Milan coach Stefano Pioli said there was little to be happy about after watching his side draw 1-1 with 10-man Sampdoria.

Jens Hauge came off the bench to score an 87th-minute equaliser and rescue a point for the Rossoneri on Saturday.

Fabio Quagliarella had put Samp ahead with a brilliant first-time finish following a loose pass from Theo Hernandez, barely two minutes before Adrien Silva was sent off for a second bookable offence.

It was not until Hauge's composed finish - Milan's first meaningful shot on target - that Pioli's men seemed to find any spark in attack, but they nearly snatched a scarcely deserved victory, Hakan Calhanoglu having a shot saved by Emil Audero and Franck Kessie striking the post in injury time.

"We didn't deserve to win this game, even though we could have when Kessie hit the woodwork," Pioli told Milan TV.

"We weren't precise enough in our play or our choices. We had the chance to make better choices and be more precise, but we needed to play with more precision and tempo.

"Our approach to the game wasn't right. If you don't come into a match with determination and concentration, they tend to become more complicated and difficult. This was a complicated match for us.

"Sampdoria played exactly as they had in the reverse fixture. They stopped us moving the ball and taking up positions. In Florence, we managed to attack with more depth and players; today we couldn't because we lacked the tempo and movement off the ball. That favoured a well-positioned defence.

"There is very little I'm happy with, to be honest. The performance should have been different because the conditions were right to play with more intensity, generosity and quality. Having failed to do so must make us disappointed and angry."

The result means Milan are five points behind city rivals Inter at the top of the table, having played twice more than the Nerazzurri and Juventus in third.

Milan's home form has been largely responsible for their failure to keep pace with the leaders. They have now gone six games without a win at San Siro for the first time since December 2013, and they started the match with the biggest negative difference between points picked up at home (22) and away (37) across all of Europe's top-five leagues.

"We must focus immediately on the next match," Pioli said. "There are nine left and we're yet to reach our objective. We knew it wouldn't be easy to reach it, so now we need to show we can bounce back well."

A late goal from Jens Hauge secured a 1-1 draw for Milan at home to 10-man Sampdoria on Saturday.

A superb strike from Fabio Quagliarella had put the visitors in front in a tight contest at San Siro before substitute Hauge levelled with Milan's first shot on target after 87 minutes.

Claudio Ranieri's side played the final half-hour with 10 men and looked to have done enough before Hauge's clever finish.

However, Stefano Pioli's men have now gone consecutive home games in all competitions without a win for the first time since December 2013, leaving their Scudetto hopes looking slim.

Gianluigi Donnarumma was the busier keeper by far in the first half, denying Manolo Gabbiadini and Tommaso Augello before a flying save kept out Morten Thorsby's header.

Milan ended the half without a shot on target, although they felt Zlatan Ibrahimovic should have won a penalty after a tangle in the box with Augello.

The Rossoneri then fell behind 11 minutes into the second half, Quagliarella lobbing Donnarumma with a fine first-time finish after Theo Hernandez played the ball straight to him.

The visitors soon handed Milan a boost, though, with Adrien Silva earning a second yellow card for a late challenge on Samu Castillejo.

Substitute Ante Rebic was lively and saw one close-range effort cleared away from goal by Omar Colley, but Milan looked blunt against a well-drilled Sampdoria rearguard.

That was until Ibrahimovic and Franck Kessie combined to release Hauge, who turned back onto his right foot and curled a good finish past Emil Audero.

Audero then saved from Hakan Calhanoglu and Kessie hit the post as Milan just failed to complete the turnaround.

 

Stefano Pioli feels qualifying for the Champions League could "change everything" for Milan – particularly when it comes to retaining three key members of his first-team squad.

Gianluigi Donnarumma, Hakan Calhanoglu and Zlatan Ibrahimovic are all out of contract at the end of the season, while the Serie A club also face a decision over whether to sign on-loan defender Fikayo Tomori on a permanent deal.

However, ahead of the resumption of domestic duties after the international games in March, Pioli made clear the focus for everyone is on finishing the campaign strongly.

Milan sit second in the table and despite their form tailing off in 2021 – they have lost five times in the league since the turn of the year, having gone unbeaten in the competition in the first half of the season – they have a glorious opportunity to finish in the top four.

"In the eyes of Ibra, Calhanoglu and Donnarumma I see serenity," Pioli told the media about the trio on Friday.

"Their future is now for us - it would change everything for us to go to the Champions League. I see a lot of concentration and attention."

Tomori had made 12 appearances in all competitions since his arrival from Chelsea in the mid-season transfer window, with the temporary deal including a purchase option.

