Stefano Pioli insists the Scudetto triumph must be a "starting point" for Milan after the Rossoneri lifted their first Serie A title in 11 years.

Pioli's side dethroned city rivals Inter by beating Sassuolo on the final day of the 2021-22 campaign, securing their first trophy since lifting the Italian Super Cup in 2016.

The Rossoneri won their final five matches and went 15 without defeat, with their final tally of 88 points their second best in the three-points-per-win era.

Inter will be hungry to reclaim the Serie A title in the 2022-23 campaign, with Simone Inzaghi looking set to bring in Romelu Lukaku on loan and Paulo Dybala on a free transfer.

Pioli, speaking after receiving honorary citizenship at Noceto on Monday, expressed his delight over Milan's success but acknowledged the champions will face stern competition in defending their title.

"I am very happy and proud to be here this morning. I am very attached to this city, I know the place well," Pioli said, as quoted by TuttoMercatoWeb. 

"The compliments make me happy, they are deserved for a club, a team, which has always believed and has always given our best.

"We have been able to hold on in difficult moments and that has produced great satisfaction.

"We know we have done something special, but it must be a starting point. We know the difficulties given the competitiveness that will be in Italy and in Europe.

"The guys have great enthusiasm and a lot of passion, every day they try to improve to be a team that knows how to accept defeats but which also knows how to enhance the strengths of their team-mates."

Stefano Pioli and Jose Mourinho confirmed their status as Serie A's best coaches by leading Milan and Roma to silverware last season, according to former Rossoneri and Giallorossi boss Fabio Capello.

Capello also claimed Inter's prospective move for Romelu Lukaku represents a "blow" for the rest of the Italian top flight, given his dominant displays during his successful first spell with the Nerazzurri. 

While Pioli became the first Milan boss to win the Scudetto since Massimiliano Allegri in 2010-11 last month, Mourinho ended Roma's 14-year trophy drought by winning the Europa Conference League in his first season with the club.

Capello, who led Milan to four Serie A titles in five seasons between 1991 and 1996 before masterminding Roma's most recent Scudetto triumph in 2000-01, hailed the duo's achievements as he declared next season will be make-or-break for many of the division's other top coaches. 

"The best? Pioli and Mourinho," he told Il Messaggero. 

"The first brought Milan back to success, the second confirmed himself as an international coach. Jose achieved a very important success. 

"[Juventus coach] Allegri, [Lazio's Maurizio] Sarri and [Napoli's Luciano] Spalletti paid for their return to Serie A. They were granted a transitional season. Now will be the moment of truth."

Meanwhile, with Inter reportedly set to re-sign Lukaku less than a year after his club-record £97.5million move to Chelsea, a series of Italian football's biggest names have spoken about his expected impact.

Milan legend Alessandro Costacurta said on Sunday the deal would make Inter title favourites, while Gianfranco Zola claimed the Belgian will make a "huge impact" for Simone Inzaghi's men after he scored 30 goals for the Nerazzurri in the 2020-21 campaign.

Capello concurred with those views, adding: "Lukaku is a great blow because in Italy, no one is able to mark him because of his excessive physical power."

However, while Milan are expected to work with a smaller budget than their rivals as they look to defend their crown, Capello hailed their recruitment policy and revealed his confidence that they can compete once more.

"I don't put my mouth on the market because these topics are the responsibility of the coaches," he added. 

"The experience of recent years leads me, however, to say that we must have confidence. At Milan, they have learned how to handle things, and they know how to choose [players]."

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."

For a club like Milan, 11 years make for a long wait.

Let alone the enormous hierarchical changes that have taken place at Casa Milan over that period, with turbulent changes of ownership and coaches that have impacted various transformations in approach both on and off the pitch, those 11 years in European football have witnessed a seismic tactical shift.

The Rossoneri's last Serie A title in 2010-11 sits as a stark contrast to this year's title charge that ended in success, glory sealed on Sunday with a 3-0 win at Sassuolo.

In 2010-11, the Scudetto was like a perfect storm – upon Massimiliano Allegri's hiring as coach, Alexandre Pato was coming into his own before injuries started to take their toll, while Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva were solidifying their respective statuses as world-class footballers in their positions, amid the career tail-ends of Clarence Seedorf and Alessandro Nesta.

