Milan head coach Stefano Pioli said his side deserved to finish second in Serie A after securing their long-awaited Champions League return with a 2-0 win at Atalanta on Sunday.

Pioli's Milan led Serie A in the first half of the 2020-21 season but faded, before restoring second spot, only to draw 0-0 at home with Cagliari in the penultimate round to leave their top-four hopes up in the air in a three-way fight with rivals Juventus and Napoli.

Franck Kessie scored a double from the spot as Milan got the decisive win to leapfrog Atalanta as Serie A runners-up and secure their first Champions League berth since 2013-14.

Kessie became the first player to score 10-plus penalties for Milan in a Serie A season since Zlatan Ibrahimovic in 2011-12.

"We achieved it because we deserved it and we deserved second place in the standings," he told Sky Sport Italia.

"It was right, unfortunately we had thrown away last Sunday's match point. I am really excited and happy."

Milan's runner-up placing was their best since finishing the 2012-13 Serie A season in third.

Pioli also hailed the Rossoneri for their collective effort to overcome the loss of veteran top scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic to injuries for large periods of the second half of the campaign.

"It is all we have done together, the strength not to break down in difficulties," Pioli said. "I am very proud of the mental growth of the group.

"We played with Zlatan only 19 out of 38 games, taking away the champion from the other teams for half the season I would like to see what they would do.

"I also thought that if we were fifth it would be a difficult summer. Now we enjoy it and then we will leave again."

Milan also finished the 2020-21 league season with double the number of wins on the road compared to at home.

They set a new all-time record for away wins in a Serie A season: 16 – no side have ever done better in the top-five European leagues in a single campaign (16 also for Real Madrid in 2011-12 and Manchester City in 2017-18).

"We asked ourselves, we tried to evaluate this situation well," he said. "We weren't a team that made a lot of one-on-ones in the last quarter of the pitch.

"We miss the individual play when the teams close, in this data we are below average. We lacked some individual play. On the road, perhaps we found some more space, this is a situation that we will have to evaluate.

"I heard that this team took advantage of the absence of fans in the stadiums at least initially to find serenity, but I'm sure this team here with the enthusiasm of our fans at San Siro would have grown a lot."

Milan head coach Stefano Pioli urged his players not to think about what could have been had they beaten Cagliari, with Serie A's top-four race going down to the last day.

Pioli's Milan would have sealed Champions League qualification with a victory at San Siro on Sunday, but were held to a goalless draw, failing to beat Cagliari for the first time in a home league match since October 1999.

It was also Milan's first 0-0 draw in Serie A in 56 games, since January 2020, while it marked the first time the Rossoneri have failed to score against Cagliari at San Siro in the top flight in just under 24 years.

Without the injured Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Milan managed just two of their 21 attempts on target, and goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma – making potentially his last appearance as a Milan player at San Siro with his contract due to expire at the end of the season – had to make two fantastic stops at the other end.

The draw leaves Milan – who have not featured in the Champions League since 2013-14 – on 76 points, one ahead of fifth-placed Juventus and on level pegging with third-placed Napoli.

Milan face second-placed Atalanta, already sure of a Champions League place, in their final game of the season, with Juve facing Bologna and Napoli playing Hellas Verona.

"There's no point thinking about what might've been. We have to focus on the next match," Pioli, whose team had beaten Torino and Juve 7-0 and 3-0 respectively in their previous outings, told Sky Sport Italia.

"We weren't at the level of our recent performances, in terms of tempo and quality. We had the game of a lifetime against Juventus, then with Torino, so it's another of those with Atalanta. We go again.

"We knew a win would finish it, so there was some tension, some fear, some misplaced confidence that we could win by playing ugly, but we have to fight for every point.

"We should've moved the ball quicker and created more advantageous situations, that's just it.

"We've done great things this season, there is a disappointment this evening and we know Atalanta are the only side we've been unable to beat during my tenure at Milan."

Asked if missing out on the Champions League would be a failure, considering Milan's fine start to the season, Pioli said: "With the way we played, all we did and how much we've grown over the year, failing to reach the top four would certainly be disappointing.