"We are very satisfied with how he has started, he is a smiling boy, he gives us important characteristics," Pioli said of the centre-back. "We must continue to do well without thinking about the future."

Milan are in early action on Saturday, taking on Sampdoria at San Siro.

The Rossoneri have failed to win in any of their last five home games in all competitions, a run that included a 1-0 defeat to Manchester United that ended their involvement in the Europa League.

Catching Serie A leaders Inter - who sit six points clear and have a game in hand - may be difficult but Pioli has set a points target for his players to work towards in the closing months.

"We have always taken responsibility with great conviction and confidence," he said.

"There comes a decisive moment - everything we have done so far is to be here right now. We want to get to the end of the season without regrets.

"Ten games are a lot and there are still many points to play for, 75 could be the right threshold to reach the Champions League but it is difficult to make calculations.

"The fight will be very tough, we have to think about the next game."

The race for Premier League glory may have tipped in Manchester City's favour but Liverpool are hoping to beat their title rivals in the race for a new star midfielder.

Germany international Florian Neuhaus is the player in demand and his club Borussia Monchengladbach may not be able to hold on to one of Europe's brightest talents.

The 23-year-old is being closely monitored by five major Champions League clubs and there is set to be a battle for his signature in the off-season.


TOP STORY – GERMANY ACE NEUHAUS WANTED BY CITY AND LIVERPOOL

It is understood that Neuhaus has a €40million (£35m) release clause in his contract with Gladbach, according to German media outlet Kicker.

That means Neuhaus will have the pick of his suitors, believed to be City, Liverpool, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and Italian champions Juventus.

He has already clocked up 81 appearances in the Bundesliga and the Reds see him as a potential replacement for the outgoing Georginio Wijnaldum.

"I think I would've been the best batsman in the world if I played cricket."

Christian Vieri is regarded as one of the greatest strikers to have played football.

Once the most expensive player in the world, the former Italy international won titles with Juventus, Inter, Lazio and Torino, while he claimed numerous individual honours – the Pichichi Trophy and Serie A Footballer of the Year to go with his FIFA 100 selection and other awards.

But it could have been a lot different for the cricket-mad 47-year-old after growing up in Australia – a far cry from his birthplace in Bologna.

"My whole family is a soccer-team family," Vieri, who also played for Milan, recalled to Stats Perform News. "My father played, I played, my grandfather, my brother. So when my father at the end of his career in Bologna, they asked him if he wanted to go play in Sydney with Marconi. He said yes and the whole family moved there. He played for some time and coached there. We all went with him. 

"I think I was about four years old and I stayed 10 years there, till about 14. I grew up there. It was good. Growing up with the kids, for me it wasn't strange. Now, if you tell people, it's a bit strange that I grew up in Australia but when I was there it was normal – going to school, playing soccer, playing cricket, playing different sports. I was a big fan of cricket. Even if we were 13-14, we would go watch Australia play Test matches, ODI matches in Sydney. I'm a very big, big cricket fan."

"I just love playing," Vieri said. "I was probably playing more cricket than soccer at school. You know what we would do? The tennis ball, we would tape it up to make it go faster and swing. I think I would've been the best batsman in the world if I played cricket. I was an all-rounder. I was really good. 

"You know what happened now? Two months ago before the second coronavirus wave, I spoke to someone from the cricket association, I'm going to start playing in March, April. It's a small thing in Italy, in Milan there is a cricket team. I spoke with the Italian cricket captain. They said listen, when you want to play with us, just come. I said listen, one thing is playing with a tennis ball when you're 14, one thing is playing with professionals. I want to come three or four days, train with you guys and see how it is. 

"I just love the game. I watch all the West Indies' games – Viv Richard, Clive Lloyd, Joel Garner, all those guys. I would watch Australia but in those days, the Windies were too strong for everyone. I'm on YouTube a lot watching cricket. My wife always says 'what are you watching? what is this?', three hours a day watching games from 1984 and 1986, and she is going 'what is wrong with you, why aren't you normal?' I say to her, 'listen, I grew up there, these are the days I was there following cricket'. She takes the p*** out of me. Pakistan had Imran Khan, I know the players. England had Ian Botham. It was fun. 

"I love the game. Couple of months when it gets a bit warmer and we can start to go out a bit easier, I would like to go training with the Italian team, see how fast the ball really comes at you, with your pads and everything. I think it would be a good experience."

So, as Vieri prepares to dust off his pads and helmet in Italy, who would he compare to in the current era of cricket?

"I think Chris Gayle from West Indies. I'm a left-hander," he added. "When I used to play, I'm not a Test match guy, I want to smash the ball outside the stadium. I think I would've been good."

