Stefano Pioli responded angrily to refereeing decisions following Milan's elimination from the Coppa Italia after a 3-0 loss to arch-rivals Inter on Tuesday. 

Pioli abruptly walked out of his post-match interview with Mediaset after reviewing footage of a disallowed goal for Ismael Bennacer where Pierre Kalulu was ruled offside for obstructing Samir Handanovic's view in the Inter goal. 

With Milan 2-0 down in the 68th minute of the second leg of the semi-final clash, Bennacer's goal would have been timely and provided them with critical late momentum. 

After seeing the replay, the 56-year-old Rossoneri boss could not hide his frustration. 

"Look at Handanovic's reaction, if he protests," Pioli told Mediaset. "He doesn't do anything, if a Milan player had blocked his view he would have immediately run to protest. Come on, now." 

Milan were marginally second best for the majority of a tightly fought match and Lautaro Martinez's first-half double was ultimately reflective of the game's complexion to that point. 

Regardless of how much the disallowed goal could have influenced proceedings, Pioli conceded Inter were the better side. 

"We wanted to win, we didn't succeed. We came up against a strong opponent," Pioli said. "The result is clear, but I don't think it was like there was a big difference and Inter scored at the right moments. 

"We continued to play and create, 2-1 would have given us the possibility because we were playing. After that, everything became more difficult. 

"Of course we can do more. When you concede three goals it means that others played with more quality. It was not our evening. It's too bad because we wanted to reach the final at all costs." 

Orlando City star Alexandre Pato suggested Milan technical director Paolo Maldini knows the striker is ready to return to San Siro.

Pato is plying his trade in MLS for Orlando, where he is contracted until December 2022, but hinted at his willingness to move back to Milan.

The Brazil international scored 51 goals in 177 appearances for the Rossoneri during his time in Serie A between 2007 and 2013 before joining Corinthians.

The 32-year-old believes he still has what it takes to compete in the Italian top flight, which Stefano Pioli's side lead by two points ahead of Inter, who have played a game fewer.

"Orlando is fine and I still have a contract, but Maldini knows it: I would be ready," he told La Gazzetta dello Sport. 

"Now I have matured, I have a different attitude towards football and maybe I would be useful with the younger players.

"I miss Italy and the Italians, the warmth of the fans. I always say to my wife, 'one day I'll take you to Milan and you'll understand what I'm talking about'.

"For me it was a fundamental city: I learned many things and I miss everything about Milan. And I'd like to go back to Milan, after all in Italy there are many players who are older in Serie A."

Milan and Inter face off in their Coppa Italia semi-final return meeting on Tuesday, level at 0-0 from the first leg, and Pato cannot pick between the two sides.

"It's a difficult one and Milan can't make mistakes,” he said. "They can win the title and beating their rivals in Coppa Italia would give them extra motivation.

"Olivier Giroud is strong, Rafael Leao can make the right moves. The game will be open, it always is against Inter."

As for the future, Pato has great expectations for Milan under the stewardship of Pioli and Maldini.

"I played in a team full of champions," added Pato. "This Milan side is improving and has a bright future because they are building the team well."

Milan's Coppa Italia semi-final against rivals Inter will not have a decisive effect on the Serie A title race, according to Stefano Pioli.

Inter trail Serie A leaders Milan by two points, though now the focus switches to the second leg of their Coppa Italia tie.

The Milan giants played out a 0-0 draw in last month's semi-final first leg at San Siro, and will do battle again on Tuesday with 10 editions of the Coppa Italia having passed since either lifted the trophy. 

While Milan will be desperate to lift Italy's domestic cup for the first time since 2003, Pioli does not believe Tuesday's result will give either team an advantage in Serie A.

"From now until the end, we need to try and win all our matches," Pioli said. "The team are very focused and motivated, and positive energy must accompany us.

"We know very well what we need to do in the league, and I don't think tomorrow's derby will be decisive in this regard. 

