Stefano Pioli is adamant Milan possess the quality to compete with Chelsea in Tuesday's crucial Champions League clash at San Siro.

While the Rossoneri are going well on the domestic front, sitting three points behind Serie A leaders Napoli after Saturday's 2-0 win over Juventus, they have struggled on the European stage this term.

Milan suffered their heaviest Champions League group-stage defeat when they lost 3-0 at Stamford Bridge last Wednesday, leaving them third in Group E after three games.

The Italian giants have also lost four of their last five games at home to English teams in the Champions League (W1), and are winless in their last five European meetings with Chelsea (D3 L2).

However, Pioli is confident they can test the Blues this time around, saying: "It is the identity and the quality with which you play the game that can make the difference. 

"Tomorrow we face a team that just over a year ago won the Champions League, which has strengthened itself, which has international level players, so it is clear that our level will have to be high if we want to compete and try to win the game. 

"I believe that my players have the qualities to stay at that level, as long as we can play a game of attention, determination, trying to be as precise as possible because, in addition to their qualities, Chelsea have been able to make the most of our mistakes. 

"The fact that we played against them only a week ago helps us, in the sense that we were able to analyse the game well. I expect an improvement in dynamism, in personality."

Graham Potter is yet to lose a game as Chelsea head coach since replacing Thomas Tuchel last month, recording three wins and one draw with the Blues, but Pioli hopes Milan's home advantage could prove decisive.

"It seems to me that at this moment they, with the new coach, have found certain positions on the pitch that are giving them very good results," Pioli added.

"I don't think there is a warmer stadium than ours right now. We have fans who really push and support us and we feel it. Of course, I hope to be able to bring this to the pitch."

Fikayo Tomori challenged his team-mates to show the "real Milan" when they face Chelsea in the Champions League on Tuesday after losing comprehensively in London last week.

Former Chelsea defender Tomori did not enjoy the happy homecoming he might have dreamt of at Stamford Bridge last Wednesday, as Milan were beaten 3-0.

That was Milan's heaviest group-stage defeat in Champions League history, as the Rossoneri barely laid a glove on their hosts.

Milan had just four attempts at goal. Only twice since at least the 2003-04 season have Chelsea faced fewer shots in a Champions League game, with Malmo managing two in October last year and Galatasaray tallying three in 2014.

Stefano Pioli's side responded on Saturday with a 2-0 win over Juventus in Serie A, Tomori getting one of the goals, and he is eager for the defending Italian champions to produce a performance more befitting of their status when Chelsea visit San Siro.

"After Chelsea I was angry and I wanted to give everything on the pitch, then I scored and I felt this [intense] feeling: I was excited and happy," he told reporters when asked about his passionate celebration on Saturday.

"I wanted to cancel out the game in London, and scoring was a good feeling.

"[The Chelsea defeat] was a bad game for us, we didn't play as usual or as I've become used to seeing over the last year and a half.

"But we managed to react positively, playing an excellent match against Juve. This allowed us to ward off the defeat against Chelsea and we are here to take our revenge.

"I always [try to] do my best in every match; last week I didn't succeed, but football always gives you another chance and we will try to make the most of it."

He added: "Certainly, we will show that we can do much better. We don't need motivation: we will certainly push harder.

"We want to win every match. We are angry because we didn't win in London, we want to eradicate that performance. We weren't the real Milan, it wasn't the one I've seen. We have to learn from London."

While Milan have not beaten Chelsea in Europe in five matches since 1966, the Blues are winless away to an Italian side in the Champions League going back to 2003, a run of seven games.

Chelsea lost their most recent Champions League away game on matchday one when defeated by Dinamo Zagreb, a loss that ultimately cost Thomas Tuchel his job.

Now under the guidance of Graham Potter, Chelsea have proven that was a momentary blip: Pioli hopes Milan can make a similar point.

"We have to show that [the Stamford Bridge game] was a single episode and that it cannot be normal for our level," the coach said.

"We were disappointed. [Tuesday] will be another game, but we have to learn from the situations of last week; we evaluated the mistakes, Chelsea exploited them.

