Milan technical director Paolo Maldini has spoken about Rafael Leao's future with the club, believing the forward is keen on staying put.

The Brazilian was in sensational form to fire Milan to Serie A glory last season, striking 11 league goals as Milan pipped arch-rivals Inter on the final day of the season.

Leao's performances attracted interest from Chelsea in the transfer window, with Maldini confirming their advances were fended off.

Negotiations regarding a fresh deal for the 23-year-old have stalled since, though Maldini is not concerned and feels Milan is the perfect place for his continued development.

"We have already started talking to him. But not now, for a long time. Every renewal can be simple or complicated, the will of the player makes the difference because that of the club is there," he told Gazzetta.

"Renewal is an issue that we addressed many months ago. Rafa knows that to become stronger than now the solution is to stay with us. We are a young and growing team.

"He still has to learn many things but we intend to do great things and grow with him.

"Chelsea's officially written offer has not arrived, but on an informal level it has. Of course, it was rejected."

Maldini's comments came ahead of Milan's Champions League victory over Dinamo Zagreb and the former defender believes his side are a team opponents will not want to be drawn against.

"We may not be ready to think about reaching the final this year, but dreaming is a must. Because Milan is a team that the big ones would not want to face," he added.

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."

After making a terrific start to the season, Arsenal are reportedly looking to bolster their squad further in the January transfer window as they weigh up a move for Barcelona winger Ferran Torres.

Torres, 22, was acquired by the Spanish giants this January after emerging at Manchester City as one of Spain's top young talents, costing €55million.

With his playing time inconsistent, and the numerous questions about Barcelona's finances and their need to sell players, it appears Torres is someone the club feels comfortable parting ways with less than 12 months after his arrival.

 

TOP STORY – ARSENAL WANT TO BRING TORRES BACK TO THE PREMIER LEAGUE

Torres has failed to establish himself as a regular starter, and with plenty of forward depth after the expensive additions of Robert Lewandowski and Raphinha – along with Ousmane Dembele and Ansu Fati already being on the books – Barcelona are said to be looking to recoup their spending.

Fichajes is reporting Barcelona will be setting their asking price at the full amount they paid City, but for a young player who already has 13 international goals in 28 caps for Spain, it is not an unreasonable figure.

Meanwhile, 90min claims Barcelona are still looking to cash in on Frenkie de Jong after a lengthy transfer saga with Manchester United ended with no deal, indicating they may need to sell at least one player to keep balancing their books.

 

ROUND-UP

– Calciomercato are reporting Chelsea remain interested in United's Marcus Rashford, along with Atletico Madrid, if he does not receive a contract extension.

– According to The Sun, Wolves and Liverpool will both attempt to sign Benfica midfielder Enzo Fernandez, just months after he arrived from River Plate on a bargain €8million deal.

Bayern Munich 's sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic has denied enquiring with Tottenham about the availability of Harry Kane, per Sport1.

– Corriere dello Sport is reporting Rafael Leao's contract demands with Milan have boosted his chances of leaving the club, with Chelsea named as the primary interested party. 

Newcastle United's hunt for a goalkeeper did not end with their signing of free agent Loris Karius, with Portuguese publication JN reporting they are considering activating the £51m release clause for 22-year-old Porto goalie Diogo Costa.

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."

Milan withstood Rafael Leao's red card early in the second half to beat Sampdoria 2-1 and maintain their unbeaten start to the Serie A season.

Stefano Pioli's champions were dominant in the first half at Stadio Luigi Ferraris and went in at the break a goal up thanks to Junior Messias' early strike – his first of the season.

However, Leao received a second yellow card two minutes after half-time for a high foot, giving Samp the impetus to level through Filip Djuricic shortly before the hour mark.

Rather than concede again, though, Milan snatched all three points in the 67th minute when Olivier Giroud slammed in from the penalty spot after Gonzalo Villar had handled in the area.

