Milan chairman Paolo Scaroni has played down concerns regarding the potential loss of Rafael Leao after insisting the side "always replace well".

Leao starred during Milan's triumphant Serie A campaign in the 2021-22 season, scoring 11 goals and contributing a further eight assists as they beat city rivals Inter to the Scudetto on the final day of the season.

The contributions of the Portugual forward have not gone unnoticed, with Real Madrid having been attributed with an interest in the 23-year-old.

While Scaroni did not erase the fears of fans that Leao could be lured away from the club, he outlined evidence that Milan have done well in the past to land suitable replacements for those that moved elsewhere.

 

"Leao is without doubt a precious gem but Milan has shown itself able to replace the seemingly irreplaceable," he told the 'La Politica Nel Pallone' podcast.

"I remember [Simon] Kjaer's injury and the introduction of [Pierre] Kalulu, in retrospect we are all happy to have discovered a new talent."

Last week it was reported that Leao had snubbed the offer of a new contract with Milan, which would have extended his deal until 2026.

His deal is due to expire in 2024 and that could result in a transfer either this year or next in order for the Serie A champions to receive a fee.

Ricardo Horta scored a late equaliser as Portugal and Spain opened their Nations League campaigns with a 1-1 draw on Thursday.

Spain were defeated in the final by France in last year's competition, but entered the 2022 edition after four straight wins.

Morata fired Spain into a first-half lead as he became the joint-seventh highest scorer in La Roja's history with his 26th strike in all competitions.

Portugal offered little in response until Horta popped up with eight minutes remaining to steal a draw in the Group A2 opener.

Gavi whipped narrowly wide in the opening exchanges, while Rafael Leao – making his first start for Portugal – blasted over at the other end.

Morata opened the scoring after 23 minutes when Gavi surged forward to find Pablo Sarabia, who unselfishly squared for the forward to tap in.

Carlos Soler almost doubled Spain's lead shortly after but was denied by Diogo Costa before blazing the rebound over, while Andre Silva drilled just wide of Unai Simon's right post.

Fernando Santos responded by sending on Ruben Neves at half-time but the second-half proceedings continued in similar vein, with Spain in control.

Leao spurned a presentable opportunity by firing into the onrushing Simons' legs, before Morata prodded wastefully wide in an attempt to chip Costa.

Cristiano Ronaldo was introduced just after the hour, but it was another substitute, Horta, who equalised as he converted Joao Cancelo's whipped cross, before Jordi Alba headed agonisingly wide with the goal gaping in the closing stages.

Rafael Leao expressed his excitement over speculation of interest from Real Madrid, but the Milan forward assured his "feet will remain firmly on the ground".

The Portugal international has starred for Milan since joining from Lille in 2019 and played an integral role as Stefano Pioli's side secured their first Scudetto in 11 years.

Leao scored 11 times and assisted eight in 34 Serie A appearances over the 2021-22 season, setting up two goals in the final-day 3-0 win over Sassuolo that sealed the title.

No Milan player outscored him – Olivier Giroud also scored 11 league goals – or recorded more assisted for the Rossoneri this term.

Leao regularly tormented Serie A defences with his powerful runs down the left flank, with only Adama Traore (107), Kylian Mbappe (112) and Allan Saint-Maximin (150) completing more dribbles than him (98) across Europe's top five leagues.

The form of Pioli's key man has led to reports Madrid are interested after missing out on Paris Saint-Germain's Mbappe, but Leao insists he is focusing on life with the Rossoneri.

"I'm at Milan, I have another two years on my contract," he told A Bola. "Untouchable? I'm happy with these words. I feel at home, but right now my focus is on the national team.

"[The rumours about Real Madrid] make me happy, but my feet are firmly on the ground. It is a pride to work with highly experienced players. 

"As for my development, I left Sporting [CP] when I was young and went to Lille. People may not know it, but Ligue 1 is a strong league, I have evolved."

Leao will now target World Cup success with Portugal in Qatar as he looks to partner fellow Sporting academy graduate Cristiano Ronaldo.