"We must not be worried: yes disappointed for London, but this is another match and we must be able to play at our level."

Fikayo Tomori joked he does not purposely reserve all of his goals for Milan's clashes with Juventus after netting again in the famous fixture to help his side to a 2-0 win.

The England international opened the scoring from a few yards out in Saturday's Serie A contest after inadvertently blocking a goal-bound Olivier Giroud volley.

That was Tomori's second league goal for Milan, with the other coming in a 3-0 victory for the Rossoneri against the same opposition in May 2021.

Among players to have scored 100 per cent of their Serie A goals against Juve, Tomori is one of three to have scored more than once, alongside Luigi Carello and Francesco Duzioni.

Brahim Diaz added a second goal for Milan with a superb solo effort that started inside his own half, and Tomori says picking up all three points means more than his own rare strike.

Asked about his record against Juve, Tomori told DAZN: "It's not on purpose! Every game against Juve is important. I'm happy to score, but the most important thing is getting the three points.

"I was a little fortunate with the goal, but I'm happy with it, the clean sheet and the victory. We had a bit more determination and will try to win on Tuesday [against Chelsea]."

 

Tomori is one of three English players to have scored more than one goal against Juventus in Serie A, the others being Gerald Hitchens (three) and Tammy Abraham (two).

Juve were unhappy the opener stood due to what they felt was a foul by Theo Hernandez on Juan Cuadrado in the build-up to the corner that led to the goal, but VAR could not intervene as it was a separate phase of play.

Diaz's strike early in the second half ensured a straightforward victory for Milan, who join Napoli and Atalanta – both of whom are in action on Sunday – at the top of Serie A on 20 points.

Saturday's victory marked a return to winning ways for Milan on the back of a 3-0 loss at Chelsea in Wednesday's Champions League meeting, but Stefano Pioli's side have a chance for revenge when they reconvene at San Siro next week.

"Today's match was very intense," Pioli said. "We made too many misplaced passes in the opening 20 minutes.

"We worked as a team today, whereas unfortunately we lost our shape in London and got too intimidated by our own mistakes and the strength of the opponent. We know that if we work together, we can get positive results.

"The reason we didn't do well in London is because we were not aggressive enough and we made too many unforced errors without needing Chelsea to be aggressive in their press against us.

"This was a very important game in Serie A, as it always is between Milan and Juventus, so we had the right attitude from the start."

Stefano Pioli has called for Milan to respond to Wednesday's demoralising defeat at Chelsea when they host Juventus in a huge Serie A clash on Saturday.

Goals from Wesley Fofana, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Reece James condemned Milan to their heaviest ever Champions League group-stage loss last time out, ensuring the Rossoneri remain third in Group E.

Milan have fared better on the domestic front, however, and sit four points clear of the under-fire Bianconeri in the early-season Serie A table.

Speaking at Friday's pre-match news conference, Pioli called for Milan to set their chastening defeat at Stamford Bridge aside as he demanded defensive improvements.  

"We put the game in London behind us straight away and we'll revisit it from Sunday onwards," Pioli said. "The players are eager to react. 

"This doesn't necessarily mean we'll win because the opponents exist too, but we won't be lacking in desire, motivation and determination.

"We've conceded a few too many goals. We can do better, and Chelsea did well to make the most of our mistakes the other night. 

"When there are simple situations, a team of our quality needs to be more attentive. We're a bit more of an attacking side than last year, but I don't think that it can be put down to this.

"Often, we have the numerical superiority, and we can interpret certain situations better."

Milan's last home outing saw them lose to Serie A leaders Napoli, ending a six-match winning streak at San Siro in the competition. The Rossoneri have never lost successive home league games under Pioli.

Meanwhile, Pioli has defended young forward Charles De Ketelaere, who has yet to score since joining from Club Brugge, comparing his early struggles to those of Rafael Leao and Sandro Tonali.

"He's on the right path, and I'm happy with what he's doing. I remember Rafa three years ago and Tonali in his first year," Pioli said.

"Many were quick to criticise them and question their qualities. Charles is talented and needs time to adapt and learn about certain situations, but he's on the right path."