The Rossoneri went ahead in the sixth minute when Messias finished from 12 yards following a flowing move involving Giroud and Leao, although goalkeeper Emil Audero will feel he should have done more.  

Djuricic whipped against the crossbar from 20 yards soon after, before Charles de Ketelaere was denied a first Milan goal when his bundled effort was ruled out for offside after a lengthy VAR review.

Milan were dealt a blow immediately after the break when Leao received a second booking after he struck Alex Ferrari in the face when attempting an overhead kick. 

And Samp took advantage of their numerical advantage in the 57th minute when Djuricic headed home Tommaso Augello's cross inside the six-yard box.

But Milan had the final word as Giroud hit the roof of the net from 12 yards after the VAR had spotted a handball by Villar, prompting a pitchside review from referee Michael Fabbri.

Samp still came 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.

Instead, a frustrating defeat ended with coach Marco Giampaolo sent off for remonstrating with Fabbri.

Former Juventus coach Fabio Capello thinks the Bianconeri enjoyed the best transfer window of any Serie A club, but still believes they are not favourites to lift the Scudetto.

Juventus have claimed two wins and three draws during a solid if unspectacular start to the new season, and have faced criticism for their ponderous style of play under Massimiliano Allegri.

Their underwhelming performances have come in the aftermath of a window in which the Turin giants acquired Paul Pogba, Angel Di Maria, Gleison Bremer, Filip Kostic and Leandro Paredes.

Capello was impressed by their recruitment, particularly with the decision to replace Matthijs de Ligt with Bremer, but does not believe they will win their first title since 2019-20 this season.

Speaking to SportWeek, Capello said: "Looking at the names, Juventus were the winners. 

"They had a top summer with Di Maria, Pogba, Paredes, all champions that other teams don't have. Bremer is better than de Ligt on a defensive level. 

"Juve have invested in quality, catching up with Inter and Milan. Without the new players they're already among the top teams, while the others lost players."

However, when asked for his title favourites, Capello added: "It's still Inter, even though they lost [Ivan] Perisic and have [Romelu] Lukaku injured. The Belgian is the market coup of the summer. 

"Milan made an important effort for [Charles] De Ketelaere, whom I confess I don't know. 

"Napoli have replaced the departing players with good alternatives. Lazio will also be one to watch."

Juventus spent an estimated €105million during the transfer window, more than any other club in the Italian top-flight.

However, they have been beset by injury troubles in recent weeks, with a knee injury threatening to rule Pogba out of the upcoming World Cup and a thigh problem continuing to plague Di Maria.

Chelsea's first big transfer splash under new boss Graham Potter could reportedly be RB Leipzig defender Josko Gvardiol, after the club had a £77million bid rejected before the deadline.

Gvardiol is young at 20, but he does not lack experience, having already been awarded 10 senior international caps for Croatia, as well as racking up 47 club appearances in all competitions last season for Leipzig.

He was one of many high-profile defenders to be enquired about during Chelsea's search that ended up landing Leicester City's Wesley Fofana and Napoli's Kalidou Koulibaly.

But with Koulibaly already 31 and Thiago Silva now 37, the club may feel it is best to figure out the succession plan sooner rather than later.


TOP STORY – CHELSEA PLAN BIG MOVE FOR GVARDIOL IN JANUARY

With over £150m spent between Fofana, Koulibaly and Marc Cucurella, while being tied with Manchester United for the fewest goals scored in the Premier League by a team in the top-half (eight from six games), it is curious to see the Stamford Bridge side still so desperate for defensive help.

It remains to be seen what kind of budget Potter will be allowed to use in the January window, given all the recent signings had been under Thomas Tuchel's guidance, and it is also fair to assume a potential Gvardiol deal would not have this season's results in mind, given their previous offer included loaning him back to Leipzig.

Ownership's willingness to open up the cheque book in January would have likely been discussed during their recruitment of Potter, and Bild remain convinced Chelsea's interest with the young Croatian is far from over.


