Milan extended their 100 per cent start to the Serie A season with a 3-0 win over newly-promoted Spezia at San Siro on Sunday. 

Six players kept their places after Thursday's penalty shoot-out win over Rio Ave in the Europa League, and a lack of freshness was apparent in the first half, with Milan struggling to break down their less illustrious opponents. 

They looked sharper at the start of the second period, though, and duly went ahead shortly before the hour mark when Rafael Leao prodded home from close range. 

Theo Hernandez added a second in the 76th minute before Leao made sure of all three points with another predatory strike two minutes later, as Milan made it three wins from three.

After a largely dismal opening period, the game burst into life on the stroke of half-time. 

First, Alexis Saelemaekers blazed over from 15 yards after being teed up by Davide Calabria, while at the other end Gianluigi Donnarumma pawed away Daniele Verde's powerful strike. 

Milan belatedly woke from their slumber at the start of the second period and were rewarded with the opener 12 minutes after the resumption when Leao stole in at the back post to stab home Hakan Calhanoglu's teasing free-kick. 

Donnarumma made a smart stop from Kevin Agudelo before Hernandez doubled Milan's advantage, the French full-back racing forward from just inside the opposition half and drilling past Rafael from 15 yards. 

That knocked the stuffing out of Spezia and Milan added a third shortly after when Leao met Franck Kessie's headed knock-down with a simple finish inside the six-yard box to wrap up an ultimately routine win. 

There was a predictable champion at the end of the 2019-20 Serie A campaign as Juventus clinched a ninth successive Scudetto, and their success is reflected in Opta's Team of the Season. 

Although Juve finished 2019-20 just a point ahead of second-placed Inter, they had wrapped up the title with two games to go – beating Sampdoria 2-0 on July 26.

Cristiano Ronaldo was unsurprisingly key, finishing as his team's top scorer, but for much of the season there were a few sides that looked like they might push Juve all the way.

Inter, Atalanta and Lazio all had their moments where they were able to dream and they each had individuals who impressed.

Following the conclusion on the campaign on Sunday, we teamed up with Opta to outline the Serie A Team of the Season.

OPTA'S SERIE A TEAM OF THE SEASON

GK: Wojciech Szczesny, Juventus

Poland international Szczesny has come a long way since struggling in the latter part of his Arsenal career. He was once again a dependable option between the posts, remaining first choice despite the return of Gianluigi Buffon. He ended the season with a 74.4 per cent save success rate, the best of the Serie A goalkeepers to have played 20 or more times.

RB: Juan Cuadrado, Juventus

Hardly the most convincing of defenders, granted, but Cuadrado boasts the versatility to play in a few roles down the right flank and he became an important figure for Maurizio Sarri – his 28 Serie A starts is just one fewer than he managed in the previous two seasons combined. The Colombian was certainly influential, too, as he was involved in more open-play sequences that ended with a shot made by someone else (132) than any other player this term. He also chipped in with two goals and five assists.

CB: Stefan de Vrij, Inter

No team conceded fewer goals in Serie A this season than an Inter side that Antonio Conte ensured was well-drilled. Netherlands centre-back De Vrij played a major role in that as he featured 34 times – though his efforts were not notable just for his defensive effectiveness. The former Feyenoord man scored three goals and also set up another three, making him the most productive centre-back in the league in this regard.

CB: Francesco Acerbi, Lazio

After Inter, the next-best defensive unit in Serie A was Lazio, who let in 42 (six more than Conte's men). Acerbi missed just two games all season and his form at the start of the season also saw him make three starts for Italy. The 32-year-old has proven himself to be one of Serie A's best stoppers, as evidenced by the fact he was dribbled past just six times this term. No other outfield player with more than 35 appearances did better than that.

LB: Theo Hernandez, Milan

Former France youth international Hernandez has rediscovered the early promise he showed during a fine loan spell at Deportivo Alaves in 2016-17. While question marks remain over his defensive abilities, the Atletico Madrid youth product has excited with his attacking tendencies in 2019-20. No defender completed more dribbles (57) than him, while he also had a hand in nine goals (six goals, three assists).