Although Juventus have made an underwhelming start to the new campaign, they have lost just four Serie A games in 2022, and Pioli expects a stern test.

"During a season, there are two or three games that carry more weight, and going up against Juventus is of particular importance for many reasons," Pioli said.

"We're all responsible for the performance in London, and we're determined to show that we're a different team compared to the one that showed up on Wednesday."

Juventus boss Massimiliano Allegri urged his under-fire team to manage their nerves ahead of Saturday's trip to Serie A champions Milan.

Juve have only won three of their eight Serie A matches this season, and Allegri has faced severe criticism with the Bianconeri already seven points behind leaders Napoli.

While Allegri's team boosted their Champions League hopes by beating Maccabi Haifa on Wednesday, they go to San Siro having failed to win any of their three away league games this term.

Should they fail to beat the Rossoneri, it will be just the second time they have started a Serie A season with a four-match winless run on the road, having done so in 1993-94.

Allegri believes his team's problems are primarily psychological, saying: "The other day I was reflecting, we made a mistake with Salernitana [in a 2-2 draw last month], regardless of what happened at the end.

"We got too nervous and it doesn't have to happen any more, because the championship is long. 

"We wasted a lot of energy and we arrived at Monza not in the ideal conditions to get the three points that would have changed the standings.

"The most important thing is to give continuity, tomorrow is a great game and we have to play it. We need a high level of performance. 

"However, they have a strong team, with technical and very fast players. They have [Rafael] Leao who can shift the balance, then they play in front of their fans and San Siro pushes them when full.

"You need personality and clarity. It will be a good test.

"It is Milan-Juventus, we play against the Italian champions and it will be more difficult than usual because they come from a bad defeat [3-0 to Chelsea], and they will want to make up for it."

Allegri led Milan to the Scudetto in the 2010-11 season, but Stefano Pioli ended the Rossoneri's 11-year wait to replicate that triumph in May.

The Juventus boss heaped praise on his counterpart as he added: "He is doing better [than myself], because they have four points more than us. 

"I can only congratulate Pioli for the work he is doing, for the championship he won last year, which they haven't won since 2011. The numbers are all on his side."

Milan have avoided defeat in four of their last five Serie A meetings with Juventus (W2 L2), having lost 13 of their previous 14 league games against them (W1).

Milan manager Stefano Pioli rued his side's poor play in Wednesday's 3-0 loss against Chelsea, saying the kind of mistakes made by his team "cannot be committed in the Champions League".

The scoring was opened by Chelsea's big-money signing in the middle of defence, with Wesley Fofana scrapping home a loose ball in the box following a corner in the 24th minute.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Reece James then put the game to bed in the second half with goals in the 56th and 61st minutes respectively, and they were able to restrict the visiting Italians to one shot on target for the entire game.

Pioli lamented his side's mistakes, saying teams in the Champions League will always punish you.

"Errors? It is true that they cannot be committed in the Champions League," he told reporters. "We forced choices that weren't forced. We have lost our distance. It is a pity because, beyond their qualities, we could have done something more. 

"It has nothing to do with little experience, it has nothing to do with those who were not there. We had to be more lucid, in ball recovery and aggression, we had to do better.

"The second goal changed our attitude, our mentality. We weren't able to stay as a team as we usually do. At these levels you pay dearly for these things."

He added on Sky Sports: "We had to do better. It's clear that when you make so many technical mistakes you allow opponents to put you in difficulty. 

"I think the team was ready to play this type of match. There were spaces to be more precise and we gave too much field to the opponents. 

"Defeats must help us grow. The locker room was rightly disappointed and angry, but this will give us great motivation and drive."

This result leaves Chelsea and Milan both on four points in Group E, trailing undefeated Salzburg (one win, two draws).

The defeat marked the sixth time in the competition that Milan have lost by three goals or more and the first time since March 2014 against Atletico Madrid.

Milan striker Olivier Giroud believes it will be a "special game" when he lines up against former club Chelsea in the Champions League.

Giroud returns to Stamford Bridge for the first time since departing the Blues on a free transfer at the end of the 2020-21 season.

