Lionel Messi has spent his entire career with Barcelona. 

That bond will not sway Barca's off-season plans, though.

The Spanish giants have reportedly turned their eyes to a younger option. 

 

TOP STORY – BARCELONA PREFER HAALAND TO MESSI STAY

Barcelona are so desperate to lure Erling Haaland to Camp Nou that they would be willing to let superstar captain Lionel Messi walk away if they can sign the Borussia Dortmund star, according to The Sun.

Barca's financial situation would make it difficult to pay both players, and the report claims Messi might see his wages cut in half if he stays with the LaLiga powerhouse amid links to Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City

Numerous clubs are circling for Haaland, including City, Manchester United, Real Madrid, Chelsea, PSG, Liverpool, Bayern Munich and Juventus.

 

ROUND-UP

- Marca says Raul is favourite to take over as Madrid head coach next season if Zinedine Zidane leaves. Madrid great Raul is chasing promotion with the club's Castilla side.

Barca are set to complete the double free transfers of City star Sergio Aguero and Lyon captain Memphis Depay, according to Sport.

Arsenal and Martin Odegaard have a mutual interest in extending the Norway international's loan stay at the Premier League, according to Football London. He has two goals in 18 appearances in all competitions since arriving on loan from Madrid.

- Diario AS reports PSG are set to swoop in for Sergio Ramos by offering the Madrid captain and soon-to-be free agent a two-year contract. Ramos has also been linked to United.

- Though Juventus may be facing an exodus if they miss out on Champions League football next season, the Bianconeri are interested in Milan midfielder Hakan Calhanoglu, says Calciomercato. 

United may shore up their midfield with a bid for Getafe's Mauro Arambarri, Diario AS reports. The 25-year-old is under contract through 2023. The Mirror, meanwhile, says United remain keen on Atletico Madrid star Marcos Llorente.

Atletico are interested in Liverpool midfielder Naby Keita, claims the Daily Star. Keita has struggled for form and fitness since moving to Anfield from RB Leipzig in 2018.

Milan technical director Paolo Maldini has announced all contract negotiations have been put on hold until the end of the season after goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma was allegedly confronted by supporters.

According to Italian publication Il Corriere della Sera, Donnarumma was left in tears ahead of Milan's clash with Benevento on Saturday after being given the ultimatum of signing a new deal or sitting out next week's key clash with Juventus.

The Italy international has spent his entire senior career at San Siro, racking up close to 250 appearances in all competitions, but he is due to become a free agent in June after failing to agree fresh terms and has been linked with a move to Juve.

Maldini is not happy with the way the club's fanbase has gone about pressuring Donnarumma into signing a new deal, however, and has made the decision to curtail all discussions with the goalkeeper for the time being.

"It is important to firmly reiterate that nobody outside of Milan can decide who stays at the club and who renews," he told ANSA. "Choices regarding what happens on the pitch are down to the coach, while the club is in charge of contractual issues.

"From this moment, every single negotiation for new contract renewals is frozen until the end of the season so that the team can focus solely on the league. In the meantime, we will continue to protect our players, as we always have done."

Veteran striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic signed a 12-month extension last month, leaving Donnarumma and Hakan Calhanoglu as the two remaining high-profile Milan stars soon to be out of contract.

Milan led the way at the top of San Siro for a large part of the campaign, but they are now battling for a top-four finish after losing back-to-back matches prior to Saturday's 2-0 win against Benevento.

The Rossoneri, who are left focusing solely on Serie A after being eliminated from the Europa League at the quarter-final stage by Manchester United last month, have accrued 69 points in the league this term - their most in a single campaign since 2012-13.

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.

Milan returned to winning ways with a 2-0 victory over Benevento at San Siro that moves them back up to second place in Serie A.

The Rossoneri dropped to fifth following defeats to Sassuolo and Lazio, but they battled to a much-needed win in Saturday's clash with Filippo Inzaghi's struggling Benevento.

Hakan Calhanoglu picked out the bottom-right corner inside six minutes to give Milan the lead and Theo Hernandez added a second from close range with an hour played.

That proved enough as Milan moved a point in front of Atalanta and three ahead of Napoli and Juventus, but all three sides have a game in hand to play on Sunday.

Milan have scored the most goals of any Serie A side in the opening half-hour of games this term, while Benevento have conceded the most, and this contest followed the script.

Calhanoglu exchanged passes with Franck Kessie, played the ball out to Alexis Saelemaekers and got on the end of the return pass to steer a shot past Lorenzo Montipo.

The Benevento keeper did well to save a powerful strike from Rafael Leao soon after and also denied Zlatan Ibrahimovic with his outstretched leg from a one-on-one.