And if Vieri remained down under in Australia, rather than returning to Italy at the age of 14, would he have opted for cricket over a football career?

"Cricket, soccer or tennis," Vieri, who retired in 2009, responded. "I play paddle, I play tennis for 30 years. I like tennis too because it's an individual game – it only depends on you."

Vieri went on to make 49 appearances for his beloved Italy, scoring 23 goals (ninth on the all-time list) following an international career spanning eight years between 1997 and 2005.

He made two trips to the World Cup in 1998 and 2002 – his nine goals across the two major tournaments a joint national record alongside Paolo Rossi and Roberto Baggio, while he also featured at Euro 2004.

While Vieri joined forces with the likes of past greats Paolo Maldini, Francesco Totti, Alessandro Del Piero, Filippo Inzaghi, Gianluigi Buffon, Fabio Cannavaro, Alessandro Nesta and Andrea Pirlo for the Azzurri, his younger brother Max followed a different path.

Max Vieri, who was part of Juve's youth team before going on to play for Napoli in a notable spell, opted to represent Australia.

A midfielder, Max earned six caps for the Socceroos, but Christian Vieri never considered wearing the green and gold.

"I had two dreams when I was in Sydney playing and I was only 12, 13, 14, so you're going to school playing soccer. That's why I left Australia when I was 14 – my two dreams were to play in Serie A and for the national team – the blue jersey," said Vieri. "I remember in 1982 when Italy won the World Cup – Paolo Rossi and all those big players – I had it stuck in my head that I wanted to become an Italian player. When I was 14, I started breaking my dad's head about going to play soccer in Italy.

"When I started playing for Marconi, I started left full-back and then after I while, I said to the coach 'put me up front' and that's it, I was scoring goals and that's how everything started. My brother wanted to play for Australia always and I just had my dream to play the World Cups with Italy."

"I think the Australian team has done well in the last 10-15 years World Cup-wise and qualifications," he added. "They've done good. Of course when I was there – the big sports were AFL, rugby league, cricket – football wasn't the main sport but I think it's getting bigger. The evolution of football around world is just so big now, so much money behind it. When I was there, we were playing soccer and it wasn't the main sport but the passion we have and the kids have, it was bigger than the other sports."

Vieri's choice to chase his dream in Italy proved a wise decision, winning the Scudetto with Juve in 1997 before joining Atletico Madrid after just one season in Turin.

An incredible return of 24 goals in as many LaLiga matches for Atletico, and 29 from 32 appearances across all competitions in 1997-98, led to head coach Radomir Antic famously saying: "Vieri dead is better than any other attacker alive".

"We had a good relationship. I won the goalscoring award. I was a bit crazy those days. I would go out a lot. He would always say don't go out too much, train," Vieri recalled. "He knew I wanted to go back to Italy after about seven, eight months. He said, 'where are you going? you are going to stay here, LaLiga is your competition. You stay here and you just train a little bit, you score 50 goals a year with a cigarette'. I said yeah but I wanna go back home. 

"I think it was the best experience in my life playing in the Spanish league. It's the best quality league. There is so much technique and the way all the teams play, they all play to win. A lot of ball possession. Those days, you had to be really good to play. I had an amazing season."

Like his time at Juve, Vieri's spell with Atletico was brief as he returned to Italy via Lazio in a €25million deal the following season.

After 14 goals in 28 appearances and a UEFA Cup Winners' Cup triumph in the Italian capital, Vieri became the most expensive player in the world when he reunited with former Juve boss Marcello Lippi at Inter, who splashed out €49m to partner the Italian with Brazilian great Ronaldo.

"The thing is that, if you play in Spain, Italy, England – they're the biggest competitions, so you can't block it out," Vieri said when asked about the pressures of being the world's most expensive player. "Automatically, from being normal to 100 times of pressure on you because 90billion Italian lire in those days, the player who cost more than anyone, every game you play you're judged… even more than before. 

"At Atletico, I was sold to Lazio – big scandal came out – then when I went to Inter for 90b [lire], the world went crazy. From Lazio, moving to Inter, going to play at San Siro, it's a heavy thing because San Siro – the biggest players in the world have played there, 85-90,000 people judging you all the time. They whistle if you don't play good. They've seen everyone. 

"When I went there, I said to myself, 'Bob, first game is at home, when I went to camp, in a month and a half, your first game is at home and whatever happens, you have to go score in that game. if you score in that game, you're gonna fly'. I trained a month and a half in camp, I wouldn't go out anywhere. First game, I scored three goals at home, 90,000 people went crazy. Took a lot of pressure off my shoulders that first game. Here they call me Mr. 90m guy, even today. It's a thing you're gonna call you that for the rest of your life."