The 36-year-old spent three-and-a-half years with the Premier League side; scoring 39 goals in 119 appearances across all competitions.

He notably scored 11 times - then the highest tally by a French player during a single European season - as Chelsea won the Europa League in 2019, while adding another six during their Champions League-winning campaign two years later.

And Giroud is excited to be returning to the English capital, where he also scored 105 goals in 253 appearances for Arsenal between 2012 and 2018.

"I think it'll be a special game for the team because it's a great Champions League match-up," the France international told Milan Channel.

"It's also personally for me, as I spent nine years in London playing for Arsenal and Chelsea, so I expect it to be a great game.

"It's always a pleasure when the people you met while playing for your former clubs have so much respect for you, also because I want to be seen not only as a good player on the pitch, but also a good person off it.

"I have many friends in London. Chelsea have just one point so far, so they will play aggressively and in an energetic way, aiming for the win, so we expect a tough game.

"I have a lot of hope for our Champions League journey this season. I am very proud of this squad and I think we can do well with this group of players in the Champions League.

"This match can also give the team great confidence if we win, to boost us for the next games."

Having collected four points from their opening two games, Milan will remain top of Group E with victory at Stamford Bridge, where Chelsea are targeting their first win of the campaign under Graham Potter.

Head coach Stefano Pioli has urged the Rossoneri to asset their authority on the contest as they look to launch a genuine title challenge, with the most recent of their seven triumphs coming in 2007.

"Chelsea won the Champions League a short time ago. From there, it has strengthened again, and the level is very high," he said. "But we want to try to be there, at that level.

"Chelsea changed coach, and so we’ll face a highly motivated team. Very simply, either we dominate the game, or the other team will dominate us.

"We want to take control of the match, knowing full well we are up against an opponent with great quality, who have a rapid attacking unit with good technique, so we have to be solid and focused in defence.

"What matters though is that we play with our spirit and try to attack, to be dangerous, because that’s what we can do and what we want to do.”

Milan head coach Stefano Pioli praised the way his team played with "stubbornness and determination" after two injury-time goals from Fode Ballo-Toure and Rafael Leao gave them a 3-1 victory at Empoli.

Pioli's side went in front through Ante Rebic just over 10 minutes from time, but a superb 92nd-minute free-kick from Nedim Bajrami looked to have earned the hosts a point.

However, 105 seconds after Milan had conceded the equaliser, Ballo-Toure turned in Rade Krunic's flick-on to make it 2-1, before Leao made sure of the three points with a delicate dink over Empoli goalkeeper Guglielmo Vicario.

The Rossoneri remain within striking distance of Serie A leaders Napoli, just three points behind, and Pioli spoke after the game of his players' team spirit.

 "I'm interested in playing with stubbornness and determination, and today we did it," he told DAZN.

"The team showed that they had mentally prepared the game well in the first half hour, but we had to score, and we didn't succeed.

"I'm happy with the team's performance. It's clear that we have to score a few more goals, and we have conceded something to a team that plays well, so that's okay.

"If we managed to break the deadlock, it would be an even more favourable situation. At some point, it was the 76th minute, and it seemed incredible to me that we were still 0-0."

The win came at a cost, though, as Davide Calabria, Simon Kjaer and Alexis Saelemaekers all went off injured.

And Pioli acknowledged how the absences were affecting his team, adding: "It is clear that the injuries have disunited us a little bit.

"I have a group of players who want to test themselves commendably, so we must also go on with injuries.

"Today we unfortunately had two muscle injuries, one who had been away with the national team and another who was not well."

Milan claimed a dramatic 3-1 victory at Empoli as two injury-time goals from Fode Ballo-Toure and Rafael Leao downed the Serie A champions' stubborn opponents.

Nedim Bajrami's 92nd-minute free-kick looked to have earned a point for Empoli after Ante Rebic had put Milan ahead in the 79th minute.

But Ballo-Toure finished in the 94th minute to puncture Empoli's resolve.

With Empoli's hopes dashed, Leao added a third to ensure Milan returned to winning ways following their defeat to Napoli last time out.

