Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored twice but was unable to rescue Milan as their unbeaten start in Serie A ended with a thrilling 4-3 loss at Fiorentina on Saturday.

The Rossoneri had made their best start to a top-flight season in the three-points-per win era after 12 matches and had a chance to move clear at the top of the table, but ​their 17-game unbeaten run in the league stretching back into last season was halted at Stadio Artemio Franchi.

Joseph Alfred Duncan profited from a calamitous mix-up between Ciprian Tatarusanu and Matteo Gabbia to fire the hosts ahead, before former Milan player Riccardo Saponara curled in a sensational second shortly before half-time.

Dusan Vlahovic extended Fiorentina's advantage, and while Ibrahimovic struck twice in five minutes to set up a tense period, the Serbia international notched his 14th league goal of the season to render Lorenzo Venuti's late own goal nothing more than a consolation.

Milan found themselves behind with 15 minutes played in rather comical circumstances as Tatarusanu spilled a corner and Gabbia attempted to shield the ball for his goalkeeper, but Alfred Duncan got to it first and prodded in from close range. 

Pietro Terracciano frustrated Milan with a couple of impressive stops and Ibrahimovic diverted wide from inside the six-yard box – a miss that would prove costly as Saponara bent a delightful 25-yard shot away from Tatarusanu into the top-right corner.

Vlahovic added a third against the run of play after an hour with a composed finish from a tight angle once played in by Alfred Duncan, but Milan were soon back in the game through Ibrahimovic's double.

The striker profited from a loose Giacomo Bonaventura pass to thump past Terracciano and then turned home Theo Hernandez's cut-back to leave Fiorentina sweating.

Venuti put into his own net deep into added time after Ibrahimovic's header hit the woodwork and ricocheted in off his face, but only after Vlahovic had settled any nerves with his second of the match in the 85th minute.

 

 

Paul Pogba's future continues to make headlines.

With his contract expiring, it remains to be seen whether he will remain at Manchester United.

United are believed to be ready to move on as Real Madrid lurk.

 

TOP STORY – MADRID READY TO POUNCE FOR POGBA

Manchester United have given up on keeping Pogba and Real Madrid have a "great opportunity" to sign the Frenchman, according to the front page of Thursday's Marca.

Pogba is out of contract at the end of the season and the United star is no closer to a renewal at Old Trafford.

Madrid are continuing to circle Pogba, who has also been linked with former club Juventus, Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona.

 

ROUND-UP 

- Sport claims Barca are eyeing moves for Chelsea's Hakim Ziyech and Bayern Munich star Kingsley Coman. Out-of-favour Manchester City forward Raheem Sterling and RB Leipzig's Dani Olmo have also been linked.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic will extend his contract at Milan until 2023, reports Gazzetta dello Sport.

Chelsea are interested in signing Leicester City defender Wesley Fofana, says Foot Mercato. The 20-year-old is yet to play this season due to a serious leg injury.

- El Nacional reports Madrid and Chelsea will go head-to-head to land Monaco star Aurelien Tchouameni. The France international is also reportedly wanted by Juve, City, United, Liverpool, Bayern and Newcastle United.

Newcastle are eyeing Inter duo Stefan de Vrij and Marcelo Brozovic and Lazio goalkeeper Thomas Strakosha, per The Times.

Spain qualified for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar after a tense 1-0 victory over Sweden that was secured by Alvaro Morata's late winner.

Sweden needed to win in Seville on Sunday to top Group B but will go into the play-offs instead after Luis Enrique's home side saw out a nervy final match of their qualifying campaign to clinch the automatic spot.

Emil Forsberg had two clear-cut goalscoring opportunities for Sweden at the Estadio La Cartuja but was unable to test Spain goalkeeper Unai Simon.

Morata gave Spain victory with a close-range strike on the rebound with four minutes of the game left after Dani Olmo had seen his effort hit the crossbar.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is not thinking about retiring from professional football despite needing a physio to watch his every step.