Now, Vieri watches the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Robert Lewandowski, Mohamed Salah, Romelu Lukaku, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Erling Haaland and Kylian Mbappe bang in the goals across Europe. 

How would he fare in 2020-21?

"I think it's easier to score these days because there's less marking. Before, football, first thing was not to concede, in Italy league at least," Vieri said. "It was probably the hardest league in the world in those days. All the biggest players in the world were there. We started the competition where seven teams were trying to win the league, not one or two but seven big teams with big, big players. If we would shoot twice in 90 minutes, we were happy. Those two shots, we would score one goal, we had to score once. 

"Today, the game has changed. The defenders don't mark as much, they play. They're more like midfielders, you have to play with the ball at your feet – the whole team have to attack. Now you have 15 strikers who score more than 20 goals. It's fun to watch still but changed a lot."

Popular on social media and Italian television in his post-playing days, Vieri has ventured into coaching as he works to complete his UEFA A and B license alongside the likes of former team-mates Del Piero and De Rossi.

"All of us, the former players, when we talk about things, we only miss one thing – staying together and training... having fun. The everyday stuff. The dressing rooms, we had the craziest dressing rooms, people. Taking the p*** out of everyone 24/7. 

"I speak with all my ex-team-mates. It's just fun. Now, I'm doing the coaching course… We just laugh, we have fun. We are doing UEFA A and B together. The way we talk to each other, it's just like back in the days. With a lot of former team-mates, we play paddle ball here in Milan. When we can, we hang out."

"The first thing is you need a license to coach. It's very hard, it's not easy. When you're doing two courses together because the federations asked UEFA if just the top 10 players could do it, so we're doing it," added Vieri, when asked if he was eyeing a coaching career.

"We'll see what happens. If I have a nice project, anything can happen. 1,000 of doors will open like I always say."

One year on from his Red Devils debut, Bruno Fernandes is the face of Manchester United and one of Europe's finest, but back in 2012 it was a lot different.

There were no camera crews when a baby-faced Fernandes packed his bags and left Portugal for Italy almost nine years ago – Novara was the destination for the unheralded midfielder.

Novara, a club based in the Piedmont region in northwest Italy, had been alerted to the 17-year-old. Scouted by former head of youth Mauro Borghetti, they opted to sign Fernandes from Boavista – investing for the future.

"The previous season our club was in Serie A but was being relegated in Serie B, so with the board we took the decision to invest some money on some foreign talents," Borghetti – now sporting director of the Serie C side – told Stats Perform News.

"Bruno Fernandes was in this list and because of his technical skills and his value – we knew his value more or less – we decided to make a survey for this player and pay him a visit.

"On a Saturday morning I took a flight to Portugal to watch an Under-19 Boavista game. He struck me for the characteristics he is showing now, although he didn't shine that much in that game. But I could see his skills and his personality on top of his creativity."

It is not often Portuguese talent leave their homeland for abroad, but Fernandes forged his own path en route to Old Trafford, having also played for Udinese, Sampdoria and Sporting CP.

"Bruno's situation was peculiar," Borghetti said. "He was not playing in one of the top Portuguese clubs that boast great visibility and can make young talents grow in the country. Bruno was playing in the U19 of Boavista, a club relegated in the third division at the time.

"He was waiting for his chance to shine. Novara, an Italian club, albeit in Serie B at the time, was what Bruno was waiting for. So it was not hard to find a deal and Bruno didn't take long to give us the green light."

Initially signed to Novara's youth team, Fernandes made an immediate impact at Stadio Silvio Piola, where he learnt Italian language using post-it notes.

Fernandes scored four goals in 23 appearances as Novara finished fifth in the 2012-13 Serie B season before falling to Empoli in the promotion play-offs.

"Bruno is a very smart guy so he settled in right away at Novara," Borghetti continued. "In one week, 10 days tops, he started communicating with the group in Italian, an example of his intelligence. This helped him a lot as much as the fact of being the only foreigner, the only Portuguese, in a full Italian squad. This helped him get involved faster, he was basically forced to speak Italian. He settled down so quickly and this helped him a lot."

Borghetti added: "As a foreign kid who was supposed to take his time to settle in, he definitely was quick in doing it. We didn't expect such a growth as we didn't know him so well. When we started to know him better, then yes, we thought he could go straight to the first team.

"In fact, he stayed only six months in Novara U19 squad. He then played the second part of the season as a starter of the first squad, scoring and taking the team to the playoff for Serie A."