Stefano Pioli bemoaned Milan's wastefulness in front of goal as their 22-match unbeaten streak in Serie A ended with a 2-1 defeat to Napoli on Sunday.

Matteo Politano put Napoli ahead from the penalty spot after Sergino Dest's clumsy foul on Khvicha Kvaratskhelia.

Olivier Giroud pulled Milan level in the 69th minute, but Giovanni Simeone headed home a winner in the 78th minute to ensure Napoli returned to the Serie A summit.

Milan had 22 shots to Napoli's nine, but Pioli says that is scant consolation after watching his side suffer a first league defeat of the campaign.

"I am not satisfied at all and neither should my players be," he told DAZN. "We only scored one goal, which isn't enough for all that we created.

"It's disappointing because nights can happen when the opponents play better, but in this case we really shouldn't have lost.

"I hope we will learn from this to be more clinical in front of goal because we did everything right except for errors and a lack of determination in both penalty areas.

"I could have said I was very happy because we played better than Napoli and created lots of chances, but seeing as we were the only side unbeaten in Europe's top five leagues for 22 matches – longer than Bayern Munich, Manchester City and Real Madrid – it's a shame to lose it with a performance like that.

 

"On Simeone's goal we had too many players attacking the man with the ball, forcing Messias to sit deeper, which freed up Mario Rui.

"It's difficult to blame our defensive movements when Napoli only really had that chance. I am more bitter about the lack of chances that we converted.

"We allowed very little to a side that usually creates and scores a lot of goals. It's true we are conceding too many at the moment and need to work on that, but my concern is more up front."

Milan, who dropped down to fifth following the defeat, travel to Empoli on October 1 following the international break. 

It's a bit early in the season to call Napoli's trip to Milan a "title clash" given we're only six games in, but for the Partenopei it is clearly an opportunity to make a statement.

Luciano Spalletti, a former Milan coach, has guided Napoli to 14 points from their first six matches, and they sit top of the fledgling table ahead of Atalanta and the Rossoneri on goal difference.

While Milan have already beaten bitter rivals Inter this term, Napoli haven't had the chance for such a signal of intent – at least, not in Serie A.

But neither Spalletti nor Stefano Pioli will be able to rely on their star men in San Siro on Sunday, adding to the unpredictability of a match that promises excitement.

Sorely missed

Rafael Leao and Victor Osimhen will miss this contest due to suspension and injury, respectively. Both absences are bitter blows to not only the teams, but fans tuning in.

Leao has been an especially key figure for Milan over the past year or so. Since the start of last season, he has played in 40 out of a possible 44 matches, with only Alexis Saelemaekers and Sandro Tonali (both 41) appearing more regularly.

Their win percentage with him stands at 70, while they average 2.3 points with Leao on the pitch. Of the four games he has missed, Milan have only won two.

Over the same period, Osimhen has missed 12 league games for Napoli. Their win rate increases from 58.3 per cent to 65.6 per cent when he plays, and their goals average goes up to 2.2 from 1.5 per game. Similarly, he's the only current Napoli player to score 10 or more Serie A goals (16) in that time.

The opportunity is there for others to step up in their absence.

 

At home on the road

As their position at the Serie A summit suggests, Napoli have enjoyed a fine start to the season, and their Champions League demolition of Liverpool made even more people sit up and take note.

Any successful team cannot just rely on a vociferous home support, however, and Napoli have made decent early strides in that regard, amassing seven points from their first three away Serie A games.

If they can avoid defeat on Sunday, they'll be unbeaten after the first four away games in an Italian top-flight season for the third campaign in succession, a feat no team has ever achieved before.

Granted, Milan's recent home form is decent, having won six on the trot in San Siro, which is their best run since 2013 (eight successive wins). But it was Napoli who ended that run, and the Partenopei are also hoping to rack up three consecutive away league victories over Milan for the first time in 43 years.

Party up front, business in the back

Yes, that's not quite how the saying goes, but this altered phrase is more applicable to Napoli. They have been exciting to watch going forward this term, with Osimhen, Khvicha Kvaratskhelia, Andre-Franck Zambo Aguissa and Piotr Zielinski all catching the eye on the offensive.