ROUND-UP

– According to The Mirror, Arsenal and Newcastle United will compete for the signature of 26-year-old Benfica left-back Alex Grimaldo, who is said to be available for £8.6m due to being in the last year of his contract.

– The Metro is reporting United full-back Diogo Dalot turned down a move to Milan, instead wishing to fight for his spot at Old Trafford.

– According to inews, Newcastle are joining the race for Vasco da Gama teenager Andrey Santos, who reportedly has a £30m price tag and is a target of Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona.

Jordi Alba is unsettled at Barcelona amid interest from Inter, but remains committed to the club where he now has to contend with Alejandro Balde and Marcos Alonso for the starting role, according to Marca.

Sandro Tonali has become the latest player to sign a new deal with Serie A champions Milan.

The 22-year-old, who joined from Brescia in September 2020 on an initial loan basis, has agreed a new five-year contract at San Siro.

Milan head coach Stefano Pioli recently confirmed the club were in talks over extending the stay of Tonali, who is reported to have doubled his salary with his fresh terms.

Tonali has played 84 times for the Rossoneri since arriving, a tally bettered only by Franck Kessie (86), Rafael Leao (87), Theo Hernandez and Alexis Saelemaekers (both 89).

The 22-year-old has made exactly 100 appearances in Serie A. Among players with 100 or more appearances in the competition, Tonali is the youngest of them.

Milan announced the new contract on their official website on Friday, a day after fellow midfielder Rade Krunic extended his stay with the club until 2025.

Forward Leao is also in discussions over a new deal with Milan, who have started their Scudetto defence with three wins and two draws in their opening five games.

Stefano Pioli hinted Divock Origi could make his first Serie A start when Milan go to Sampdoria on Saturday, as he emphasised the importance of competition in his Rossoneri squad.

Origi joined Milan in July after leaving Liverpool on a free transfer, but has been a peripheral figure during their promising start to the new campaign. 

With the likes of Rafael Leao, Junior Messias and Olivier Giroud preferred by Pioli, Origi has made just three substitute appearances in the league, playing a total of 47 minutes.

But speaking ahead of the trip to Sampdoria, Pioli said the Belgium international is ready to make his full debut.

Asked whether it was time for Origi to feature more heavily, Pioli said: "I think so, because he is better and has had time to pick up the pace.

"We have various solutions. Charles [De Ketelaere] is doing everything I am asking of him, he is inserting himself more and more and better and better, I am happy with his performance. 

"Brahim [Diaz] has certain characteristics to give us numerical superiority. It is inevitable that you always ask me about who does not play, but I always choose based on the game.

"We have to play with energy for 95 minutes. At the end of the game we must have no more energy."

Milan have only been beaten once in Serie A this year, with Spezia prevailing in January). No other team has lost fewer games than the Rossoneri across the top five European leagues in 2022.

The Rossoneri have also averaged 2.29 points per game this calendar year, a figure bettered only by Liverpool (2.4) and Manchester City (2.38) across the continent's biggest leagues.

Milan enjoyed a busy transfer window after ending their 11-year wait for the Scudetto in May, bringing in the likes of Origi, De Ketelaere and Sergino Dest. Pioli, however, insists a renewal of his squad was not necessary, highlighting the need for competition in every position.

"I don't like the term turnover. It's not only the first 11 who are chosen," he added.

"I know that I have strong players, a very specific identity and I am sure that everyone, when called upon, will give their all. 

"Tomorrow I will field what, in my opinion, is the best formation: I go ahead for what I see and for what I feel. It is not that if I rotate, I do it as a bias. I put players on the field to win games."

Meanwhile, Milan have been forced to recover from a series of slow starts this season; each of Udinese, Atalanta, Inter and Salzburg (the latter in the Champions League) have opened the scoring against the Rossoneri in recent weeks.

But Pioli is impressed with the character the Serie A champions have shown when overcoming those deficits, adding: "As an approach, we only made a mistake with Udinese, but it is clear that it is a fact that we want to reverse. 

