Stefano Pioli says Zlatan Ibrahimovic has a "fire within him" after he marked his return from injury on Sunday with a goal in Milan's 2-0 win over Lazio.

Ibrahimovic – making his return to action following a knee injury sustained in May – was introduced as a substitute in the 60th minute and wasted little time making an impact, tapping in just seven minutes later to double his side's advantage.

They had earlier gone ahead thanks to Rafael Leao's second goal of the season, while Franck Kessie saw a penalty crash back off the crossbar in first-half stoppage time.

The result means Milan have won their first three Serie A fixtures in consecutive seasons for the first time in the Italian top flight.

Ibrahimovic will turn 40 next month, but Rossoneri boss Pioli insists his age will be no barrier to him enjoying another successful season at San Siro.

"Zlatan hadn't played for four months, so I'm glad he scored a goal and will get stronger in the next games," he told DAZN.

"He has this fire within him. The way he battles in training as well as games, all aiming to be the best. You don't feel the years when you do that."

 

Leao has already scored a third of his Serie A tally from last season, with his strike against Lazio coming from a joint game-high three shots.

While Pioli is expecting big things from the Portuguese forward, he urged him to sharpen up on his finishing.

"Rafa was already a strength for this team last season, but he's still 22 years old. It's only his third campaign in Italy, the second working with me," he added.

"He needs to become more efficient in the finish, because he almost always gets past his defender and just has to finish off more of those chances."

There was drama at the full-time whistle when Lazio boss Maurizio Sarri was shown a red card for an altercation with Alexis Saelemaekers.

Sarri played down the incident but was clearly unhappy with the Belgium international's behaviour.  

"It was nothing in particular," Sarri said.

"The young lad made a gesture that you shouldn't do to older people and Ibrahimovic then calmed everything down. These things happen on the pitch."

Stefano Pioli is open to fielding Olivier Giroud alongside Zlatan Ibrahimovic this season after the Frenchman opened his Milan account with two goals against Cagliari.

Giroud curled in a delightful first-time shot to get off the mark on his San Siro bow and doubled his tally from the penalty spot in Sunday's Serie A clash as Milan ran out 4-1 winners.

With that first-half double, Giroud became the first player to score multiple times in his first home league match for the Rossoneri since Mario Balotelli in February 2013.

Ibrahimovic has been Milan's go-to man up top when fit since returning to the Italian club in January 2020, but the veteran striker is currently sidelined with a knee injury sustained in May.

Pioli hopes to have Ibrahimovic back after the international break in two weeks' time, however, and he is not against tweaking formation to pair the Swede with Giroud in attack.

"I am very open to all situations," Milan head coach Pioli told DAZN. "I'll take it one game at a time to pick the best line-up for that match. 

"When we have the need for two strikers, I will not hesitate to use them together. I just hope to have everyone back to full fitness."

 

Ibrahimovic watched from the stands as Giroud added to goals from Sandro Tonali and Rafael Leao, which came either side of Alessandro Deiola's temporary equaliser in the first half.

Milan scored four-plus goals in the opening half of a Serie A fixture for the first time since November 2011.

Asked if he is looking forward to linking up with former Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester United striker Ibrahimovic, Giroud said: "He is a great champion and very important in the locker room. 

"We want to play together, but I am happy playing with any of my team-mates. It doesn't matter who plays, it's important to respect the decisions of the coach."

It was the first time Giroud has scored a league brace since April 2018, for Chelsea against Southampton, and the 34-year-old revelled in the manner his home debut turned out.

"I'm very proud to play for Milan and in a stadium like San Siro," he told DAZN. "I'm happy with the team performance because we started the game playing our style of football. 

"We really connected on the pitch and could've scored more, while the support from the fans was incredible."

Giroud has inherited the number nine shirt at Milan, which is one of the most iconic jerseys in football but has more recently become a poisoned chalice of sorts.

Mario Mandzukic, Krzysztof Piatek and Gonzalo Higuain have all failed to live up to its reputation, yet Giroud is unfazed by the weight of expectation.

"I heard there was something special about the number nine shirt, but I am not superstitious," he said. "I believe in myself and my abilities. 

"As a kid, I watched Marco van Basten, Jean-Pierre Papin and Filippo Inzaghi wear this shirt, so it makes me happy to be here now."

Milan have won their opening two Serie A games this season, just like they did last time out, but face a tough run of games upon their return to action next month.