CM: Luis Alberto, Lazio

Since leaving Liverpool for Rome in 2016, Luis Alberto has arguably developed into one of the world's best creative midfielders. The Spain international sees passes few others can and he has put that to particularly good use in 2019-20, with his 106 chances created being a Serie A high. Similarly, his 15 assists was second only to Alejandro Gomez (16), as he helped Simone Inzaghi's men mount a title challenge. Often linked with a return home to Sevilla, Lazio will surely be doing everything they can to keep Luis Alberto at Stadio Olimpico.

CM: Fabian Ruiz, Napoli

The other half of a Seville-centric midfield, Real Betis product Fabian probably hasn't impressed quite as much as he did in 2018-19, but he has nevertheless continued to show plenty of promise. Still only 24, Fabian attempted the most passes (2,331) of any player in the league this season, while he had a hand in nine goals, the same amount as in the previous campaign.

AM: Alejandro Gomez, Atalanta

Like a fine wine, 'Papu' Gomez just seems to get better with age. Now 32, the Argentinian has enjoyed a fantastic season for the often-exhilarating Atalanta. He scored seven goals for a second successive season, but his haul of 16 assists is five more than 2018-19. That figure is the highest since Opta records began in 2004-05.

FWD: Paulo Dybala, Juventus

The Sarri-Juventus combination continues to puzzle many, but if there's one thing he has got right, it's helping Dybala get back to something resembling his best. He had been strongly linked with a move away last year, but Dybala was involved in 17 Serie A goals this term (11 goals, six assists) and managed to coexist with Ronaldo more effectively. Of his 11 strikes, eight (73 per cent) were the opening goals of matches, the biggest quantity among players with 10 or more.

FWD: Cristiano Ronaldo, Juventus

Considering there being murmurs of discontent between himself and Sarri, and suggestions the coach hasn't been able to get the best out of the Portugal great, Ronaldo's had a pretty effective year. With 31 league goals, it's been his best goal-scoring campaign domestically since getting 35 with Real Madrid in 2015-16, while his goals have secured 24 points, more than any other player.

FWD: Ciro Immobile, Lazio

What a season Immobile has had. With 36 league goals, the Italy international equalled Gonzalo Higuain's record for a single campaign, while that haul also won him the coveted European Golden Shoe. On top of that, his record of nine assists was bettered by only Gomez, Luis Alberto and Domenico Berardi. If he can keep it up, Lazio will surely fancy themselves of challenging Juve again next term.

Manchester City are set to make a splash in the transfer market and defence is the area in the spotlight.

City struggled defensively in the absence of injured star Aymeric Laporte following Vincent Kompany's exit, while there are doubts over John Stones' future in Manchester.

Napoli's Kalidou Koulibaly and Bournemouth defender Nathan Ake are reportedly high on Pep Guardiola's wish list as he attempts to strengthen his squad after watching Liverpool coast to the Premier League title.

 

TOP STORY – CITY NOTIFY NAPOLI OF KOULIBALY INTENT

Manchester City have informed Napoli they are ready to make an offer for star defender Kalidou Koulibaly, according to Sky Sport Italia.

Pep Guardiola has set his sights on Koulibaly, who has also been linked to the likes of Liverpool, Manchester United, Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain.

City are willing to bid €65million (£58m) but Napoli are still holding out for €100m (£90m).

 

ROUND-UP

- Staying in Manchester and Sky Sports says City are in talks with Bournemouth over the signing of another defender – Nathan Ake. The Guardian claims City are poised to beat neighbours United and Chelsea to the Netherlands international.

- Sky Germany reports Bayer Leverkusen star Kai Havertz has agreed terms with Chelsea as he moves closer to arriving at Stamford Bridge. Havertz has been linked to Madrid, United, Liverpool, Bayern Munich and Barcelona but he appears set to join Chelsea. Win Sports TV journalist Pipe Sierra, meanwhile, claims Chelsea and Leverkusen have agreed an €85m (£77m) fee plus €15m (£13.5m) in bonuses.

Juventus are eyeing former Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino as a possible replacement for head coach Maurizio Sarri, according to La Stampa.

- The Daily Mail says Southampton are set to sign Real Valladolid defender Mohammed Salisu. The 21-year-old has reportedly attracted interest from United and Atletico Madrid.

