AC Milan director Paolo Maldini believes "fear" could hold Zlatan Ibrahimovic back from returning to Serie A.

LA Galaxy superstar Ibrahimovic's contract is set to expire and the former Milan, Inter and Juventus striker has been linked with a move back to Italy.

Ibrahimovic, whose side were eliminated from the MLS play-offs by Los Angeles FC, claimed he would score 20 goals a season in Serie A amid growing links to Napoli, Bologna and Inter.

The possibility of Ibrahimovic returning to Milan has also been mentioned as the Rossoneri struggle for goals, however, Maldini cast doubt over the 38-year-old's Italy comeback.

"Ibra would be a dream return for many reasons, but I think within his mind there is a little fear that he won't be the dominant Ibra of old," Maldini told Sky Sport Italia.

"I remember when [former Milan head coach] Carlo Ancelotti put me on the bench for a derby and that's when I realised, I could not accept a season like that. I don't know if Ibra could accept that either.

"Krzysztof Piatek is a good striker. He needs to think more about playing with the team, but his strength is scoring goals."

Ibrahimovic has flourished since moving to Los Angeles from Manchester United in 2018 – scoring 53 goals across two seasons for the Galaxy.

 

 

Antonio Conte said he is worried about injuries affecting his Inter squad in the coming weeks after his side were held to a 2-2 draw by Parma.

Kwadwo Asamoah and Stefan de Vrij were left out of Conte's starting line-up at San Siro, where goals in either half from Antonio Candreva and Romelu Lukaku helped to earn the Nerazzurri a point.

The result leaves Inter a point behind Serie A leaders Juventus, who drew 1-1 with Lecce earlier in the day, and Conte expressed his concerns in the midst of a busy fixture schedule.

Inter play their next three games away at Brescia, Bologna and Borussia Dortmund in the space of eight days, and Conte told Sky Sports: "This was our third game in six days. We play more or less the same again and we will have difficulties.

"We are not calm about this. We have four other games in a short time.

"De Vrij had a problem with his adductor and Asamoah with his knee. It becomes difficult to play in two competitions with a squad reduced to the minimum."

Conte is without Alexis Sanchez until after Christmas due to a foot tendon problem and he will monitor the fitness of Danilo D'Ambrosio and Stefano Sensi as they recover from injuries over the coming weeks.

The Inter boss picked out 20-year-old defender Alessandro Bastoni, who started against Parma, and 17-year-old forward Sebastiano Esposito as focal points of Inter's future plans, but indicated that he would consult with the club's board to establish a plan for his squad given the growing list of absentees.

"We must make assessments with the club and understand where we can do better," said Conte.

"I understand that it is part of a growth project, and we are also focusing on young people like Bastoni and Esposito and we need to be patient, but I am worried anyway."

Parma forward Yann Karamoh scored one and set up another on his San Siro return to help his side earn a 2-2 draw and deny Inter top spot in Serie A.

Juventus dropped points for just the second time this season in their 1-1 draw with Lecce earlier on Saturday but Inter, despite taking the lead, could not take full advantage.

Karamoh, whose loan to Parma from the Nerazzurri is set to become permanent at the end of the season, cancelled out Antonio Candreva's fortuitous opener and set up Gervinho to put Parma ahead in the 30th minute. 

Romelu Lukaku equalised early in the second half despite being in an offside position in the build-up - his sixth Serie A goal awarded after a lengthy VAR check - but Inter could not find a winner and remain a point adrift of leaders Juve.

No Serie A side had scored more first-half goals this season than Inter prior to kick-off and they were ahead inside 23 minutes - Candreva's half-volley from the edge of the box deflecting off Kastriot Dermaku to leave Luigi Sepe wrong-footed.

The visitors responded in style as Karamoh pounced on a loose pass from Marcelo Brozovic, carried the ball forward and picked out the top-left corner with a stunning strike.

Gervinho put Parma in front four minutes later following another sloppy ball from Brozovic, which Karamoh again profited from by surging forward and picking out his team-mate for a low finish from 10 yards.

Inter were back on level terms six minutes into the second half through Lukaku's close-range finish, the goal allowed to stand despite the Belgian standing in an illegal position when Brozovic played in Candreva to tee him up.

