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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stefano Pioli believes Milan's 1-1 draw with Juventus shows how far his side have come as they no longer require a "miracle" to win a game they are second best in.

Milan battled back to claim a point in Sunday's Serie A clash at Allianz Stadium after Ante Rebic headed in 14 minutes from time to cancel out Alvaro Morata's early opener.

Without a number of key players through injury, including strikers Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Olivier Giroud, the Rossoneri struggled in the first half and could have been further behind.

But they took more control of the game in the second half, when seeing 62.7 per cent of the ball, and almost snatched the win late on through a well-saved Pierre Kalulu strike.

The draw ended Milan's perfect start to the league season, but they are level on points with champions and early pacesetters Inter after four matches.

Pioli, who guided the Rossoneri to second place last season – their best finish in nine years – is pleased with the way his side recovered to avoid defeat in Turin.

"We came here to win the game," he told DAZN. "We found a better opponent than us in the first 20 minutes especially, but we did much better in the second half.

"It was definitely a positive performance from us on the whole. Maybe last year to win these games we had to hope for a miracle; now we are aware that we can win these games.

"We tried until the end to claim the victory."

 

Rebic led the line in the absence of Giroud and Ibrahimovic and responded with his second goal in as many games, having also netted in the 3-2 Champions League loss to Liverpool in midweek.

The Croatian forward is the first Milan player to score against Juve in three successive Serie A games in the three-points-per-win era (since 1994-95) and Pioli heaped praise on Rebic.

"Ante has immense intensity and quality to his game," Pioli said. "He can play in more or less any role and he helped us today. He is a very important player to break games open.

"I've always seen my players ready to overcome any limitations. They have quality and work throughout the week with a sense of belonging. 

"The opposition might be better on the day, but we will always give it our best shot going for the victory."

Rebic's header from a Sandro Tonali corner ensured Milan avoided defeat at Juventus in a match they trailed for the first time since February 1996.

While Milan are well positioned at the top end of the table, opponents Juventus are winless after their first four games for just the fourth time in their history.

Despite boasting an eight-point gap on Massimiliano Allegri's men, who are inside the relegation zone, Pioli insisted it is too soon to look at the league standings.

"We are only four games in," he said at his post-match news conference. "There is time for every team to improve their position. But of course were are satisfied with what we've done."

Juventus' winless start to the Serie A season stretched to a fourth game after they were pegged back in a 1-1 draw with Milan at the Allianz Stadium on Sunday.

Alvaro Morata had opened the scoring inside four minutes with Juve's quickest goal against Milan in Serie A since February 1996, but the Bianconeri could not hold on for a maiden victory.

After inviting pressure onto themselves, the hosts were eventually undone 14 minutes from time when Sandro Tonali whipped a corner into the box and Ante Rebic guided it in off the far post.

Juve have now gone four games without a win to start a Serie A season for just the fourth time in their history and are inside the relegation zone, while Milan move level on points with leaders Inter.

Massimiliano Allegri's side had given their season lift-off with a 3-0 win over Malmo in the Champions League in midweek and two of their goalscorers from that game combined early on against Milan.

Paulo Dybala played Morata through with a smart flick after Juve had defended a corner and the forward rounded off the counter by dinking the ball over Mike Maignan.

Maignan produced a fine save to keep out Morata's next shot and Adrien Rabiot had an even better chance to add a second but could not outpace Fikayo Tomori when played in.

Rabiot could not quite connect with a Leonardo Bonucci pass over the top early in the second period as the half-chances continued to fall Juve's way.

Juve had not kept a clean sheet in the league since March, however, and that poor run continued as Rebic climbed highest to meet Tonali's corner and head in the equaliser from six yards.

Both sides pushed for a winner in a frantic conclusion to the match, with substitute Pierre Kalulu going closest to snatching victory for Milan with a powerful drive that Wojciech Szczesny did well to palm over the bar.

 

Spain will look to end a run of falling at the first hurdle in the knockouts of a major tournament when they face Croatia in the last 16 of Euro 2020.

A 5-0 thrashing of Slovakia sent La Roja through in second place in Group E after draws with Sweden and Poland had left their chances of progressing in doubt.

Croatia, meanwhile, were 3-1 winners over Scotland on matchday three, ensuring they followed England in escaping Group D to secure a spot in the knockout phase for the fourth time in six European Championship appearances.

They have never progressed beyond the first round after the group stage, while Spain's recent form in the latter rounds of tournaments has also been poor: after winning Euro 2008, the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012, they were eliminated at this stage of both Euro 2016 and the 2018 World Cup.