Theo Hernandez has no plans to leave Milan amid interest from Ligue 1 champions PSG, reports Calciomercato. Hernandez is enjoying a fine season with a resurgent Rossoneri team under Stefano Pioli.

- Gianluca Di Marzio claims there is a €60m agreement between Napoli and Lille for Victor Osimhen but the Serie A outfit still has to resolve matters with the forward's new agent.

Two goals in four minutes, including a thunderbolt from Franck Kessie, helped Milan come from behind to beat Parma 3-1 on Wednesday.

The Rossoneri's European chase under Stefano Pioli appeared to be losing momentum when Parma went ahead at San Siro through Jasmin Kurtic 44 minutes in.

But Kessie pulled his side level with a spectacular effort after 55 minutes and Alessio Romagnoli's header turned the game on its head in quick fashion.

Hakan Calhanoglu made it 3-1 to secure all three points for Milan in Zlatan Ibrahimovic's 100th game for the club.

Milan saw a Romagnoli header bounce back off the left-hand post in a dominant opening spell.

Giacomo Bonaventura had a tap-in ruled out for offside and Kessie missed a great chance from Rafael Leao's cross, with Parma not really threatening until Gervinho ran through the heart of the Milan defence but fired over.

It was Gervinho who helped to fashion the breakthrough, though, his clever pass sending Alberto Grassi clear to cut back for Kurtic, who fired low past Gianluigi Donnarumma.

Parma were largely restricting Milan to speculative shots from distance, a tactic that was working well until Kessie thumped an unstoppable strike in off the right-hand post 10 minutes into the second half.

It was 2-1 before the hour mark, Romagnoli escaping into space to nod in Calhanoglu's expert delivery, and Dejan Kulusevski's shot that deflected onto the crossbar suggested fortune was not favouring the visitors.

Calhanoglu made certain of a seventh Milan home league win over Parma in the past eight meetings, the midfielder drilling home a fine finish from Bonaventura's pass.

 

What does it mean? Never mind top four - Milan are finishing as one of Serie A's form sides

Milan could still qualify for the Champions League after this win, although it would require Lazio to lose all of their remaining games and a few favourable results involving Napoli and Roma.

A sixth season without playing among Europe's elite might be almost certain, but the Rossoneri can at least be pleased with their form since Italian football returned - especially since Pioli appears destined to be replaced by Ralf Rangnick for next term.

Calhanoglu holds the key

Calhanoglu had more touches (80) and passes (58) than any Milan player except Kessie, set up their first two goals and scored the third himself. You will struggle to find a more influential display in that regard.

Theo loses track

Theo Hernandez wasted a couple of good openings at 0-0 and Parma's opener came when they found far too much space down the left of the Milan defence.

What's next?

Milan host Bologna on Saturday, with Parma at home to Sampdoria a day later.

Franck Kessie's penalty earned Milan a 2-2 Serie A draw against Napoli, but they had to ride out a tense finale with 10 men at the San Paolo on Sunday. 

Milan claimed a stunning victory over Juventus last time out and took the lead through Theo Hernandez in the first half, but goals either side of the interval from Giovanni Di Lorenzo and Dries Mertens put Napoli in control. 

After Gianluigi Donnarumma let the second goal slip through his legs, Kessie spared his blushes by converting from the spot in the 73rd minute after Nikola Maksimovic felled substitute Giacomo Bonaventura. 

Napoli pushed for a winner after Alexis Saelemaekers picked up two bookings in as many minutes, but Milan avoided a blow to their hopes of European qualification and the difference between the sides remains at two points. 

Stefano Pioli's side owed a debt to Donnarumma for stopping them from falling behind in the early exchanges, as he thwarted Mertens before diving on Jose Callejon's scuffed effort from six yards in the 19th minute. 

Milan took full advantage by going straight up the other end and taking the lead, Hernandez volleying home at the back post after Ante Rebic showed great awareness to pick him out. 

However, Napoli got back on level terms when Donnarumma failed to deal with a whipped free-kick from Lorenzo Insigne and Di Lorenzo stuck the loose ball into the open goal. 

Milan started the second half positively but fell behind when Callejon cut the ball back to Mertens, his low drive finding a way through Donnarumma as it squirmed over the line. 

Pioli responded by sending on Bonaventura and he won the spot-kick that Kessie coolly converted into the bottom-left corner. 

