Stefano Pioli said he was unhappy with his attempts to prepare Milan for Thursday's Coppa Italia clash with Genoa.

The Rossoneri were taken to extra time at San Siro before they eventually progressed to the quarter-finals with a 3-1 victory.

Genoa, with just one Serie A win all season and no Coppa victories over Milan since 1936-37, enjoyed an encouraging first half and took the lead through Leo Ostigard's header 17 minutes in.

It looked as though coach Andriy Shevchenko would pull off a shock against his old side until Olivier Giroud headed in an equaliser with 16 minutes of normal time left.

Milan had by this point taken charge of the contest and deservedly went ahead through Rafael Leao, whose cross looped in off the far post, before Alexis Saelemaekers added a fine third.

While Pioli was pleased with his players' response to falling behind, the Milan coach blamed their ineffective first-half display on his own attempted preparation.

"I'm not satisfied with my work," he told Sky Sport Italia.

"If the whole team doesn't get the approach to the match right, it means the coach was not good at stimulating them from a mental point of view.

"In the first half, we struggled and we played without rhythm. We deserved to go behind. Then, it's true that we reacted well; it's the sign of important growth in terms of character and the mental side of this team.

"I'm disappointed because I thought I prepared the team well. I didn't succeed there."

Milan's poor first half was compounded when defender Fikayo Tomori limped off, and Pioli will now anxiously await further medical checks.

"He felt something strange in his knee," he said. "We're waiting a few days for some more diagnoses, but we hope to have all those on Monday. We have quite a limited group in terms of numbers."

Leao, who has been directly involved in four goals in his first three games of 2021, was delighted to inspire another turnaround – even if his goal was unintentional.

The Portugal international admitted: "I wanted to cross because we have someone so good at heading [Giroud] with Ibra [Zlatan Ibrahimovic], and when I can't shoot, I try to cross.

"I try to give my best; today, I did so. We won and I scored."

Theo Hernandez and Rafael Leao played crucial roles as Milan comfortably beat 10-man Venezia 3-0 on Sunday to return to the summit of Serie A.

Stefano Pioli's men never looked in danger of dropping points at Stadio Pierluigi Penzo and were good value for a third straight Serie A victory.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic – teed up by Leao – got the ball rolling inside two minutes as he equalled Cristiano Ronaldo's record of scoring against 80 different teams in Europe's top five leagues this century.

Leao released Hernandez to make it 2-0 early in the second half, with the French defender wrapping the win up soon after with a penalty – which resulted in Michael Svoboda's dismissal – for his third goal of the season against Venezia.

Milan swiftly took charge as the lively Leao raced into the left side of the box and played the ball right across the face of goal for Ibrahimovic to tap in.

Further chances arrived for Milan, with Leao, Hernandez and Alessandro Florenzi forcing Sergio Romero into saves, though there was little the Venezia goalkeeper could do when it came to the visitors scoring their second.

Leao was involved again, feeding Hernandez's run in behind the defence and the left-back smashed past the helpless Romero.

Hernandez put the game beyond Venezia just before the hour, expertly picking out the top-right corner from 12 yards after Michael Svoboda handled – seemingly accidentally – on the line, earning himself a red card.

It sealed a routine win for Milan, with Pioli marking his 400th Serie A match as a coach in style. He is the eighth manager to reach the milestone in the competition.

 

What does it mean? Milan keep pressure on Inter

This was very much a case of Milan getting the job done with minimal fuss – they were very comfortable throughout and impressed despite being without numerous important players.

As such, they open up a two-point lead at the top of the table. Of course, Inter – who face Lazio later on Sunday – have two games in hand, but there is no denying Milan's position is a nice one to be in.

There is no guarantee Inter will win their two bonus games. Even if they do, a four-point deficit is by no means impossible to claw back.

Hernandez leads from the back

Several Milan players impressed but Hernandez was the standout. He got forward so often from left-back that his five shots ended up being more than anyone else – similarly, his expected goals (1.86), shots on target and big chances (both three) were highs for the match, while only Leao (seven) and Ibrahimovic (six) had more than Hernandez's four touches in the box.