"We need to try and win all our Serie A games, regardless of what happens in the Coppa Italia."

Having picked up a win and a draw from the teams' Serie A encounters this term, Milan are on their longest unbeaten run against their rivals (three matches) since a 10-game sequence ending in 2005.

This is the 14th season in which Milan and Inter will face each other on four occasions, and the first since 2004-05, when Milan managed three wins and a draw. The Rossoneri have gone unbeaten throughout all four clashes on seven of the previous 13 instances, but Pioli was mindful of the threat posed by Simone Inzaghi's team.

"All of our past experiences have allowed us to become a team with more awareness," he added. "Every single one of our matches against Inter have been difficult, and the details will make the difference tomorrow.

"There will be moments where we need to put our foot on the pedal, and others where we need to slow down. Inter can be dangerous when given space, and we need to manage the ball as best we can."

Milan's pursuit of silverware has been boosted by a run of seven consecutive clean sheets in all competitions, a sequence that began with Pioli's men denying Inter an important away goal in the first leg.

"Not conceding is important," Pioli added. "I'm a bit surprised because we're a team that takes a few risks in our defending, but the whole team have grown in a significant way. We need to reach high standards when it comes to our application, intensity and focus.

"Our attitude against Inter has always been very consistent, even if it's difficult to prevent them from creating dangerous situations. They take up positions that will force us to do a lot of running, but we have a strategy that we'll try to implement as best we can."

Stefano Pioli explained that his Milan side avoided discussing Inter's earlier win ahead of facing Genoa.

Milan claimed a 2-0 victory thanks to goals from Rafael Leao and Junior Messias in San Siro on Friday.

Their game came hot on the heels of Inter's 3-1 victory at Spezia, a result that had seen the reigning champions briefly move into top spot in Serie A.

However, Milan got the job done, winning for the first time in three games to restore their two-point advantage with five matches left, though Inter do have a game in hand.

Milan are attempting to win their first Serie A title since 2010-11 and Pioli noted that although he knew Inter had won, his side had not discussed the possible ramifications.

"I knew their result, but we didn't talk about it with the team," he told DAZN.

"We had to go back to winning. We knew that whatever happened, we would try to win every game.

"I think we had the right approach and hunger this evening, we ran very few risks and that is an important factor."

Pioli suggested it is difficult to know how to best handle the pressure of the title race, though he backs the character of his players.

He added: "We have to keep going, the tension is rising and so is the pressure. Now we have to feel the pressure as nothing but positive energy.

"Every day [in training] I am undecided whether to increase the pressure or to release it. But, I have to expect a lot from these guys because they are strong.

"We are more aware of our strength, I am pushing for this. There are few games left and we have to do well. Many of us are fighting for the Scudetto for the first time, it is a path that will help us. We want to be winning again."

Milan kept a sixth straight clean sheet, making Pioli only the third coach in the club's history to achieve such a feat in a single Serie A season, after Fabio Capello (twice in 1993-94: seven and nine) and Nereo Rocco (seven in 1971-72).

Key to that has been the form of goalkeeper Mike Maignan, who made a stunning save to deny Genoa's Hernani a consolation in stoppage time.

"We have to continue like this," Pioli said. "Maignan is incredible, he is receiving the right compliments. He must give his contribution to this young team."

Milan have picked up more than 70 points after 33 Serie A games for the first time since their last Scudetto-winning season 11 years ago.

Milan boss Stefano Pioli is sick of discussing who is the favourite to win the Scudetto after his side dropped points in a 0-0 draw against Torino.

It was not a strong performance for Milan going forward, finishing with 0.8 expected goals compared to Torino's 1.1, as both teams registered three shots on target.

The result leaves Milan two points clear of Inter and Napoli, while Inter have one game in hand.

Speaking with post-game media, Pioli said he is tired of overreacting to every "misstep" from the title contenders.