"Then, however, the great awareness of the team is confirmed. Despite the disadvantage, they continue to believe in themselves to change the game." 

Milan midfielder Rade Krunic has agreed a new deal at San Siro that will run through until June 2025.

The Bosnia and Herzegovina international joined Milan from Empoli three years ago and has made 91 appearances for the Serie A giants in all competitions.

Krunic's previous deal was due to expire at the end next season, but he has agreed to extend his contract by a further year.

Milan are also in talks with Rafael Leao and Sandro Tonali over extending their stays at the club.

Rafael Leao was Milan's hero in the derby against Inter and head coach Stefano Pioli says the Rossoneri are determined to tie the in-demand forward to a new deal.

Leao scored twice and provided an assist for Olivier Giroud as the Serie A champions defeated their city rivals 3-2 in an entertaining clash at San Siro on Saturday.

It was a welcome performance for Milan supporters, who had seen their star linked with a move to Premier League big-spenders Chelsea on transfer deadline day.

However, the Blues were rebuffed in their attempts to strike a deal for a player who reportedly has a €150million release clause in his contract, which runs until June 2024.

Pioli said he was never fearful Leao would depart and has now confirmed the plan is to tie the 23-year-old to a longer contract.

"These are not things that I can decide, but I believe the club wants to offer Leao a new deal soon. He is working at the best level," he told reporters.

"Rafa has beautiful attitudes, he knows that he has been gifted with talent.

"Then for the contract, whoever has to do what he has to do."

Giroud says he was always confident his Leao would stay with Milan, saying: "I was not worried about him. I knew he would remain here."

Pioli is sure there is plenty more to come from the Portugal international.

Speaking to DAZN, he said: "In order to improve, you need talent and intelligence, so Leao has both of those. We gave him the time and freedom to make mistakes so he could learn.

"Naturally, every time we put him in one-on-one situations, he's an important weapon in our armoury. 

"Rafa has a body language that might confuse people, but I can assure you he knows what potential he has and is very eager to learn."

Simone Inzaghi blamed an Inter "blackout" for the 3-2 derby defeat to Milan at San Siro as Rafael Leao's double settled the Derby della Madonnina.

The Inter head coach was unimpressed with his team's defensive performance as the Rossoneri took local bragging rights, with Leao's double and an Olivier Giroud strike countered by goals from Marcelo Brozovic and Edin Dzeko.

Inzaghi, whose title hopefuls have lost two of their first five games of the Serie A season, praised Milan goalkeeper Mike Maignan, although the Frenchman only made three saves.

"We found a great Maignan and they scored against us very easily," said Inzaghi. "To win the derby we needed to do more, half an hour is not enough."

Brozovic gave Inter an early lead, but Leao levelled in the 28th minute, on his 100th Serie A appearance.

The Portuguese winger set up Giroud to put Milan ahead, before dancing through a ragged Inter defence to fire the nominal home side 3-1 ahead, at the stadium the clubs share.

Dzeko halved the deficit, but Inter could not get back on level terms.

"Now we will analyse the game and our mistakes," Inzaghi told DAZN. "At the beginning the game was balanced. After the 1-1 we had a blackout half an hour which cost us two goals that we cannot concede. We probably deserved more, but we had to do better."

He added: "I have to try to understand what happens to us in those moments: we are the same as last year, but we have conceded eight goals in five games."

Milan boss Stefano Pioli saw his side go at least briefly to the top of the table.

"There is a great rivalry that has strengthened in recent years," Pioli said of the derby. "Inter wanted to prove themselves superior, but they did not succeed. I coach lads who continue to amaze me with their energy and their constant desire to improve.

"We were good at reading the game, Inter made us dribble and we did it without forcing hasty plays.

"We had prepared for the game in this way, precisely knowing how Inter would play. We have shown maturity on the pitch, we have an awareness that makes me happy. For 70 minutes we played like a great team."

