Ibrahimovic 'fine' to face Celtic but Pioli unsure about extent of Calhanoglu injury

By Sports Desk October 21, 2020

Zlatan Ibrahimovic can cope with Milan's quick turnaround in matches but Rossoneri head coach Stefano Pioli is unsure how long his side will be without fellow key player Hakan Calhanoglu.

Veteran striker Ibrahimovic scored twice in Saturday's 2-1 win over bitter rivals Inter and is part of Milan's 22-man squad for Thursday's Europa League Group H opener with Celtic in Glasgow.

Pioli has resisted the urge to rest his big hitters and insists they can cope with the demands of a packed fixture list, with four more matches to come in the space of 10 days.

"Zlatan is fine and so are his team-mates," Pioli told Sky Sport Italia. "I think the team is fine, because it's more the head that commands the legs. 

"The derby has taken away a lot of mental energy more than physical, as always happens in this period.

"We will have a block of three weeks where we will play seven times and they will be close and very competitive matches, but I will certainly field the best side on Thursday."

Calhanoglu will play no part at Celtic Park, however, after spraining his ankle in the narrow win over Inter last weekend as Milan stretched their winning run to nine matches.

He has thrived post-lockdown, scoring and assisting a combined 15 goals in Serie A since June - a tally matched by Ibrahimovic and bettered only by Cristiano Ronaldo (16) and Francesco Caputo (17).

Asked for an update on Calhanoglu's fitness, Pioli said: "Unfortunately, we don't know if it is a minor one or a more serious thing.

"It is a situation that we will have to analyse together with the physios day after day."

Milan made tough work of overcoming Rio Ave in their qualifying play-off tie, requiring a last-gasp goal from Calhanoglu to salvage an epic penalty shoot-out that they edged 9-8.

The seven-time European champions have won just one of their last four matches in the Europa League proper, conceding two or more goals in three of those fixtures.

However, they enter the competition as the favourites of many to go all the way and Pioli acknowledges his side have to cope with the pressure that comes with that tag.

"We worked hard to get back into Europe and now we want to stay there," he told Milan TV.

"The Europa League is an important competition, we have a very balanced and competitive group, so we are eager to start strong.

"It's natural that there are high expectations around us, and that’s only right, as we are wearing a prestigious jersey of a club that is accustomed to winning.

"It's a privilege for us to have this kind of pressure, as it means we are doing well and there are many more tests we must pass. 

"Milan always play to win, knowing that it’ll be difficult every single time. 

"We have the quality to take home the points and the more we sacrifice ourselves for the team, the more likely we’ll get a result."

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    The Premier League takes a back seat this weekend as the FA Cup returns at the fourth round stage.

    While Aston Villa and Newcastle will contest the sole top-flight match, most of the big boys are hoping to continue their respective quests for silverware in the cup.

    For the second weekend running, most eyes will likely be on Manchester United and Liverpool – though fans and neutrals alike will surely be hoping for more of a spectacle than their rather anti-climactic Premier League contest last weekend.

    Elsewhere, Wolves face non-league opposition, while Manchester City, Chelsea and Tottenham all take on teams from lower in the football pyramid.

    Before the action begins, test your knowledge with our Opta-fuelled quiz! You can check your answers below.

    1. Wolves will be big favourites when they play Chorley on Friday, but they did lose their most recent clash with non-league opposition. When was that defeat to Luton Town?

    2. Arsenal striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has scored in all four of his appearances in the FA Cup, netting six goals in total in the competition. Who was the last Gunners player to score in five consecutive FA Cup appearances between May 1998 and February 1999?

    3. Liverpool go to bitter rivals Manchester United on Sunday in the pick of the weekend's action. The Reds have only reached the FA Cup fifth round in one of Jurgen Klopp's five previous seasons at the club. When was that and who ended their run?

    4. Last season's beaten finalists Chelsea host Championship side Luton this weekend. The Blues have progressed from 51 of their last 53 FA Cup ties against sides from a lower division – who was the last such team to beat them and when?