Having exceeded expectations at Novara, Fernandes quickly made the step up to Serie A – firstly with Udinese before joining Sampdoria three years later in 2016.

But it was not until 2017, when he returned to his homeland, that Fernandes captured the attention of United and Europe's elite.

Fernandes was a class above in Primeira Liga, scoring 64 goals in 137 appearances for Sporting, where he led the Portuguese giants to Taca da Liga (2018 and 2019) and Taca de Portugal (2019) glory.

There were rumours of interest from Real Madrid and Tottenham, but after months of speculation, United finally landed their talisman in deal worth an initial £47million last year.

Fernandes has not looked back – the Portugal international has been involved in 45 goals across all competitions, more than any other player for a Premier League club.

Only captain Harry Maguire (54) has made more competitive appearances for United than the Portuguese (53), but the former Sporting skipper has scored the most goals (28) and assisted his team-mates the most often (17).

Fernandes ended 2020 winning his fourth Premier League Player of the Month award, becoming the first to claim that many honours in a calendar year. For that award, he has already matched the tallies of United greats Paul Scholes and Ronaldo and is just one behind all-time leading goalscorer Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie.

A transformative signing for the Red Devils, Fernandes has been directly involved in 33 goals in his first 35 appearances (19 goals, 14 assists) – a figure bettered only by Andrew Cole (41) in the history of the Premier League.

"For us he was a very important player," Borghetti said. "He always proved he was a cut above the average footballers. But to be honest with Udinese and Sampdoria he was in Serie A but hadn't impressed us all so much.

"His breakthrough came after his season in Portugal with Sporting. There he became a world-class player, playing the World Cup next to Cristiano Ronaldo, so you could expect a big move.

"Now he is at United, one of the most glorious clubs in Europe, and he fully deserves it. He epitomises the idea that a player can always improve throughout his career and achieve higher and higher results."

Fernandes was crowned United's Player of the Year in 2019-20, becoming the second Portuguese player to win the award after international team-mate Ronaldo. Since its inception in 1987-88, no player has won the award having played as few games in a season as Fernandes' 22 in all competitions last term.

This season, Fernandes has scored 11 Premier League goals and supplied seven assists in 21 appearances as second-placed United dream of silverware. In total, he has managed 16 goals across all competitions.

Not since 2013 – Alex Ferguson's final season at the Theatre of Dreams – have United won the Premier League but Fernandes' presence has awoken a sleeping giant after years of mediocrity. While Maguire wears the armband, the 26-year-old Fernandes is a demanding figure on and off the pitch.

"He didn't stay long in the youth team and then in the first squad because he moved to Serie A right away, so he didn't have the chance to become a captain [at Novara]," Borghetti said. "But he is a soul captain, his personality makes him an example on the pitch and as a professional. He always proved this so I am not surprised at all that in his career and now he is so mature as a leader and could be shortlisted for being the captain." 

As Fernandes continues to take England by storm, Borghetti added: "When I watch him on TV, I feel satisfaction. I follow United more now because there is a kid I know who plays there. Whatever he achieved was done thanks to his skills, exclusively his merit. On the other hand, a glimpse of importance is mine because with one evaluation I gave him the chance to prove himself.

"Novara in his history, although short, was a chance to shine. Without Novara, maybe Bruno would have got to the highest level anyway through different paths, but since this cannot be proved, I can say Novara and I have been an important stepping-stone for him." 

"I think he is at a high level now," he said. "To improve he should only win individual trophies or with his team domestically and in Europe. That is what he should do with Manchester United. On a personal level, it is the athlete's constant aim to improving all the time, but now Bruno is at such a high level where improvements are now difficult."

Andrea Pirlo believes Juventus are starting to see the best of Federico Chiesa after he overcame his initial shyness following a loan move from Fiorentina. 

Italy international Chiesa scored his sixth Serie A goal of the season (one coming for Fiorentina) on Saturday as Juve defeated Sampdoria 2-0 at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris. 

Aaron Ramsey added the second in stoppage time as Juve made it three consecutive wins against Claudio Ranieri's side without conceding a goal. 

Pirlo is impressed with the impact Chiesa is starting to have on the defending champions but has urged the 23-year-old to add to his goal tally.

"Chiesa is a young player who joined a big club, facing international matches for the first time, and it was a big step up for him, so he was a little shy at first," Pirlo told Sky Sport Italia. 

"He's settled now, gained in confidence and has improved a great deal.

"It's good that he is finishing off the moves that we attack, and he ought to do it more often, making the most of his runs from deep."

Cristiano Ronaldo did not enjoy similar success in front of goal, the game marking the first time he has gone three Serie A matches without finding the back of the net since April 2019.