That Milan team was inherently reflective of its time, leaning on the likes of Ibrahimovic, Pato and Robinho to provide goals, moments and the eventual title. Despite Ibrahimovic's added contribution of 12 assists that season, their equal share of 14 league goals each was fitting. But coming into the final game of the season this weekend, Rafael Leao was the only Milan player to have scored over 10 goals.

Reflecting the totality of role that midfields at the top of European football must now characterise, Milan have effectively challenged for the Scudetto this season – and last season – without a front third it can lean on. Less diplomatically, Milan's front third has been a collection of misfit toys jumbled together as the purse strings have tightened.

Despite falling away after Christmas, it is what made last season's run so distinct, for it was ultimately volatile in the second half of the season and served as a precursor to this term. Following Ismael Bennacer and Ibrahimovic's injuries against Napoli in November 2020, Milan were performing the proverbial smash and grab on a weekly basis, on the back of Franck Kessie's penalty exploits and Theo Hernandez doing Theo Hernandez things at left-back. Their 3-2 win over Lazio coming into that Christmas was a particularly distinct example.

How has this Milan team achieved this Serie A title with a largely dysfunctional frontline in possession? How do the Rossoneri build something sustainable from it, given the Scudetto for this project has arguably come ahead of schedule, despite losing Gianluigi Donnarumma to Paris Saint-Germain, along with successive injury spells for Ibrahimovic and Simon Kjaer?

In contrast to last season, Milan have come home strongly, going undefeated since their loss in mid-January to Spezia. Following the African Cup of Nations as well as a debilitative run of injuries and Covid-19, Bennacer has finally been able to put together a consistent run of games since February. With the arguable exception of Marcelo Brozovic, the 24-year-old has re-established himself as the best midfielder in Serie A.

Along with the ever-improving Sandro Tonali, the diminutive Algerian gives Milan oxygen while taking it away from the opposition, in both attacking and defensive senses. The latter is a critical aspect for under Stefano Pioli, Milan press high up the pitch more than any team in Serie A. Among players over 500 minutes, Bennacer leads the team for combined tackles and interceptions (4.08) per 90.

Something that's particularly important is how he can compress the pitch and close off the middle for the opposition through where he wins the ball, not simply how much of it he wins. Bennacer has an innate ability to step onto the opposition's initial pass into Milan's defensive half and come out with the ball, allowing the Rossoneri to spring into transition or maintain territorial superiority.

 

 

His spatial awareness also transfers to the offensive side of the game, as an extension of the simple fact he shows for the ball to feet in areas his team-mates in midfield do not.

It unlocks his technical aptitude and sense of balance on the ball, with the ability to wriggle out of tight spots and get the team up the pitch. As a result, Bennacer (2.18) dwarfs Tonali (1.05) and Kessie (1.34) for successful dribbles per 90, while seeing more of the ball over the course of a game and in more damaging areas, with 83.9 touches per 90 in comparison to Tonali's 65.51 and Kessie's 66.63.

 

 

Meanwhile, Kessie playing a more advanced role in midfield for periods this season has not translated to a correspondent gap in chances created from open play.

Kessie - who scored against Sassuolo - leads the three with 1.05 per 90 this term, in comparison to Tonali's 0.84 and Bennacer's 0.98. Kessie's forthcoming departure for Barcelona might actually unlock Milan's best tandem in Pioli's 4-2-3-1.

With Bennacer, Milan can play through their midfield and not have to rely on the attacking force of nature at left-back that is Hernandez. His open play xG p90 of 0.11 and 1.06 chances created from open play p90 is simply eyewatering from left-back - especially in comparison to Alessandro Florenzi and Pierre Kalulu's respective 0.55 and 0.34 in the latter category.

Ultimately, amid Ibrahimovic running on fumes at 40, the members of Milan's attack have largely singular skill sets and as a sum of their parts, are still largely inflexible.

 

Players like Leao, Alexis Saelemaekers, Olivier Giroud and Junior Messias – and even Ante Rebic when available - are all necessary in some capacity on top of what they provide in defensive pressure up the pitch, but with the ball Milan are a much less flexible team in the absence of that Tonali/Bennacer tandem – something last weekend's win over Atalanta arguably only reinforced despite the result.