    5. Luton have a history of big upsets in the FA Cup and were the first non-league side to beat a Premier League team back in 2013 when they eliminated Norwich City. Which current Tottenham star was in the Canaries' starting XI that day?

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    1. January 2013
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    Silvio Berlusconi, Adriano Galliani, Cristian Brocchi, Mario Balotelli, Kevin-Prince Boateng and Gabriel Paletta.

    There is a real Milan vibe about Monza, who are nestled 15 kilometres north of the Lombardy capital, as the ambitious club stand closer than ever to achieving their goal of Serie A promotion after spending their entire existence in the lower leagues.

    Monza are owned by former Milan president and Italy prime minister Berlusconi, who returned to football in 2018 after selling his beloved Rossoneri a year earlier.

    After purchasing the club through his Fininvest company, Berlusconi turned to his trusted right-hand man Galliani – who was born in Monza – as CEO. Their partnership helped turn the Rossoneri into a superpower, with eight Serie A titles and five Champions League/European Cup crowns among the 29 pieces of silverware between 1986 and 2017.

    Monza are also coached by former Milan midfielder and boss Brocchi, while the Serie B outfit also boasts ex-Rossoneri players Balotelli, Boateng and Paletta.

    After completing their rise from Serie C to the second tier of Italian football amid the coronavirus pandemic in 2019-20, Monza are well and truly in the promotion mix – fourth and six points adrift of leaders Empoli, while they are only two points behind Cittadella, who occupy the final automatic spot through 18 games.

    Moving up to Serie A would mean a Milan reunion for many of Monza's staff and players, as well as Brocchi – who won the Scudetto and two Champions League titles among other honours at San Siro between 2001 and 2008 before spending a brief period in charge eight years later.

    "It is a dream that hopefully will come true. To have brought the Milan mentality coming from our board – always striving to build an important organisation similar to the Milan that won so much worldwide," Brocchi told Stats Perform News.

    "Board, manager and some players have worn that shirt and the dream to recreate Milan here in Monza is beautiful and emotional."

    "It is a tough season. There are many strong clubs, the ones relegated from A [in 2019-20] who have retained all the important players and those who last season had built up a squad for promotion and failed, so I think this year's Serie B is the hardest of recent times," he continued.

    Monza – back in Serie B following a 19-year absence – are no ordinary second-tier team in Italy, with all eyes on the Bagai due to Berlusconi.

    Berlusconi's presence has changed the landscape for Monza, who tried to sign Zlatan Ibrahimovic before the star striker opted to return to Milan in January last year. However, Monza have since lured Balotelli and Boateng to the club.

    "Working for Berlusconi and Galliani's club is grand because all media attention is on you. For sure everybody thinks Monza have to win every game because these two people have gone down in football history winning so much. And this is exactly our goal," Brocchi said.

    "I know very well Berlusconi and Galliani's wish is to reach Serie A and win every game. We share the same mindset because I have grown up with them since I was nine. To me it is an honour to be the manager here.

    "For sure it is beautiful and important for me to manage in a club like Monza that are very ambitious. It is not easy to take a club from Serie C to Serie A but it is emotional because you have a lot of responsibilities and adrenaline is always rushing. As I said, to face strong clubs with your own aim and manage to overcome them, would make this even better." 

    Brocchi, who oversaw just seven matches as Milan coach before being replaced by Vincenzo Montella, continued: "Monza's aim is to improve. We started from C, we are in B and we want Serie A. The difference between us and other clubs is that once in Serie A we won't have the goal of avoiding relegation at the last game, but to rank in the top 10.

    "Mr Galliani wants us to always be a strong team going for great objectives. This is what will happen should we win this league."

    Balotelli and Boateng are set to play a key role in Monza's push for promotion following their high-profile arrivals.

    Boateng has made an immediate impact, with the former Milan and Barcelona midfielder – on average – scoring a goal every 243 minutes in Serie B this season, the best average among Monza players with at least 90 minutes played.