Since returning to Milan in January 2020, Ibrahimovic has scored 30 goals and supplied nine assists in 54 games in all competitions. 

However, the striker has struggled with injuries and featured in only half of the Rossoneri's Serie A games in 2020-21, while he was forced to pull out of Euro 2020 duty with Sweden. 

Still, he became the fourth-oldest scorer in Serie A history this season when he struck against Bologna last month and took his domestic league tally to 400 versus Roma a week later.

Ibrahimovic acknowledged he has had to learn to listen to his body more and seek treatment as quickly as he can, though it has not made him think about hanging up his boots. 

"Last season I had more injuries than I usually have and have had before. But it's because I didn't think about taking it easy when I felt something, I just powered on. I have that mentality. I give 200 per cent," said Ibrahimovic. 

"After I turned 30, I noticed the pain does not go away, it just moves within the body. 

"What I have changed is that now I have a physio that follows me everywhere in Italy 24 hours a day. At the very least, he is right there poking. 

"That's the only change I made. As soon as I feel something, I want to take care of it immediately." 

He added: "We always want to play, but I have to find the right balance considering the injuries I've had. 

"You learn something new every day. I get to know by body better with every day that passes. But as my body ages, my head becomes younger and I look more handsome. 

"I haven't set a date to quit. I want to continue as long as possible and not think about when it will end. I don't want to be sad, like someone who quits thinking he could've played again." 

Ibrahimovic retired from international duty after Euro 2016 but has since returned to the fold, making his comeback for Sweden in March. 

An Achilles injury forced him to withdraw from the squad in the previous international break, but Sweden boss Janne Andersson has been impressed by his recovery. 

If Sweden beat Georgia on Thursday, they will go into their final World Cup qualifier against Spain three days later knowing a point will be enough for them to top Group B and book their place in Qatar – assuming La Roja beat Greece beforehand.

Andersson refused to confirm whether Ibrahimovic was ready to play in both games, though. 

"If we're talking about Zlatan and his physique, he has looked surprisingly good. Last night [the Milan derby] I think he looked fit – the matches before that too," said Andersson. 

"A few weeks ago he looked a bit rusty but he has looked great since, so we will see how much I will play him." 

"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.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic said Milan believe in their Serie A title credentials after extending their stellar start to the season by beating Roma, but the evergreen star admitted there is a long way to go.

Milan defeated Roma 2-1 at Stadio Olimpico on Sunday, with Ibrahimovic opening the scoring with a 25th-minute free-kick, marking the 400th league goal of his career – 150 of those coming in Serie A.

The 40-year-old Swede earned his side a penalty for their second goal, with Franck Kessie converting from the spot in the 57th minute, before Stephan El Shaarawy's late consolation.

The win means Milan have 31 points from 11 Serie A games, sitting behind leaders Napoli only on goal difference.

Milan became the fourth team in Serie A history to win 10 of the first 11 games of the season, after Roma, Juventus (twice) and Napoli (twice). 

"We'll try. We believe in this, we've done well so far, but it's a long season and we must continue to be consistent in our work," Ibrahimovic told DAZN after the game about their title aspirations.

"We believe, but it's early days. Take it one game at a time."

The Rossoneri last lifted the Scudetto in 2010-11, enduring several lean years before last season's runners-up finish.

Milan, who face rivals and champions Inter next, have only dropped points in the league this season away to Juventus, while Roma had been unbeaten at home prior to Sunday's win.

"It was a great performance, we played with a lot of confidence and our style," Ibrahimovic said after scoring his fourth direct free-kick in Serie A and first since January 2012.

"We knew it wasn't easy, Roma were unbeaten at home this season, but we played really well and must continue with this belief and tempo."

The former Sweden international has now scored 11 goals against Roma in Serie A, making them his favourite opponent in the competition.