The need to maximise midfield balance in relation to attacking personnel is a distinct dynamic across Serie A, particularly in contrast to Juventus' diminishing power and as the arms race for forwards intensifies across the rest of the top five. Yet in a season where the Italian title winner will not break 90 points, none reflect that dynamic more than the Rossoneri.

The narrative accompanying Milan's Scudetto triumph this season will be one of a European giant being quote unquote "back". 

Their ability to maintain this level domestically in coming seasons - as well as challenging on the continent, with meek group stage exits in the Champions League like this season only being tolerable for so long among an ambitious fan base - will ultimately depend on how this relatively young team builds around Tonali and Bennacer.

For a club like Milan, 11 years make for a long wait.

Let alone the enormous hierarchical changes that have taken place at Casa Milan over that period, with turbulent changes of ownership and coaches that have impacted various transformations in approach both on and off the pitch, those 11 years in European football have witnessed a seismic tactical shift.

The Rossoneri's last Serie A title in 2010-11 sits as a stark contrast to this year's title charge that ended in success, glory sealed on Sunday with a 3-0 win at Sassuolo.

In 2010-11, the Scudetto was like a perfect storm – upon Massimiliano Allegri's hiring as coach, Alexandre Pato was coming into his own before injuries started to take their toll, while Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva were solidifying their respective statuses as world-class footballers in their positions, amid the career tail-ends of Clarence Seedorf and Alessandro Nesta.

That Milan team was inherently reflective of its time, leaning on the likes of Ibrahimovic, Pato and Robinho to provide goals, moments and the eventual title. Despite Ibrahimovic's added contribution of 12 assists that season, their equal share of 14 league goals each was fitting. But coming into the final game of the season this weekend, Rafael Leao was the only Milan player to have scored over 10 goals.

Reflecting the totality of role that midfields at the top of European football must now characterise, Milan have effectively challenged for the Scudetto this season – and last season – without a front third it can lean on. Less diplomatically, Milan's front third has been a collection of misfit toys jumbled together as the purse strings have tightened.

Despite falling away after Christmas, it is what made last season's run so distinct, for it was ultimately volatile in the second half of the season and served as a precursor to this term. Following Ismael Bennacer and Ibrahimovic's injuries against Napoli in November 2020, Milan were performing the proverbial smash and grab on a weekly basis, on the back of Franck Kessie's penalty exploits and Theo Hernandez doing Theo Hernandez things at left-back. Their 3-2 win over Lazio coming into that Christmas was a particularly distinct example.

How has this Milan team achieved this Serie A title with a largely dysfunctional frontline in possession? How do the Rossoneri build something sustainable from it, given the Scudetto for this project has arguably come ahead of schedule, despite losing Gianluigi Donnarumma to Paris Saint-Germain, along with successive injury spells for Ibrahimovic and Simon Kjaer?

In contrast to last season, Milan have come home strongly, going undefeated since their loss in mid-January to Spezia. Following the African Cup of Nations as well as a debilitative run of injuries and Covid-19, Bennacer has finally been able to put together a consistent run of games since February. With the arguable exception of Marcelo Brozovic, the 24-year-old has re-established himself as the best midfielder in Serie A.

Along with the ever-improving Sandro Tonali, the diminutive Algerian gives Milan oxygen while taking it away from the opposition, in both attacking and defensive senses. The latter is a critical aspect for under Stefano Pioli, Milan press high up the pitch more than any team in Serie A. Among players over 500 minutes, Bennacer leads the team for combined tackles and interceptions (4.08) per 90.

Something that's particularly important is how he can compress the pitch and close off the middle for the opposition through where he wins the ball, not simply how much of it he wins. Bennacer has an innate ability to step onto the opposition's initial pass into Milan's defensive half and come out with the ball, allowing the Rossoneri to spring into transition or maintain territorial superiority.

 

 

His spatial awareness also transfers to the offensive side of the game, as an extension of the simple fact he shows for the ball to feet in areas his team-mates in midfield do not.