Gervinho was denied by Samir Handanovic and Karamoh also had an effort kept out as Parma refused to give up, but the match finished all square

 

Maurizio Sarri confirmed Gonzalo Higuain was conscious and lucid after a blow to the head left the Juventus striker needing a stretcher at full-time in a 1-1 draw with Lecce.

Higuain came off worse in an aerial collision with goalkeeper Gabriel late in Saturday's entertaining Serie A match at Stadio Via del Mare.

Medical staff applied bandages to the Argentinian's bloodied head and he completed the match as normal, unleashing multiple shots as the visitors attempted to reclaim the lead.

His condition reportedly worsened after the final whistle and he had to be carried from the pitch.

"Gonzalo is having stitches, then they will decide whether to take him to the hospital," Sarri said in a post-match interview with Sky Sport Italia.

"He is conscious and responding clearly. I think he will come back with us [to Turin]."

Juve earlier lost Miralem Pjanic to a muscle problem on a costly day.

Sarri's decision to rest Cristiano Ronaldo from the matchday squad backfired badly as the Bianconeri wasted numerous chances either side of Paulo Dybala's 50th-minute penalty.

Matthijs de Ligt's inadvertent handball allowed Marco Mancosu to equalise from the spot six minutes later and Lecce held firm under pressure to register their first home point of the season.

Sarri said: "Ronaldo was tired physically and mentally. Bringing him here would not have allowed him to recover.

"When a player becomes fatigued, then it's right to let him rest. It was something he also felt. The fact remains we produced 10 scoring opportunities and didn't finish them."

The draw marked the second time Juve have dropped points under Sarri in Serie A, the champions having settled for a stalemate against Fiorentina in September.

AC Milan head coach Stefano Pioli has defended out-of-form forward Suso and urged his players to ignore the "hysteria" surrounding their draw with Lecce last time out.

Marco Calderoni scored a stunning late equaliser for strugglers Lecce to earn a 2-2 draw and deny Pioli victory in his first match at San Siro since succeeding Marco Giampaolo.

Suso has one goal and no assists from eight league starts this term and has come in for criticism during Milan's disappointing run, but Pioli has offered support to the Spain international.

"We won't be part of any social or media pillory of our players. We are united, the objective is to be a team and fight for the results together," Pioli said at Saturday's news conference.

"If you hit one player, you hit us all, you hit me and you hit Milan. We have to be positive and not let ourselves get caught up in hysteria.

"We've got to prove ourselves in every match and learn from the Lecce game where we should have been more concentrated. It's not just about players being young or inexperienced, but the way we interpret the matches."

Milan have won just one of their last five matches and are in the bottom half of Serie A, three points adrift of Sunday's opponents Roma.

Pioli is anticipating a difficult match at Stadio Olimpico and acknowledged his other attacking players will have to step things up.

"We are up against a Roma side that have lost only one game this season," he said. "I expect them to be determined and we need to match them on that level.

"I expect Lucas Paqueta to be more enterprising on the ball and create more danger going forward. I liked the way [Hakan] Calhanoglu approached last week's game, not just the goal he scored."

Asked if Suso will retain his place in the starting line-up, Pioli said: "The best possible team for the game will play tomorrow. That is all I can tell you. You can read the XI when the time comes."

Maurizio Sarri's decision to rest Cristiano Ronaldo backfired as Juventus were forced to settle for a 1-1 draw at promoted Lecce.

Matthijs de Ligt's handball enabled Marco Mancosu to score from the spot in the 56th minute and earn the hosts their first home point of the Serie A season at Stadio Via del Mare.

Paulo Dybala, the hero of Juve's midweek Champions League win over Lokomotiv Moscow, had not long earlier opened the scoring with a spot kick of his own.

But there was no late saviour for Sarri's men on this occasion, the loss of Miralem Pjanic to a muscle problem compounding a result that will force them back into second place if Inter beat Parma later on Saturday.

Juve felt aggrieved not to be awarded an early penalty for Panagiotis Tachtsidis' trip on Emre Can.

Further appeals were waved away when Danilo went down under close attention from Marco Calderoni.