The Rossoneri meet a Lazio side sitting top of the division on goal difference and rivals Juventus in their next two league matches, either side of kicking off their Champions League return with a trip to Liverpool.

"We've got a remarkable run of games coming up after the break, so we need to keep this mentality and enthusiasm," Pioli said.

"If we really want a positive future, we must treat everyone as first-choice players. We're missing some at the moment, a couple more might arrive, but we must train the way we want to play and play the way we train.

"We are getting used to playing entertaining football and enjoying ourselves, but we must also remember that the great teams are also capable of winning ugly."

Stefano Pioli insisted Milan are well-equipped to challenge for the Serie A title after they made a winning start to the season.

Milan launched their campaign with a 1-0 victory over Sampdoria at the Luigi Ferraris Stadium, where Brahim Diaz netted the decisive goal after just nine minutes on Monday.

Pioli handed a debut to new signing and goalkeeper Mike Maignan, while Olivier Giroud also made his bow in the absence of injured talisman Zlatan Ibrahimovic up front.

Despite injury ruling out Franck Kessie, Rade Krunic produced an assured performance in midfield and there was no change allowed from the central defensive pairing of Simon Kjaer and Fikayo Tomori – the pair helping the Rossoneri keep a sixth consecutive clean sheet, their longest run without conceding in the league since February 1994.

Having finished 12 points behind rivals and champions Inter last season, Milan – who have won 11 away Serie A fixtures since the start of 2021, the joint-most in the top-five European leagues, alongside Manchester City and Barcelona – are aiming to go one step better this term and claim a first Scudetto in 11 years.

Milan head coach Pioli is encouraged by the competitive nature and depth within his squad following matchday one.

"I'm happy to have won and to have chased the second goal," he told Sky Sport Italia.

"I like how the team interpreted the game. We have always looked for the goal and this is the right mentality.

"Aside from [Franck] Kessie's injury, I knew we had prepared well.

"We are becoming a strong team with a lot of competitiveness in the group. We know so many ways to play.

"There's a lot of balance now. I don't like limitations. I know I coach a strong team. Just think of the players who were out tonight.

"Maybe the right word is ready; this is the most ready Milan."

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is poised to give Milan a huge early-season lift by roaring back into action.

The extroverted striker is just weeks away from returning to full team training after the knee injury that forced him to miss Sweden's Euro 2020 campaign.

Head coach Stefano Pioli knows a fit Ibrahimovic can transform his team, as was proven when he scored 15 goals in his first 15 Serie A games of last season.

He netted at one goal every 79.47 minutes during that run, and even though his scoring then dried up, the veteran remains a talisman with the Rossoneri.

Asked about Ibrahimovic's condition, Pioli said in a news conference on Sunday: "Physically, he is certainly looking better, even though he's not begun full training with the team and he's forcing things a little bit.

"Next week will be very important for him because he needs to start ball work and that's what he's been missing.

"So we'll see next week whether he's able to actually train with us, and during the international break he might be able to be fit and available.

"I think his role is always the same: Zlatan is a charismatic leader in terms of his character. He's a leader on the pitch as well, he really is the benchmark for everyone.

"He's a significant figure. He's very motivated."

 

Ibrahimovic stands eighth on the list of top scorers across all competitions over the past 10 seasons, among players competing in Europe's top five leagues.

That is all the more impressive given his goals across two seasons with LA Galaxy are not counted in his total of 247 strikes, and Pioli will know Milan carried a unique threat when Ibrahimovic was on hand last term.

They won 66.7 per cent of games where he started (12 of 18) and that dipped slightly to 60 per cent when Ibrahimovic was not in Pioli's XI.

Milan begin their 2021-22 season against Sampdoria on Monday, then face Cagliari next weekend, and those may be the only games Ibrahimovic has to miss, if Pioli's fitness forecast proves accurate.

"He's fit and firing mentally," Pioli said of the player who turns 40 in October.

"He's a player that can still be a matchwinner for the team, for himself. So he's very motivated and can't wait to get back into full training with his team-mates.

"The same goes for me: I can't wait to get him back on the training ground."

Stefano Pioli feels team spirit will be "crucial" ahead of the 2021-22 campaign and he pointed towards Simon Kjaer and Zlatan Ibrahimovic as the men who lead by example at Milan.