Ibrahimovic was thwarted again by a couple more Montipo saves early in the second half, either side of Iago Falque firing one inches wide at the other end.

However, the next Montipo save on Ibrahimovic paid dividends for Milan as attacking left-back Hernandez was in the right place to turn in the rebound.

Benevento would have moved out of the bottom three with a point, but they could not offer much in response as Milan saw out a deserved victory.

What does it mean? Milan back to winning ways ahead of tough run-in

Stefano Pioli challenged his Milan players to show their fighting spirit on the back of successive losses and they did exactly that with a fairly routine victory on home soil.

This win – just their second in nine home matches in all competitions – moves them into second place and puts pressure on the chasing pack to win their games on Sunday.

With a trip to Juventus next weekend, and a visit to fellow top-four rivals Atalanta also still to come, Pioli's men need to use this win as a platform to rebuild some momentum.

Hakan at it again

The midfielder created and finished off a well-worked Milan opener, with Kessie also deserving of praise for dummying Saelemaekers' pass for his team-mate to convert.

Calhanoglu, who became the fourth Turkish player to score 50 goals in the top five European leagues this century, ended the contest with a game-high 48 passes in the opposition half.

Zlatan denied

The veteran striker missed Milan's last three games through suspension and injury but was deemed fit enough to start against Benevento.

He had a few good opportunities to score but could not find a way past inspired keeper Montipo from any of his seven shots, five of which were on target.

What's next?

Milan have that huge showdown with soon-to-be-dethroned champions Juventus a week on Sunday, while Benevento host Cagliari in an equally important clash the same day.

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."

What does the future hold for Lorenzo Insigne?

The Napoli captain is no certainty to remain at his boyhood club as his contract runs down.

A switch to Milan could be on the cards…

 

TOP STORY – MILAN TARGETING INSIGNE

Milan met with Lorenzo Insigne's agent as they eye a move for the Napoli captain, according to Gianluigi Di Marzio.

Insigne – previously linked with Liverpool – has one year remaining on his current contract and the Italy international is yet to re-sign with his boyhood club.

Serie A rivals Milan are monitoring the situation and ready to pounce.

 

ROUND-UP

- A move for Insigne depends on the future of Milan midfielder Hakan Calhanoglu. The 27-year-old is set to become a free agent and Arsenal and Chelsea are eyeing the Turkey international, reports Sky Italy. Manchester United have also been linked.

- The front page of Thursday's Gazzetta dello Sport says Inter and neighbours Milan are going head-to-head to sign Fiorentina defender Nikola Milenkovic. The Serbia international is also reportedly wanted by United, Juventus and Tottenham.

Chelsea, Barcelona and Manchester City are vying to sign Inter star Romelu Lukaku this off-season, claims Calciomercato. Lukaku has emerged as a target for all three clubs, who are also eyeing Borussia Dortmund sensation Erling HaalandReal Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain, United and Liverpool have also been linked with Haaland.

- According to Corriere dello Sport, Roma and Milan both want to sign Torino captain Andrea Belotti. With Torino struggling, the Italy forward could be ready to jump at the chance for European football.

Tottenham are stepping up their pursuit of Southampton defender Jannik Vestergaard, says the Express. Spurs have long been linked with Inter star Milan Skriniar, but Vestergaard appears to be an easier option.

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."

Milan kept alive their faint hopes of Serie A title glory as Hakan Calhanoglu's fine strike sealed a pulsating 3-2 win over Fiorentina on Sunday. 

Zlatan Ibrahimovic had put them ahead after nine minutes to become the oldest player to reach 15 goals in a single Serie A season, aged 39 years and 169 days, but Erick Pulgar restored parity soon after.

Fiorentina took the lead shortly after the break thanks to a cool finish from Franck Ribery, yet Milan powered back thanks to Brahim Diaz and Calhanoglu's winner 19 minutes from full-time. 

The result means Milan move to within six points of leaders Inter, whose game against Sassuolo this weekend was called off after a COVID-19 outbreak at the club.

Fikayo Tomori cleared Martin Caceres' header off the line after five minutes as the hosts started brightly, but it was Milan who struck first. 

Simon Kjaer's clipped ball over the top found Ibrahimovic and the Sweden international struck past an exposed Bartlomiej Dragowski. 

That lead was cancelled out after 17 minutes, though, when Pulgar whipped a free-kick into Gianluigi Donnarumma's top-right corner from 20 yards. 

Both sides struck the crossbar before half-time, German Pezzella denied after an inventive flick from Valentin Eysseric's corner, while Ibrahimovic clipped against the frame of the goal after being played in by Calhanoglu.