Their previous meeting with Croatia ended in a 3-2 defeat in November 2018 in the Nations League, but coach Luis Enrique would do well to be inspired by the match two months earlier when Spain romped to a 6-0 victory. So too would his forwards.

Spain had a higher expected goals total than any other side in the group stage (8.8), but scored only six times. In fact, the players to underperformed the most based on xG over the first three matchdays were Gerard Moreno (zero goals from 2.1 xG) and the much-maligned Alvaro Morata (one goal from 2.9 xG).

Scoring goals is certainly not a worry for Marcos Llorente, who told AS: "In the first two games, we got a bit stuck with in front of goal, but we've already seen we're capable of creating many chances, even for opponents who sit back.

"We did so and we lacked effectiveness in the first two games, and in the last one, we had it. It was a good victory."

 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Croatia – Ante Rebic

With Ivan Perisic - who scored one and set up another against Scotland - missing after a positive COVID-19 test, there is great pressure on the rest of the Croatia attack to perform.

Rebic is most likely to replace Perisic in the line-up and, while the Milan forward is far from prolific for his country, his work rate at the very least could be key to disrupt Spain's rhythm.

Spain – Sergio Busquets

It would be wrong to claim the return of Busquets was the reason Spain suddenly found their goalscoring groove against Slovakia, but it is certainly true that there was more purpose to their possession play with the Barcelona man in the middle.

Against a midfield of the strength and experience of Croatia's, Busquets could be critical to La Roja's plans when it comes to keeping the ball and warding off counter-attacks.

 

KEY OPTA FACTS

- This will be Croatia and Spain's third major tournament meeting, with both previous such clashes coming in European Championship group stages. Both sides won once each: Spain in 2012 and Croatia in 2016.
- Spain forced more pressed sequences (sequences where the opposition has three or fewer passes and the sequence ends within 40 metres of their own goal) than any other side during the Euro 2020 group stages (60), while their average of eight passes allowed per defensive action was the lowest by any side in the round.
-All six of Spain's goals in the group stage were scored by different players, including two own goals. Indeed, Spain were the highest scoring side in the round not to see a player score more than once.
- Last time out against Scotland, Luka Modric became the oldest player to score for Croatia at the Euros (35 years and 286 days), while he also holds the record as the youngest goalscorer for his nation in the competition (22 years and 73 days versus Austria in 2008). Should he score in this game (aged 35 years and 292 days), he would become the second-oldest player in European Championship history to score in consecutive appearances in the competition, after Cristiano Ronaldo.

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.

Ante Rebic scored a quickfire second-half hat-trick as ruthless Milan took another stride towards securing a Champions League spot with a 7-0 Serie A thrashing of sorry Torino.

Stefano Pioli's side eased to an 3-0 win at fellow top-four hopefuls Juventus on Sunday and they enjoyed another hugely fruitful trip to Turin three days later.

Theo Hernandez opened the scoring with a venomous drive and Franck Kessie added a second from the penalty spot in the first half at the Stadio Olimpico Grande Torino.

Rampant Milan ran riot after the break, Brahim Diaz adding a third and Hernandez on target with another classy finish before Rebic rubbed salt into woeful Torino's wounds with a treble in the space of 12 minutes. 

A third consecutive victory moved Milan above Napoli into third place and kept them three points clear of fifth-placed Juve – who won at Sassuolo – with two games to play.

Hernandez put the Rossoneri in front with a brilliant finish 19 minutes in, taking a pass from Brahim and drilling into the far corner of the net from the edge of the penalty area with his sweet left foot.

Milan almost doubled their lead soon after going in front, Samu Castillejo hitting the post from close range following up after Salvatore Sirigu palmed away Kessie's downward header.

They did not have long to wait for the second goal, though, Kessie calmly sending Sirigu the wrong way from the spot to punish Lyanco for scything down Castillejo.

Milan were causing Torino all sorts of problems with their slick passing and movement, with Kessie turning provider early in the second half, intercepting Bremer's sloppy pass and casually slipping the ball inside for Brahim, who slotted home with his left foot.

Kessie somehow failed to convert from close range after Rebic set him up and Brahim almost had a fortuitous double when a whipped free-kick appear to strike his shoulder before hitting the crossbar.

Milan continued to cut the Torino defence apart and Hernandez dinked a delightful finish over Sirigu after racing onto a perfectly weighted pass from the excellent Rebic.

Rebic deservedly swept home a fifth with a clinical finish and struck again five minutes later with Torino all at sea, Rafael Leao racing away before showing the awareness to pick the Croatia forward out for a tap-in.

He then capitalised on more terrible defending from Torino to complete his hat-trick, finding the back of the net with his knee 11 minutes from time.