Having been appointed in 2019, with the Rossoneri slumped in 13th in Serie A, Pioli guided his side up to 6th at the end of the campaign before a second-place finish last season – their joint-highest since winning the Scudetto in 2010-11.

Simon Kjaer, who ranked second among Milan defenders for aerial duels won (55) and first for interceptions (42) in 2020-21, was a standout performer as the Rossoneri undertook something of a transformation under Pioli.

And after Kjaer's heroics at Euro 2020, involving the potentially life-saving actions he performed to deal with Christian Eriksen's concerning collapse against Finland, Pioli appeared unsurprised by the Dane's clarity of mind.

"I already knew the value of Kjaer. He is a man of rare intelligence and sensitivity," the head coach told Italian newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano.

"He used those qualities to save a friend. He was lucid and precise even in such a dramatic situation."

But Pioli was not just full of praise for Kjaer, as he shifted his focus to define the important role that Ibrahimovic plays for the Rossoneri.

The 39-year-old netted 15 times during the last Serie A campaign, though it is the forward's presence off the pitch that the former Inter head coach sees as a great aid.

"Ibrahimovic has helped me a lot, he is an example in everything he does. He demands the best from himself and the others. Zlatan and Simon [Kjaer] have changed the team, not just technically, but especially in the moral sense," Pioli added.

Milan, who play Serie C side Modena on Saturday, are well underway with their pre-season plans as they prepare to compete in the Champions League for the first time since 2013-14.

The signings of Olivier Giroud, Fikayo Tomori and Sandro Tonali – the latter pair making their loan deals permanent – will only further develop an already strong squad, and Pioli is looking forward to the season ahead.

"We must not set limits for ourselves, but it will be a difficult season because there will be seven teams fighting for the top four," the head coach said.

"The group is crucial, Italy won the Euros because you could see the team spirit in their eyes. You don't win with tactics, you win by putting the group ahead of yourself."

Milan announced the re-signing of Real Madrid's Brahim Diaz on Monday on a two-year loan deal and the 21-year-old feels the Rossoneri can compete to achieve "great" things under Stefano Pioli.

Diaz spent the 2020-21 campaign on a season-long loan at the San Siro, managing four goals and three assists in 27 Serie A outings, 17 of which Pioli's men ran out victors in.

Formerly of Manchester City, Milan's loanee is aware of the pressures that come with a club like the Rossoneri but he insists he will not shy away from the battle next campaign.

"I'll give my all to show my talent and I'll give my blood, sweat and tears for this great club", Diaz told the in-house media on Tuesday.

"I'll fight to make it a great season. I've learnt how important Milan are and this season I hope to have an even better season. Last season was great, but this is a new season.

"Milan deserves a team worthy of the club. I am confident we are all ready to do our best and achieve great things."

Last campaign, out of the forwards at the San Siro, Diaz (1.31) ranked second behind Ante Rebic (1.77) for chances created from open play per 90 minutes.

The Spaniard (0.81) was also the most fouled player in the final third for Milan to frequently offer the likes of Theo Hernandez and Hakan Calhanoglu set-piece opportunities.

 

Diaz also spoke highly of Pioli, who guided Milan to second last season, their highest Serie A finish since their Scudetto-winning performance in the 2010-11 season.

"Our success was thanks to coach Pioli. He created a good team from the experienced players and young players who are growing," Diaz added.

"We have all learnt a lot from the coach, he taught me a lot and, under his guidance, last season we had a good season.

"Now we must improve and in the coach's hands, we certainly will."

Milan have handed defender Davide Calabria a new four-year contract.

Calabria has spent over six years in Milan's first team, making 151 appearances, and has now extended his stay until 2025.

The 24-year-old only had one year left on his previous contract, meaning the new deal is a three-year extension.

Academy product Calabria played 32 Serie A games last season, 30 of which were starts, with both of those figures being career highs.

"AC Milan is delighted to announce the contract extension of Davide Calabria until June 30th 2025," the club said in a statement on Friday.

 

Stefano Pioli's men finished second in Serie A last season and have already had a busy transfer market.

They completed the signing of Sandro Tonali on a five-year deal from Brescia on Thursday, the midfielder having spent last season on loan with the Rossoneri.

Pioli has urged the club to strengthen his squad if they are to be a force next season and insisted Franck Kessie is happy at San Siro amid speculation over his future.

He is hoping not to lose any more stars after Gianluigi Donnarumma departed at the end of his contract and Hakan Calhanoglu joined city rivals Inter in a surprise move.