La Viola went ahead six minutes after the restart, Ribery stroking home his second top-flight goal of the season from 15 yards after he had been teed up by Dusan Vlahovic.

The Rossoneri drew level in the 57th minute, however, when Diaz reacted quickest to poke home Kjaer's knockdown from a corner. 

Ibrahimovic struck the post with a cross before Calhanoglu slotted into substitute goalkeeper Pietro Terracciano's bottom-left corner from just inside the penalty area to ensure neighbours Inter cannot relax just yet.

 

 

Could Manchester United turn to a Wolves star?

United have long been linked with Borussia Dortmund's Jadon Sancho.

But the Red Devils are reportedly interested in Pedro Neto.

 

TOP STORY – UNITED PLAN NETO SWOOP

Manchester United are considering a £50million move for Wolves star Pedro Neto , according to The Sun.

Borussia Dortmund's  Jadon Sancho  has topped United's list of attacking targets – the Premier League giants almost signed the England international at the start of the season.

But United see Portuguese winger Neto as an alternative at Old Trafford.

 

ROUND-UP

- The Sun reports Serie A leaders Inter have joined the chase for Manchester City forward Sergio Aguero , who is out of contract at season's end. City's all-time leading goalscorer has been linked with Barcelona , Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea . The Nerazzurri are also reportedly monitoring Edinson Cavani 's situation. The United forward, who signed a one-year deal at the start of the season, is rumoured to be talking to Boca Juniors .

Real Madrid will pay David Alaba , his father and agent €20m if he arrives from Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich, claims Mundo Deportivo. Alaba's contract will expire at the end of the season and the Austria international has been tipped to move to the Santiago Bernabeu. However, Barca , Liverpool and PSG have also been linked.

- Calciomercato says Roma , Inter and Milan are interested in Udinese goalkeeper Juan Musso .

Milan are considering a move for CSKA Moscow star Nikola Vlasic  should Hakan Calhanoglu leave on a free transfer, reports Calciomercato. While the Croatia international has a €35m release clause for foreign clubs, Russian giants CSKA could settle for €28-30m.

There was not the gulf some might have anticipated at Old Trafford last week as Manchester United welcomed an injury-hit Milan side.

Four days on from a superb win at rivals Manchester City, United came within two minutes of another big result and a 1-0 lead to take to San Siro, but it was an advantage they scarcely deserved.

A moment of ingenuity from Amad Diallo, heading his first United goal from an excellent Bruno Fernandes pass, had Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's men in front.

At the other end, without Theo Hernandez, Hakan Calhanoglu and, of course, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Milan repeatedly threatened but lacked the same quality. They had 15 attempts - worth just 1.0 expected non-penalty goals (xG) - and only scored with the last of them, when Simon Kjaer's close-range header evaded the clutches of Dean Henderson.

That away goal sets up an intriguing second leg in which United must now score, although they might have put this Europa League last-16 tie beyond Milan prior to Kjaer's equaliser.

As the Rossoneri fashioned only one 'big chance', from which Opta would expect them to score, United had two from just seven shots. Harry Maguire somehow hit the post and Daniel James stabbed wide, chances that contributed heavily to a superior xG total of 1.4.

Those misses may well prove costly when the tie continues at San Siro on Thursday.

Hernandez and Calhanoglu returned to the Milan XI against Napoli on Sunday and are set to be joined against United by the team's talisman.

In the week his return to the international stage for Sweden at Euro 2020 was confirmed, Ibrahimovic will enjoy another reunion, fit to play some part against his former club.

"His return is important," head coach Stefano Pioli said of Ibrahimovic, who has been out since February with a thigh injury. "He will not be able to have 90 minutes in his legs and tomorrow we will see what to do."

United were hanging on against short-handed opponents, restricted to just 41.2 per cent of the possession in the final 15 minutes, 36.4 per cent of which played out in the home side's own third. It was an encounter that should give Milan huge confidence now Hernandez, Calhanoglu and Ibrahimovic are available.

For all their exciting build-up play, the final pass was missing in Manchester. That cutting edge is returning in Milan.

Among Serie A defenders this season, Hernandez ranks joint-third for goals (five), joint-fourth for assists (six) and fourth for chances created (45) in all competitions. He is seventh across all players in the division for expected assists from open play (xG - 3.9) in league action.

Hakan Calhanoglu's numbers are even more impressive. He has created 99 chances in all competitions this term, second only to opposite number Fernandes (107) across Europe's 'top five' leagues.

Having failed to handle Kjaer and Co. from set-pieces last week, United have reason to fear Calhanoglu's delivery. No player can top the 51 opportunities he has forged from set plays. Five of his 10 assists have come from such scenarios.