Gonzalo Higuain did turn home Alex Sandro's angled drive in the 15th minute, but the goal was disallowed for offside following a VAR review.

The striker then guided a low shot across the face before Lecce goalkeeper Gabriel denied Dybala amid sustained Juve pressure.

There was no stopping the Argentina international from 12 yards five minutes after the interval, referee Paolo Valeri having finally pointed to the spot after replays confirmed Jacopo Petriccione's challenge on Pjanic took place in the box.

A second spot-kick quickly followed as Calderoni's cross from the left fizzed against De Ligt's arm.

Lecce captain Mancosu made no mistake and the Bianconeri's problems soon grew greater, with Federico Bernardeschi's failure to score after rounding Gabriel preceding Pjanic's forced withdrawal.

An injury issue for Mancosu effectively left Lecce, who had used up their substitutes, to defend with 10 men for the final 15 minutes.

But Leonardo Bonucci's errant volley was the closest Juve came to capitalising, the point ultimately edging them two ahead of second-placed Inter.

 

Miralem Pjanic limped off midway through Juventus' Serie A game at Lecce on Saturday with a suspected hamstring injury.

The playmaker pulled up sharply before requiring medical attention and left the field very gingerly 67 minutes in.

Serie A champions had been pegged back to 1-1 after Marco Mancosu's 56th-minute penalty cancelled out Paulo Dybala's own successful conversion from 12 yards.

Pjanic has featured in every competitive game for Juventus this season, proving himself to be pivotal during the early stages of Maurizio Sarri's reign.

Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain and Atletico Madrid are among a host of major clubs interested in signing Brescia midfielder Sandro Tonali, according to the club's owner and president Massimo Cellino.

Tonali, 19, is one of Italy's brightest prospects, having broken into Brescia's first-team picture at the age of 17.

A technically gifted deep-lying playmaker who is often likened to Azzurri great Andrea Pirlo, Tonali made his first appearance for Italy in the Euro 2020 qualifying win over Liechtenstein on October 15.

He played 34 league games last season as Brescia were crowned Serie B champions and earned promotion back to the top flight, with many expecting the midfielder to be snapped up by a bigger club.

Brescia have managed to hold onto him, though, with Cellino suggesting it would take an eye-watering €300million for the club to part with him.

Asked by La Gazzetta dello Sport who was interested in Tonali, Cellino said: "All the big Italian clubs. Abroad there's Atletico Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City, but in my view, he'd be better off remaining a key player with Brescia.

"His agent and his parents were telling me about this €50million evaluation. I replied that for me he is worth €300million, which means I don't want to sell.

"I have a dream. If Sandro accepts, I am ready to make a big financial sacrifice to extend his contract. It's up to him to decide. He can stay here and enjoy his football or go to a big club and risk being left on the bench."

Napoli have firmly denied they rejected the chance to sign talented Salzburg striker Erling Haaland for a modest €5million in 2018.

In an interview published in Italian newspaper Il Mattino, footballer turned scout Loris Boni claimed the Norwegian teenager was offered to Napoli and Juventus before his move to Austria was agreed in August of last year.

Former Molde youngster Haaland arrived at Salzburg in January and has been starring for his new side, with 20 goals in all competitions to his name this season.

Napoli witnessed his ability in the Champions League on Wednesday, the 19-year-old netting twice against them in a 3-2 defeat for Salzburg, but the Serie A side insist they did not previously pass on him.

"We have read that Il Mattino has interviewed a talent scout who claims Haaland was offered to Napoli for €5million," read a Napoli statement on social media.

"This is fake news and it is astonishing that the journalist did not contact the club to receive confirmation or denial before writing this."

Manchester United and Real Madrid are reportedly among the clubs now interested in the two-cap Norway international.

Kylian Mbappe is long admired by Real Madrid and they are again intent on adding the 20-year-old to their front line, it seems.

Mbappe was linked with a switch to the Santiago Bernabeu before opting to stay in Ligue 1 when joining Paris Saint-Germain from Monaco in the 2017-18 season.

The Spanish giants have not forgotten about the France international, though, and are planning to move two superstars on in order to get their man, according to reports.