In the other direction, Fikayo Tomori returned to San Siro in a permanent deal from Chelsea and Lille goalkeeper Mike Maignan replaced Italy international Donnarumma.

Milan have completed the signing of Sandro Tonali on a five-year deal from Brescia.

The midfielder spent last season on loan with the Rossoneri, making 37 appearances for Stefano Pioli's side.

Milan had the option to buy the 21-year-old and on Thursday confirmed an agreement has been struck with the Serie B club.

Pioli earlier stated that the club must strengthen their squad to be a force next season and Franck Kessie is happy at San Siro amid speculation over his future.

The Rossoneri finished second in Serie A last seaon but have since seen Gianluigi Donnarumma depart at the end of his contract and Hakan Calhanoglu join city rivals Inter.

Fikayo Tomori returned to San Siro in a permanent deal from Chelsea and Lille goalkeeper Mike Maignan replaced Italy international Donnarumma.

Milan head coach Pioli wants more new faces to take the club to another level, but knows he will have to be patient.

He said in a press conference on Thursday: "The club and all of us want Milan to be competitive, we need to give continuity to our work, we want to improve the quality of our players and raise the level of the team.

"We start today on July 8, I would prefer to have the whole squad today but I know that the market is long.

"It is clear that both the club and I want to make Milan a competitive team, giving continuity to what we are doing.

"Our journey started a year and a half ago and we want to grow further. To do this we know we must try to improve the level of the team."

Ivory Coast midfielder Kessie is in the final year of his contract and has been linked with the likes of Chelsea and Tottenham but Pioli is not concerned about losing the 24-year-old.

Asked about the prospect of Kessie signing a new deal, he said: "These are club things. We all know how important Franck is and how happy he is to be at Milan.

"Franck has grown a lot, we talk about him but the others have also grown. He can still do a lot, both I and the club know how important Franck is, I have already heard it. First he rested, then married, now he will go with the national team."

 

Pioli says there is no point in Milan dwelling on losing Donnarumma, who is set to join PSG, or Calhanoglu.

He added: "We have to look forward and not back. I am attached to them for what they did last year, but now we are only thinking about the new season."

Milan returned to training on Thursday but Zlatan Ibrahimovic is not expected to join in with the group for a couple of weeks as he recovers from knee surgery.

Milan head coach Stefano Pioli said his side deserved to finish second in Serie A after securing their long-awaited Champions League return with a 2-0 win at Atalanta on Sunday.

Pioli's Milan led Serie A in the first half of the 2020-21 season but faded, before restoring second spot, only to draw 0-0 at home with Cagliari in the penultimate round to leave their top-four hopes up in the air in a three-way fight with rivals Juventus and Napoli.

Franck Kessie scored a double from the spot as Milan got the decisive win to leapfrog Atalanta as Serie A runners-up and secure their first Champions League berth since 2013-14.

Kessie became the first player to score 10-plus penalties for Milan in a Serie A season since Zlatan Ibrahimovic in 2011-12.

"We achieved it because we deserved it and we deserved second place in the standings," he told Sky Sport Italia.

"It was right, unfortunately we had thrown away last Sunday's match point. I am really excited and happy."

Milan's runner-up placing was their best since finishing the 2012-13 Serie A season in third.

Pioli also hailed the Rossoneri for their collective effort to overcome the loss of veteran top scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic to injuries for large periods of the second half of the campaign.

"It is all we have done together, the strength not to break down in difficulties," Pioli said. "I am very proud of the mental growth of the group.

"We played with Zlatan only 19 out of 38 games, taking away the champion from the other teams for half the season I would like to see what they would do.

"I also thought that if we were fifth it would be a difficult summer. Now we enjoy it and then we will leave again."

Milan also finished the 2020-21 league season with double the number of wins on the road compared to at home.

They set a new all-time record for away wins in a Serie A season: 16 – no side have ever done better in the top-five European leagues in a single campaign (16 also for Real Madrid in 2011-12 and Manchester City in 2017-18).

"We asked ourselves, we tried to evaluate this situation well," he said. "We weren't a team that made a lot of one-on-ones in the last quarter of the pitch.

"We miss the individual play when the teams close, in this data we are below average. We lacked some individual play. On the road, perhaps we found some more space, this is a situation that we will have to evaluate.