Pirlo, though, was not too critical of his star man and praised him for his contribution to both goals, the Portuguese star teeing up Alvaro Morata and Juan Cuadrado's assists. 

"Ronaldo gave his contribution again today with his passes for both goals, so the important thing is that the team wins," he added.

Juve have won six of their seven matches across all competitions in 2021 and Pirlo believes his players are starting to hit their stride as they bid to eat into Milan's seven-point lead over them at the Serie A summit.

"When the defence keeps a clean sheet, it also means the midfield and attack have started the press," he said. "We're improving, but can do even better.

"We are starting to find our form and making the movements more automatic, because in the first few games they were practically test runs, as we didn't really have a pre-season training camp.

"It took a little longer than usual, but we're finding our feet now and will keep improving."

Juve face Inter in the first leg of their Coppa Italia semi-final on Tuesday before hosting Roma in Serie A on Saturday. 

Federico Chiesa and Aaron Ramsey were on target as Juventus sealed a 2-0 Serie A win over Sampdoria at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris on Saturday.

Italy international Chiesa put Andrea Pirlo's side on their way midway through the first half with his sixth top-flight goal of the season, while Cristiano Ronaldo missed opportunities to extend their advantage.

Fabio Quagliarella twice went close for Claudio Ranieri's side after the break, but Juve wrapped up a third consecutive win over Sampdoria without conceding a goal when Ramsey scored in stoppage time. 

The result means Juve leapfrog Roma into third - seven points behind leaders Milan - although Paulo Fonseca's side will usurp them if they beat Hellas Verona on Sunday.

After a sluggish start, Juve went ahead with their first shot on target in the 20th minute.

Ronaldo fed Alvaro Morata down the right and the Spain international's low cross was tucked away by Chiesa from six yards.

Ronaldo twice came close to extending Juve's lead before the interval, but Emil Audero tipped over his fierce long-range strike and the Portuguese superstar later missed the target after rounding the Sampdoria goalkeeper.

The hosts, who failed to register a shot on target in the first half, improved after the break, with only a superb block from Giorgio Chiellini denying Quagliarella an equaliser. 

Wojciech Szczesny thwarted the veteran striker from a tight angle soon after as Sampdoria threatened to draw level.

That threat soon disappeared, though, and substitute Ramsey made sure of a vital three points when he slid home from Juan Cuadrado's pass following a swift counter-attack.

 

Cristiano Ronaldo's behaviour on his days off is not Juventus's responsibility, according to Andrea Pirlo, after the five-time Ballon d'Or winner allegedly broke coronavirus travel restrictions.

Valle d'Aosta police are investigating whether Ronaldo failed to adhere to Italy's strict COVID-19 protocols by travelling to the area from Piedmont to go skiing with his girlfriend Georgina Rodriguez, as part of her birthday celebrations this week.

Both Valle d'Aosta and Piedmont are listed as "orange zone" regions, with travel between such locations prohibited.

Ronaldo, who tested positive for coronavirus last October, may face a fine if found guilty.

"Cristiano Ronaldo had a day off and on your days off you are free to do what you want," head coach Pirlo told a news conference ahead of Saturday's trip to Sampdoria.

"When they are here they are under my control, but outside of here they are free citizens and can take their own actions."

Weston McKennie has become one of Juve's key performers this season since joining from Schalke, scoring four times across all competitions from midfield since the start of December.

Pirlo believes the 22-year-old United States international has plenty of room for further improvement.

"He is so young he can improve everywhere," he said.

"We were the fastest to sign him in Germany and we are so happy to have him with us.

"He is humble and very keen to improve, especially from a technical point of view. I mean, he is a bit rough in ball control, in his body movements, but he can improve quickly.

"He is a healthy kid, he knows he is not done, he is just at the beginning and being aware of this is already a good starting point."

Pirlo has a clean bill of health, with the exception of forward Paulo Dybala, who is still nursing a knee injury.

Federico Chiesa completed the scoring in the 4-0 Coppa Italia win over SPAL and will start after shaking off an ankle problem.

Alvaro Morata put Juve in front from the penalty spot in midweek - his 13th goal of the campaign - and is ready to go again having been compromised by groin pain of late.

"He played last time and we managed to save him some minutes, so tomorrow he will be at the top of his game," Pirlo added.

"We know him well, he dwells so much on enthusiasm and that is what we need to give him back.

"But he has done well, he knows he is very important for Juventus, so I am more than convinced he will go on at his best."

Sampdoria coach Claudio Ranieri insists Fabio Quagliarella did not feature against Inter for tactical reasons, despite reports linking the striker with a stunning return to Juventus. 