Milan emphatically enhanced their Champions League hopes at Juventus' expense after a thumping 3-0 win at the Allianz Stadium on Sunday. 

Rumoured Juve target Gianluigi Donnarumma enjoyed a quiet game after a controversial week in which Milan supporters reportedly demanded he missed the clash after contract negotiations had stalled, but the same could not be said for his Juve counterpart. 

Wojciech Szczesny's tepid punch allowed Brahim Diaz to open the scoring on the stroke of half-time, although the Poland international redeemed himself to some extent by keeping out Franck Kessie's second-half penalty. 

There was little he could do about Ante Rebic's stunning strike, however, and Fikayo Tomori's late header made certain Stefano Pioli's side moved up to third in the table. Juve, meanwhile, drop down to fifth with just three games remaining.

Giorgio Chiellini had failed to take a glorious chance to open the scoring just after the half-hour mark, the veteran defender heading wide at the back post from a corner with a flailing Donnarumma nowhere to be seen.

Milan then went ahead in stoppage time when Diaz superbly whipped into the top-right corner after Szczesny's weak clearance from Hakan Calhanoglu's free-kick had fallen kindly to him.

Szczesny made amends for his role in the opener, turning away Kessie's 58th-minute spot-kick after Diaz's shot had hit Chiellini's arm - the penalty given after referee Paolo Valeri had reviewed the incident on the pitchside monitor – but the reprieve did not trigger a Juve fightback.

Instead, Rebic, who had replaced the injured Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the 66th minute, put the game out of the home team's reach with a glorious long-range strike into Szczesny's top-left corner.

On-loan Chelsea defender Tomori powered home a header from Calhanoglu's cross with eight minutes remaining as Milan ended a run of nine straight away league defeats to Juventus in eye-catching style.

Ten-man Milan were made to sweat in their 3-1 win against Parma at Stadio Ennio Tardini after having Zlatan Ibrahimovic sent off for dissent as they tightened their grip on second place in Serie A.

Last week's 1-1 home draw with Sampdoria all but ended the Rossoneri's Scudetto hopes, but they responded with all three points on Saturday to boost their top-four prospects.

Ibrahimovic claimed an impressive assist for Ante Rebic's early opener and played a big part in Franck Kessie's goal that had Milan in control at the midway point.

However, the veteran striker was dismissed on the hour mark for something he said to the referee and Riccardo Gagliolo pulled back a goal soon after, but substitute Rafael Leao settled Milan's nerves with a third goal in added time.

Ante Rebic has been passed fit to partner Rafael Leao up front but it remains to be seen if Alessio Romagnoli will start when injury-hit Milan face Udinese in Serie A on Wednesday.

Rebic scored the winner in the Rossoneri's 2-1 victory over Roma on Sunday before being withdrawn due to injury.

Milan head coach Pioli says the Croatia international will be ready to start against Udinese and Leao will take his place in the team after coming off the bench at the weekend to replace Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Asked about Rebic's fitness, Pioli said: "He's fine, he can start against Udinese. On Sunday he played a great match, his characteristics are important for us. There is no doubt about his qualities."

Pioli said following the much-needed win over Roma that he suspected Ibrahimovic, who is appearing at the Sanremo music festival, was weary rather than wounded and the talismanic striker will not face Luca Gotti's men.

Milan are taking no risks over Ibrahimovic's fitness, with a Europa League showdown against his former club Manchester United to come next week.

Hakan Calhanoglu will also miss the encounter with Udinese, which second-placed Milan will start knowing a victory would leave them just a point behind leaders Inter, while Ismael Bennacer and Mario Mandzukic are expected to return next week.

Leao has not scored since January 9, but Pioli has full faith in the 21-year-old.

"Up until a few days ago we talked about an improved Leao and inside the game," he said. "I'm satisfied with Leao, tomorrow he will start from the beginning.

"From a mental point of view he is ready, he has grown a lot."

Captain Romagnoli was left out of the starting line-up at Stadio Olimpico and Pioli refused to be drawn on whether the defender will be restored to the side.

"The matches are all important but also different, for me to be able to choose is great luck," Pioli said. "Only tomorrow morning we will try the starting eleven, we will choose the most suitable team and the best players."

Zlatan Ibrahimovic went past the 500-goal mark as his double strike in a 4-0 win over lowly Crotone sent Milan back to the top of Serie A.

Ibrahimovic rammed home a fine finish to put Milan in front at the break, reaching a new landmark in his outstanding club career.

The 39-year-old netted a close-range second that sparked a flood of goals midway through the second half, as Ante Rebic scored twice in 70 seconds.