"It's been two or three weeks that all those who claim to be favourites have made missteps," he said.

"Our approach was to create difficulties for Torino – with a little more clarity, we could have been more dangerous. 

"It's not for me to give percentages, I never guess. 

"Three weeks ago, during the break, we were super-favourites. Then, Napoli was super-favourite, then Inter. 

"Until the last two days there will be great balance."

Touching on his side's performance against Torino, Pioli discussed the challenge that the 11th-placed side presents.

"It is quite evident that we have done everything to move and give them few points of reference," he said.

"We knew about the difficulties of the game – Toro creates difficulties for everyone in their defensive phase. 

"It is true that we have not created very clear scoring chances, but we created many [dangerous] situations. 

"It's a moment like this, we're not very precise, [but] I can't say anything to the team for spirit and application.

"We are missing that spark, and clearly it's a positive result, but we wanted a win."

Stefano Pioli says Milan are ready to approach the final eight Serie A games with "energy, strength and motivation" as they battle to end an 11-year title drought.

The Rossoneri have not won the Scudetto since 2011, but they are three points clear of second-placed Napoli with seven weeks of the season remaining.

Rivals Inter are six points adrift of Milan – albeit with a game in hand – after faltering before the international break, and the defending champions face a tough Derby d'Italia clash with in-form Juventus on Sunday.

Leaders Milan go into a San Siro meeting with Bologna on Monday looking to extend their unbeaten run to 11 matches in all competitions and secure a fourth consecutive victory.

Head coach Pioli is backing his players to maintain the high standards they have set with so much at stake.

He said: "I know that I have a responsible team and that the boys are aware of how well they are playing right now. They are doing everything possible to keep up the level of football and their focus.

"We can't let ourselves be influenced by results elsewhere; we need energy for our own games. We don't want to back out and we'll approach these final eight games with energy, strength and motivation."

And Pioli says it is of no importance that the other title contenders will already have played before his side take on Bologna.

He added: "I don't think that the break will have changed the balance. The schedule is tough for every team because we're talking about highly motivated teams with a lot of quality. I'm certain that the team is ready both mentally and physically.

"Playing first or after the others? That doesn't matter. We just need to focus on ourselves and our own performance. Knowing how the teams around us have got on this weekend won't change how we prepare. It doesn't matter what the others do, we need to think about what we are doing."

Asked how he would view Inter's trip to Juve, the coach said: "I will certainly watch it, but I will be very detached because it matters what we do tomorrow and no longer so much what others do.

"The team doesn't have to be influenced by today's [Sunday's] results. What matters is trying to win our game, and we know how to do it."

Pioli revealed striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic is fit to face Bologna, who Milan have beaten 11 times and drawn with once in the past 12 games between the two clubs.

The Rossoneri boss says Ibrahimovic has a key role to play in Milan's quest to be crowned champions, whether that be as a starter or off the bench.

He said: "It's not important whether you start or come on part way through, what matters is making a contribution to the team.

"Ibra will need to help the team – as he always does – to try to get the best out of them. It's his aim, and he has always done so – it's his motivation."

Milan head coach Stefano Pioli wants to "write a new page of history" as the Rossoneri chase a first Scudetto in 11 years.

Pioli's side sit three points clear at the Serie A summit after edging past Cagliari 1-0 on Saturday, their third consecutive victory by that scoreline.

Fellow title contenders Napoli and Inter remain in close company, with Luciano Spalletti's team three points back and the defending champions six adrift, albeit with a game in hand.

Massimiliano Allegri's Juventus are also just seven behind the league leaders as Milan nudge towards a first Serie A title since the 2010-11 campaign.

While his players continue to deliver on the pitch, Pioli was keen to credit his relationship with the club's former centre-back and current technical director Paolo Maldini as the pair look to lay their marker on Italian football.