But credit where it's due to Spalletti's side when they're not on the attack, as Napoli have been solid defensively.

Stretching back into last season, they have kept six clean sheets in their past nine Serie A games, including three in six this term.

Even when they have conceded, Napoli possess the necessary mentality – and ability – to fight back, with their six points gained from losing positions second only to Milan's seven in 2022-23.

 

Milan unbeaten, Napoli with everything to prove

Milan's title success last season was helped massively by their exceptionally strong end to the campaign.

They finished 2021-22 with six successive wins and went on an undefeated run that stretched back to January 17 when they suffered a shock 2-1 loss at home to Spezia.

Milan have since stretched that unbeaten streak to 22 league games, which is their longest such run since a 27-match undefeated run ended in January 2021.

That form highlights the task that Napoli face on Sunday, though by the same token, being the team to halt such a sequence would surely show Spalletti's team mean business.

Milan head coach Stefano Pioli noted the "positive step" his team took as they earned their first win in the Champions League group stage this season against Dinamo Zagreb.

An Olivier Giroud penalty was followed by goals from Alexis Saelemaekers and substitute Tommaso Pobega, though Mislav Orsic briefly made a game of it as he pulled a goal back before the latter's late strike.

The win was Milan's first at home in the Champions League since September 2013 when they beat Celtic 2-0.

The six games without victory at San Siro was their longest run in the competition, having drawn three and lost three, but the win against their Croatian opponents on Wednesday gave the Rossoneri four points in Group E, having drawn 1-1 at Salzburg last week in their first game.

Speaking to Sky Sport Italia after the game, Pioli spoke of "dreaming" but noted caution as he felt his team could still play better.

"Dreaming is beautiful, the parallel is 'dreaming at night and working during the day to be able to achieve our dreams'," he said.

"Today's victory is yet another positive step, but we can do better."

Giroud's 45th-minute penalty was just his second goal in his last 12 Champions League appearances.

The France international had only taken six shots in his previous six appearances in the competition for Milan, but got four away against Dinamo, with three on target.

Speaking to Milan TV after the game, Giroud outlined his desire to keep scoring goals in Europe's premier competition, with back-to-back games against his former club Chelsea on the horizon.

"We started the match well, we could have improved the last pass and our finishing, but we are very happy," he said.

"It is always a special emotion to play the Champions League. I am very happy because I have one more goal and I want to continue like this."

Milan earned their first win of this season's Champions League group stage, but were made to work for it by Dinamo Zagreb as the Italian champions secured a 3-1 victory at San Siro.

Goals either side of half-time from Olivier Giroud and Alexis Saelemaekers gave Stefano Pioli's men a strong lead.

They were made to sweat after Mislav Orsic – who scored the winner against Chelsea for Dinamo last week – pulled his team within one goal again with a fine finish just before the hour mark.

The Rossoneri appeared to tire in the closing stages of the game, but sealed the points when substitute Tommaso Pobega swept in a third for Milan's first home win in the Champions League since they beat Celtic in September 2013.

Milan made the early running, with Sandro Tonali and Giroud seeing early efforts sail over the crossbar, while Ismael Bennacer and Saelemaekers had shots from range easily saved by Dominik Livakovic.

A rare moment of panic from an otherwise organised Dinamo cost them when Josip Sutalo kicked through the back of Leao as he tried to intercept a pass into the area, and the referee pointed to the spot, with Giroud calmly sending Livakovic the wrong way from 12 yards, putting his penalty to the goalkeeper's left to give Milan the lead just before the break.

It did not take long in the second half for Pioli's side to double their advantage, with Leao working space down the left before standing up a cross for Saelemaekers to head in from close range for his second goal in two group stage games this season.

The game was not done though, with the dangerous Orsic playing a neat one-two with Bruno Petkovic, cutting through the Milan defence before the former placed his shot into the far corner of the net to halve the deficit.

Pobega finished well to clinch it after 77 minutes, hitting a first-time shot from Theo Hernandez's cut back in off the bar as Milan move on to four points in Group E from their first two games, a point ahead of Dinamo.