"Two years have not gone as I would have liked, but now I am more mature and confident, the season has gone as I wanted," he added.

"I hope to do great things in the future. I want to be a point of reference in my club and in the national team… the highest point is, for example, winning a World Cup."

Meanwhile, Milan technical director Paolo Maldini insists Leao will never be put up for sale by the Rossoneri.

"Of course he is not for sale," he told La Gazzetta dello Sport. "He is still a rough diamond who from one year to the next has already improved so much.

"We signed him from Lille for €24million and immediately put a €150m release clause on him, because we believed so much in this player.

"He was always potentially a great champion, but he needs to continue this growth process that he is only part-way through.

"He is extremely intelligent but needed to be helped along the way and I spoke to him a lot.

"Clearly, if in future Milan are not at the level of Leao or if Leao is not at the level of Milan, things could change. But at this moment, the growth is exponential for both the club and the player."

Real Madrid have turned their attention to Milan forward Rafael Leao after being snubbed by Paris Saint-Germain superstar Kylian Mbappe.

The 22-year-old Portuguese winger scored 14 goals and contributed 12 assists in 42 games in all club competitions this season, after 13 goals combined in his first two campaigns in Milan.

His rapid ascension has seen him fitted with an eye-opening price tag, with ESPN reporting his release clause is at €150million, and that Madrid will offer somewhere in the range of €120m.

 

TOP STORY – LOS BLANCOS CLOSE IN ON MILAN'S PORTUGUESE STAR

Leao provided an assist in Milan's Champions League loss to Liverpool, scored a goal in their defeat to Atletico Madrid, and tallied three goals and six assists in the last six games of the Serie A season to seal the Scudetto.

With his lofty price tag, it is fair to assume Leao is the Spanish giants' top target in the upcoming transfer window, although he is not the only big-money signing reportedly in the works for Madrid.

ESPN is also reporting Madrid's €80m move for Monaco midfielder Aurelien Tchouameni has been held up by a tax issue, and if it is to fall through, Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool are all circling.

 

ROUND-UP

– The Daily Mail is reporting Everton striker Richarlison has strong interest from Tottenham, Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain.

– With Burnley relegated from the Premier League, the Telegraph is reporting Everton and West Ham will compete for the services of Clarets striker Maxwel Cornet.

– According to the Evening Standard, Harry Kane no longer wishes to leave Tottenham and is now ready to open talks for a new contract.

Chelsea have been told they will need to pay £45m to pry Marc Cucurella away from Brighton and Hove Albion, according to the Sun.

– Todofichajes is reporting Liverpool would like RB Leipzig star Christopher Nkunku to be their long-term replacement for Mohamed Salah, should the Egyptian leave the club, with his contract expiring in 2023.

Speculation over Declan Rice's future has long centred on an apparently inevitable departure from West Ham United.

The Hammers run to the Europa League semi-final has amplified talk around the England international midfielder, with Chelsea and Manchester United linked.

According to reports, though, the 23-year-old appears content at London Stadium with a World Cup on the horizon.

 

TOP STORY – DECLAN RICE TO STICK WITH WEST HAM    

Declan Rice will not leave West Ham despite interest from Manchester United and Chelsea, according to The Mirror.

The 23-year-old has been reticent to sign a new deal at the club, but he is reportedly in no hurry to leave yet either, seemingly wanted to stay settled ahead of November's World Cup in Qatar.

United have looked to Rice as one of their primary transfer targets as Erik ten Hag looks to overhaul the squad, but Rice appears set for one more season at West Ham following their run to the Europa League semi-final this term.

Hammers management had previously advised that Rice is not for sale, and strong performances at the World Cup with England would likely only increase his already lofty market value.

ROUND-UP

Real Madrid are showing interest in Milan's Rafael Leao after Kylian Mbappe opted to stay at Paris Saint-Germain, according to Marca.

– Los Blancos are also looking to scupper Liverpool's move for Aurelien Tchouameni, despite the player having already agreed terms with the Reds so say The Mirror.