"I'm lucky to talk to him daily, he's an indispensable point of reference," Pioli said at the Expo 2020 in United Arab Emirates, which he is attending with Milan's academy. 

"I've always said that I’ve been lucky enough to coach a great group, players who perfectly embody the values of this club. Together, we are trying to write a new page in history.

"After just a few days at Milan, I felt something that I'd never felt anywhere else, I felt immediately at home. That's what Milan is for me: home. Pressure is part of my job, but it is also motivating because it reminds me that I can always do better.

"During a journey there may be moments when you slow down, but the important thing is to keep going and never stop.

"Our goal is to make our fans happy. That is why we play. We are fortunate to have extraordinary supporters and we will never stop thanking them because their passion has always been contagious."

Veteran duo Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Olivier Giroud have been integral both off and on the pitch for Milan, and Pioli heaped praise on the pair for their influence this season.

"Milan needs everyone. Zlatan and Olivier know what it means to win and the sacrifices needed to achieve great results. I think this team has great potential," he added.

"We've never ruled out anything, but this is my current opinion, let's collect more points than last season, let's play every game as if it were absolutely decisive and then see where we end up."

Milan will look to continue their title charge after the international break when they host Bologna on Monday, April 4.

Milan head coach Stefano Pioli insisted "four teams can still win the Scudetto" after his side moved back to the top of Serie A with a 1-0 victory over Cagliari, which was marred by abuse directed at Mike Maignan.

The Rossoneri dominated for large parts on Saturday, but a lack of clinical finishing left them frustrated until just before the hour.

Ismael Bennacer stepped up with an exquisite volley into the bottom-left corner to edge Milan past Walter Mazzarri's side, who spurned two great opportunities through Joao Pedro and Keita Balde in response.

Victory meant Milan restored their three-point lead over Napoli, who defeated Udinese 2-1 earlier on Saturday, and they are six ahead of defending champions Inter, who have played a game fewer, after they were held by Fiorentina.

Juventus could cut the gap on the leaders to seven when they host Salernitana on Sunday, and Pioli believes the Scudetto race is far from over with eight games remaining for his side.

"Every game is an important crossroads now. I liked the team, even when we didn't score in the first half, as we played with quality and intensity," Pioli told Sky Sport Italia.

"Cagliari caused us problems, but that's inevitable when you have two teams with such strong motivation."

Milan's triumph was their third straight win by a 1-0 scoreline and, while delighted with the result, Pioli would look to see his team be more ruthless in front of goal.

"We would like to score more and went close again several times today, but the important thing is to win," he added.

"We're doing great things, but we also know there are four sides that could still win the Scudetto. There's no point looking too far ahead, there's a long way to go and we need to concentrate only on our own path."

Milan's win was tainted, however. There was a commotion between the players after the final whistle, and Pioli confirmed that goalkeeper Mike Maignan had made claims he was racially abused by some Cagliari fans.

"Mike told me there was racist abuse from behind the goal," Pioli responded when asked about the scenes at full-time.

"It's always sad when these things happen, nobody deserves that."

Milan coach Stefano Pioli downplayed the importance of his side's 1-0 win over Empoli, insisting there are many twists remaining in the Serie A title race. 

Pierre Kalulu's superb 19th-minute goal was enough to win a tight affair for Milan at San Siro, stretching their unbeaten run to seven league matches.

Kalulu's long-range strike made him Milan's 16th different scorer in this Serie A campaign, with only Fiorentina and Atalanta (both 17) possessing more, as the hosts went five points clear of rivals Inter, although the Nerazzurri have two games in hand.

Pioli was pleased with how his side managed a tense encounter, but he acknowledged there was room for improvement after Milan registered just three shots in a dour second half.

Milan created chances worth just 0.88 expected goals, with Kalulu's winning goal the Rossoneri's 10th from outside the area this season – a tally unbeaten in the top five European leagues.

"Our opponents [in the title race, Inter and Napoli] have to play tomorrow, there are still games to catch up," Pioli told Sky Sport.

