game unbeaten home run in Serie A.

The match was not without controversy, though. Referee Fabio Maresca was criticised for his performance, as was VAR, with Mourinho walking away from a post-match interview with DAZN after claiming he feared a touchline ban if he spoke about the officials.

Milan boss Stefano Pioli insisted he and his team cannot become distracted by a growing debate over the standard of officiating in Italy.

"I believe one thing: we beat Roma because we were the better team and lost against Porto because they were better than us," Pioli said. "I can't control anything else.

"We're just going to keep our focus on what we are doing. We analysed the performance with the players and we know what we did well. We can't waste our energy on external factors.

"Now, we are thinking about the Champions League because we feel like we deserve more than zero points in the table and we have this game to confirm that – against a really tough side."

Roma boss Jose Mourinho did not want to say much following the Giallorossi's 2-1 defeat to Milan at the Stadio Olimpico on Sunday, fearing that if he did he "won't be on the touchline next week."

The loss was Mourinho's first at home in Serie A in his career, having been unbeaten for 43 home games during his time at Inter and Roma.

"Compliments to Milan," he said to DAZN immediately after the game. "I don't want to say anything else, because otherwise I won't be on the touchline next week.

"I am angry at the lack of respect shown to the Roma fans. We did not play well, but we left everything on the pitch. We have that respect, others do not, and that angers me.

"That is all."

The former Chelsea and Manchester United manager then held an equally short press conference, adding: "I made an effort and did not wait for the referee."

 

1 - Mourinho has lost his first Serie A home game, after 43 matches in a row without losing: the longest unbeaten home run for a coach since 1994/95 in the competition. Stop. #RomaMilan

— OptaPaolo (@OptaPaolo) October 31, 2021

 

Mourinho appeared to be unhappy with the performance of referee Fabio Maresca, who awarded Milan a second half penalty after he deemed Roger Ibanez to have fouled Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

On the advice of the video assistant referee (VAR), Maresca reviewed the footage at pitchside, but after several views, maintained his original decision and pointed to the spot.

Milan midfielder Franck Kessie scored the penalty to add to Ibrahimovic's first half free kick, and it ultimately proved to be the winning goal.

Maresca also sent off Milan's Theo Hernandez in the second half for a second bookable offence but Mourinho's men were unable to get back into the game, despite Stephan El Shaarawy's late strike.

Milan boss Stefano Pioli praised the courage of with his team, who moved back level on points with Napoli at the top of the Serie A table after the win.

"We played with character, with our ideas and approach," Pioli told DAZN.

"Roma are a quality side, we did very well with 11 against 11, kept trying to score more goals and that is the character we need in such important games.

"We're going through a positive period of form, so we’ve got to ride this wave, be courageous and confident, so I am very happy."

Milan forward Olivier Giroud is focused on winning Serie A with the Rossoneri as he targets league success.

A Champions League victor in 2020-21 before leaving Chelsea for Milan, Giroud has not won a league crown since conquering Ligue 1 with Montpellier in 2011-12.

Milan – without a Scudetto since 2011 – are level atop the Serie A table alongside Napoli through nine rounds after their enthralling 4-2 win at nine-man Bologna last week.

"I used to say football is an everlasting new beginning and you must always be ready for the next challenge," France international Giroud, who has three goals in five Serie A appearances this season, told Football Ramble podcast.

"That's one of my regrets in my career, it's not to have finished the job by winning the European Cup with France at home to Portugal. Another is not winning the Premier League with Arsenal or Chelsea.

"I still have a lot of hopes regarding winning another league with my new club and I am focused on it."

Stefano Pioli oversaw his 100th match in charge of Milan across all competitions following Saturday's triumph over Bologna.

He has won 56 of those games, exactly as many as Massimiliano Allegri had recorded with the Rossoneri after the same tally of games.

"This might sound like a threat for someone, but I expect to reach at least another 100 more," Milan head coach Pioli said.

Milan have won eight of their opening nine games of a Serie A season for the second time in their history – previously in 1954-55.

Pioli's Milan, meanwhile, have equalled their record of away wins in a single calendar year in Serie A thanks to 14 victories, as in 1964.

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.