Pioli's lone complaint was that he felt Milan let their attention drift after going two goals clear, saying that at that point, "we thought we had already won, and it is a mistake we must not make".

Rafael Leao marked his 100th Serie A appearance in style with a derby double to help Milan beat Inter 3-2 at San Siro.

The Portuguese winger added an assist into the bargain as he proved to be the class act on display, having stayed at Milan amid recent interest from Chelsea.

Leao's efforts allowed Milan to score a second successive league derby win over their city rivals, with whom they share the famous stadium. It is the first time they have achieved this since first time since the 2010-11 season, when Milan won their first two league derbies under Massimiliano Allegri.

Olivier Giroud also scored as Scudetto holders Milan took the Derby della Madonnina honours, with Marcelo Brozovic and Edin Dzeko getting the goals for Inter.

Milan's defence splintered in the 21st minute to allow Brozovic a clear run on goal, with the midfielder taking on a throughball from Joaquin Correa and slotting into the bottom-left corner.

Eight minutes later, Leao came up with Milan's equaliser, a left-footed shot that arrowed across Handanovic, who got a fingertip to the ball but could not prevent it finding the right corner.

Sandro Tonali, Theo Hernandez, Charles De Ketelaere and Giroud threatened as Milan stepped up their game before half-time, gaining the upper hand.

It was Giroud who put them ahead in the 54th minute, with Leao's cross from close to the left touchline finding the French striker who send a bobbling shot across Handanovic and into the net. The goalkeeper should have done better.

Inter's defence could hang their heads in shame at the defending that allowed Leao to saunter through to fire his second and Milan's third goal in the 60th minute. The forward's nimble footwork was impressive, but the absence of a tackle was embarrassing.

There was a lifeline for the Nerazzurri when Dzeko cracked in Matteo Darmian's low centre, and Milan goalkeeper Mike Maignan kicked away another shot from the Bosnian as Inter searched in vain for an equaliser.

All eyes turn to one of the biggest derbies in world football this weekend, as Milan and Inter battle it out at the San Siro.

The two arch-rivals went toe-to-toe in the hunt for the Serie A title last season, with Milan emerging victorious on the final day to clinch the league crown for the first time since 2011.

Stefano Pioli's side have begun their title defence with an unbeaten start to the campaign, securing two wins and two draws, while Inter have won three of four, losing to Lazio last Friday.

Still early in the season, a single point separates the two and bragging rights are on the cards on Saturday, though neither side has a particularly good record against one another in recent years.

Milan seek to end poor derby return

A 2-1 victory over Inter in February, where Olivier Giroud netted a brace, puts Milan in hunt of consecutive league wins against Inter for the first time since 2011 – which were the first two league derbies played under Massimiliano Allegri.

While they were victorious in that particular clash, the two Coppa Italia semi-final ties in March and April saw Milan unable to score in either tie, meaning they could go three consecutive derbies without scoring for the first time since 1980.

Milan's last win as the designated host at San Siro against Inter came in Serie A back in January 2016, with Inter winning three and drawing three against the Rossoneri since then.

 

Inzaghi's unwanted record

Simone Inzaghi has only won one point in his first two derbies in Serie A since joining the Nerazzurri and is seeking a win to prevent an unwanted record, as failure to do so would see him become the first Inter coach not to win any of his first three matches against Milan in the top-flight since Osvaldo Bagnoli in 1993 (D2 L1).

In order to secure victory, Inter could turn to Joaquin Correa who has scored four goals in Serie A against Milan, more than any other side. The Argentine has also scored four goals in his last five appearances in the competition, having gone goalless in his previous 18.

Either way, there should be goals and a victor as Inter are the only team, excluding relegated and promoted sides, not to draw a Serie A match since last April.

During that sequence, Inter have 11 wins, at least three more than any other team, and two losses – one of which was the 3-1 defeat to Lazio last Friday.