Ibrahimovic was jeered by the home fans throughout the contest in the Italian capital, but said it provided added motivation for him.

"I need the jeers, the more they jeer, the more alive I feel. Adrenaline brings so much," he said as Milan became the third team in Serie A history to win 15 away games in a calendar year, following Napoli in 2017 (18) and Juventus in 2018 (15).

"We want to win, especially when playing such a big game and a man down. We showed we've all got character and can suffer under pressure too. The lads put in a great performance."

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."

Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored an emphatic free-kick for his 400th career league goal as Milan beat Jose Mourinho's Roma 2-1 to keep pace with Napoli at the top of Serie A.

It means Mourinho has lost a home game in Italy for the first time, while the visiting Rossoneri made it seven league wins in a row.

Roma made a bright start but Stefano Pioli's Milan soon took a stranglehold on the game, with Ibrahimovic at the centre of most of their good work and opening the scoring after 25 minutes.

Milan were too strong for their hosts, and a second-half penalty from Franck Kessie secured the points for the visitors, despite them going down to 10 men when Theo Hernandez was sent off. A late reply from Stephan El Shaarawy mattered for very little.

 

Ibrahimovic gave the visitors the lead when he fired a free-kick low and hard past Rui Patricio.

Milan thought they had doubled their advantage on two separate occasions as Rafael Leao and Ibrahimovic had goals ruled out for offside.

The away side were then awarded a penalty early in the second half after Roger Ibanez brought down Ibrahimovic, which Kessie duly dispatched.

Milan lost Hernandez to a red card in the 66th minute after his second booking of the contest. The Giallorossi then pulled a goal back in stoppage time when substitute El Shaarawy fired past Ciprian Tatarusanu.

But Milan, who have won more Serie A matches against Roma than against any other side (77), held on to secure the win and a 10th victory from their opening 11 games.


What does it mean? Milan keep pace with Napoli at Serie A summit

Milan remain neck and neck with fellow pacesetters Napoli after Luciano Spalletti’s men won 1-0 at Salernitana earlier on Sunday.

Milan and Napoli have now won 10 of their 11 matches in Serie A this season – only four sides had previously managed that feat in the history of the competition: Juventus in 2005-06, Roma in 2013-14, Napoli in 2017-18 and Juventus in 2018-19.

When in Rome, do as Ibra does

Ibrahimovic’s fierce free-kick brought up another landmark for the veteran Swede. His first league goal was netted on 30 October 1999, when 15 per cent of the players with at least one match in Serie A this season had not yet been born.

The former Manchester United attacker has also now scored 11 goals against Roma in Serie A, more than he has against anyone else in top-flight football.

Tough night for Tammy

Tammy Abraham was ready to write the headlines as he came up against his childhood friend and former Chelsea team-mate Fikayo Tomori, but it was the Milan centre-back who came out on top in Rome.

Abraham struggled to impose himself on the game during his 63 minutes on the pitch, managing only 18 touches, not winning any of his four duels and having just one shot on goal.

What's next?

Roma host Bodo/Glimt in the Europa Conference League on Thursday, looking for revenge after their 6-1 thrashing in the reverse fixture. Milan host Porto in the Champions League on Wednesday, looking for the first points of their European campaign.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic reached another goalscoring milestone on Sunday by netting his 400th career league goal in Milan's Serie A meeting with Roma.

The 40-year-old drilled a free-kick under the Roma wall and past a well-beaten Rui Patricio to give Milan a first-half lead at the Stadio Olimpico.

That was also another landmark strike for Ibrahimovic, bringing up 150 goals in Serie A for Juventus, Inter and Milan, where he is in his second spell.

Incredibly, 15 per cent of the players with at least one match in Serie A this season were not even born when Ibrahimovic scored the first of his league goals for Malmo in the Swedish top flight in October 1999.

 

Ibrahimovic has also previously played for Ajax, Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester United and LA Galaxy, with his most prolific spell coming in Ligue 1 with PSG as he netted 113 times in 122 appearances.