Crucially, too, of course, Calhanoglu will have a 39-year-old Swede to look for, a focal point also absent last time out.

Rafael Leao played up front for 90 minutes and attempted only a single shot, having four touches in the United box. Ibrahimovic this season averages 4.8 shots and 8.5 touches in the opposition area per 90 minutes.

His xG rate is the highest in Serie A among those to play 500 minutes or more, at 0.8 per 90, and he usually takes those chances, too. With 16 goals from 80 attempts in all competitions, he scores one in five.

Maguire and James were wasteful in the first leg; it seems unlikely Ibrahimovic, always one for the big stage, will be similarly so.

If Milan can dictate the play again this week, they have the attacking talent to settle this tie.

Ante Rebic has been passed fit to partner Rafael Leao up front but it remains to be seen if Alessio Romagnoli will start when injury-hit Milan face Udinese in Serie A on Wednesday.

Rebic scored the winner in the Rossoneri's 2-1 victory over Roma on Sunday before being withdrawn due to injury.

Milan head coach Pioli says the Croatia international will be ready to start against Udinese and Leao will take his place in the team after coming off the bench at the weekend to replace Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Asked about Rebic's fitness, Pioli said: "He's fine, he can start against Udinese. On Sunday he played a great match, his characteristics are important for us. There is no doubt about his qualities."

Pioli said following the much-needed win over Roma that he suspected Ibrahimovic, who is appearing at the Sanremo music festival, was weary rather than wounded and the talismanic striker will not face Luca Gotti's men.

Milan are taking no risks over Ibrahimovic's fitness, with a Europa League showdown against his former club Manchester United to come next week.

Hakan Calhanoglu will also miss the encounter with Udinese, which second-placed Milan will start knowing a victory would leave them just a point behind leaders Inter, while Ismael Bennacer and Mario Mandzukic are expected to return next week.

Leao has not scored since January 9, but Pioli has full faith in the 21-year-old.

"Up until a few days ago we talked about an improved Leao and inside the game," he said. "I'm satisfied with Leao, tomorrow he will start from the beginning.

"From a mental point of view he is ready, he has grown a lot."

Captain Romagnoli was left out of the starting line-up at Stadio Olimpico and Pioli refused to be drawn on whether the defender will be restored to the side.

"The matches are all important but also different, for me to be able to choose is great luck," Pioli said. "Only tomorrow morning we will try the starting eleven, we will choose the most suitable team and the best players."

Stefano Pioli remains confident Milan can agree contract extensions to keep Hakan Calhanoglu and Gianluigi Donnarumma at the club. 

Both goalkeeper Donnarumma and midfielder Calhanoglu – two influential players in helping Milan sit top of Serie A – have expiring deals, along with talismanic striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic. 

Technical director Paolo Maldini recently said Milan hope to reach terms to retain the trio beyond the current campaign, with head coach Pioli wanting them to stay as they build for the future.  

"The important thing is that both the club and the technical group have already had their say in a convincing way," Pioli said of contract negotiations ahead of Saturday's trip to Spezia.  

"We are happy to be able to continue the journey together and the boys are also very determined. 

"We all want to do well, the club is building something important and we are all focused on doing the best." 

Donnarumma has played in 20 of 21 league games under Pioli this season. The 21-year-old boasts a save percentage of 73.33 in Serie A – only Lazio's Pepe Reina (73.68) has managed better out of all the goalkeepers to feature at least 10 times in the competition. 

Calhanoglu, meanwhile, has a league-leading eight assists despite missing three games after testing positive for coronavirus. Indeed, since the beginning of December, he has set up seven goals in Serie A, the joint-most in the top five European Leagues, along with Kingsley Coman at Bayern Munich. 

The Turkey international will be back in the team to face Spezia as Milan aim to avoid a first league loss on the road since December 22, 2019. 

"Calhanoglu will start, either (Ante) Rebic or (Rafael) Leao will play on the left," Pioli said on Friday. "We will see what will happen – we want to get to the end of the season without regrets.

"We have ample room for improvement, we must raise our level because expectations are now high."

Pioli received praise from Milan CEO Ivan Gazidis for his work this week, with the pair united in their aim to help the Rossoneri become a dominant force again, both domestically and in Europe.

"We are in tune and his statements have made me very happy, our relationship with time has grown," Pioli said of the comments made by Gazidis.

"With the club we are going in the same direction and we have only one goal, to bring Milan back up. There have never been divisions and we must continue like this."