Inter had replaced their city rivals at the top after winning at Fiorentina on Friday, but Stefano Pioli's man reasserted their authority in a gripping title battle.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic missed out on reaching 500 goals in his club career as Milan returned to winning ways on Saturday, securing a hard-fought 2-1 triumph at Bologna.  

Having taken his tally to 499 before getting sent off in the midweek Coppa Italia exit to Inter, Ibrahimovic failed to convert a first-half penalty awarded for a foul on Rafael Leao.  

However, Ante Rebic scored from the rebound as the Rossoneri bounced back from successive losses - including last weekend’s 3-0 humbling at home to Atalanta - to remain the pacesetters in the Serie A title race.  

Franck Kessie succeeded where Ibrahimovic failed in the second half to double the lead, punishing Adama Soumaoro's handball as he scored from 12 yards.  

Yet Milan did not have it all their own way, Andrea Poli converting fellow substitute Andreas Skov Olsen's cut-back cross to finally beat Gianluigi Donnarumma, who had made fine one-on-one saves from Nicola Sansone and Nicolas Dominguez before the break.  

Lukasz Skorupski was equally impressive in goal for Bologna, including producing a stunning double save to deny Ibrahimovic twice in a hurry in the 23rd minute.  

The Swede was frustrated again by the keeper from the spot, though there was nothing Skorupski could do when Rebic reacted quickly to steer in the rebound for just his second goal of the season. 

Bologna's hopes of a comeback were dealt a blow when Soumaoro's jump to cut out a long pass saw the ball strike him on both arms, Kessie punishing the defender as he took over penalty duties.

Poli's finish – slammed high into the net from close range in the 81st minute - set up a tense finish, yet Milan - who set a new club record by scoring for a 20th successive away league game – held on to claim all three points.

Ante Rebic, Rade Krunic and Theo Hernandez have been cleared to return to action for Milan.

It was confirmed prior to Milan's game with Juventus on January 6 that Rebic and Krunic had tested positive for coronavirus and they have not played since.

Hernandez and Hakan Calhanoglu returned positive results from tests administered last Saturday, ruling them out of the game with Cagliari on Monday.

However, Milan revealed on Thursday that Hernandez's result was a "false positive", while Rebic and Kurnic have now tested negative.

A club statement read: "Milan announces that both Ante Rebic and Rade Krunic underwent a molecular swab test with negative results and this morning had the medical exams required to resume professional activity.

"Further examinations have shown that Theo Hernandez was a 'false positive'. The documentation has been provided to the health authorities and the player can now resume training."

Milan sit top of Serie A with a three-point advantage over local rivals Inter, who they face in the Coppa Italia next week.

Before that, though, they entertain Atalanta in a league clash at San Siro on Saturday.

Milan pair Ante Rebic and Rade Krunic have tested positive for coronavirus ahead of Wednesday's Serie A meeting with Juventus.

Both players are asymptomatic and have begun a period of self-isolation at home, Milan confirmed on their official website.

The news comes on the back of Juve announcing that full-backs Alex Sandro and Juan Cuadrado had contracted COVID-19, also ruling them out of the crunch clash at San Siro.

Rebic has featured 14 times for Milan in all competitions this season, while Krunic has been used on 20 occasions.

The pair have appeared together in eight Serie A matches this season, Milan winning each of those games. On the seven occasions they have not featured, meanwhile, the Rossoneri's win rate drops from 100 per cent to 43.

Serie A leaders Milan are already without injured quartet Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Alexis Saelemaekers, Ismael Bennacer and Matteo Gabbia, while Sandro Tonali is suspended.

The club said in a statement: "AC Milan announces that Ante Rebic and Rade Krunic tested positive for a molecular swab carried out yesterday in anticipation of the match against Juventus.

"The players, asymptomatic, remained in isolation at home where a second control swab was taken today. The health authorities were promptly informed.

"All members of the team group underwent a further test today with negative results."

Speaking on Tuesday, doctor Roberto Testi, the director of the Department of Prevention at the Turin ASL, warned the high-profile contest may be called off if Juve report further positive tests on the day of the game.

"If there should be more positive tests and the evidence of an uncontrolled breakout within the squad, that would become a problem of safety for the other players," he told Corriere della Sera.

"Clearly, at that point, the ASL would be forced to intervene, isolating everyone and blocking Juve's departure towards Milan."

Milan enter the game 10 points better off than reigning champions Juventus having played a game more.

Stefano Pioli's men won the most recent encounter between the sides 4-2 last July and are seeking successive league wins in this fixture for the first time since 2010.

It will mark the first time Milan have faced Juve sitting ahead of their rivals in the table since November 2015, when losing 1-0 through a Paulo Dybala goal. 

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