 

TOP STORY – MBAPPE BACK ON MADRID'S RADAR WITH BALE AND JAMES TO MAKE WAY

Real Madrid were unable to land Kylian Mbappe a couple of seasons ago, but they are keen to sign him over the next few transfer windows, according to Calciomercato.

Mbappe is one of world football's star names and would fit into the old Galactico culture at Madrid, although Los Blancos would need to offload two star names in order to raise finances and complete a deal with Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain.

One of those names is Gareth Bale, who is still reportedly unhappy at Madrid, while Colombia playmaker James Rodriguez could also move on having struggled at times to find form this season following a loan spell at Bayern Munich.

It remains to be seen whether any club is willing to pay the substantial transfer fee and wages required to secure either of the duo, but if they do make way then it could pave the way for Mbappe's move.

 

ROUND-UP

- Staying in Madrid and ElDesmarque believe Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba could be heading to Real Madrid in exchange for Gareth Bale and €90million.

- Bleacher Report claim Mesut Ozil's advisors are trying to convince the Arsenal playmaker to make a switch to MLS.

- Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly is the number one transfer target for Manchester City, according to Calciomercato.

- Manchester Evening News are reporting City may also take up their option to buy back Douglas Luiz from Aston Villa.

- Frank Lampard is hopefully of securing Fikayo Tomori and Tammy Abraham to new contracts at Chelsea, Goal have said.

- Athletic Bilbao defender Unai Nunez is a January transfer target for Bayern Munich, say Spox.

- Argentina striker Lautaro Martinez's contract talks with Inter have been put on ice as Barcelona and United circle for the 22-year-old's signature, according to Calciomercato.

Former Sunderland manager Dick Advocaat claims Jack Rodwell has the potential to make an impact in Serie A as rumours of a surprise switch to Roma surface.

The 28-year-old is a free agent after being released from Blackburn Rovers at the end of last season and, with Roma suffering from midfield injuries, he could join compatriot Chris Smalling in the Italian capital with speculation a medical could happen this weekend.

Rodwell earned a move to Manchester City in 2012, having come through Everton's youth ranks, but injuries have impacted the Englishman's career to date.

The Englishman would later spend five years at Sunderland, working under Advocaat during his brief spell as manager and the Dutchman says he's not surprised by Roma's interest in Rodwell.

"He was one of the brightest prospects in English football and this is confirmed by the fact he was signed by Manchester City," he said to Teleradiostereo.

"After that, several injuries held back his growth but he's a player who, if fit, can show his full potential.

"I was at the helm of Sunderland for only a few months, but he's undoubtedly an excellent player and I don't think he will struggle to adapt in Italy. He has the potential to do well in Serie A.

"His heavy contract slowed him down a bit, but he can be an important player again."

Cristiano Ronaldo will sit out Juventus' Serie A trip to Lecce on Saturday.

Speaking ahead of the game, head coach Maurizio Sarri said he would need to rest his star forward, who has already played the full 90 minutes in 10 of Juve's 11 matches in all competitions this season.

That opportunity to recuperate comes immediately, with Juventus announcing later on Friday that Ronaldo is not part of their travelling party for the game at Stadio Via del Mare.

The five-time Ballon d'Or winner has scored four times in Italy's top flight this season and was also on target during Juventus' 3-0 Champions League win over Bayer Leverkusen earlier this month.

Right-back Mattia De Sciglio is in line for his first action since the end of August after recovering from a hamstring injury.

Antonio Conte is reluctant to compare Marcelo Brozovic to Italy great Andrea Pirlo but believes the Inter midfielder has world-class potential.

Brozovic has been an ever-present during Conte's Inter reign to date, scoring twice in eight Serie A appearances.

The Croatia international's playmaking skills were again to the fore during impressive wins over Sassuolo and Borussia Dortmund over the past week.

It meant Conte fielding a question at his pre-match news conference for Saturday's meeting with Parma that mentioned the 26-year-old alongside the magisterial Pirlo – a comparison the former Juventus head coach was keen to defuse.

"Brozo can get better. He can get better with his passes to the attack, he can set up more goals," he said.

"We are working on this. I think he needs to also work on his defensive game. A holding midfielder must be good in defence too. He can become world class.