Barcelona are discussing personal terms with Marcos Alonso, who is set to leave Chelsea, Fabrizio Romano reports.

– Arsenal defender William Saliba wants to stay at Marseille, where he has been on loan, per Goal.

Stefano Pioli says Milan's Scudetto triumph was fully deserved as they were more consistent than Inter and showed more belief than their fierce rivals.

Milan ended their 11-year wait to finish top of Serie A with a 3-0 win at Sassuolo on Sunday, rendering Inter's win at home to Sampdoria by the same scoreline meaningless.

The Rossoneri finished two points ahead of erstwhile champions Inter to claim their first trophy since the 2016 Italian Super Cup some 1,976 days ago.

Pioli's men won their final five matches and went 15 without defeat to see out the campaign, with their final tally of 88 points their second best ever in the three-points-per-win era.

And after a gripping title battle with Inter that went down to the final game – the first time that has happened in Serie A since 2009-10 – Pioli was full of praise for his players.

"They are phenomenal," he told DAZN. "I am happy for them, for myself, for the fans, the club. This Scudetto makes us all very happy.

"We showed more consistency than Inter. The last game we lost was against Spezia in January and even then we shouldn't have lost it.

"The team never gave up; all the players were fantastic. We fully deserved this Scudetto because we believed in it more. We are a strong team and I have great staff around me."

Olivier Giroud scored twice for Milan in their title-clinching win at Sassuolo and Franck Kessie added a third before half-time.

Rafael Leao assisted two of those strikes and has been involved in at least one goal in his past six league appearances, including three strikes of his own.

The Portugal international was named as Serie A's Most Valuable Player for 2021-22, while Pioli was named Coach of the Year.

"I have the players and the club to thank for that," Pioli said. "This award is for them. Without them what we achieved would not have been possible."

Milan have been crowned as Serie A champions for the first time since the 2010-11 campaign after beating Sassuolo.

Stefano Pioli's men went into the final day of the season knowing they simply needed to avoid defeat to clinch their first Scudetto in over a decade.

The Rossoneri had established a two-point lead over rivals Inter – against whom they also held a head-to-head advantage – at the Serie A summit. 

And they made sure of their success with a 3-0 defeat of Sassuolo, thanks to goals from Olivier Giroud and Franck Kessie.

Milan travelled to Sassuolo having made light of a challenging run-in, winning five consecutive games to tee up their historic triumph, as they matched the Nerazzurri's tally of 19 Italian top-flight titles. Only Juventus (36) have more than the two Milanese giants. 

While Inter avoided handing the title to the Rossoneri following a hard-fought 3-1 win over Cagliari last weekend, their result against Sampdoria on the final day was ultimately immaterial as Milan made their advantage count at the end of an absorbing title race.

The Rossoneri's last title triumph came under the tutelage of Massimiliano Allegri some 11 seasons ago, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Alexandre Pato, and Robinho each scoring 14 Serie A goals apiece as Milan finished six points clear of Inter.

Pioli's men have been able to rely on a fantastic defensive record to get them over the line, conceding just eight league goals since the turn of the year.

Indeed, 11 of Milan's 17 Serie A clean sheets this season have come in 2022, and last week's crucial 2-0 win over Atalanta marked the first time they had kept five consecutive home clean sheets in Serie A since a run of six under Carlo Ancelotti in 2002.

The Rossoneri's title win also marks the first major trophy of Pioli's coaching career, and the club's first trophy win since the 2016 Supercoppa Italiana.

Goals from Rafael Leao and Theo Hernandez put Milan on the brink of their first Serie A title in 11 years as Stefano Pioli's men claimed a 2-0 win over Atalanta.

After both sides struggled to create clear-cut chances in a nervy first-half, Leao broke clear to open the scoring, and Hernandez capped an incredible run with a fine left-footed finish to provoke jubilant scenes at San Siro.

Boasting a head-to-head advantage over Inter, the Rossoneri will be confirmed as champions if the second-placed Nerazzurri fail to beat Cagliari later on Sunday.