"It would still not be a failure, because I feel we laid the foundations to get there very soon in the future and it was an aim at the start of the season, but definitely not an obligation."

Ibrahimovic was on the sidelines, but his season is over, while he will also not feature for Sweden at the rescheduled Euro 2020.

"We need to remember that people said we were entirely dependent on Zlatan, then after two games they said we play better without him. Neither of those are true," Pioli added.

"We needed someone who was ready to play as a centre-forward when Ibra was out, but unfortunately [Mario] Mandzukic had various different issues and was rarely available."

Stefano Pioli says Milan's 7-0 rout of Torino was another example of their "great growth" and challenged his side to reap what they have sown by securing a Champions League spot.

The Rossoneri tore Torino to pieces in a ruthless rout at the Stadio Olimpico Grande Torino on Wednesday, moving above Napoli into third place in Serie A with two games to play.

Ante Rebic - starting in place of the injured Zlatan Ibrahimovic - scored a quickfire second-half hat-trick and Theo Hernandez was on target in both halves with brilliant finishes as magnificent Milan ran riot three days after beating Juventus 3-0 in Turin.

Franck Kessie was on target from the penalty spot and Brahim Diaz scored one of the five goals Milan scored in a devastating second-half display.

Milan are three points clear of fifth-placed Juve - who beat Sassuolo 3-1 - in the battle for a top-four finish and Pioli says they must finish off the job.

The head coach told Milan TV: "Thinking of winning the game with such a clear result was difficult, but we wanted another concrete performance like the one against Juventus. 

"We are happy with this, but we have to continue like this because we have not done anything yet."

Pioli says two huge results in Turin in quick succession demonstrated the strides his side have made.

"The team is mature and this is the sign of a growth made up of ups and downs that are natural because we are a young team," he added.

"Everything has served and now we have to reap what we have sown. 

"We had to face two difficult and important trips and having faced them with the right mental attitude is a symptom of great growth."

Victory for Milan was their 15th away from home in Serie A this season, matching a record set by Inter in the 2006-07 campaign.

It was the first time for 20 years they have scored six or more times in a Serie A away match, with the last occasion coming when they humiliated Inter 6-0.

Milan face Cagliari on Sunday before finishing their campaign with a trip to second-placed Atalanta.

Stefano Pioli warned his Milan players against complacency after they took a significant stride towards Champions League qualification with a resounding 3-0 win over top-four rivals Juventus on Sunday. 

Brahim Diaz opened the scoring on the stroke of half-time before Franck Kessie missed the opportunity to double their advantage shortly before the hour mark, when Wojciech Szczesny pawed away his penalty. 

It mattered little in the end, though, as substitute Ante Rebic and Fikayo Tomori sealed a first away Serie A win against the Bianconeri since March 2011 inside the final 12 minutes. 

The victory was Milan's 14th away from home in the league this season, with only Inter in 2006-07 (15) registering more in a single campaign in the history of the competition. 

Pioli was thrilled with his side's efforts, but says they need to quickly turn their focus to Wednesday, when they return to Turin to face Torino. 

"This was a team that believed, that showed a spirit of sacrifice, that gave it's all and showed quality, too," he told Sky Sport Italia.  

"We want to thank our fans, who really moved us this morning with their support, but now we have another game coming up and that might be even more difficult than this."

The win moved the Rossoneri up to third in the table, three points above Juve, who dropped down to fifth with just three games remaining. 

Pioli hailed the determination of his team after they scored three goals away to Juve for the first time since January 2010. 

"We have had big wins this season, but admittedly this was a head-to-head, with the table so tight and so much in the balance," he added. "Unfortunately, it is not the final game of the season so we still have to keep going.

"When it comes to determination, team spirit and preparation to sacrifice, we were perhaps the best team in Italy for a long period of time.

"There was inevitably some mental fatigue after a long campaign, but we knew that today we had to step it up and put in a different performance.

"When it was time to make challenges and fight for every ball, we did not hold back."

Rebic replaced Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the 66th minute, the Sweden international limping off with a knee injury. 

Pioli, though, is confident it is nothing serious. 