"As for Pirlo, I do not want to make a comparison with Brozo. Pirlo is someone who is a genius. He made history in this game.

"Brozo has different traits, he is training well and I am pleased with him. I want him to become a world-class player."

Back-to-back wins on the resumption from the latest international break have seen Inter bounce back impressively from the reverses to Barcelona and Juve at the start of this month.

That absorbing loss to Maurizio Sarri's reigning champions at San Siro remains the difference in the Serie A table, with Inter a point shy of Juventus thanks to seven wins from eight matches.

"We have started on our journey, we need to focus on ourselves," Conte replied when asked whether Inter's unexpectedly close proximity to Juventus was bringing extra pressure.

"Inter cannot worry about the others, we need to look ahead.

"This is a new cycle for us. It is not easy. We are close to the league leaders. That is very satisfying, but let's stay focused.

"Each game is a test of our ambitions. We need to give our all. That is the only way to get three points."

Conte added: "We have started a new journey together. These things take time and patience.

"We are on the right track, let us continue this way. Then we will see where we are at the end of the season.

"As I have said, we always need to give 100 per cent. I want us to have no regrets come the final whistle."

Cristiano Ronaldo may be rested for Juventus' Serie A encounter with Lecce on Saturday as head coach Maurizio Sarri weighs up the possibility of tinkering with his line-up.

Superstar forward Ronaldo has started all but one game for Juve this season and has five goals in 10 appearances across all competitions.

Juve travel to Lecce just four days on from completing a late revival against Lokomotiv Moscow, where Paulo Dybala's double earned a 2-1 win in the Champions League fixture.

Ahead of a busy run of games, Sarri is contemplating giving Ronaldo a break.

"With Cristiano, we speak often," he told a pre-match news conference.

"Even for him there will be need for rest. We'll see based on how he's feeling. I don't know when, we will decide.

"Right now we don't have a lot of options in order to completely rotate the squad. We'll change things with regards to the conditions of the players."

Centre-back Leonardo Bonucci is another who Sarri is planning on resting in the coming days.

"Leonardo Bonucci has played a lot this season and he's needed to. We'll see if we can give him a rest over the next few games," he added.

Dybala's future at the Bianconeri was in doubt during the previous transfer window, with Manchester United, Tottenham and Paris Saint-Germain having been linked with a move.

But Sarri was not surprised by the Argentina forward's contribution against Lokomotiv, where goals in the 77th and 79th minute proved crucial.

"If we talk about an explosion with the one-two it is fine, but from the performance point of view Dybala has always played well this season, so I expected a good performance from him. I had no doubts," Sarri said.

"I expected a high-performance level because I know he has the qualities to provide it."

Diego Maradona congratulated Dries Mertens for overtaking him on Napoli's list of all-time leading scorers and urged his former club to do all they can to keep hold of the Belgium forward.

Mertens scored twice in Wednesday's 3-2 Champions League win over Salzburg to move onto 116 goals for the Serie A club, one more than Argentine great Maradona.

The 32-year-old is now second only to Marek Hamsik (121) among Napoli's leading scorers, but is out of contract at the end of the season and recently talked up a lucrative move to China.

However, Maradona warned Mertens to think twice before leaving the Italian club, where he has spent the past seven seasons.

"For me, it wasn't a disappointment that he surpassed my tally," Maradona told Corriere dello Sport. "In fact, I applauded Mertens. When he scored, I thought about Napoli and certainly not myself.

"Mertens was born to be a striker, but he didn't know. All his goals couldn't be scored by someone who isn't a striker at heart.

"I'd like to do something so that Mertens doesn't leave.

"It's right and sacrosanct for a professional to always look for a better salary, but it's also true that in no other corner of the world would he feel loved, respected, pampered and important like he does in Naples.

"Therefore, dear president, don't let him get away. He's over 30 years old, I know, but he runs, plays and scores goals with the freshness and enthusiasm of a young lad."

Maradona is now in charge of Argentine club Gimnasia y Esgrima La Plata and would gladly welcome Mertens if the former PSV attacker is after a new challenge.

"If he really should leave, Mertens should know that in La Plata, there will always be a place for him at my Gimnasia," he said.

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