Stefano Pioli has no worries about continuing to select Olivier Giroud to lead the Milan attack in the continued absence of Divock Origi.

Giroud has played in all seven of Milan's matches so far this season, starting five of those, due to the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Ante Rebic and new signing Origi being injured.

Origi has managed just 80 minutes of action since arriving as a free agent in the transfer window and has yet to open his goalscoring account for the club.

Pioli had hoped to call on the ex-Liverpool striker before next week's international break, but he has been ruled out of Wednesday's Champions League tie with Dinamo Zagreb.

France international Giroud, who turns 36 later this month, is now expected to start at San Siro as he looks to add to his tally of three goals and an assist so far this term.

Milan head coach Pioli is not overly concerned by Origi's injury-plagued start to life at the club and is happy for Giroud to continue in the role.

"Olivier can play every game, and I have many other players who can also play in that position," Pioli said at Tuesday's press conference.

"I'm not worried about Origi's injury, but sorry. He is a player we strongly wanted and I'm now hoping to have him back after the [international] break."

 

Giroud has scored only one goal in his past 11 Champions League appearances, managing just eight shots in total across that period – only five of which were on target.

Milan could do with the former Arsenal and Chelsea striker stepping up on Wednesday as they aim to improve on last week's 1-1 draw away at Salzburg in their Group E opener.

However, Zagreb enter the contest in good form having won six games on the spin, including a 1-0 victory over Chelsea that leaves them top of the early standings.

"We have to put our full potential into every game," Pioli said. "Tomorrow's match is very important, but not yet decisive because there are many other matches remaining.

"We could be on top of the group with a win. We have a chance, but it will be difficult because Dinamo deservedly won the first game [against Chelsea].

"If we play at a high level, we have a good chance to win both in Italy and in Europe. We have to play at our best."

Stefano Pioli "will work something out" after the "decisive figure" of Rafael Leao was ruled out of next weekend's clash with Napoli following a red card in the 2-1 win over Sampdoria.

Leao had been sensational in the first half at Stadio Luigi Ferraris, setting up Junior Messias' sixth-minute opener with one of three key passes – a total not bettered by anyone on the pitch.

However, his match ended just two minutes into the second half when he received a second booking after he struck Alex Ferrari in the face when attempting an overhead kick. 

Samp pulled level through Filip Djuricic, but Milan sealed a fourth win in six Serie A games this season when Olivier Giroud powered home from the penalty spot after Gonzalo Villar had handled in the area.

The champions have now won three successive Serie A games against Sampdoria for the first time since September 2016.

Second-placed Milan are level on points with leaders Napoli, who visit San Siro on Sunday, and Pioli accepted he might have to play a different way in the absence of Leao. 

"Both teams are missing a lot, but we're missing Leao and Ante Rebic; both players who cover that role," he told Sky Sport Italia.

"We had to play 50 minutes with 10 men. We know there's a big Champions League game coming up [at home to Dinamo Zagreb on Wednesday], so we'll focus on that first and then see what to do against Napoli.

"Rafa is becoming a decisive figure in our attack, but we have other alternatives and will work something out with different characteristics.

"I saw Leao joking around a lot in the warm-up, but I told him he tends to play well when he's that relaxed and he said 'don't worry, boss'. In hindsight, I should've worried.

"It's disappointing. I had told him to be careful on the yellow, but he wanted to attempt this move. Never mind, someone else will play."

Samp went agonisingly close to rescuing a point in a late scramble as Mike Maignan twice denied Manolo Gabbiadini either side of a Fabio Quagliarella effort that struck the post.

Pioli was thrilled with his side's ability to grind out the result and believes it is evidence they are moving in the right direction.

"We played a good first half and could've scored more goals, but this was a hard-fought victory," he added.

"We had to grit our teeth when we went down to 10 men and the lads worked hard on every ball. Sampdoria had already drawn with Juventus and Lazio here, so it was by no means easy.

"We had told ourselves we wanted to make fewer technical errors and I think we did that today, so we're on the right track."

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