It unlocks his technical aptitude and sense of balance on the ball, with the ability to wriggle out of tight spots and get the team up the pitch. As a result, Bennacer (2.18) dwarfs Tonali (1.05) and Kessie (1.34) for successful dribbles per 90, while seeing more of the ball over the course of a game and in more damaging areas, with 83.9 touches per 90 in comparison to Tonali's 65.51 and Kessie's 66.63.

 

 

Meanwhile, Kessie playing a more advanced role in midfield for periods this season has not translated to a correspondent gap in chances created from open play.

Kessie - who scored against Sassuolo - leads the three with 1.05 per 90 this term, in comparison to Tonali's 0.84 and Bennacer's 0.98. Kessie's forthcoming departure for Barcelona might actually unlock Milan's best tandem in Pioli's 4-2-3-1.

With Bennacer, Milan can play through their midfield and not have to rely on the attacking force of nature at left-back that is Hernandez. His open play xG p90 of 0.11 and 1.06 chances created from open play p90 is simply eyewatering from left-back - especially in comparison to Alessandro Florenzi and Pierre Kalulu's respective 0.55 and 0.34 in the latter category.

Ultimately, amid Ibrahimovic running on fumes at 40, the members of Milan's attack have largely singular skill sets and as a sum of their parts, are still largely inflexible.

 

Players like Leao, Alexis Saelemaekers, Olivier Giroud and Junior Messias – and even Ante Rebic when available - are all necessary in some capacity on top of what they provide in defensive pressure up the pitch, but with the ball Milan are a much less flexible team in the absence of that Tonali/Bennacer tandem – something last weekend's win over Atalanta arguably only reinforced despite the result.

The need to maximise midfield balance in relation to attacking personnel is a distinct dynamic across Serie A, particularly in contrast to Juventus' diminishing power and as the arms race for forwards intensifies across the rest of the top five. Yet in a season where the Italian title winner will not break 90 points, none reflect that dynamic more than the Rossoneri.

The narrative accompanying Milan's Scudetto triumph this season will be one of a European giant being quote unquote "back". 

Their ability to maintain this level domestically in coming seasons - as well as challenging on the continent, with meek group stage exits in the Champions League like this season only being tolerable for so long among an ambitious fan base - will ultimately depend on how this relatively young team builds around Tonali and Bennacer.

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.

For a club like Milan, 11 years make for a long wait.

Let alone the enormous hierarchical changes that have taken place at Casa Milan over that period, with turbulent changes of ownership and coaches that have impacted various transformations in approach both on and off the pitch, those 11 years in European football have witnessed a seismic tactical shift.

The Rossoneri's last Serie A title in 2010-11 sits as a stark contrast to this year's title charge that ended in success, glory sealed on Sunday with a 3-0 win at Sassuolo.

In 2010-11, the Scudetto was like a perfect storm – upon Massimiliano Allegri's hiring as coach, Alexandre Pato was coming into his own before injuries started to take their toll, while Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva were solidifying their respective statuses as world-class footballers in their positions, amid the career tail-ends of Clarence Seedorf and Alessandro Nesta.

That Milan team was inherently reflective of its time, leaning on the likes of Ibrahimovic, Pato and Robinho to provide goals, moments and the eventual title. Despite Ibrahimovic's added contribution of 12 assists that season, their equal share of 14 league goals each was fitting. But coming into the final game of the season this weekend, Rafael Leao was the only Milan player to have scored over 10 goals.

Reflecting the totality of role that midfields at the top of European football must now characterise, Milan have effectively challenged for the Scudetto this season – and last season – without a front third it can lean on. Less diplomatically, Milan's front third has been a collection of misfit toys jumbled together as the purse strings have tightened.

Despite falling away after Christmas, it is what made last season's run so distinct, for it was ultimately volatile in the second half of the season and served as a precursor to this term. Following Ismael Bennacer and Ibrahimovic's injuries against Napoli in November 2020, Milan were performing the proverbial smash and grab on a weekly basis, on the back of Franck Kessie's penalty exploits and Theo Hernandez doing Theo Hernandez things at left-back. Their 3-2 win over Lazio coming into that Christmas was a particularly distinct example.

How has this Milan team achieved this Serie A title with a largely dysfunctional frontline in possession? How do the Rossoneri build something sustainable from it, given the Scudetto for this project has arguably come ahead of schedule, despite losing Gianluigi Donnarumma to Paris Saint-Germain, along with successive injury spells for Ibrahimovic and Simon Kjaer?