"Zlatan was not at 100 per cent, he had half a training session with us on Friday, but he wanted to be here at all costs," he said. 

"He has a sore knee, but I don't think it's anything serious. We'll evaluate it."

Gianluigi Donnarumma is set to start against reported suitors Juventus in a mammoth match for Champions League chasers Milan on Sunday.

The 22-year-old goalkeeper has made more Serie A appearances than any other player (211) since his Rossoneri debut in 2015, but supporters unhappy with stalled contract negotiations had reportedly demanded he miss this weekend's game.

An exchange between Donnarumma and a section of fans was said to have left the keeper in tears.

Talk of an offer from Juve for Donnarumma, whose existing deal expires at the end of the season, was seemingly a particular point of contention.

Technical director Paolo Maldini subsequently halted discussions but insisted supporters could have no say in who represented Milan on the pitch.

Speaking on Saturday, Stefano Pioli said he would act in the best interests of the club, seemingly assuring a start for the keeper who ranks second for saves (609) and penalty saves (eight) in his Serie A career.

"At the moment, certainly all of Milan, we all have only one goal here: Milan's interest, not personal interest," Pioli said.

"They have always sweated. For this reason, I think it is right to support them, regardless of how it will go and the future of each of us.

"We are focused only on the match and finishing the championship well."

Asked if he had spoken to Donnarumma, whose save percentage has dipped to 68.9 this term, Pioli replied: "I talked to him, as with everyone.

"We talked about the match, what it is and about the strategy, how we have to interpret it. He and everyone is focused on giving their best."

Milan entered the weekend fourth, level on points with Juve in third, but could be fifth by the time they kick off.

Since their most recent Scudetto win in 2011, no side have lost to the Bianconeri in Serie A as often as Milan (15 times).

Pioli is confident their top-four hopes are not pinned solely on the outcome of this weekend's match, however.

"Whoever wins has a great chance of going to the Champions League, but it doesn't finish tomorrow night," he said. "Another nine points is a lot.

"We have two direct clashes from here to the end. We are masters of our destiny. If we win them, we have huge chances.

"The calendar is like this, it's strange to see a midweek round with two rounds to go. For now, we only think about tomorrow.

"We are on equal points, they have quality, but we do, too.

"It would be very important and exceptional to win in Turin against Juve. We will have to give our all. There will be difficulties, but we must work to resolve our mistakes."

He added: "It can be [a turning point]. I don't know if it will be so decisive for the future as well, certainly, however, [it can be] for our moment and for what we hope to achieve, to return to high levels.

"A positive result would give us the confidence and conviction to reach our goal. I see a mentally prepared team."

Real Madrid and Kylian Mbappe – the two parties have long been tipped to come together.

Mbappe is out of contract at Paris Saint-Germain in 2022 and no closer to renewing his deal.

Madrid are reportedly moving closer to prising the France international to the Spanish capital.

 

TOP STORY – MBAPPE POISED FOR MADRID MOVE?

Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe is edging closer to joining LaLiga giants Real Madrid, according to Diario AS.

Mbappe has long been tipped to swap PSG for Madrid, though the Ligue 1 holds continue to try to re-sign the World Cup-winning forward.

PSG's Mbappe is determined to win the Champions League as he eyes the Santiago Bernabeu.


 

ROUND-UP

- Le Parisien, though, claims PSG are holding out hope on teaming Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi with Mbappe and Neymar in Paris. Messi is set to become a free agent at the end of the season and he has been linked with PSG and Manchester City. Neymar has also been linked with a Barca return. However, Le Parisien reports PSG are prioritising a move for Messi while trying to retain Neymar and Mbappe.

Lautaro Martinez is on the verge of signing a new contract with Serie A champions Inter, says Gazzetta dello Sport. The Inter forward has been linked with Barca previously.

- Tuttosport reports star Milan goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma is a primary transfer target for Serie A rivals Juventus. Donnarumma is out of contract at the end of the season and the Italy international has not agreed fresh terms with Milan.

Borussia Dortmund will ask for less than €100million (£86m) to sell Jadon Sancho amid interest from United, Chelsea and Liverpool, says Fabrizio Romano.