Substitute Saelemaekers chopped down Di Lorenzo and Eljif Elmas in quick succession to leave Milan a man light for the final three minutes of normal time, though the visitors stood firm. 

Another day, another Paul Pogba story.

Pogba's future continues to make headlines, with the Manchester United star reportedly unhappy at Old Trafford.

Long linked with a switch to Real Madrid, a Santiago Bernabeu transfer could be on the cards.

 

TOP STORY – ZIDANE EYES POGBA

Zinedine Zidane wants Real Madrid to sign Manchester United star Paul Pogba at the end of the season, according to L'Equipe.

Madrid have been heavily linked to Rennes sensation Eduardo Camavinga but Zidane is determine to bring Pogba to the Santiago Bernabeu.

It comes as Tuttosport and Sportmediaset claim Inter have joined Madrid, Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain in the race for Pogba.

 

ROUND-UP

- Juve are interested in re-signing Pogba but the Serie A champions could be about to turn to another midfielder target. Calciomercato says Juve are eyeing Ajax's Donny van de Beek, who has been linked to Madrid and United.

- Sport says Liverpool are in talks with soon-to-be free agent and Chelsea attacker Willian. The Brazilian is out of contract at the end of the 2019-20 season.

PSG have prepared an offer for Milan full-back Theo Hernandez, according to Tuttosport. The Frenchman has been a revelation since arriving from Madrid.

- Barcelona defender Samuel Umtiti is Napoli's first choice if Kalidou Koulibaly leaves, claims Sport. Koulibaly has been linked to PSG, United and Madrid.

- Marca reports Martin Odegaard's future at Madrid depends on Luka Modric. The Spanish newspaper says if Modric leaves the Santiago Bernabeu, Odegaard will return from his loan spell. Otherwise, the Norwegian will spend another season on loan at Real Sociedad.

- RAC-1 claims Juve and Barca are in talks over a swap deal, which could see Miralem Pjanic leave for the LaLiga champions and Arthur move to Turin.

Madrid have accepted they will not be able to sign PSG star Kylian Mbappe this year, says L'Equipe. The Spanish capital club are determined to bring the France international to Madrid.

Liverpool appear to be getting closer to completing a deal for RB Leipzig star Timo Werner.

Werner, 23, has been linked with a move to Anfield after a prolific season with the Bundesliga side.

Now, it seems the Germany forward is continuing to take step towards joining the European champions.

 

TOP STORY – LIVERPOOL OFFER WERNER FIVE-YEAR DEAL

Liverpool have offered Werner a contract until 2025 worth £6.8million (€8m) a season plus bonuses, according La Gazzetta dello Sport journalist Nicolo Schira.

The Premier League club are reportedly ready to pay Werner's release clause of £49m (€58m) before April.

Werner, who recently spoke glowingly about the Premier League club, has 27 goals in 33 games in all competitions this season.

ROUND-UP

- Manchester United are backing Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. The Sun reports United are preparing a £250m spending spree amid links to the likes of Borussia Dortmund midfielder Jadon Sancho, Aston Villa's Jack Grealish and Leicester City's James Maddison.

- Coming out of contract at the end of the season, Jan Vertonghen seems set to leave Tottenham. The Evening Standard reports Inter have contacted the defender about a potential move.

- Could Marcelo Bielsa be set to leave Leeds United? ElDesmarque reports Real Betis have contacted the Argentinian about his situation, with Leeds chasing promotion to the Premier League.

- Looking to strengthen their defence, Chelsea have made RB Leipzig defender Dayot Upamecano their number one transfer target, according to the Mirror.

- Amid some criticism of Real Madrid over their decision to let Theo Hernandez leave for Milan in July, CalcioMercato reports the 22-year-old Frenchman is happy at the Serie A club, where he has starred this season.

Liverpool appear to be getting closer to completing a deal for RB Leipzig star Timo Werner.

Werner, 23, has been linked with a move to Anfield after a prolific season with the Bundesliga side.

Now, it seems the Germany forward is continuing to take step towards joining the European champions.

 

TOP STORY – LIVERPOOL OFFER WERNER FIVE-YEAR DEAL

Liverpool have offered Werner a contract until 2025 worth £6.8million (€8m) a season plus bonuses, according La Gazzetta dello Sport journalist Nicolo Schira.