In contrast to last season, Milan have come home strongly, going undefeated since their loss in mid-January to Spezia. Following the African Cup of Nations as well as a debilitative run of injuries and Covid-19, Bennacer has finally been able to put together a consistent run of games since February. With the arguable exception of Marcelo Brozovic, the 24-year-old has re-established himself as the best midfielder in Serie A.

Along with the ever-improving Sandro Tonali, the diminutive Algerian gives Milan oxygen while taking it away from the opposition, in both attacking and defensive senses. The latter is a critical aspect for under Stefano Pioli, Milan press high up the pitch more than any team in Serie A. Among players over 500 minutes, Bennacer leads the team for combined tackles and interceptions (4.08) per 90.

Something that's particularly important is how he can compress the pitch and close off the middle for the opposition through where he wins the ball, not simply how much of it he wins. Bennacer has an innate ability to step onto the opposition's initial pass into Milan's defensive half and come out with the ball, allowing the Rossoneri to spring into transition or maintain territorial superiority.

 

 

His spatial awareness also transfers to the offensive side of the game, as an extension of the simple fact he shows for the ball to feet in areas his team-mates in midfield do not.

It unlocks his technical aptitude and sense of balance on the ball, with the ability to wriggle out of tight spots and get the team up the pitch. As a result, Bennacer (2.18) dwarfs Tonali (1.05) and Kessie (1.34) for successful dribbles per 90, while seeing more of the ball over the course of a game and in more damaging areas, with 83.9 touches per 90 in comparison to Tonali's 65.51 and Kessie's 66.63.

 

 

Meanwhile, Kessie playing a more advanced role in midfield for periods this season has not translated to a correspondent gap in chances created from open play.

Kessie - who scored against Sassuolo - leads the three with 1.05 per 90 this term, in comparison to Tonali's 0.84 and Bennacer's 0.98. Kessie's forthcoming departure for Barcelona might actually unlock Milan's best tandem in Pioli's 4-2-3-1.

With Bennacer, Milan can play through their midfield and not have to rely on the attacking force of nature at left-back that is Hernandez. His open play xG p90 of 0.11 and 1.06 chances created from open play p90 is simply eyewatering from left-back - especially in comparison to Alessandro Florenzi and Pierre Kalulu's respective 0.55 and 0.34 in the latter category.

Ultimately, amid Ibrahimovic running on fumes at 40, the members of Milan's attack have largely singular skill sets and as a sum of their parts, are still largely inflexible.

 

Players like Leao, Alexis Saelemaekers, Olivier Giroud and Junior Messias – and even Ante Rebic when available - are all necessary in some capacity on top of what they provide in defensive pressure up the pitch, but with the ball Milan are a much less flexible team in the absence of that Tonali/Bennacer tandem – something last weekend's win over Atalanta arguably only reinforced despite the result.

The need to maximise midfield balance in relation to attacking personnel is a distinct dynamic across Serie A, particularly in contrast to Juventus' diminishing power and as the arms race for forwards intensifies across the rest of the top five. Yet in a season where the Italian title winner will not break 90 points, none reflect that dynamic more than the Rossoneri.

The narrative accompanying Milan's Scudetto triumph this season will be one of a European giant being quote unquote "back". 

Their ability to maintain this level domestically in coming seasons - as well as challenging on the continent, with meek group stage exits in the Champions League like this season only being tolerable for so long among an ambitious fan base - will ultimately depend on how this relatively young team builds around Tonali and Bennacer.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is eager to play an important role when Milan look to clinch the Serie A title at Sassuolo on Sunday. 

Victory at the Mapei Stadium will see the Rossoneri win the Scudetto for the first time since 2010-11, which was during Ibrahimovic's first stint with the club. 

The Swede returned in January 2020 and in 72 appearances in all competitions has scored 35 goals – nine more than any of his team-mates in the same time frame – at a rate of one every 129 minutes. 

Ibrahimovic, whose contract is set to expire at the end of the season, has also contributed 11 assists for a total of 46 goal involvements. Rafael Leao is second on 42 for Milan but has played 28 games more. 