- The Mirror says Liverpool are eyeing Roma star Lorenzo Pellegrini as incoming Giallorossi boss Jose Mourinho looks to overhaul the squad in the Italian capital. The front page of Thursday's Gazzetto dello Sport, meanwhile, claims Mourinho is looking to bring Manchester United midfielder Nemanja Matic and Madrid's Isco to Roma.

- Soon-to-be free agent and City star Sergio Aguero is dreaming of a Barcelona move, according to Romano. InterTottenham and Chelsea have also emerged as options for the veteran forward.

Maurizio Sarri is a candidate to take charge of Milan if Stefano Pioli fails to guide the Rossoneri into the Champions League, claims Gazzetta dello Sport. Sarri was reportedly set to join Roma before Mourinho's appointment.

- Rennes sensation Eduardo Camavinga, Sassuolo's Manuel Locatelli and Mikel Merino of Real Sociedad are on Barca's shortlist to replace Sergio Busquets, reports Mundo Deportivo.

Hakan Calhanoglu needs to score more goals if he is to reach his full potential, according to Milan head coach Stefano Pioli.

The Turkey international scored his fourth Serie A goal of the campaign on Saturday as Milan bounced back from consecutive defeats to beat Benevento 2-0 at San Siro.

That goal means Calhanoglu became the fourth Turkish player to score 50 goals in the top five European leagues since the turn of the millennium after Mevlut Erdinc (92), Nihat Kahveci (76) and Halil Altintop (67).

He is still five goals away from his top-flight total from last season and Pioli wants to see more from the 27-year-old in that department.

"In my view, Calhanoglu has not yet achieved his maximum potential. He provides quality, solidity, hard work, he plays with the team," Pioli told DAZN.

"He just needs to be a little more precise on assists and the final ball, keep his head up and check for the options.

"I think he must be motivated to score more goals because with the talent he has, he should set himself much higher targets and aim for double figures."

Zlatan Ibrahimovic made his first appearance for the Rossoneri since he received a red card in the 3-1 win over Parma on April 10 and he was in typically industrious form.

The Sweden international had seven shots – four more than any other player on the pitch – while he contested three more duels than any other Milan player (13).

Despite not finding the back of the net, Pioli was pleased with the 39-year-old's contribution.

"Ibrahimovic is a champion and a champion makes everyone around him raise their game," the Milan boss said.

"Missing him was certainly damaging to the team, but we have reacted to the difficulties and showed character.

"It's an advantage not to give the opposition defence a regular point to focus on, so Zlatan has this great tactical intelligence and knows how to move around trying to find the space."

The result moved Milan a point in front of Atalanta and three ahead of Napoli and Juventus into second place, but all three rival sides have a game in hand to play on Sunday.

Pioli takes his side to Juve next weekend in what will be a crunch game for his side's hopes of qualifying for next season's Champions League.

Stefano Pioli warned Milan must not feel sorry for themselves after a 3-0 Serie A defeat at Lazio and expects them to show a strong response to dropping out of the top four.

Joaquin Correa scored twice and Ciro Immobile added a late third as Lazio boosted their chances of qualifying for the Champions League at Stadio Olimpico on Monday.

Lazio boss Simone Inzaghi was able to celebrate a 10th consecutive home victory in the top flight in his first game back on the touchline since recovering from coronavirus.

Milan, on the other hand, have suffered back-to-back defeats and are down in fifth place with five games remaining - level on points with Napoli and Juventus.

Lazio are five points behind the Rossoneri with a game in hand and Pioli has challenged his side to roll up their sleeves in the battle for a place in Europe's premier club competition following an emphatic loss against his former club.

He told Sky Italia: "I expected more from the team, we have the technical and physical qualities to do better.

"The game became complicated at 2-0 and I don't see how the tackle on Calha [Hakan Calhanoglu before Correa's second goal] could not be a foul.

"Now we have to show that we are as strong as I believe we are, we have to react immediately because this is a heavy defeat."

Asked about the size of the challenging facing his side in the quest for a Champions League spot, he replied: "The opponents are strong but we're there and we don't have to feel sorry for ourselves, we know what we have to do."