Stefano Pioli wants to see a reaction from his players in the Coppa Italia showdown with Inter following Milan's humbling home loss to Atalanta last time out.

The Serie A leaders went down 3-0 at home to Gian Piero Gasperini's side on Saturday, though they still have a two-point cushion over their next opponents at the halfway stage of the 2020-21 season. 

Next up is the small matter of a derby against Inter on Tuesday, an opportunity for Milan to quickly move on from such a disappointing result and reach the semi-finals of the Coppa Italia. 

The Rossoneri came out on top when the teams met earlier in the season, Zlatan Ibrahimovic's early double proving enough in a 2-1 triumph. 

"It's a different competition, but one we care about. The league is a different story," Pioli told the club's official website ahead of the game.  

"The next derby will be in a month, with other important games beforehand, so this is just a Coppa Italia match. However, it is an important quarter-final we need to face in the best way. 

"As always, there are opponents to face, dangerous opponents, but we are determined to bounce back with a good performance.  

"The Coppa is a competition we care about and aim to win, because in the end all the big teams in the league find themselves in this position, facing off in the quarter and semi-finals.   

"We weren't particularly lucky in the draw. We are in the toughest section, but if you want to win the Coppa, you have to face everyone.  

"It's important to us and we'll do our best to win."

Pioli confirmed Ismael Bennacer is not quite ready to return - the midfielder is on course to be available for Saturday's trip to Bologna, though - while Hakan Calhanoglu is also still out.

New recruit Mario Mandzukic suffered an issue at the weekend after making his debut as a second-half substitute, albeit the striker has not yet been ruled out entirely.

Milan have not lifted the Coppa Italia since 2003, while their last Scudetto arrived a decade ago. Pioli appreciates there is pressure to succeed, particularly after a strong first half to the campaign, but insists that is all part of the job when in charge of such a big club.

"Last Saturday reminded us that if we can't maintain our level, we run the risk of losing against these opponents," he added.

"So, our objective is to make an even greater effort, a more determined one to try to maintain our standing through until the end of the season. 

"We want to be ambitious and win all our games. When we don't, we work even harder to make sure the situation doesn't happen again.  

"That's why pressure is a privilege we must live with, or rather we must want this pressure because we're at a great club - pressure and expectations are a part of that."

Stefano Pioli confirmed Milan will consider adding further to their squad in January amid speculation Mario Mandzukic is set to join the club.

Mandzukic – who previously played in Serie A with Juventus – is a free agent after terminating his contract with Al-Duhail by mutual consent in July.

The Rossoneri are reportedly going to sign the Croatian striker on an 18-month deal, boosting their forward options as they look to maintain their push to win the league for the first time in a decade.

Pioli was not willing to discuss individual names at his pre-match news conference ahead of Monday's trip to Cagliari but did admit the club are ready to act if the right player becomes available.

"I don't want to and cannot comment on players that I don't have," he told the media. "I have a lot of confidence in the club and the management team. I leave that task to them.

"We know that if there is the possibility of strengthening the team, we will do it. We will be ready in January if there is the possibility of improving this group." 

Milan have already made one signing in the mid-season transfer window, midfielder Soualiho Meite arriving on loan from Torino.

"Meite makes a department that already had good solidity even more competitive," Pioli said of the new recruit.

"I really liked the move. We have combined quality and quantity. I also liked how he spoke, saying he was ambitious. To join our group, you have to be like that."

The Serie A leaders head to Cagliari without Hakan Calhanoglu and Theo Hernandez, both players currently isolating after testing positive for coronavirus.

Pioli admits it is a blow to be without the influential duo – they are also set to miss next Saturday's home fixture with Atalanta – but is confident he has the quality within his squad to cope with such situations during the course of the season.

"They are important absences, but this season is like that," the Milan boss said. "There are critical issues that can come at any moment, so we must always be prepared and attentive.

"The quality of the players that I will have available tomorrow will certainly make us have a good match.

"We are prepared, that's why I expect the players to always be ready. We can all be decisive and help the team."

Milan have announced Hakan Calhanoglu and Theo Hernandez have tested positive for COVID-19.

The two cases were discovered following swab tests carried out on Saturday, with the club immediately informing the health authorities upon learning the results.

Both players are asymptomatic and the rest of the squad tested negative, Milan confirmed in a statement released on Sunday.

Calhanoglu and Hernandez are now isolating at home, leaving Milan without the duo for some key fixtures coming up in January.

The Serie A leaders - who have lost just once in league action this season so far - visit Cagliari on Monday, then host Atalanta at San Siro next Saturday.

There is also a Coppa Italia quarter-final clash with rivals Inter looming on the horizon, that tie due to be played on January 25. 

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