    Only Dany Mota has fired more shots on target than Boateng (23 to 10) among Monza players this term and the talented Portuguese forward has four league goals.

    Balotelli – coming off a difficult spell at Brescia before their relegation from Serie A – scored with his first touch in Serie B on debut for Monza last month before being sidelined through injury.

    "They [Balotelli and Boateng] arrived here in Serie B thanks to the acquaintance they had with Berlusconi and Galliani and even with me as a manager, since I trained them at Milan and we had a great relationship," said Brocchi, who was handed his first senior head-coaching role at Milan after replacing Sinisa Mihajlovic almost five years ago, having previously worked with the club's youth team.

    "They settled in very well, they always train hard, they lead by example by showing the will to take me, Berlusconi, Galliani and Monza to Serie A. So far they have been important, let's hope they can give us even more in order to make this dream come true."

    The experience of Balotelli and Boateng complements an exciting core of Monza players, including Mota and Brazilian full-back Carlos Augusto, as well as talented loanees Davide Frattesi (Sassuolo), Andrea Colpani (Atalanta) and Davide Bettella (Atalanta).

    Both Balotelli and Boateng have tasted Serie A success in their careers to go with respective Premier League and LaLiga honours, with the latter part of the last Milan team to celebrate Scudetto glory in 2010-11.

    The strategy of sporting director Filippo Antonelli and Brocchi to invest in promising young talent has continued to deliver results on the pitch.

    Monza have allowed the fewest headed goals (one) in Serie B this season, while Brocchi's side have conceded 10 goals from inside the box – the least in the league, while they have scored five goals inside the opening 15 minutes of play – the joint most in 2020-21.

    "Monza are a mix of experienced players and great young talents. The right mix to achieve our goals. Players like Balotelli and Boateng can help Mota, Carlos Augusto, Frattesi, Colpani or Bettella, all under-21 players for Italy and Portugal," the 44-year-old Brocchi said.

    "You can't only field experienced players, you have to look for the right mix and this is what Antonelli and I looked for. I think experience helps youngsters and their exuberance helps the expert ones."

  • Rumour Has It: Zidane facing questions at Real Madrid, Pogba set to stay at Man Utd Rumour Has It: Zidane facing questions at Real Madrid, Pogba set to stay at Man Utd

    Zinedine Zidane's future at Real Madrid is being questioned, while Paul Pogba could be set to stay at Manchester United.

    Madrid were stunned by third-tier side Alcoyano in the Copa del Rey on Wednesday, sparking fresh talk about Zidane's position at the helm.

    Zidane is under fire, but the Frenchman may get more time.

     

    TOP STORY – ZIDANE BEING QUESTIONED AS REAL MADRID BOSS

    Zinedine Zidane is being questioned more than ever as Real Madrid head coach, according to AS.

    The report says he will remain at the helm until the Champions League, which will resume in February, and former star forward Raul is the top candidate to replace him.

    Madrid are second in LaLiga, seven points behind Atletico Madrid, who also have a game in hand.

    ROUND-UP

    - Pogba may be happier at Manchester United. The Daily Star reports United are increasingly confident the midfielder will see out his contract, which runs until 2022, despite interest from Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus.

    - Christian Eriksen looks set to leave Inter, but it remains to be seen where he ends up. The Telegraph claims Leicester City have ruled out a loan move for the midfielder due to his wage demands.

    - RB Leipzig defender Dayot Upamecano is set to be the subject of speculation for months to come. Goal reports Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea have shown interest in the defender, who is also wanted by Bayern Munich.

    - Dele Alli wants to reunite with Mauricio Pochettino at PSG. 90min says the Tottenham midfielder has asked chairman Daniel Levy not to block a potential switch this month.

    - Arsenal appear set to strengthen in January. Sport reports midfielder Martin Odegaard is very close to joining the Premier League club on loan from Real Madrid.

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