"I think it would be much more regular if everyone had played the [same number of] games, then it is clear.

"But today it was a complicated game and we managed it well. We found an opponent who put us in difficulty, but in the defensive phase we conceded very little.

"At the beginning of the second half we lost a few balls, because in my opinion there was too little movement. 

"It is clear that we are always thinking about improving things, but it is equally true that having failed to dominate the game, we didn't risk anything [defensively]. 

"I'm sure that the more we go on, the better we will improve. Now the goals for everyone are maximum, so the effort must certainly be high."

"[Juventus are] inside [the title race]," the 56-year-old said. "Nine games [remaining] are a lot, 27 points are a lot. 

"All the top five are definitely inside [the race]."

Milan moved five points clear at the Serie A summit with a 1-0 win over Empoli, as Pierre Kalulu's stunner settled a cagey match at San Siro.

French defender Kalulu netted a superb first-half opener for the Rossoneri, who restricted Empoli to just one shot in the first 45 minutes during a dominant showing.

Although the visitors improved after the break, they struggled to create clear-cut chances against the title challengers, as Milan took an important three points from a tight affair.

The result gave Stefano Pioli's men breathing space at the top of Serie A, while Empoli remain without a win in 2022.

Milan were denied an early lead when Guglielmo Vicario saved well from Alessandro Florenzi's curling effort, and they again went close when the ball ricocheted off Sandro Tonali and rolled wide.

But the hosts did hit the front on 19 minutes when Kalulu finished brilliantly from the edge of the area, firing home with his left instep after the ball deflected to him.

However, Mike Maignan was forced into two stops within five minutes of the restart, turning Sebastiano Luperto's header around the post before punching Nedim Bajrami's goal-bound corner away.

Two tame Junior Messias shots, both drawing routine saves from Vicario, were the sum of Milan's efforts for much of a dull second half in which chances were at a premium.

However, Milan's solid defensive display was enough to hand them the victory and strengthen their position in one of Europe's closest title races.

 

What does it mean? Rossoneri claim vital win in Scudetto hunt

With rivals Inter travelling to Torino on Sunday, Milan have, at least for the time being, established a five-point lead at the top of Serie A.

The Rossoneri are now unbeaten in seven league games, earning four wins and three draws, as they hit form at the ideal time in the hunt for a first league title since 2011.

They must now hope Inter drop points in their two games in hand.

Landmark goal for coach Pioli

Kalulu's fantastic opener was his first goal of the season and was also a landmark moment for Milan boss Pioli.

The 56-year-old, who is looking for the first league title of his career, became just the seventh coach to see his teams score 600 Serie A goals in the three-points-for-a-win era.

Milan improve record against strugglers

Milan's title challenge has, at times, been held back by an inability to beat lowly opponents in Serie A. This win represented just their third victory in their past seven games against bottom-half teams.

Meanwhile, the result represented a third successive win for the Rossoneri against Empoli, after they only won two of the previous seven head-to-head meetings (four draws and one defeat).

What's next?

The Rossoneri's next Serie A fixture takes them to Cagliari in a week's time, while Empoli will host Verona in league action the following day.

Milan head coach Stefano Pioli insisted that his side cannot be "obsessed with the past" as they battle to win Serie A, which no team has "managed to run away".

The Rossoneri climbed back to the summit with a 1-0 victory at fellow title contenders Napoli last time out, but could be leapfrogged by second-placed Inter, who have a game in hand.

Milan next host Empoli, who they have won their past two top-flight meetings against, and Pioli demanded his team take each game as it comes ahead of the clash on Saturday.

However, Pioli's men have won only two of their past six Serie A meetings with sides in the bottom half of the table, drawing their previous two against Salernitana and Udinese.

"We are satisfied, but it was not the final step," Pioli said of the win over Napoli at Friday's pre-match news conference. "The last step is the next game.