Pioli says Milan must get on the training ground and show the right mentality with so much at stake.

"There have been some tactical things that have worked or not and need to be improved," said the Milan head coach. "I know I have an intelligent team, despite being young, with great character. I expect an important reaction."

Pirlo revealed he hopes striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic to return from injury against Benevento at San Siro on Saturday.

UEFA on Monday revealed the Sweden star, who signed a new one-year deal with Milan last week, is being investigated for "an alleged financial interest in a betting company".

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been ruled out of Milan's clash with Lazio, but head coach Stefano Pioli is confident fit-again Mario Mandzukic is ready to step up and fill the void.

Sweden international Ibrahimovic sat out Wednesday's 2-1 home loss to Sassuolo with a muscular problem and is not ready to return for Monday's Serie A trip to Stadio Olimpico.

The 39-year-old, who this week signed another 12-month extension with Milan, also missed the recent win against Genoa through suspension.

Rafael Leao filled in for Ibrahimovic in those two matches, but Mandzukic - a second-half substitute in both games - is in line for a first league start since joining in January after shaking off an injury issue of his own.

"Ibrahimovic is better but he won't be there tomorrow. He should be back for the following match," Pioli said at a pre-match news conference on Sunday. 

"Mandzukic and Leao will play for the place tomorrow. Mario is feeling better and has the characteristics to give himself the right contribution in the opposition box."

Former Juventus striker Mandzukic has featured seven times in total for Milan, his only start coming in the 2-2 Europa League last-32 first leg with Red Star Belgrade in February.

He has yet to score, assist or create a chance across his 119 minutes of Serie A action for the Rossoneri and has managed just three four shots, three of those on target.

Rafael Leao has played double the number of league games over that same period of time, scoring one, assisting one and creating nine chances.

The versatile Portuguese forward can play right across the frontline, but Pioli is not yet sure where he will be used in the long term.

"The Leao project continues regardless of his role," Pioli said. "It only goes to show his maturity and willingness to grow, which is normal for such a young player.

"It is difficult to establish what Rafael's final role will be. The growth of a player allows you to find a job and a position. 

"The important thing is he continues to grow and we will continue to evaluate the position along the way."

Milan have an identical league record with and without Ibrahimovic in their side this season (W10 D3 L3), and they average 1.9 goals with him in the side compared to 1.8 without.

Since rejoining the club at the start of 2020, Ibrahimovic has scored 25 goals in 35 Serie A appearances - only Luis Muriel (26), Romelu Lukaku (32), Ciro Immobile (36) and Cristiano Ronaldo (46) have found the net more often across that period.

Meanwhile, his scoring rate of 108.24 minutes per goal is bettered only by Ronaldo (88.41) and Muriel (64.42) among players to have scored at least 10 times.

"Ibra has raised the level of quality and personality, his charisma has helped everyone to grow," Pioli said following confirmation of Ibrahimovic's new contract on Saturday.

"His teammates have been good at following this path and having a growth with great constancy and will. 

"We have all grown and have become a team of a higher level. Everyone has given their contribution."

Stefano Pioli did not take the opportunity to highlight Milan's involvement in the European Super League saga as a distraction after their 2-1 defeat to Sassuolo.

The Rossoneri were among 12 elite clubs - including three from Serie A - to sign up for the controversial breakaway competition on Sunday.

An angry response from fans, players, coaches, governing bodies, governments and the media prompted several outfits to rethink, though, with England's 'big six' all backing out on Tuesday.

Milan followed suit on Wednesday, confirming their withdrawal just five hours before kick-off against Sassuolo.

With their place in a continental tournament no longer secured as a result, Pioli's side have work to do to qualify for the Champions League.

Milan are second but the loss to Sassuolo, having led through Hakan Calhanoglu, opens the door for fifth-placed Napoli to close to within three points if they win their game in hand against Lazio.

Giacomo Raspadori was Sassuolo's two-goal match-winner, but Pioli chose not to look for an excuse.

"It did not affect us," he told Sky Sport. "We did not let ourselves be distracted by anything.

"We are focused on our goal. These are things that we have not decided and we have not talked about."