Add to that his two key passes (bettered by just Leao), and it shows him in a very good light indeed.

A difficult day for Svoboda

It was a strange game for Svoboda. One moment he would show great composure, cleverly spinning away from Ibrahimovic, but then the next he would do something clumsy.

While the red card may have been slightly harsh, as the ball seemed to hit his thigh first, it was his error – passing the ball to Ibrahimovic on the edge of the box – that led to the situation anyway.

What's next?

Milan are in Coppa Italia action on Wednesday as they host Genoa, before then welcoming Spezia to San Siro in Serie A four days later. Venezia continue their fight against relegation in a week's time at home to Empoli after visiting Atalanta in the cup in midweek.

Milan director Paolo Maldini is eager to learn from past mistakes by tying down Theo Hernandez, Rafael Leao and Ismael Bennacer to new deals.

The trio, who have been regulars for Stefano Pioli's Scudetto-chasing side this term, are under contract at San Siro until the end of the 2023-24 campaign.

However, Milan have learned the hard way about the risks associated with allowing players to run down their contracts in recent times.

Gianluigi Donnarumma and Hakan Calhanoglu departed on free transfers ahead of this season, with the latter joining Milan's fierce rivals Inter.

The Rossoneri also risk losing Franck Kessie without receiving a fee at the end of the campaign, but Maldini is hopeful that will soon be a thing of the past.

"It's not always easy to reach an agreement with players, as we have seen with Donnarumma, Kessie and Calhanoglu " Maldini told reporters on Saturday. 

"But talks are well underway with Theo, as they are with Ismael, and we are talking to Rafa. The intention is to renew with all three soon."

 

Bennacer has featured in 24 of Milan's 26 matches this season, while Hernandez and Leao have been used 21 and 20 times respectively in all competitions.

Leao has five goals and one assist in Serie A this term and ranks third in the division for both dribbles attempted (69) and dribbles completed (37).

Hernandez leads the way for assists among defenders in the Italian top flight this season with five, meanwhile, and Bennacer ranks fifth for successful passes per 90 minutes (66.41) among players to have started at least seven times.

Maldini, speaking at the Associazione Italiana Milan Clubs event, added: "These are all young players and we naturally believe they can continue to offer Milan a great deal."

Milan head coach Stefano Pioli has compared Rafael Leao to a young Thierry Henry following his impressive 26-minute cameo against Roma, insisting the sky is the limit for the forward.

After a month on the sidelines with a thigh injury, the Portugal international returned as a substitute during Milan’s 3-1 win at San Siro.

The 22-year-old wasted no time in making a telling impact; demonstrating tremendous pace to break away from the visiting defence and score the third goal to wrap up the points.

Leao also earned a penalty for the hosts in the dying moments following another blistering run, although Zlatan Ibrahimovic failed to convert from the spot.

The former Lille forward has now netted five goals in Serie A this season, with only Ibrahimovic (seven) doing so more often for the Rossoneri.

He has also attempted 69 dribbles in the Italian top-flight this term; a tally only bettered by Nicolo Zaniolo (78) and Felipe Anderson (77).

His style of play has drawn comparisons from his coach with former Juventus forward Henry, who won the World Cup, European Championship, Champions League and a further five domestic titles during a glittering career. 

"Leao reminds me so much of Henry at the beginning of his career, when he started from the left," Pioli said.

"He has the talent to get to the top of the world, but talent alone is not enough.

"He's getting close to 100 per cent, he still can't be [fully fit] and will need minutes. 

"He has to work with a lot of ambition; he can get to be a really strong player on the European and world scene."

Veteran striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic will miss Milan's Serie A game with Empoli on Wednesday due to a knee injury.

Milan head coach Stefano Pioli confirmed the 40-year-old Swedish forward's absence along with Rafael Leao leaving him short of attacking options.

Ibrahimovic has netted seven league goals this term for Milan, who have only managed one point from their past two games, slipping four points behind leaders Inter in the league

"[Leao] won’t be there tomorrow, he’ll be back against Roma. Ibrahimovic won’t be there tomorrow because of an overload on his knee," Pioli told reporters.

