Pioli explains huge Zlatan Ibrahimovic boost on eve of Milan derby

By Sports Desk February 04, 2023

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has provided Milan with a major lift ahead of the derby against Inter, returning to first-team training and sharing pearls of wisdom with his Rossoneri team-mates.

Sunday's San Siro battle comes too soon for Ibrahimovic to make an impact on the pitch, but the 41-year-old striker is back in the fold, close to returning from the knee surgery he underwent last May.

It was envisaged he would be absent for around eight months, and Milan have given the veteran all the time he needs.

Head coach Stefano Pioli believes having Ibrahimovic around the squad can only be a positive as last season's Serie A champions bid to recover from a drastic dip in form.

Milan have lost three games in a row, including a Supercoppa Italiana final 3-0 thumping by Inter, and are without a win in their last six.

Discussing the return of the charismatic Ibrahimovic, who is a former Inter player, Pioli said on Saturday: "He has always been fundamental for this team.

"On Friday he resumed training with us, even if to a small extent. Unfortunately, the two games against Tottenham [in the Champions League] come too soon, and right now we don't know when he will be at 100 per cent.

"I hope with all my heart he can come back soon, especially for what he's doing. Few people would do what he's doing to come back from such a difficult and complicated injury.

"Has he talked to his team-mates? I think so, he knows how to strike the right chords."

Pioli's team have slipped 15 points behind leaders Napoli and entered the weekend in fifth place, albeit only two points behind second-placed Inter, so there is all to play for at San Siro.

"It will be a great opportunity for us and we must do everything to seize it," Pioli said. "Inter come into the match in excellent form, but we have a great desire to start again."

Since the Supercoppa loss on January 18, Milan have been beaten 4-0 at Lazio and 5-2 at home by lowly Sassuolo, putting their top-four prospects in unexpected mid-season peril.

Inter will fancy piling on more misery, but Pioli said: "We have not lost the spirit that has always distinguished us. We must go back to showing it."

Milan are determined to get back into the top four and ink themselves in for another Champions League campaign, but Pioli said: "It shouldn't be taken for granted.

"We have to win many games from here until the end to get as high as possible."

Related items

  • Bologna 3-3 Juventus: Bianconeri hit back in Motta's job interview Bologna 3-3 Juventus: Bianconeri hit back in Motta's job interview

    Juventus scored three goals in eight minutes to complete a remarkable comeback and secure a 3-3 draw against Serie A's surprise package Bologna on Monday.

    The Bianconeri, who sacked Massimiliano Allegri last week, endured a nightmare start as Riccardo Calafiori and Santiago Castro propelled hosts Bologna into a 2-0 lead within 11 minutes.

    Matters got worse for Bianconeri interim boss Paolo Montero when Calafiori struck again eight minutes into the second half to put Bologna, coached by reported Juve target Thiago Motta, into a 3-0 lead, with the defender chipping the ball over goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny.

    Yet Federico Chiesa's 76th-minute effort kickstarted a stunning turnaround, with Arkadiusz Milik's free-kick soon after teeing up a grandstand finale.

    Kenan Yildiz was the player who sealed the draw, as Juve hit back against their potential next coach.

    The result left third-placed Bologna level on 68 points with Juve in fourth before the final matchday.

    Data Debrief: Three down? No problems

    For the first time in their history, Juve avoided defeat in a Serie A game in which they had been at least three goals behind.

    Chiesa was key to their comeback. Bologna are the team that the Italy international has scored the most league goals against in his career (seven in 11 matches).

  • Liverpool offer 'difficult to ignore', says Klopp's replacement Slot Liverpool offer 'difficult to ignore', says Klopp's replacement Slot

    Arne Slot said it was "not an easy decision" to leave Feyenoord, but ultimately he could not turn down the Liverpool job.

    Liverpool finally confirmed Slot as Jurgen Klopp's successor on Monday.

    Klopp signed off on his nine-year tenure in charge of Liverpool with a 2-0 win over Wolves on Sunday.

    The German started an "Arne Slot" chant during his leaving speech at Anfield, and a day later, the Reds officially announced the 45-year-old Dutchman's appointment, subject to a work permit.

    Slot led Feyenoord to the Eredivisie title during his time in charge, as well as the KNVB Beker, while they also reached the Europa Conference League final in 2022.

    Speaking to Feyenoord's official website, Slot said: "It is certainly not an easy decision to close the door behind you at a club where you have experienced so many wonderful moments and worked successfully with so many wonderful people.

    "But as a sportsman, an opportunity to become a head coach in the Premier League, at one of the biggest clubs in the world, is difficult to ignore.

    "At the same time, we understand very well that working at a club like Liverpool is a special and unique opportunity for him. With that in mind, we started the conversation to see if we could find a solution together, and in the end we succeeded."

    Feyenoord beat Excelsior in Feyenoord's final match in charge on Sunday.

  • Hojlund form gives Man Utd 'luxury problem' for FA Cup final, says Ten Hag Hojlund form gives Man Utd 'luxury problem' for FA Cup final, says Ten Hag

    Rasmus Hojlund's return to form presents a "luxury problem" for Manchester United ahead of this weekend's FA Cup final against Manchester City, says Erik ten Hag.

    Hojlund came off the bench to score United's second goal as they rounded off their Premier League campaign with a 2-0 win over Brighton and Hove Albion on Sunday, having also netted in last week's 3-2 victory over Newcastle United.

    He finished his debut Premier League season with 10 goals, becoming the youngest player to reach double figures in 2023-24 (21 years, 105 days old as of Sunday).

    Hojlund has battled injury problems and dips in form throughout the campaign, and in his absence, Ten Hag has often opted to deploy Bruno Fernandes as a false nine.

    The Portugal international started United's last two matches in that position, and Ten Hag says he has plenty to think about as he prepares to name his cup final lineup.

    "It is not a dilemma, it is a luxury problem," Ten Hag said.

    "I think both formations can be a success because, as you know, we can play with the set-up from the Etihad, where we were a threat with Bruno's movement in behind.

    "With Rasmus Hojlund in behind and in form, it is absolutely something we have to consider. 

    "Let's have a thought, but let's not say we only need 11 players. In a tough final, you need a bench as well."

    Hojlund failed to score in his first 15 Premier League matches before ending his drought against Aston Villa on Boxing Day, though he did score five times in United's unsuccessful Champions League campaign before Christmas.

    He has 16 goals across all competitions this term, which Ten Hag sees as a good effort when taking his fitness problems into account. 

    "It could always be better, but don't forget he had three injuries this season," Ten Hag said.

    "He came in with an injury and missed the start, then he got injured before winter, and then got another injury after winter. 

    "Every time that has broken his rhythm. If you score 16 goals for a first season, it is okay, and remember it is also not over. We have the final too."

© 2023 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.