Although only 11 of the 40-year-old's Serie A appearances this season have come as part of the starting line-up, head coach Stefano Pioli believes he has been crucial to Milan's title challenge behind the scenes. 

Asked if Ibrahimovic was keen to play an important role against Sassuolo, Pioli replied: "A lot, like all of us. 

"We are experiencing an important moment. The season will finish tomorrow. There's a difference between winning and losing, and everyone must think they can be decisive. 

"Zlatan has brought a strong mentality and quality. He has more football intelligence than anyone else. He has been a reference point and has been instrumental in the growth of the team, which have been good at following his lead. They have become stronger players with him." 

Sassuolo have won each of the past two Serie A meetings between the teams but Milan are on a run of five straight away league wins against the Neroverdi. 

"Today, in my opinion, we deserve to be first. We've been the best team but also need to be [against Sassuolo]," said Pioli. 

"It's a difficult game. Nobody has given us anything this season and tomorrow will be the same. I just think about preparing as best as possible, knowing that we have reached this point with solid foundations. 

"Sassuolo can surprise you. It will be a complicated match tactically and physically, but we know how to fight and suffer." 

Milan head coach Stefano Pioli revealed he showed his players an interview with the late basketball great Kobe Bryant to try and inspire them to the Scudetto.

The Rossoneri went within one point of clinching the Serie A title with a 2-0 win over Atalanta at San Siro on Sunday thanks to second half goals from Rafael Leao and Theo Hernandez.

Boasting a head-to-head advantage over Inter, the Rossoneri will be confirmed as champions if they avoid defeat when they travel to Sassuolo for their final Serie A match of the season next Sunday.

Inter kept their hopes of retaining their crown alive with a 3-1 victory at Cagliari and take on Sampdoria are home next weekend.

Pioli explained how he is trying to keep the players focused, including showing them words from NBA legend Bryant.

"It's been a year that the fans excite me with their affection," he told DAZN. "How am I living these weeks? In a normal way, because I see the right attitude and the attention you need. And I see my players focused and serene.

"I showed them the interview in which Kobe Bryant said that at 2-0 the work is not finished... and it must also apply to us. We remain focused and determined, there is still a week left. I've forbidden everyone to make plans for tonight."

 

Atalanta kept Milan honest in the contest, having nine shots in the second half as they tried to get back into it, but the leaders stood firm.

"I am very satisfied because we played against a strong team, conceding little," Pioli added. "We were able to find solutions and create spaces.

"My players were good at not losing lucidity and to always believe in them... How do we feel? The [recent 3-1] victory against Verona has given us even more confidence and awareness, every time we try to cover up our defects and enhance our qualities."

Zlatan Ibrahimovic was an unused substitute despite the 40-year-old being out of contract at the end of the season, meaning this may have been his last chance to feature in front of the Milan fans, though he has not yet confirmed his intentions.

"I needed other players on the pitch," Pioli clarified. "Zlatan wanted to play but he understood."

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.

Milan coach Stefano Pioli is keen to retain Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who he called "a champion with a capital C", but knows the forward will make the final decision on his future.

Ibrahimovic is still going strong at the age of 40, but is out of contract at the end of the season.

Milan top the Serie A table heading into their final home game of the campaign against Atalanta on Sunday, though they hold only a two-point lead over city rivals Inter.

Should the Rossoneri win or draw and Inter fail to beat Cagliari, then a first Scudetto in 11 years will be confirmed with a game to spare.

Ibrahimovic played a key role in that title win in 2010-11, and returned for a second stint at Milan in 2020. 

Injuries have limited him to just 11 Serie A starts this season, and 22 appearances in the competition in total, though he has still scored eight goals, and Pioli hopes he will be able to call on the Swede heading into the 2022-23 campaign.

"No, I don't think so," Pioli replied when he was asked in a news conference if Ibrahimovic would be playing at San Siro for Milan for the final time on Sunday.

"There are two games to go. Last at San Siro? I hope not, he is a champion with a capital C."

 

Pioli will accept whatever decision Ibrahimovic makes, however.

He added: "My opinion of him is immeasurable.

"I hope that we don't lose him, but Zlatan has the intelligence and the maturity necessary to understand what will be in his future.

"Now Sunday's match is as important for him as it is for all of us, it is useless to talk about his future and our future now.