The Sweden international has now scored 11 goals against Roma in Serie A, making them his favourite opponent in the competition. 

Each of Ibrahimovic's eight previous goals against Roma prior to Sunday had been in games in which he scored a brace, but that run came to an end as he was substituted before the hour mark in this latest contest.

Kylian Mbappe must learn to "walk on fire" if he wants to achieve his full potential, according to Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

France striker Mbappe is in his fifth year at Paris Saint-Germain and the 22-year-old has been the team's Ligue 1 top scorer in the past three campaigns.

Mbappe continues to be linked with a move to Real Madrid, which could happen at the end of this season, given he will become a free agent if he refuses a new PSG contract.

Former PSG frontman Ibrahimovic, who famously scored 38 league goals in the 2015-16 season, feels there is more to come from Mbappe if he introduces a greater edge and stretches himself to the limit.

Ibrahimovic has been a master of tacking his talent to an exuberant, at times brash, character, and it has made him an opponent that others fear, not merely for his goal threat but his force of personality.

He told Telefoot: "I love Mbappe, but what he does is not yet enough. He is too comfortable, in his zone. He needs to walk on fire and then he will be even better.

"He needs to sense the taste of blood. You have to be surrounded by those who tell you you're not good enough and you can progress, not by those who say you're the best."

Mbappe has become pivotal to PSG since arriving, initially on loan, in 2017 from Monaco.

 

Last season there was a marked difference in PSG's fortunes when he was not in the team. With Mbappe starting, as he did in 27 Ligue 1 games, PSG averaged 2.3 points per game, winning 74 per cent of those fixtures, but in the 11 matches when he was absent from the XI those numbers dipped to 1.8 points per game and a 54.5 per cent win rate.

Given PSG were pipped to the title by one point, as Lille were crowned French champions, his importance becomes obvious.

Including appearances off the bench, he featured in 31 Ligue 1 games and scored 27 goals, his second-best return for the Parisians, beaten only by his remarkable 33-goal effort in the 2018-19 season.

Mbappe will have his work cut out to match Ibrahimovic's 2015-16 strike rate of one goal every 67.2 minutes, although he has had three campaigns so far where he has dipped under the goal-every-90-minutes bar.

"Mbappe is in the top category of those that I like," said Ibrahimovic. "There are other players who have been at the top for a long time. Among young people, there is Mbappe, [Erling] Haaland. And who else? There is Ibrahimovic, no need for anyone else."

Milan moved to the Serie A summit as Ismael Bennacer and Zlatan Ibrahimovic struck late to hand them a pulsating 4-2 win over nine-man Bologna.

Rafael Leao and Davide Calabria scored either side of Adama Soumaoro's dismissal to give the Rossoneri a healthy advantage at the interval.

That was wiped out in the space of seven minutes at the start of the second period, however, with an Ibrahimovic own goal and a Musa Barrow strike restoring parity at the Stadio Renato Dall'Ara.

Bologna had a second man sent off before the hour mark, Roberto Soriano given a straight red card for a late challenge, and Stefano Pioli's Milan landed a memorable three points thanks to fine late strikes from Bennacer and Ibrahimovic.

Leao put Milan ahead in the 16th minute with a deflected strike, before Soumaoro was shown a red card for bringing down a clean-through Rade Krunic just outside the area four minutes later.

Milan took advantage of their numerical superiority in the 35th minute, Calabria lashing home a second from 15 yards.

The hosts stormed back at the start of the second period, though, with Ibrahimovic – making his first start since May 9 – heading into his own net four minutes after the interval to give Sinisa Mihajlovic's side hope.

Barrow then remarkably drew Bologna level in the 52nd minute, slotting past Ciprian Tatarusanu after being played in by Soriano.

Rossoblu captain Soriano was then given his marching orders after a VAR review six minutes later for an ugly challenge on Fode Ballo-Toure.