Pioli was more positive about captain Alessio Romagnoli's prospects of playing, along with Theo Hernandez after illness amid an injury crisis at the club, without Simon Kjaer, Davide Calabria, Ante Rebic and Pietro Pellegri also out.

"Theo has become more complete, now he does the defensive phase better too," Pioli said.

"He gives us a lot on the attacking side. He’s better, I hope he’ll be in top condition tomorrow."

Pioli added that he paid little attention to the criticism levelled at his side lately, following Sunday's 1-0 home loss to Napoli who leapfrogged them into second spot.

"I read little, but some things are useful to improve," he said. "Against Napoli, Milan played a good match.

"We make mistakes that are not allowing us to get results, clearly we need to do something more. We need more quality."

Pioli added: "When results don’t come it’s right to be less calm, but also more determined.

"We have to think about tomorrow’s game, we want to get back on track after a home defeat. We wanted to score more points in the first half of the season than we did last year. It won’t be possible, but we want the three points tomorrow."

Milan have 39 points after 18 games, but have only collected eight points from their past seven league games.

Barcelona are struggling financially but Xavi is desperate to reinforce his attack following Sergio Aguero's retirement.

Ferran Torres and Edinson Cavani are believed to top Barca's transfer list heading into the January window.

It could be a busy month ahead for the LaLiga outfit.

 

TOP STORY – TORRES, CAVANI TO BARCA?

Manchester City's Ferran Torres and Manchester United forward Edinson Cavani are priority objectives for Barcelona, according to Marca.

Barca continue to be linked with Spain international Torres as Xavi attempts to bolster the embattled LaLiga giants.

Cavani has also emerged as a top target after Sergio Aguero retired from football and the duo could reportedly arrive in January.

 

ROUND-UP

- The Daily Mail claims Arsenal are open to selling Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang next month, but the Gunners are more likely to move on from the former skipper at the end of the season. Aubameyang has been stripped of the captaincy and linked with Barca and Juventus.

Borussia Dortmund, Bayer Leverkusen and Eintracht Frankfurt are eyeing Yusuf Demir as Diario Sport reports Barca have decided to cut short the 18-year-old's loan spell from Rapid Vienna.

Rafael Leao is poised to sign a contract extension with Milan until 2026, per Nicolo Schira.

- Calciomercato says Arsenal have not given up on signing Juve attacker Dejan Kulusevski. The Sweden international has also been linked to London rivals Tottenham.

Barca are monitoring United sensation Mason Greenwood, reports El Nacional. England international Greenwood is highly rated at Old Trafford.

- Jeunes Footeux says Liverpool have joined the race to sign Lille star Jonathan David. The Canada international is reportedly wanted by Arsenal, Inter and Paris Saint-Germain.

What does the future hold for Kylian Mbappe?

The Paris Saint-Germain forward has long been tipped to join Real Madrid.

Madrid are reportedly preparing another approach for the France forward.

 

TOP STORY – MADRID PUSHING FOR MBAPPE

Real Madrid will make another move for Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe, according to the front page of Friday's Mundo Deportivo.

Madrid have made no secret of their interest, while Mbappe – who will become a free agent at the end of the campaign – revealed he wanted to leave PSG for Los Blancos at the start of the season.

With Mbappe's contract winding down, LaLiga giants Madrid are stepping up their pursuit.

 

ROUND-UP  

- Mundo Deportivo and Sport claim Barcelona are closing in on the signing for Manchester City attacker Raheem Sterling. The England international has found himself down the pecking order in Manchester.

Arsenal are interested in Fiorentina star Dusan Vlahovic, but there have been no talks with the Serbia international's agents, reports Fabrizio Romano. Vlahovic is also wanted by City, Atletico Madrid, Juventus, Inter and Tottenham.

- Staying at Emirates Stadium, Gianluca Di Marzio says Arsenal are ready to make a move for Juventus sensation Dejan Kulusevski.

Roma, Milan, Atalanta and Napoli are eyeing Sassuolo winger Jeremie Boga, per Foot Mercato.

- Milan are readying contract renewals for Theo Hernandez, Ismael Bennacer and Rafael Leao, claims Gazzetta dello Sport.