Quagliarella previously spent four years with Juve, initially joining on loan before making his switch permanent, and won the Serie A title for three successive seasons under Antonio Conte. 

The 37-year-old is rumoured to be a potential target for the reigning champions as they look to strengthen their forward options for the second half of the 2020-21 campaign. 

Ranieri kept the veteran frontman on the bench for the entirety of Wednesday's 2-1 home win over Inter, yet insisted afterwards it had nothing to do with speculation over the player's future at the club.

"The fact that he did not enter has nothing to do with the transfer market, it was a technical choice," Ranieri explained to Sky Sport Italia. 

The evergreen Quagliarella has scored seven goals in 14 Serie A appearances this season for Samp, boasting a conversion rate of 25 per cent.  

Cristiano Ronaldo is the competition's top scorer but Juve want to provide support for the Portuguese.

They have also been linked with another experienced forward in Olivier Giroud, who could be on the move in the January window due to a lack of playing time at Chelsea. 

"We could use him," Juve head coach Andrea Pirlo told DAZN after a 4-1 win over Udinese at the weekend. "But these are things that [Juventus sporting director Fabio] Paratici knows better than me.  

"We talked about it but let's see if we will do something in the next few days." 

Antonio Conte felt Inter were hard done by as their Scudetto ambitions suffered a blow with a 2-1 defeat at Sampdoria. 

Alexis Sanchez missed a first-half penalty before Antonio Candreva converted from the spot for the hosts at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris. 

Keita Balde doubled Sampdoria's advantage in the 38th minute and, although Stefan de Vrij reduced the deficit and Romelu Lukaku - short of match fitness - came off the bench, Inter were unable to pull level. 

Milan host champions Juventus in a mouth-watering San Siro clash later on Wednesday, where victory would increase the Rossoneri's advantage over Inter at the summit to four points. 

The result halted an 11-match unbeaten run for Conte's men and he refused to be too harsh on his players after they failed to overcome a chastening first half. 

"We found ourselves going from the missed penalty to having a penalty against us. There was this one-two from Sampdoria that clearly created some difficulties for us," he told reporters. 

"At the same time, the team was doing well, in the first few minutes they created a lot of scoring situations. Sometimes you lose games you deserve to lose, other times there are situations where you can score and you don't." 

Despite those missed chances and struggles in attack for Lautaro Martinez, Conte refused to blame Lukaku's recuperation from a thigh strain for Inter falling short.

"It wasn't the first time we played without Romelu, we know that he is a player with certain qualities, but he wasn't 100 per cent and you saw it when he came on," he said. 

"Sorry because I think we deserved something more." 

Christian Eriksen was also introduced from the bench, despite being told he can leave Inter this month. 

"I always try to exploit the players according to the situations that arise and I am at the club's complete disposal on every decision," Conte explained. 

"I get to work, as I have always done since I have been at Inter, but every decision will always be shared." 

Inter return to action with a crunch clash against third-placed Roma on Sunday.

Antonio Candreva and Keita Balde were on target against their former club as Inter's eight-match winning run in Serie A ground to a halt in a 2-1 defeat at Sampdoria.

The Nerazzurri were aiming to go top, at least temporarily, and Alexis Sanchez saw an early penalty saved at the Luigi Ferraris.

Another VAR check led to Candreva opening the scoring from the spot and Keita – on loan at Sampdoria from Monaco – doubled the hosts' lead in an enthralling first half.

Stefan de Vrij finally headed wasteful Inter onto the scoreboard after 65 minutes, but Antonio Conte's side failed to find and a leveller and remain second, one point adrift of Milan.

In a breathless opening, Emil Audero foiled Ashley Young's whipped shot and Milan Skriniar skewed wide from the same corner that saw Morten Thorsby pinged for handball after VAR's intervention.

Audero kept out Sanchez's penalty and Young smashed the rebound against the post, while Lorenzo Tonelli's looping header for Sampdoria hit the crossbar soon after.

Candreva succeeded where Sanchez failed after 23 minutes, firing into the left of the goal after VAR spotted Nicolo Barella had handled a Tonelli header.

Things worsened for Inter when Keita swept home Mikkel Damsgaard's low right-wing centre seven minutes before the break.

Sanchez was denied by Audero again and Lautaro Martinez wastefully headed wide, before the former followed suit in similar style after the break.

Inter finally responded when De Vrij headed home Marcelo Brozovic's corner with 25 minutes left and substitute Romelu Lukaku saw a powerful downward header brilliantly stopped by Audero.

Ivan Perisic was twice off target with headers either side of Martinez testing Audero at his near post but Inter were frustrated in their endeavours.