"I heard that this team took advantage of the absence of fans in the stadiums at least initially to find serenity, but I'm sure this team here with the enthusiasm of our fans at San Siro would have grown a lot."

Milan head coach Stefano Pioli urged his players not to think about what could have been had they beaten Cagliari, with Serie A's top-four race going down to the last day.

Pioli's Milan would have sealed Champions League qualification with a victory at San Siro on Sunday, but were held to a goalless draw, failing to beat Cagliari for the first time in a home league match since October 1999.

It was also Milan's first 0-0 draw in Serie A in 56 games, since January 2020, while it marked the first time the Rossoneri have failed to score against Cagliari at San Siro in the top flight in just under 24 years.

Without the injured Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Milan managed just two of their 21 attempts on target, and goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma – making potentially his last appearance as a Milan player at San Siro with his contract due to expire at the end of the season – had to make two fantastic stops at the other end.

The draw leaves Milan – who have not featured in the Champions League since 2013-14 – on 76 points, one ahead of fifth-placed Juventus and on level pegging with third-placed Napoli.

Milan face second-placed Atalanta, already sure of a Champions League place, in their final game of the season, with Juve facing Bologna and Napoli playing Hellas Verona.

"There's no point thinking about what might've been. We have to focus on the next match," Pioli, whose team had beaten Torino and Juve 7-0 and 3-0 respectively in their previous outings, told Sky Sport Italia.

"We weren't at the level of our recent performances, in terms of tempo and quality. We had the game of a lifetime against Juventus, then with Torino, so it's another of those with Atalanta. We go again.

"We knew a win would finish it, so there was some tension, some fear, some misplaced confidence that we could win by playing ugly, but we have to fight for every point.

"We should've moved the ball quicker and created more advantageous situations, that's just it.

"We've done great things this season, there is a disappointment this evening and we know Atalanta are the only side we've been unable to beat during my tenure at Milan."

Asked if missing out on the Champions League would be a failure, considering Milan's fine start to the season, Pioli said: "With the way we played, all we did and how much we've grown over the year, failing to reach the top four would certainly be disappointing.

"It would still not be a failure, because I feel we laid the foundations to get there very soon in the future and it was an aim at the start of the season, but definitely not an obligation."

Ibrahimovic was on the sidelines, but his season is over, while he will also not feature for Sweden at the rescheduled Euro 2020.

"We need to remember that people said we were entirely dependent on Zlatan, then after two games they said we play better without him. Neither of those are true," Pioli added.

"We needed someone who was ready to play as a centre-forward when Ibra was out, but unfortunately [Mario] Mandzukic had various different issues and was rarely available."

Stefano Pioli says Milan's 7-0 rout of Torino was another example of their "great growth" and challenged his side to reap what they have sown by securing a Champions League spot.

The Rossoneri tore Torino to pieces in a ruthless rout at the Stadio Olimpico Grande Torino on Wednesday, moving above Napoli into third place in Serie A with two games to play.

Ante Rebic - starting in place of the injured Zlatan Ibrahimovic - scored a quickfire second-half hat-trick and Theo Hernandez was on target in both halves with brilliant finishes as magnificent Milan ran riot three days after beating Juventus 3-0 in Turin.

Franck Kessie was on target from the penalty spot and Brahim Diaz scored one of the five goals Milan scored in a devastating second-half display.

Milan are three points clear of fifth-placed Juve - who beat Sassuolo 3-1 - in the battle for a top-four finish and Pioli says they must finish off the job.

The head coach told Milan TV: "Thinking of winning the game with such a clear result was difficult, but we wanted another concrete performance like the one against Juventus. 

"We are happy with this, but we have to continue like this because we have not done anything yet."

Pioli says two huge results in Turin in quick succession demonstrated the strides his side have made.

"The team is mature and this is the sign of a growth made up of ups and downs that are natural because we are a young team," he added.

"Everything has served and now we have to reap what we have sown. 

"We had to face two difficult and important trips and having faced them with the right mental attitude is a symptom of great growth."

Victory for Milan was their 15th away from home in Serie A this season, matching a record set by Inter in the 2006-07 campaign.

It was the first time for 20 years they have scored six or more times in a Serie A away match, with the last occasion coming when they humiliated Inter 6-0.

Milan face Cagliari on Sunday before finishing their campaign with a trip to second-placed Atalanta.