- According to The Sun, Manchester United are hoping to beat Barca to Milan midfielder Franck Kessie on a free transfer. Kessie has also been linked with PSG, Arsenal, Tottenham, Inter and Atletico.

"There is a great talent here. He has a great future but it all depends on him," Zlatan Ibrahimovic said of Rafael Leao after Milan beat neighbours Inter in the derby last October.

Ibrahimovic knows what it takes to reach the top better than most.

There has been no doubt about Leao's quality, the 22-year-old has pace to burn and an arsenal of attacking weapons up his sleeve. But he has split opinion since being prised from Lille in 2019 – a result of mixed performances amid hype and expectations after Milan made a significant investment.

However, after an inconsistent start in the north of Italy, Leao is now flourishing under the guidance of Zlatan and Stefano Pioli as part of the Rossoneri dream of conquering Serie A for the first time in over a decade.

Deployed as a left-sided wide forward or lone striker, Leao has showcased his ability with the ball at his feet, leading the league this season in average carry progresses (9.1 metres), shot-ending carries (14), goal-ending carries (two) and total chance created carries (17) – Napoli captain Lorenzo Insigne and Juventus star Federico Chiesa are just some of the names left behind on those lists.

A key member of Milan's Scudetto charge, Leao has a chance to further enhance his growing reputation on the big stage when city rivals Milan and champions Inter meet in a blockbuster Derby della Madonnina on Sunday.

Another off the long list of Sporting CP's famed production line, Leao dazzled in Lisbon, where he drew comparisons to Cristiano Ronaldo before his time at Estadio Jose Alvalade ended abruptly in 2018. After players and coaches were sensationally attacked by fans at the club's training facility, Leao terminated his contract prior to moving to Lille on a free transfer.

 

"The first time I saw Rafael was when I took the job as the technical director of the Sporting academy. Every time I saw Rafael in his first few sessions for the Under-17s, he was different and he was special. You know, at Sporting, we've created so many good players – like Ronaldo and [Luis] Figo. Because of that, we are qualified to see when we have special talents in front of our eyes. Then it was easy to see, Rafael was different from the others," Luis Martins – Leao's first coach at Sporting – told FTF.

After eight goals and two assists in one season with Lille, Milan came calling and splashed out around €30million to usher in a new era for the Italian powerhouse, desperately craving a return to their glorious past after years in the wilderness.

Following a tough start to life under Marco Giampaolo, Leao showed glimpses when Pioli stepped into the Rossoneri hotseat, but he was far from convincing, proving a frustrating figure due to the consensus that he lacked consistency.

Leao only managed one goal in his first 19 appearances for Milan across all competitions. While he ended his debut campaign with six Serie A goals at an average of 232 minutes per goal and a sole assist, there were already questions whether the Portuguese was a future star or a gamble that hadn't paid off.

The key takeaway was Leao's involvement in Milan play. In 2019-20, he was the orchestrator of just 58 sequences in open play. In those 31 appearances, not one of those sequences started and ended in a goal. For context, he tallied nine goals and six assists the following season.

A raw talent finding his feet, Leao shot conversion rate was 17.7 per cent, well down on the 27.6 per cent mark he reached the season prior with Lille.

"It's true, I expected more from him tonight. When coming on, he was meant to give changes of pace, fresh energy, work with the team," Pioli said after a loss to Lazio in November 2019 as Leao was eventually linked with a move away heading into 2020-21. "He has a lot of potential, but he absolutely has to do more. His contribution tonight was not up to his standards."

 

Leao has seemingly heeded the advice of those around him, delivering on a more regular basis just as his team-mates are under Pioli's watchful eye.

Capable of delivering an incredible pass, Leao has mastered the art of attacking space with his blistering pace and it has well and truly come to the fore since 2020, with his 21 dribbles this season only exceeded by Sassuolo's Jeremie Boga (24) among forwards. Leao has also scored the most goals from fast breaks in Serie A (three).

Despite not yet having a fixed position at Milan, Leao's movement – predominantly on the left flank – has him first for carries with a shot (14), carries with a goal (two) and fourth for total carries by distance (1995.79) in the league this season.