The Premier League club are reportedly ready to pay Werner's release clause of £49m (€58m) before April.

Werner, who recently spoke glowingly about the Premier League club, has 27 goals in 33 games in all competitions this season.

ROUND-UP

- Manchester United are backing Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. The Sun reports United are preparing a £250m spending spree amid links to the likes of Borussia Dortmund midfielder Jadon Sancho, Aston Villa's Jack Grealish and Leicester City's James Maddison.

- Coming out of contract at the end of the season, Jan Vertonghen seems set to leave Tottenham. The Evening Standard reports Inter have contacted the defender about a potential move.

- Could Marcelo Bielsa be set to leave Leeds United? ElDesmarque reports Real Betis have contacted the Argentinian about his situation, with Leeds chasing promotion to the Premier League.

- Looking to strengthen their defence, Chelsea have made RB Leipzig defender Dayot Upamecano their number one transfer target, according to the Mirror.

- Amid some criticism of Real Madrid over their decision to let Theo Hernandez leave for Milan in July, CalcioMercato reports the 22-year-old Frenchman is happy at the Serie A club, where he has starred this season.

Krzysztof Piatek provided a reminder of his talent amid transfer rumours with a goal and an assist as Milan beat SPAL 3-0 to set up a Coppa Italia quarter-final against Torino.

Poland international Piatek has endured a difficult second season in San Siro, having scored just four times in Serie A, but on Wednesday the reported Tottenham target looked more like his old self.

Perhaps SPAL are not the most suitable team to use as a barometer of Piatek's abilities, as they never looked a threat, but the 24-year-old showed good composure to open the scoring, before then teeing up Samu Castillejo for his glorious effort to increase the lead.

Milan continued to dominate after the break and added a third goal just past the hour – Theo Hernandez drilling home in style, sealing a comfortable victory.

SPAL struggled to contend with Milan during the early exchanges, with Ismael Bennacer driving just wide before Castillejo spurned a pair of presentable opportunities.

But Piatek made no mistake in the 20th minute, latching on to Bennacer's throughball and coolly slotting past the approaching Etrit Berisha.

The lively Castillejo deservedly made it 2-0 just before the break, curling a wonderful left-footed effort into the top-left corner after Piatek spotted him in space in the penalty area.

Hernandez got in on the act in the 66th minute, charging forward in typical fashion before hammering a left-footed drive into the bottom-right corner from 25 yards.

SPAL thought they would have the chance to pull one back from the penalty spot after substitute Lucas Paqueta was penalised for blocking the ball with his arm, but following a lengthy VAR review the decision was reversed, preserving Milan's clean sheet.

What does it mean? Milan sensing a chance for silverware

Given how poorly Milan's Serie A campaign is going, the Coppa Italia looks their only realistic chance of silverware this term. Only Torino now stand between them and the semis, and by that time they might have built up the form and confidence to challenge Juventus and Inter.

Castillejo takes his chance

It is fair to say Castillejo has not lived up to expectations since his move from Villarreal in 2018, but in this contest he showed flashes of the youngster who became so highly rated in LaLiga. A lively presence out wide, he produced four key passes and a stunning goal.

Bonaventura offers little

Milan were generally impressive, but Giacomo Bonaventura was one of few to have little impact, failing to create a single chance.

What's next?

Milan are at home again this weekend, hosting Udinese in Serie A. SPAL go to in-form Atalanta as they aim to move off the foot of the table.

Theo Hernandez had a goal harshly disallowed by VAR as Milan were held to a 0-0 draw by Sassuolo in their final home Serie A game of 2019.

In-form Hernandez thought he had scored his third goal in as many games just after the half-hour mark at San Siro on Sunday, only for VAR to rule it out for a handball from Franck Kessie.

Chasing a third successive league win for the first time since last season, Stefano Pioli's side piled on the pressure after the interval, only to be frustrated by some brilliant Gianluca Pegolo goalkeeping.

Substitute Rafael Leao twice beat Pegolo in the closing stages, but the crossbar and then the post came to Sassuolo's rescue.

Early in the game, Giacomo Bonaventura's effort forced Pegolo into an unconvincing save, but Sassuolo's goalkeeper reacted brilliantly to deny Kessie's follow-up.