Stefano Pioli warned his Milan players against complacency after they took a significant stride towards Champions League qualification with a resounding 3-0 win over top-four rivals Juventus on Sunday. 

Brahim Diaz opened the scoring on the stroke of half-time before Franck Kessie missed the opportunity to double their advantage shortly before the hour mark, when Wojciech Szczesny pawed away his penalty. 

It mattered little in the end, though, as substitute Ante Rebic and Fikayo Tomori sealed a first away Serie A win against the Bianconeri since March 2011 inside the final 12 minutes. 

The victory was Milan's 14th away from home in the league this season, with only Inter in 2006-07 (15) registering more in a single campaign in the history of the competition. 

Pioli was thrilled with his side's efforts, but says they need to quickly turn their focus to Wednesday, when they return to Turin to face Torino. 

"This was a team that believed, that showed a spirit of sacrifice, that gave it's all and showed quality, too," he told Sky Sport Italia.  

"We want to thank our fans, who really moved us this morning with their support, but now we have another game coming up and that might be even more difficult than this."

The win moved the Rossoneri up to third in the table, three points above Juve, who dropped down to fifth with just three games remaining. 

Pioli hailed the determination of his team after they scored three goals away to Juve for the first time since January 2010. 

"We have had big wins this season, but admittedly this was a head-to-head, with the table so tight and so much in the balance," he added. "Unfortunately, it is not the final game of the season so we still have to keep going.

"When it comes to determination, team spirit and preparation to sacrifice, we were perhaps the best team in Italy for a long period of time.

"There was inevitably some mental fatigue after a long campaign, but we knew that today we had to step it up and put in a different performance.

"When it was time to make challenges and fight for every ball, we did not hold back."

Rebic replaced Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the 66th minute, the Sweden international limping off with a knee injury. 

Pioli, though, is confident it is nothing serious. 

"Zlatan was not at 100 per cent, he had half a training session with us on Friday, but he wanted to be here at all costs," he said. 

"He has a sore knee, but I don't think it's anything serious. We'll evaluate it."

Gianluigi Donnarumma is set to start against reported suitors Juventus in a mammoth match for Champions League chasers Milan on Sunday.

The 22-year-old goalkeeper has made more Serie A appearances than any other player (211) since his Rossoneri debut in 2015, but supporters unhappy with stalled contract negotiations had reportedly demanded he miss this weekend's game.

An exchange between Donnarumma and a section of fans was said to have left the keeper in tears.

Talk of an offer from Juve for Donnarumma, whose existing deal expires at the end of the season, was seemingly a particular point of contention.

Technical director Paolo Maldini subsequently halted discussions but insisted supporters could have no say in who represented Milan on the pitch.

Speaking on Saturday, Stefano Pioli said he would act in the best interests of the club, seemingly assuring a start for the keeper who ranks second for saves (609) and penalty saves (eight) in his Serie A career.

"At the moment, certainly all of Milan, we all have only one goal here: Milan's interest, not personal interest," Pioli said.

"They have always sweated. For this reason, I think it is right to support them, regardless of how it will go and the future of each of us.

"We are focused only on the match and finishing the championship well."

Asked if he had spoken to Donnarumma, whose save percentage has dipped to 68.9 this term, Pioli replied: "I talked to him, as with everyone.

"We talked about the match, what it is and about the strategy, how we have to interpret it. He and everyone is focused on giving their best."

Milan entered the weekend fourth, level on points with Juve in third, but could be fifth by the time they kick off.

Since their most recent Scudetto win in 2011, no side have lost to the Bianconeri in Serie A as often as Milan (15 times).

Pioli is confident their top-four hopes are not pinned solely on the outcome of this weekend's match, however.

"Whoever wins has a great chance of going to the Champions League, but it doesn't finish tomorrow night," he said. "Another nine points is a lot.

"We have two direct clashes from here to the end. We are masters of our destiny. If we win them, we have huge chances.

"The calendar is like this, it's strange to see a midweek round with two rounds to go. For now, we only think about tomorrow.

"We are on equal points, they have quality, but we do, too.

"It would be very important and exceptional to win in Turin against Juve. We will have to give our all. There will be difficulties, but we must work to resolve our mistakes."

He added: "It can be [a turning point]. I don't know if it will be so decisive for the future as well, certainly, however, [it can be] for our moment and for what we hope to achieve, to return to high levels.

"A positive result would give us the confidence and conviction to reach our goal. I see a mentally prepared team."