"The Leao project goes on regardless of the role. He continues his growth and maturation, as is normal for such a young player," Pioli said in April.

"Then 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 the growth of its value, then we will evaluate the position along the way."

Leao's rise and development has been evident since the turn of the year, having become the second-youngest foreign player to score 10-plus Serie A goals for Milan back in January, older only than Alexandre Pato.

No one has scored more goals for Milan this term – level with France World Cup-winning striker Olivier Giroud on four goals through 11 matchdays – than Leao, who has outperformed his xG (2.6) while scoring every 205 minutes in Italy's top flight (more frequent than the likes of Chiesa, Tammy Abraham and Alvaro Morata among forwards) with a shots to goal conversion rate of 18.2 per cent.

It's not just the goals when it comes to the new and improved version of Leao. The two-time Portugal international has become more of a team player, leading the way at San Siro in attacking sequence involvements (40) across shots (25), chances created (seven) and build-up to shot (eight), ahead of Alexis Saelemaekers (38), Davide Calabria (33), Brahim Diaz (30), Ante Rebic (24) and Theo Hernandez (24) in 2021-22.

Leao has gone from prospect to genuine star, and as he takes centre stage in one of football’s most historic fixtures, the sky is the limit.

Milan moved to the Serie A summit as Ismael Bennacer and Zlatan Ibrahimovic struck late to hand them a pulsating 4-2 win over nine-man Bologna.

Rafael Leao and Davide Calabria scored either side of Adama Soumaoro's dismissal to give the Rossoneri a healthy advantage at the interval.

That was wiped out in the space of seven minutes at the start of the second period, however, with an Ibrahimovic own goal and a Musa Barrow strike restoring parity at the Stadio Renato Dall'Ara.

Bologna had a second man sent off before the hour mark, Roberto Soriano given a straight red card for a late challenge, and Stefano Pioli's Milan landed a memorable three points thanks to fine late strikes from Bennacer and Ibrahimovic.

Leao put Milan ahead in the 16th minute with a deflected strike, before Soumaoro was shown a red card for bringing down a clean-through Rade Krunic just outside the area four minutes later.

Milan took advantage of their numerical superiority in the 35th minute, Calabria lashing home a second from 15 yards.

The hosts stormed back at the start of the second period, though, with Ibrahimovic – making his first start since May 9 – heading into his own net four minutes after the interval to give Sinisa Mihajlovic's side hope.

Barrow then remarkably drew Bologna level in the 52nd minute, slotting past Ciprian Tatarusanu after being played in by Soriano.

Rossoblu captain Soriano was then given his marching orders after a VAR review six minutes later for an ugly challenge on Fode Ballo-Toure.

The hosts held firm until the 84th minute when Bennacer powered into the bottom-left corner from 20 yards, while Ibrahimovic added gloss to the scoreline with a whipped finish from the same distance six minutes later.

Stefano Pioli says Zlatan Ibrahimovic has a "fire within him" after he marked his return from injury on Sunday with a goal in Milan's 2-0 win over Lazio.

Ibrahimovic – making his return to action following a knee injury sustained in May – was introduced as a substitute in the 60th minute and wasted little time making an impact, tapping in just seven minutes later to double his side's advantage.

They had earlier gone ahead thanks to Rafael Leao's second goal of the season, while Franck Kessie saw a penalty crash back off the crossbar in first-half stoppage time.

The result means Milan have won their first three Serie A fixtures in consecutive seasons for the first time in the Italian top flight.

Ibrahimovic will turn 40 next month, but Rossoneri boss Pioli insists his age will be no barrier to him enjoying another successful season at San Siro.

"Zlatan hadn't played for four months, so I'm glad he scored a goal and will get stronger in the next games," he told DAZN.

"He has this fire within him. The way he battles in training as well as games, all aiming to be the best. You don't feel the years when you do that."

 

Leao has already scored a third of his Serie A tally from last season, with his strike against Lazio coming from a joint game-high three shots.

While Pioli is expecting big things from the Portuguese forward, he urged him to sharpen up on his finishing.