If Inter do pick up maximum points, Milan will only need to avoid defeat at Sassuolo on the final day of the season to clinch their 19th Scudetto after winning their fifth consecutive Serie A contest.

Sandro Tonali dragged a long-range effort wide as both sides made a tentative start to the game, before in-form forward Leao clipped a tame effort into Juan Musso's arms.

Luis Muriel drew a smart save from Mike Maignan from distance after half an hour, before Leao sent a wild effort high and wide as Milan struggled to create first-half opportunities.

Atalanta went close when Davide Zappacosta's effort deflected over within three minutes of the restart, before Hernandez came within inches of breaking the deadlock when he hit a 30-yard free-kick into the side-netting. 

But Milan made the all-important breakthrough after 56 minutes, Leao racing onto Junior Messias' pass to finish neatly through the legs of Musso, with the furious visitors believing Matteo Pessina was fouled in the build-up.

Hernandez then sealed the victory with a goal worthy of deciding any title race, picking the ball up near his own box and driving towards the Atalanta area before finishing into the bottom-right corner, leaving Milan within touching distance of glory.

Rafael Leao's pace, power and flair invokes memories of Brazil legend Ronaldo Nazario, while only Cristiano Ronaldo was as talented as the Milan winger aged 18 at Sporting CP.

That is according to former Sporting coach Tiago Fernandes, who worked with Leao as he came through the ranks at the Portuguese club and coached a young Ronaldo before he joined Manchester United.

Leao has become central to Stefano Pioli's plans at Milan this season as the Rossoneri seek a first Scudetto since the 2010-11 campaign, sitting two points clear of Inter with two Serie A games left to play.

The 22-year-old starred in the 3-1 comeback victory at Hellas Verona on Sunday, driving down the left flank to provide two almost identical assists for birthday boy Sandro Tonali to score.

Leao leads Milan charts for most goals (10) in the league this campaign, while only Theo Hernandez (6) boasts as many assists.

He has created 38 chances in total in the Italian top flight this season, a tally that only Hernandez (49) and Tonali (42) can better.

Fernandes, speaking to Italian publication Tuttomercatoweb, heaped praise on Leao as he drew comparisons between the forward and Brazil great Ronaldo.

"Leao has the power of Ronaldo, he has the talent to solve matches on his own," said Fernandes, who worked at Sporting between 2011 and 2018.

"He reminds me of the 'Phenomenon' [Ronaldo] with speed, technique and explosiveness in decisive moments, qualities that this season have emerged every game to drag Milan towards great results."

Fernandes reflected on his memories of developing Leao when he was at Sporting's academy, with Portugal compatriot Ronaldo the only other youth player to display so much potential.

"We are talking about a very special guy for me, I'm so happy with what he's doing," he added on the Milan star. "I met him when he was just 12-13 years old, coaching him in almost all the youth teams of Sporting until his first team debut at 18.

"I can assure you that only Cristiano Ronaldo in Lisbon had the same talent as him at that age. It is very exciting. It repays the many hours of work spent together on the pitch at Sporting.

"I am proud that he has landed in a great club like the Rossoneri, he is doing very well. I want him to win the Scudetto, now there are only two games left to finish the job."

As for the future of Leao, Fernandes believes he could play for any of Europe's elite given the qualities he possesses.

"Rafael has the talent to play in the best clubs in the world, from Real Madrid to Barcelona," Fernandes added. "I am convinced that he has an incredible career ahead of him."

Stefano Pioli declared he was "in love" with his Milan players after the Rossoneri came from behind to beat Hellas Verona 3-1, keeping the destiny of the Scudetto in their hands.

Marco Faraoni headed Verona into the lead after 38 minutes at the Bentegodi before Sandro Tonali, playing on his 22nd birthday, restored parity before the interval on Sunday.

Tonali was again on target four minutes into the second half before substitute Alessandro Florenzi sealed Milan's fourth comeback win – and second against Verona – of the Serie A season.

Victory moved Milan back to the Serie A summit as the Rossoneri, who are searching for their first Scudetto since 2010-11, sit two points clear of Inter with two league games left.