Manchester City have reportedly annoyed Kevin De Bruyne with their contract offer amid interest in Lionel Messi.

De Bruyne, 29, has been expected to sign a new deal with the Premier League giants, with his contract expiring in 2023.

But with Messi coming out of contract at season's end, City's offer to De Bruyne has seemingly drawn questions.

 

TOP STORY – MAN CITY ANNOY DE BRUYNE AMID MESSI INTEREST

Manchester City have annoyed De Bruyne with their contract offer, according to The Athletic.

The report says the offer is less than De Bruyne is currently on because of potentially signing Messi. However, the Belgium international is still expected to re-sign.

City have been strongly linked to Messi, who could leave Barcelona at the end of the campaign when is contract is due to expire.

The Barcelona captain has insisted he will not make a decision on his future until the season's conclusion.

 

ROUND-UP

- Also coming out of contract is Bayern Munich star David Alaba. The Guardian reports Liverpool are interested in signing the defender, but Real Madrid lead the race.

- Staying at Real Madrid and there is uncertainty over Sergio Ramos' future. With his contract expiring at the end of the season, Ramos will not accept a one-year deal and the defender and LaLiga champions are distant in their bid to reach an agreement, according to Marca. The Manchester Evening News reports City are not interested in Ramos.

Antoine Griezmann is still yet to find his best form for Barcelona, but Sport reports the Blaugrana are not considering selling the forward.

Mesut Ozil could be set to leave Arsenal. Football.London reports the playmaker, who comes out of contract in June, is in negotiations with MLS franchise DC United.

- Linked with Juventus and InterOlivier Giroud is set to stay at Chelsea, according to Goal. They also claim Juve are considering Sampdoria forward Fabio Quagliarella as an alternative, while Milan look set to keep hold of star midfielder Hakan Calhanoglu.

Stefano Pioli hailed the growing maturity of his Milan players in the absence of injured striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

The Rossoneri strengthened their grip on top spot in Serie A with a gritty 2-1 victory at Sampdoria on Sunday thanks to goals from Franck Kessie and Samu Castillejo.

Milan secured the win without talisman Ibrahimovic, who is nursing a hamstring injury but expected to return soon.

The experienced Swede has scored 10 goals in six Serie A games this season, and his presence was missed against Sampdoria, but Milan managed to get the job done in Genoa.

"I continue to be surprised by the maturity of these players," Pioli told Sky Italia.

"Even though it was probably the youngest side we've had all year. They never let themselves get downhearted by bad results or go overboard with good ones, they really impressed me.

"We all know how much Zlatan has helped us to improve and everyone wants him back as soon as possible, but every player contributed here.

"I told the lads we are a real team. This is a group that makes the most of every situation, even the most negative, to prove what they can really do.

“It's the first time we were missing Ibra, Simon Kjaer and Ismael Bennacer, who are leaders of the side, but they used this opportunity to prove they could keep the team going.

"It means we have the enthusiasm and the energy to face down every challenge.

"These lads give their all throughout the week, these are the most difficult games after the Europa League, so winning them when we are considered the target for many other clubs, that is satisfying and we should celebrate."

Milan have won eight of their first 10 Serie A games to go five points clear of Inter at the top of the table.

In the previous 86 seasons in the competition, the Rossoneri had won more games at this point of the season only in 1954/55 (nine matches).

However, Pioli admitted Milan can feel rivals for the Scudetto breathing down their neck.

"I believe this weekend’s results show the strongest teams are coming, they are closing up," said the Milan head coach.

"I am convinced Inter, Juventus and Napoli are still going to be challenging all the way to the end.

"How can you think Juve aren't favourites after they won for nine years in a row? Or Inter with their investments, or Napoli with their talent?”

Milan conceded from a corner against Sampdoria when Albin Ekdal squeezed the ball in, and Pioli acknowledged his side have a tendency to switch off at set-pieces.

"The last goal we conceded from open play was against Napoli," he added.

"We need to be more focused on set plays. It's true we’re not the tallest squad, but I think we had more chances from dead-ball situations than Sampdoria did.”

Milan strengthened their grip on top spot in Serie A with a 2-1 win over Sampdoria on Sunday thanks to goals from Franck Kessie and Samu Castillejo.

Ivory Coast midfielder Kessie gave the Rossoneri the lead from the penalty spot after Jakub Jankto handled inside the area.

Spaniard Castillejo scored with his first touch of the game to notch Milan's second before Albin Ekdal ensured a tense finish when he bundled in from a corner.

Milan are now five points clear of second-placed Inter after 10 games, with Napoli and Juventus a further point behind in third and fourth.

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