"Rafa was already a strength for this team last season, but he's still 22 years old. It's only his third campaign in Italy, the second working with me," he added.

"He needs to become more efficient in the finish, because he almost always gets past his defender and just has to finish off more of those chances."

There was drama at the full-time whistle when Lazio boss Maurizio Sarri was shown a red card for an altercation with Alexis Saelemaekers.

Sarri played down the incident but was clearly unhappy with the Belgium international's behaviour.  

"It was nothing in particular," Sarri said.

"The young lad made a gesture that you shouldn't do to older people and Ibrahimovic then calmed everything down. These things happen on the pitch."

Milan maintained their 100 per cent start to the Serie A season as goals from Rafael Leao and the returning Zlatan Ibrahimovic handed them a 2-0 win over Lazio at San Siro on Sunday.

After winning their opening two games of the 2020-21 campaign against Sampdoria and Cagliari, victory over Maurizio Sarri's Lazio, who had also won their first two games, means the Rossoneri have won their first three league fixtures in consecutive seasons for the first time in the Italian top flight.

Leao's second goal of the campaign set them on their way, although Stefano Pioli's side missed the opportunity to extend their advantage moments before the break when Franck Kessie struck the crossbar with a penalty.

Ibrahimovic – making his return to action following a knee injury sustained in May – spared his team-mate's blushes just seven minutes after being introduced as a second-half substitute, tapping in as Milan's superb start to the season continued in style.

There was drama at the full-time whistle, with Sarri shown a red card by referee Daniele Chiffi after Ibrahimovic and Lucas Leiva had exchanged heated words.
 

Milan were dominant in the opening stages, taking seven shots by the half-hour mark, yet Pepe Reina had only one save to make in that time.

Davide Calabria was guilty of squandering their best early chance, the full-back lashing wide from 10 yards after being teed up by Ante Rebic.

The hosts did go in at the interval ahead, though, Leao stroking the ball into the bottom-left corner after a one-two with Rebic.

Pioli's men should have doubled their advantage in first-half stoppage time, but Kessie struck his spot-kick against the crossbar after Chiffi penalised Ciro Immobile for a foul on the Milan midfielder following a pitchside review.

Milan picked up where they left off after the break and sealed maximum points in the 67th minute when Ibrahimovic stole in unmarked to nudge Rebic's cross into an empty net – the first time the Croatian has supplied two assists in a Serie A game.


What does it mean? Title tilt in Rossoneri’s sights

Their title charge faded in the closing months of the 2020-21 campaign, but Pioli's side have dusted themselves down and look ready to challenge again this term.

Lazio had scored nine goals in their opening two games of the season, yet Sarri’s outfit were swatted aside with the minimum of fuss at San Siro, with the hosts taking a whopping 21 shots to their opponents' eight.

Leao ready to shine

Leao has already scored a third of his Serie A tally from last season and looks set for a breakthrough campaign. The Portuguese prospect was a handful for the Lazio defence throughout and had taken three shots when he was substituted on the hour mark – a tally not bettered by anyone on the pitch by the end of the game.

Immobile sums up Lazio's woes

Immobile scored four goals in Lazio's first two Serie A games this season, but he did not get a sniff against Milan's miserly defence. The Italy international had just one shot and conceded a penalty before his substitution late on.

What's next?

Milan travel to Liverpool in the Champions League on Wednesday before visiting Juventus in the league on Sunday. Lazio take on Galatasaray in Turkey on Thursday in the Europa League before a home Serie A clash against Cagliari three days later.

Olivier Giroud scored his first two goals for Milan to help his side maintain their winning start to the Serie A campaign with a convincing 4-1 victory against Genoa at San Siro on Sunday.

The Rossoneri were made to work hard for last week's 1-0 win over Sampdoria but proved far too strong for Genoa as they put on a show for their returning supporters, scoring all four goals in the first half.

Alessandro Deiola netted Genoa's first goal in six league games versus Milan to cancel out Sandro Tonali's opener, but Rafael Leao's heavily deflected strike and Giroud's double gave the hosts breathing space at the midway point.

Milan were happy to keep hold of possession from that point on as they cruised to a seventh league game without defeat stretching into last season.