After turning provider for a Hakan Calhanoglu chance, Hernandez thought he had put Milan ahead with a first-time strike which took a wicked deflection on its way through.

A VAR verdict, however, intervened when picking up what appeared to be Kessie's accidental handball.

A terrible back-pass then left Pegolo in no man's land prior to the break, yet Ismael Bennacer - after rounding the stranded goalkeeper - failed to apply the finish.

Jeremie Boga struck wide as Sassuolo caught Milan on the counter early in the second half, while Gianluigi Donnarumma had to keep out a stinging shot from Georgios Kyriakopoulos.

Bonaventura was denied by a brilliant Jeremy Toljan block, before Pegolo made an outstanding stop from Lucas Paqueta's close-range effort and kept out another Bonaventura attempt.

Veteran goalkeeper Pegolo was beaten late on, but Leao's curling strike cracked away off the bar before the substitute hit the right upright. There was still time for a final stop by Pegolo to deny Hernandez as Milan's efforts proved fruitless.

 

What does it mean? Milan entrenched in mid-table

It has been a frustrating season for Milan and, approaching the halfway stage, the Rossoneri sit 10th. Pioli will at least be able to take solace in the fact his side are only four points shy of eighth-placed Atalanta, though Milan will require a mighty upturn in form to make a push for the Champions League places.

Hernandez hitting his stride

Though he was unfortunate to have his goal ruled out, Milan's full-back put in another accomplished display in both defence and attack. If there is one bright mark from the Rossoneri's season so far, it is the form of the ex-Real Madrid youngster.

Piatek's struggles continue

Having netted from the spot against Bologna last time out, Piatek will have been hoping for an upturn in his fortunes, but he cut a frustrated figure in a lone striker role and was well contained by Sassuolo's defence.

What's next?

Atalanta are Milan's final opponents of 2019 on December 22, while Sassuolo face struggling Brescia on Wednesday before rounding off their year against Napoli.

Theo Hernandez scored two minutes from time to earn Milan a 1-0 victory at Parma and end their three-match winless run in Serie A.

A lack of goals has cost the Rossoneri in recent weeks and their profligacy again looked as though it would haunt them in Sunday's clash.

But Theo poked home a late winner following some calamitous defending from Parma to earn a vital triumph for Stefano Pioli's men.

The victory for Milan – just their second in seven matches under Pioli – lifts them into 11th place, one point behind opponents Parma.

AC Milan boss Stefano Pioli said he felt "confident for the future" after his side battled to a 1-1 draw with Napoli at San Siro.

Giacomo Bonaventura scored his first goal in more than a year to cancel out Hirving Lozano's opener and earn Milan a point in Saturday's Serie A clash.

The Rossoneri have won just one of six matches since Pioli replaced Marco Giampaolo last month, but the ex-Fiorentina boss was pleased with his team's latest display.

"We played a good game, despite the absentees and other difficulties," he said at his post-match news conference.

"I am seeing great determination and awareness and I'm confident for the future, but there is still a long way to go.

"I have only been working here for 45 days. You cannot say that the team does not fight.

"We all feel the sense of urgency to win games and we have the possibility to do that in our next matches, though it will not be easy."

Milan have collected just 14 points from their opening 13 matches and are down in 13th, 10 points adrift of the Champions League qualification spots.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic continues to be linked with a return to the club he represented between 2010 and 2012, but Pioli reiterated that he is not looking ahead to the transfer window.

"In January we will see," he said. "Tomorrow we go back to work because from here until then there are 12 more points available."

A major positive for Pioli was the performance of Bonaventura, who marked his second Serie A start of the season with a first goal since October 2018, driving home a fine 20-yard strike.

"He is not only strong but also very intelligent," Pioli said. "He knows where to move and when to do it. 'Jack' played for 90 minutes and did very well."

Next up for Milan are back-to-back away trips to Parma and Bologna, with left-back Theo Hernandez hoping to build some momentum from those matches.

"This was a very important point for us," Hernandez told Sky Sport Italia. "We knew it would be complicated against a good opponent, but now we have to win games.

"Milan cannot stay where we are in the table. We have to concentrate on the matches ahead and take it one step at a time to improve game by game."

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