Pioli was asked about comments made by Milan technical director Paolo Maldini before the game in which the Rossoneri great apologised for the club's Super League involvement despite insisting he had no knowledge of the discussions.

"I don't think anyone could have had any doubts about Paolo's moral integrity," Pioli said.

"He has many values, he expressed himself for what he feels. If he said those things, it means that he has these feelings."

Maldini had said: "I have never been involved in the discussions related to the Super League.

"I only heard the news on Sunday, like all of you, through the joint communications that have been published.

"It's something that's been decided at a higher level than my role. In any case, this does not exempt me from taking responsibility for apologising to Milan fans who have felt betrayed in the fundamental principles of sport that we have always respected."

He added: "It is normal that in 2021 a manager [director] of a great team cannot fail to know that revenues and sustainability are important concepts.

"But if we can learn a lesson from this story it is to have understood how far we can go.

"[We can] definitely not change the principles of sport that consist of meritocracy and dreams that must be guaranteed to everyone."

Milan are "proud" to be part of Serie A but their chief executive Ivan Gazidis believes the European Super League will open up football to billions of fans.

The Rossoneri, along with Juventus and Inter, were among 12 teams included in Sunday's seismic Super League announcement.

Reaction has been sustained and vitriolic, with UEFA, FIFA and the Premier League among those to condemn the plans, alongside Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola – despite Liverpool and Manchester City also being on the initial roster.

Those involved have been accused of undermining their domestic competitions, by foregoing the challenge of qualifying for continental competitions in favour of a closed-shop arrangement.

Nevertheless, Gazidis sought to reaffirm his club's commitment to Italy's top flight in a letter to commercial partners and sponsors.

"Serie A will remain the most important weekend competition in Italy and Milan are proud to remain an important part of the pinnacle of Italian football," he said.

"We're confident that this new competition will capture the imagination of billions of football fans all over the world and will be a new, exciting chapter for the game.

"The Super League will provide value and support to the whole football pyramid with greater financial resources."

Milan are back in action at home to Sassuolo on Wednesday, with solidifying a spot in the top four the priority for head coach Stefano Pioli – irrespective of what that might now mean in the greater scheme of things.

“Milan have never finished top four in the last few years. It would be an important target for us that would prove our growth,” Pioli told a pre-match news conference.

“We have a target, and it's an important one. We are focused on this. We'll see what happens in the future. I repeat, this is not the right time to talk about the Super League."

Milan technical director Paolo Maldini has revealed Zlatan Ibrahimovic is "very close" to signing a contract extension, while Gianluigi Donnarumma has also been urged to stay at the club by head coach Stefano Pioli.

Ibrahimovic has helped to rejuvenate Milan since returning to San Siro in January 2020 on an initial six-month deal that was extended by a year ahead of the 2020-21 campaign.

The 39-year-old is due to become a free agent when his latest deal expires at the end of June.

Reports in Italy suggest the evergreen striker is happy to remain with Milan for another year, however, and Maldini has provided a positive update on the contract talks.

"There are only small details missing and therefore we are very close to the renewal," he told Sky Sport Italia.

Ibrahimovic has 25 goals in 35 Serie A appearances since the start of 2020 - only Cristiano Ronaldo (46), Ciro Immobile (33), Romelu Lukaku (32) and Luis Muriel (26) have found the net more often across this period.

Meanwhile, his scoring rate of 108.2 minutes per goal is bettered only by Muriel (58.2) and Ronaldo (84.5) among players to have scored at least five times.

The former Manchester United striker registered his seventh league assist since rejoining in Saturday's 3-1 win over Parma, although he was later sent off for dissent - the sixth red card he has received in his Serie A career.

It somewhat marred what should have been a special occasion for Ibrahimovic, who brought up his 300th career victory in Europe's 'top five' leagues - 170 of those in Serie A - thanks to his team-mates seeing the job through at Estadio Ennio Tardini.

Gianluigi Donnarumma made four saves against Parma, including an impressive quickfire double stop early in the second half to deny Andrea Conti and Graziano Pelle, highlighting his importance to the side.