 

Leao vs Lautaro

Having fended off transfer interest from Chelsea, Rafael Leao is set to make his 100th Serie A appearance in Saturday's game and the Brazilian's record sees him stand as one of the finest young players in the division.

Among players born since 1999, Leao has provided 16 Serie A assists, more than anyone else, and has scored 24 goals – putting him behind only Juventus' Dusan Vlahovic (55) and Inter's Andrea Pinamonti (25), who is on loan at Sassuolo.

With Romelu Lukaku absent through injury, Inter will turn to Lautaro Martinez to find the difference and the Argentine enters the tie in a fine vein of form.

Martinez has been involved in a goal in each of his first four appearances this season (three goals, one assist), only Zlatan Ibrahimovic (2007-08) and Nicolo Barella (2021-22) have had a hand in a goal in their first Serie A appearances in a second for Inter since 2004-05, when Opta started collecting assist data.

 

Pioli's perfect return

Though Milan's recent record against Inter does not make for pretty reading, their overall record heading into Saturday's derby is encouraging as they have won five consecutive home matches in Serie A.

A sixth in a row with victory against Inter would see Milan hit that tally for the first time since August 2014, under Clarence Seedorf and Filippo Inzaghi.

Milan's defence is also looking strong, having kept a clean sheet in their last two Serie A matches. A third this weekend would see Milan secure three clean sheets in the first five top-flight seasonal games in three campaigns in a row for the third time in their history (after 1952-23, 1953-54, 1954-55 and 1978-79, 1979-1980 and 1981-1982).

Stefano Pioli is set to unleash Rafael Leao on Inter in Saturday's Milan derby after keeping suitors at bay before the transfer window closed.

The exciting Portuguese forward was thought to be a target for Chelsea but remains with Milan and is poised to make his 100th Serie A appearance against the Nerazzurri.

Up to this point, Leao has started in 69 of his 99 league games, and among players born from 1999 onwards he has provided the most assists (16) in the competition.

In terms of goals scored among that age group, the 23-year-old stands third on the list with 24, behind only Dusan Vlahovic (55) and Andrea Pinamonti (25).

Pioli never believed he would lose Leao before the shutters went up on the market on Thursday, but the finality will have come as a relief to many associated with the club.

"I have never been worried about the possible departure of Leao, I have always seen him fully involved and determined," Pioli said on Friday.

Milan won the last league derby, a 2-1 victory in February when Olivier Giroud's double saw the Rossoneri come from behind to take the points, an important result on the way to a first Scudetto since 2010-11, dethroning Inter in the process.

It means Milan will be looking to win consecutive league games against their city rivals for the first time since 2011, although Inter got the better of the two-leg Coppa Italia semi-final between the teams in March and April.

Pioli said Giroud had "a crucial role" to play in Saturday's game, and stressed Milan have prepared "down to the smallest detail".

"I expect a vibrant contest: the derby is the derby and so it will be an even contest," Pioli said. "We must not lose focus for even a second, we'll have to move hard and fast. Effort, aggression and sacrifice will all be required."

The transfer window has been an inevitable distraction despite Pioli's best efforts to focus on Inter. Milan look to have traded prudently in its closing stages, agreeing loan deals for Barcelona's American full-back Sergino Dest and Wolfsburg's teenage Belgian midfielder Aster Vranckx, while also signing Schalke's young centre-back Malick Thiaw.

Pioli described the newcomers as "important players with ample room for improvement".

Dest arrives in the wake of Milan losing right-back Alessandro Florenzi to a leg muscle injury that will reportedly sideline him for around eight weeks.

"We are gutted for Florenzi's injury," said Pioli, quoted on Milan's official website. "He is a leader on and off the pitch. We're still evaluating how to proceed in order to manage his recovery in the best possible way."

Assessing what Dest brings, Pioli said: "He has quality and pace, we got him to play the full-back position but he has the right characteristics to play in other roles too."

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