Milan have won their last two Serie A meetings against Atalanta, after winning only once in their previous 11 (D6 L4). 

However, Atalanta are unbeaten in their last seven away Serie A games against Milan (W3 D4), keeping a clean sheet five times.

Indeed, Milan's last home win against Atalanta in the competition was in January 2014.

Stefano Pioli says he "doesn't care" about Inter's match at Cagliari as he urged his Milan side to focus on their own game in their quest to win Serie A.

the  Rossoneri could secure the Scudetto on Sunday if they beat Atalanta and their city rivals fail to defeat Cagliari.

Pioli's team have 80 points, two clear of Inter at the summit with two games left to play as the fierce rivals battle for the title.

Victory over Atalanta, who are unbeaten on their past seven league visits to face the Rossoneri, would mark the first time Milan have managed more than 80 points in a campaign since the title-winning 2010-11 term.

It would also leave Milan requiring just a point in their final game to win the league at Sassuolo; the leaders boasting a favourable head-to-head record over Inter, who host Sampdoria on the last day.

Head coach Pioli, speaking at a pre-match news conference on Saturday, reiterated that his thoughts remains solely with Milan and not on what Simone Inzaghi's team do.

"I don't care, I'm not thinking about what Inter can do," he said. "We don't need any other motivation because we are already at our best from this point of view.

"We don't have to think any further, we have to think about 17:59 tomorrow, when the match will start. We have to keep thinking only about the match, what will happen next will depend on how the match will be.

"Then what will happen, will happen, we have the strength to be able to determine our own path. I think the team will face the match with great awareness, both of the moment and of their qualities.

"We have overcome many stages, positive and negative, which have helped us to grow. We have been very good up to now, we will have to be better from here to the end."

 

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 boss Stefano Pioli has called on the Rossoneri to show they are "the best" side in Serie A when they attempt to return to the top of the table against Hellas Verona on Sunday.

The Rossoneri are unbeaten in 13 league games, winning eight and drawing five, with only Liverpool on a longer unbeaten run than Pioli's team in the top-five European leagues, ahead of the Reds' Premier League clash with Tottenham on Saturday.

However, Milan dropped to second in Serie A after rivals Inter beat Empoli 4-2 in a thrilling contest on Friday, as the local rivals remain locked in a tense battle for the title.

Milan have more points at this stage of a Serie A season (77 from 35 matches) than they have taken since picking up the same amount in 2010-11, when they went on to win the Scudetto under Massimiliano Allegri. 

Speaking ahead of the crucial trip to Verona, Pioli said his side are on the cusp of an incredible achievement and the time has come to show their quality.

"Now we are missing seven points to do something extraordinary and to show that we are the best in this league," he said.

"We are now at a point where all the matches will have a weight for the final goal. I have seen great attention and motivation. 

"We know that Verona can create difficulties for us, but the difficulties we have faced lately have made us grow. It's time to show that we are not only good, but that we can be better."

Milan have conceded just one goal in their last eight league games, boasting the best defensive record across the top-five European leagues since March, and have earned a reputation for grinding out crucial results recently.

The Rossoneri needed late goals to beat Fiorentina and Lazio in their last two outings, and Pioli said his team's willingness to fight to the end could prove crucial in the title race, calling on Milan to follow the example set by Real Madrid in their extraordinary Champions League semi-final win over Manchester City on Wednesday.

"We have to play as Milan, then if we win 1-0, or with a few more goals, the important thing is to be a team and play with emotion," he added. "It's our attitude. Even if the match is long, as always, we will try to change characteristics during the match.

"The steps to take are always the same, we want to try to dominate the games, so we must be a team from start to finish, [with] the mentality from Real Madrid. 

"I don't see my players anxious and worried, I see them motivated. We are focused, not anxious and frantic. There has been an exceptional growth. I thought I had to be here to calm them down, but not really, they are always calm and smiling, happy to be here."

Finally, Pioli revealed he did not see the Nerazzurri come from 2-0 down to beat Empoli, as he was too busy watching teenage sensation Carlos Alcaraz beat Rafael Nadal at the Madrid Open.

"I reviewed our training and then watched a great tennis match," he laughed. "Alcaraz is a phenomenon!"

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