Tonali lifted the ball over the Genoa wall and just out of back-up goalkeeper Boris Radunovic's reach to get Milan up and running inside 12 minutes with just his second Serie A goal.

Stefano Pioli's side were pegged back soon after through a Deiola header after the midfielder was picked out by a smart Joao Pedro pass – the first goal Milan had conceded in seven league matches.

But Leao restored his side's advantage in rather fortuitous circumstances as his shot took a big touch off the back of Brahim Diaz – Milan's match-winner last weekend – and flew past Radunovic.

Giroud's first Milan goal followed seven minutes later, the Frenchman curling a first-time shot into the far-left corner when played in by Diaz, and he had a second before half-time when converting a penalty awarded for a Kevin Strootman handball.

Milan then went through the motions and did not register a single attempt on target in the second period, with Charalampos Lykogiannis going closest to scoring for the visitors when testing Mike Maignan 10 minutes from time.

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."

Ten-man Milan were made to sweat in their 3-1 win against Parma at Stadio Ennio Tardini after having Zlatan Ibrahimovic sent off for dissent as they tightened their grip on second place in Serie A.

Last week's 1-1 home draw with Sampdoria all but ended the Rossoneri's Scudetto hopes, but they responded with all three points on Saturday to boost their top-four prospects.

Ibrahimovic claimed an impressive assist for Ante Rebic's early opener and played a big part in Franck Kessie's goal that had Milan in control at the midway point.

However, the veteran striker was dismissed on the hour mark for something he said to the referee and Riccardo Gagliolo pulled back a goal soon after, but substitute Rafael Leao settled Milan's nerves with a third goal in added time.

Stefano Pioli did not see any shortage of commitment from his Milan side in the 1-1 Serie A draw with Udinese, but conceded the quality was lacking.

Franck Kessie scored a 97th-minute penalty with the last kick of Wednesday's encounter at San Siro, as Milan's title hopes took another hit – Inter now have the chance to move six points clear should they beat Parma on Thursday.

Milan's equaliser came courtesy of a remarkable error from Jens Stryger Larsen, who inexplicably handled in the area as Udinese looked to see out what would have been just a second away win in their last eight league matches on the road.

The Rossoneri were without their talisman Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who is set to miss up to three weeks with a thigh injury, and Milan head coach Pioli acknowledged his team were missing the "characteristics" the 39-year-old brings, while also bemoaning Mario Mandzukic's absence.

"We wanted to win, it's a shame," Pioli told DAZN. "We knew that it would be difficult against a team with everyone behind the ball.

"I saw determination and a lack of clarity. There was a lack of quality and rhythm, not anger and determination.

"We start again as always with the next match. Each game has its own story. On Sunday we found an opponent who wanted to play, Udinese instead play this [defensive] type of game.

"Today we lacked the right characteristics to face this type of match, we lacked the two real strikers in the squad. [Rafael] Leao and [Ante] Rebic have other characteristics.

"Now we must try to resume our run. A half positive result, let's think about the next game."

Leao and Rebic both struggled to assert themselves against Udinese's three-man defence.

Rebic – the second-highest scorer in Serie A in the back half of the season (since January 29), behind Inter's Romelu Lukaku – failed to have an attempt on goal or create a chance, while Leao only tested Juan Musso with a tame flick late in the first half.

Pioli did not look to single out his attackers, however, though he acknowledged Leao in particular has a lot to add to his game.

"I always expect a lot from my players," Pioli said. "Rafa has characteristics more suited for attacking spaces.

"When he finds a closed defence, he still doesn't have the shrewdness to anticipate the defender."

Ibrahimovic was watching on from close to the bench and was seen looking disgruntled at Milan's display.

"We didn't come out of this game satisfied, he's like everyone else," Pioli explained.

The good news for Milan is that, in Kessie, they have a midfielder on 10 goals in all competitions this season, though nine of them have come from the penalty spot.

Kessie's cool finish, timed at 96:20 was the latest Milan have scored in Serie A since 2017, while the Ivory Coast international has now netted 25 league goals in total for the Rossoneri – matching Robinho's tally.

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