Coach Pioli was visibly delighted when speaking to DAZN after the game, heaping praise on his Milan group who never seem to know when they are beaten.

"I am very much in love with my players," the Italian said. "I know what they are putting in and what a journey we have been on.

"Courage and belief come from your experiences. Today we went behind despite having started well, but we believe in ourselves and step by step we are overcoming all obstacles. We have to continue like this.

"I am satisfied with today's victory, but we are already thinking about the next match [at home to Atalanta next Sunday] which will be complicated."

Rafael Leao, who created a game-high four chances, provided two identical assists, speeding down the left flank before squaring for Tonali to tap in either side of half-time.

Pioli was quick to praise the Milan duo for their efforts against Verona.

"They are young, but strong," he said of Leao and Tonali. "I told them on the second day of the summer training camp. I found two different guys than at the end of last season."

Elaborating on Tonali, who is the youngest midfielder to have scored five or more goals in Serie A this season, Pioli drew comparisons to Rossoneri great Gennaro Gattuso and Roma legend Daniele De Rossi.

"Seeing the training sessions and the matches, you discover new characteristics also of the players," Pioli said. "If we build with two midfielders, we make more use of the full-backs, like Sandro did tonight.

"Tonali has an incredible engine and work rate, he can become a great mezzala [a wide central midfielder]. He's showing incredible growth.

"It's difficult to compare two players. When I met him for the first time, I asked him what his favourite position on the pitch was, and he replied that everyone compares him to Pirlo.

"But he said he feels more like Gattuso. If I really have to name a name, I would say De Rossi."

Sandro Tonali marked his 22nd birthday by scoring twice as Milan moved a step closer to the Serie A title with a 3-1 triumph at Hellas Verona on Sunday.

Inter leapfrogged Stefano Pioli's side at the summit with victory over Empoli on Friday, and Milan's response at the Bentegodi started poorly when Marco Faraoni headed Verona in front.

However, Tonali struck either side of half-time – with the excellent Rafael Leao assisting both – to turn the game around.

Alessandro Florenzi's late third made sure as the Rossoneri remain on course for their first Scudetto since 2010-11, back two points ahead of Inter with two games to play.

 

Lorenzo Montipo had produced a fantastic save to deny a Rade Krunic header in the opening stages, before Tonali saw a low finish ruled out for offside following a VAR check.

David Calabria's volley was turned away by Montipo, while Gianluca Caprari and Giovanni Simeone each arrowed narrowly wide at the other end in a frantic first half.

Verona broke the deadlock when Darko Lazovic chipped in for the unmarked Faraoni to nod home, but Tonali equalised 10 minutes later, prodding in after a mazy left-wing run by Leao.

Leao repeated the trick after the interval, driving forward on the counter-attack before drilling across the face of goal for the incoming Tonali to tap in and nudge Milan ahead.

Adrien Tameze fired a presentable opportunity wildly over as Verona searched for a response, but Milan instead sealed victory when substitute Florenzi – on the pitch just 119 seconds – powered into the bottom-left corner with four minutes to go.

Milan moved closer to a first Serie A title triumph in 11 years thanks to a late strike from Rafael Leao in Sunday's 1-0 home win over Fiorentina.

Inter's shock 2-1 loss to Bologna in midweek handed the Scudetto initiative to Milan and the Rossoneri just about took full advantage with this third league victory in a row.

The visitors had lost three games in a row in all competitions but frustrated their table-topping opponents until Leao made the most of an error to fire in an 82nd-minute winner.

That strike was enough as Milan moved five points clear of Inter, who travel to Udinese later on Sunday. Should it come to it, the Rossoneri boast the better head-to-head record.

Neither Milan nor Inter could establish a lead in the first leg of their Coppa Italia semi-final tie, as the Serie A title contenders played out a goalless draw at San Siro.

Rafeal Leao caused problems for Inter in a match where chances were at a premium, but the Rossoneri were unable to make their superiority count against their out-of-form city rivals.