The hosts held firm until the 84th minute when Bennacer powered into the bottom-left corner from 20 yards, while Ibrahimovic added gloss to the scoreline with a whipped finish from the same distance six minutes later.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic could make his first start since May when Milan look to bounce back from more Champions League disappointment against Bologna.

Milan suffered their third successive defeat in the Champions League in midweek as they were beaten 1-0 by Porto.

They sit bottom of Group B, but results are going much better for Stefano Pioli's men in Serie A.

The Rossoneri are unbeaten domestically and sit second, two points behind leaders Napoli.

Ibrahimovic has played in only three games in all competitions and has not started since Milan's win over Juventus on May 9.

However, the 40-year-old could be in line to end that wait on Saturday, against a Bologna team sitting eighth in Serie A.

"Ibrahimovic needs to train and play," said Pioli ahead of the trip to Stadio Renato Dall'Ara.

"He's been training with the group for a week, but I still have to decide who will start between him and [Olivier] Giroud.

"I will decide the line-up tomorrow [Saturday] morning. Right now, we can't play with two strikers. When they feel well, they could play together."

Zlatan Ibrahimovic joined the Champions League's 40-plus club on a miserable night for Milan, as the Swede insisted: "We have to do better."

A 1-0 defeat in Porto means the Serie A giants have yet to pick up a point through three rounds of Group B games.

They have never begun a group-stage campaign so poorly, points-wise, and it will now take a remarkable effort to claw themselves back into last-16 contention.

Luis Diaz's second-half strike gave Porto the points at the Estadio do Dragao, making the November 3 re-match at San Siro in two weeks' time particularly huge for Milan.

This is the Rossoneri's first season back in the elite UEFA club competition since the 2013-14 campaign, and it has been a tough examination to date.

Ibrahimovic promised Milan would fight for as long as they remain mathematically capable of making progress, claiming he remained "confident" of a turnaround, albeit realistic about their shortcomings on Tuesday.

"Today was our worst match in the Champions League," said Ibrahimovic. "Unfortunately we are still on zero points after three games.

"We must remember that this team is back in the Champions League after so many years and games like this will give experience to the whole group."

Speaking to Mediaset Canale 5, he added: "Players were missing, but this is part of football. I just got back and I'm happy to play."

Injuries and COVID-19 cases have left Milan depleted, but Ibrahimovic said: "I don't want to find excuses. In the next match we have to do better. There are three games left and, as long as there is a chance, we will try. I am confident."

The Swedish striker was used as a substitute, coming on just before the hour mark to become the first outfield player aged 40 or over to appear in the Champions League since Ryan Giggs for Manchester United in April 2014.

Ibrahimovic also became just the second 40-year-old to appear for Milan in the competition, after former defensive stalwart Alessandro Costacurta.

Milan head coach Stefano Pioli accepted his side were second best on the night in Portugal, praising Porto's efforts.

The Italian outfit have lost their last five games in the Champions League, but two of those came against Atletico Madrid at the last-16 stage eight seasons ago.

Pioli said of Porto: "They did better in terms of clarity, technique and how they were on the pitch. We didn't start well, we had to manage the ball better.

"There were situations where we could have created some more danger, but we didn't succeed in doing so. The performance wasn't the best. At this level, if you don't play with clarity it becomes difficult. They did better than us."

Olivier Giroud hailed Zlatan Ibrahimovic as an inspiration to younger players in Serie A, while expressing his excitement to play with the Sweden forward at Milan.

Giroud joined Milan in a reported €2million (£1.7m) deal from Chelsea in July and opened his account with a double against Cagliari at the end of August.

With that brace, the France international became the first player to score multiple times in his first home league match for the Rossoneri since Mario Balotelli in February 2013.

However, after testing positive for COVID-19 the following month, the 34-year-old striker has amassed just 224 top-flight minutes for Stefano Pioli's side, with Rafael Leao and Ante Rebic leading the line so far.