Real Madrid and Kylian Mbappe – the two parties have long been tipped to come together.

Mbappe is out of contract at Paris Saint-Germain in 2022 and no closer to renewing his deal.

Madrid are reportedly moving closer to prising the France international to the Spanish capital.

 

TOP STORY – MBAPPE POISED FOR MADRID MOVE?

Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe is edging closer to joining LaLiga giants Real Madrid, according to Diario AS.

Mbappe has long been tipped to swap PSG for Madrid, though the Ligue 1 holds continue to try to re-sign the World Cup-winning forward.

PSG's Mbappe is determined to win the Champions League as he eyes the Santiago Bernabeu.


 

ROUND-UP

- Le Parisien, though, claims PSG are holding out hope on teaming Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi with Mbappe and Neymar in Paris. Messi is set to become a free agent at the end of the season and he has been linked with PSG and Manchester City. Neymar has also been linked with a Barca return. However, Le Parisien reports PSG are prioritising a move for Messi while trying to retain Neymar and Mbappe.

Lautaro Martinez is on the verge of signing a new contract with Serie A champions Inter, says Gazzetta dello Sport. The Inter forward has been linked with Barca previously.

- Tuttosport reports star Milan goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma is a primary transfer target for Serie A rivals Juventus. Donnarumma is out of contract at the end of the season and the Italy international has not agreed fresh terms with Milan.

Borussia Dortmund will ask for less than €100million (£86m) to sell Jadon Sancho amid interest from United, Chelsea and Liverpool, says Fabrizio Romano.

- The Mirror says Liverpool are eyeing Roma star Lorenzo Pellegrini as incoming Giallorossi boss Jose Mourinho looks to overhaul the squad in the Italian capital. The front page of Thursday's Gazzetto dello Sport, meanwhile, claims Mourinho is looking to bring Manchester United midfielder Nemanja Matic and Madrid's Isco to Roma.

- Soon-to-be free agent and City star Sergio Aguero is dreaming of a Barcelona move, according to Romano. InterTottenham and Chelsea have also emerged as options for the veteran forward.

Maurizio Sarri is a candidate to take charge of Milan if Stefano Pioli fails to guide the Rossoneri into the Champions League, claims Gazzetta dello Sport. Sarri was reportedly set to join Roma before Mourinho's appointment.

- Rennes sensation Eduardo Camavinga, Sassuolo's Manuel Locatelli and Mikel Merino of Real Sociedad are on Barca's shortlist to replace Sergio Busquets, reports Mundo Deportivo.

Hakan Calhanoglu needs to score more goals if he is to reach his full potential, according to Milan head coach Stefano Pioli.

The Turkey international scored his fourth Serie A goal of the campaign on Saturday as Milan bounced back from consecutive defeats to beat Benevento 2-0 at San Siro.

That goal means Calhanoglu became the fourth Turkish player to score 50 goals in the top five European leagues since the turn of the millennium after Mevlut Erdinc (92), Nihat Kahveci (76) and Halil Altintop (67).

He is still five goals away from his top-flight total from last season and Pioli wants to see more from the 27-year-old in that department.

"In my view, Calhanoglu has not yet achieved his maximum potential. He provides quality, solidity, hard work, he plays with the team," Pioli told DAZN.

"He just needs to be a little more precise on assists and the final ball, keep his head up and check for the options.

"I think he must be motivated to score more goals because with the talent he has, he should set himself much higher targets and aim for double figures."

Zlatan Ibrahimovic made his first appearance for the Rossoneri since he received a red card in the 3-1 win over Parma on April 10 and he was in typically industrious form.

The Sweden international had seven shots – four more than any other player on the pitch – while he contested three more duels than any other Milan player (13).

Despite not finding the back of the net, Pioli was pleased with the 39-year-old's contribution.

"Ibrahimovic is a champion and a champion makes everyone around him raise their game," the Milan boss said.

"Missing him was certainly damaging to the team, but we have reacted to the difficulties and showed character.

"It's an advantage not to give the opposition defence a regular point to focus on, so Zlatan has this great tactical intelligence and knows how to move around trying to find the space."

The result moved Milan a point in front of Atalanta and three ahead of Napoli and Juventus into second place, but all three rival sides have a game in hand to play on Sunday.

Pioli takes his side to Juve next weekend in what will be a crunch game for his side's hopes of qualifying for next season's Champions League.

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