With Italy's domestic cup not following UEFA's example of removing the away goals rule, however, the stalemate will certainly be more kindly looked upon on the red side of Milan, who are level on points with Napoli at the top and two ahead of Inter in a fierce race for the Scudetto.

Alexis Saelemaekers tested Samir Handanovic during a frantic start after the stadium observed a heartfelt message from Milan's Ukrainian legend Andriy Shevchenko, who scored in their last Coppa Italia final win in 2003.

Milan's Theo Hernandez shot wide after a trademark burst forward, while Alessio Romagnoli denied Inter with a superb defensive header on 20 minutes before limping out of the contest injured.

Stefano Pioli's men enjoyed the better of the first period, with Rade Krunic shooting over from a great position and the lively Leao troubling Inter in an otherwise uninspiring opening 45 minutes.

Manchester United face the prospect of losing key midfielder Paul Pogba on a free transfer at the end of the campaign.

The France international is into the final four months of his existing deal and there are few indications that he is prepared to extend his terms at Old Trafford.

And in a further blow for United, they could see Pogba head to one of their domestic top-flight rivals.


TOP STORY – POGBA OPEN TO PREMIER LEAGUE STAY

The Telegraph reports that Pogba, who rejoined United from Juventus in a big-money deal in 2016, is prepared to wait until the end of the season before deciding on his future.

Signing a new deal with United is said to remain an option, but Pogba will not be short of options should he become available to sign on a free – albeit with big wages to factor in.

The report indicates that the 28-year-old will weigh up any interest from fellow Premier League clubs, with Chelsea and Manchester City having previously been linked.


ROUND-UP

- It is shaping up to be a busy transfer window for United as a number of other players are also out of contract. According to Ekrem Konur, Edinson Cavani and Juan Mata are attracting strong interest from clubs in the Middle East.

- Jesse Lingard is another who could be on his way out of Old Trafford, though The Express claims that the England international is not considering a free transfer to Tottenham. Lingard would reportedly prefer to move abroad ahead of next season.

- Arsenal have joined Everton and Wolves in the race to sign Rafael Leao from Milan, according to La Repubblica. The 22-year-old is enjoying his best campaign to date at San Siro, having registered double figures for goals.

- Italian outlet Tuttosport suggests that Juventus are pushing ahead with plans to sign Nicolo Zaniolo from Serie A rivals Roma, who are supposedly prepared to accept an offer in the region of €40million for a player with two years to run on his deal.

- Leeds United's in-demand winger Raphinha is holding off talks over a new contract at Elland Road, suggests GOAL. The Brazil international has previously been touted as a target for Bayern Munich, Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain.

Chelsea have been crowned European and world champions since Thomas Tuchel's appointment just over 12 months ago.

The Blues, however, finished fourth in the Premier League last season.

Chelsea are third this term but 16 points behind leaders Manchester City with a game in hand, and it seems recruitment is in the offing.

TOP STORY – BLUES SET TO SPLASH THE CASH

Chelsea are set for an off-season transfer splash as they prepare to back Tuchel fresh from their Club World Cup triumph, according to The Telegraph, 

The Blues have their sights firmly set on signing long-term target Jules Kounde from Sevilla as a priority in the upcoming off-season.

Chelsea are also interested in West Ham United's England international Declan Rice and Monaco's 22-year-old French midfielder Aurelien Tchouameni.


ROUND-UP

- Football London reports Arsenal are plotting a move for Chelsea forward Armando Broja, who is currently on loan at Southampton. The Gunners are short on attacking options after Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's exit and with Alexandre Lacazette and Eddie Nketiah running down contracts.

- Fichajes also claims that Arsenal are interested in Milan forward Rafael Leao, along with Newcastle United.

Barcelona are trying to agree new deals with star young pair Gavi and Ronald Araujo amid interest from Liverpool and Manchester United, reports ESPN.

Juventus are willing to listen to offers for Adrien Rabiot and Alex Sandro according to La Gazzetta dello Sport.

- Fichajes claims that West Ham want to sign Lille defender Sven Botman, Villarreal left-back Pervis Estupinan and Real Sociedad centre-back Robin Le Normand.

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