Ibrahimovic is another of Milan's options and has scored once this term, despite playing just 30 minutes in Serie A as his new campaign has been hampered by injuries to this point.

And Giroud is keen to link up with the former Barcelona and Manchester United forward as he praised the impact his team-mate can have on future generations of footballers.

"I played against Zlatan a few times," Giroud said to Serie A's YouTube channel. "He still plays at 40 and that means he's an exceptional professional.

"He takes care of himself and his body, and I also try to do so to enjoy football as long as my body will allow it.

"I think he's a great example for the youngsters and he is one of the best strikers in Serie A. I can't wait to play alongside him and enjoy him in training.

"I think we will have fun and we want to win something with Milan. With Zlatan, it will be easier."

 

Before his recent injury, Ibrahimovic was one of Pioli's key players as he registered 25 goals in 37 Serie A games between his second debut for the club on January 6, 2020 and the end of last term.

That tally is bettered by just five players across that period — Duvan Zapata (27), Luis Muriel (30), Romelu Lukaku (35), Ciro Immobile (37) and Cristiano Ronaldo (50).

Having brought in the likes of Mike Maignan and Fikayo Tomori alongside Ibrahimovic's experience, Giroud is hoping Milan can compete for the top spot after setting the early pace with Napoli and neighbours Inter.

"I’m very proud to play for Milan and in Serie A," he continued.

"We play football for these emotions and pass them on to the fans, and that's why I can't wait to give everything for the team and for the Milan supporters.

"I don't want to put too much pressure on us, but we want to fight for the top spot in the standings."

Zlatan Ibrahimovic will remain sidelined for Milan's trip to Atalanta on Sunday, but head coach Stefano Pioli says the ageless striker "could play forever".

The Sweden international has featured only once for Milan since undergoing knee surgery in June and was on the scoresheet in that 2-0 win over Lazio on September 12.

Either side of a two-year spell in MLS with LA Galaxy, Ibrahimovic has not played more than 19 games in a single league campaign in European football since 2016-17 in his first of two seasons with Manchester United.

Prior to his recent injury lay-off, though, he was a key player under Pioli as he registered 25 goals in 37 Serie A games between his second debut for the club on January 6, 2020 and the end of last season.

That is a tally bettered by just five players across that period – Duvan Zapata (27), Luis Muriel (30), Romelu Lukaku (35), Ciro Immobile (37) and Cristiano Ronaldo (50).

Of those, only Muriel (64.1) and Ronaldo (89.9) boast better minutes-per-goal records than Ibrahimovic (114.5).

And with Ibrahimovic turning 40 on the day of Milan's clash with Atalanta at Gewiss Stadium, Pioli does not believe retirement is in sight for the Swede, who has pulled out of his country's upcoming fixtures.

"I don't know how many years Zlatan can still play. But from what I see, his enthusiasm and his desire to train, I could also say that he could play forever," Pioli said at a news conference on Saturday previewing the Atalanta match.

"He may not be 100 per cent for many games but his passion for this sport is incredible. Zlatan does what he likes. If I could give him a gift, I would extend his career as much as possible.

"Zlatan is not available for the game, but he is feeling better and will use the two-week break to recover."

 

Milan have accrued 16 points from six matches this season and will equal their best start to a Serie A campaign in the three points per win era should they beat Atalanta.

The hosts held champions Inter to a 2-2 draw last week, but they have won just one of their five home league matches against Milan since Gian Piero Gasperini took charge in 2016-17.

Though Pioli is still expecting a tough test on Sunday in an early-season test of his side's Scudetto credentials.

"They are a strong team in every way, tactically, technically and physically. I expect a determined and complete Atalanta," Pioli said.

"I watched their game against Inter and it was spectacular. We have played many games of late but the same is true of our opponents. We will just try to play our best game."

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.