The Italy international is another who could leave San Siro as a free agent in a few months, but Pioli is hopeful the club's undisputed first-choice goalkeeper will commit to fresh terms.

"I would advise Gigio to stay at Milan because it is a top club and we are building something here," he told Sky Sport Italia. 

"I call my players fighters who haven't won yet, but are training to win trophies."

Hakan Calhanoglu completes the trio of Milan players with uncertain futures as he reaches the end of his contract, with the attacking midfielder reportedly holding out for a longer deal than the club are prepared to offer.

Asked for an update on the contract situations, Maldini added: "These are choices everyone has to make. I am not here to judge, I am here to do what is best for the club.

"I also know that you need two parties to be happy in order to strike a deal."

Milan, who strengthened their grip on second place with a club-record 13th away Serie A win of the season, also have the option of turning Fikayo Tomori's loan move from Chelsea into a permanent deal.

Tomori has impressed since joining in January and leads Milan defenders in blocks per 90 minutes (1.1) in Serie A this term, while the centre-back completed 93 per cent of his passes against Parma.

"He has made a wonderful impact and settled in so quickly," Pioli said. "He has other characteristics of pace and of playing out from the back that can certainly improve us as a team. 

"He is a player who is certainly giving us a lot and the intention is to keep him."

Milan boss Stefano Pioli praised the determination of his players to see out the win against Parma following the dismissal of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who has denied insulting referee Fabio Maresca.

The Rossoneri were cruising in Saturday's Serie A clash thanks to first-half goals from Ante Rebic and Franck Kessie, only for Ibrahimovic - who played a part in both goals - to be sent off for dissent with an hour played.

Riccardo Gagliolo pulled a goal back for Parma six minutes later, but Milan survived a few nervy moments and added a late third at Estadio Ennio Tardini through substitute Rafael Leao.

Referee Maresca, who sent off Inter boss Antonio Conte in January, reached straight for his red card after Ibrahimovic had said something following the awarding of a free-kick to Parma.

It is the sixth time the striker has been dismissed in Serie A since his debut in the competition in 2004-05 - the joint-most for a forward alongside Francesco Totti, Goran Pandev, Domenico Berardi and Mauricio Pinilla - and Pioli has shed light on what was said.

"I was focused on the match," he told Sky Sport Italia. "Zlatan told me that he argued with the referee and that the discussion went on, but he told me that he had not offended the referee.

"The discussion took place and the referee soon reached this decision."

When asked by Sky Sport Italia if he had any idea what Ibrahimovic said, Pioli added: "He told me he said to the referee, 'You really don't care what I tell you?'"

Parma attempted 308 passes in the second half to 10-man Milan's 119 and had double the number of attempts on target to their opponents' two after the interval.

But Leao's strike at the end of a swift counter led by Diogo Dalot ensured Milan came away with a 13th away league win of the season - a club record in a single top-flight campaign.

Milan's 16 away wins this season in all competitions is the joint-most they have managed in a single campaign, meanwhile, alongside 1992-93 and 2004-05.

Pioli is pleased with the way his side reacted to Ibrahimovic's red card but cannot explain why his team have performed better on their travels this campaign.

"The positive is that my team managed to get the victory with great determination today," he said.

"Parma are tough to play, we messed things up ourselves at one stage, but the important thing was to win.

"The statistics show we do better away from home. It's strange and we are evaluating the reasons, but the games are quite similar when playing behind closed doors.".

Milan are back to within eight points of leaders Inter, but of more significance to Pioli is the seven-point gap to fifth-placed Napoli, who like each of the teams around the Rossoneri have a game in hand.

"We want to take Milan back into the Champions League. We've got strong competition from Juventus, Atalanta, Napoli, Lazio and Roma, so we have to take it one game at a time and keep going," Pioli said.

"These are all teams capable of winning eight or nine in a row, so we can take absolutely nothing for granted. Maybe we wasted too much time and energy thinking about the future or other situations. 

"If you think too much about the game in a month’s time, you won't focus enough on the one that is coming up.

"We need to get back to the points average we had at the start of the season, but we can only do that if we take it one game at a time."

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."

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."

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