"We should not be obsessed with the past, every game is different. We must play with continuity, quality and rhythm to highlight our qualities.

"It's been a strange season. Nobody has managed to run away. I still think that the top five teams can win many games. Serie A is very difficult."

 

When asked if he was concerned about the run of Juventus, who are unbeaten in 14 Serie A games and sit just seven adrift of the leaders, Pioli responded: "I am concerned about Empoli, we saw what happened in the reverse fixture, they created problems for us, so we must play well.

"Players don't need my intervention to know how important tomorrow's game is. The experience of the past was useful, but we should not look back.

"Empoli are a dynamic squad. It's not easy to press them, we need to understand the right moment. Psychologically, we know which problems we'll face, but we are determined.

"Empoli are a team with many solutions up top. They have quality and are really close to reaching their target so compliments to them."

Olivier Giroud was the difference against Napoli, with his eighth league goal separating the two title challengers. The striker will now be aiming to become the third Frenchman in Serie A to score 10-plus goals in a single campaign for Milan, after Jean-Pierre Papin (13 goals in 1992/93) and Jeremy Menez (16 in 2014/15).

Pioli was also boosted by the return of the evergreen Zlatan Ibrahimovic against Luciano Spalletti's men and he spoke glowingly of his two veteran forwards.

"I like everything about Giroud, the way he helps the team, how he handles the pressure," he added. "He is a very serene and determined person and it's a pleasure to work with him.

"Zlatan gives a lot to the team in everything he does. He is a smart player. He knows when to attack the space or drop deep. He is feeling happy. Surely he will help us."

Milan coach Stefano Pioli thinks Inter remain Scudetto favourites despite seeing his Rossoneri side beat Napoli 1-0 to go top of Serie A on Sunday.

Both teams knew they could breathe new life into their respective title challenges with a win at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona, but it was the visitors who left with the victory.

Olivier Giroud's instinctive finish early in the second half following Davide Calabria's wayward shot proved decisive, that goal being enough to return Milan to the summit with 60 points, two clear of Inter.

But Inter do still have a game in hand, and as such Pioli recognises the defending champions have to still be considered the team to beat.

Speaking to DAZN after the game, Pioli said: "For sure, we've not done as well against the so-called smaller teams, however, we won't have many direct clashes [with title rivals].

"But since the calendar tells us we have many of these games to come, honestly we have to do more.

"It is clear that there are difficulties for everyone, we are not a perfect team. We have to show that we have learned the lessons [against lesser sides]. Attitude and quality will be important in the next matches.

"The favourites are still Inter. Inter are a very strong team and the standings are still virtual. I'm sorry that there are games left over to be played, it would be more correct if we had all played the same number of games at this point in the championship.

"We have to concentrate on getting a lot of points."

Giroud once again proved his value to Milan, with the Frenchman scoring his eighth Serie A goal despite starting just 12 games.

There were many who questioned his signing when Milan spent just €1million in acquiring him from Chelsea at the start of the season, but for Pioli there was never any doubt what Giroud could add.

"My idea and the club's idea was to include players of experience, who had already won something, who know what it means to work to win," Pioli added.

"There is always a great need for people with stature. A video call was enough for us to understand what a professional he was.

"The more players with charisma and personality you have – especially for us who have a very young team – the better."

Zlatan Ibrahimovic could make a timely return from injury when Milan face fellow Serie A title contenders Napoli on Sunday.

The talismanic striker has been sidelined since damaging his Achilles in a goalless draw with Juventus on January 23.

Rossoneri head coach Stefano Pioli on Saturday revealed Ibrahimovic could feature in a huge battle between second and third at Stadio Diego Armando Maradona, where Ante Rebic could also have a part to play.

Pioli told reporters: "Ibrahimovic is doing better. He trained with the group both yesterday [Friday] and today and will probably travel with us tomorrow.

"Rebic is doing fine physically and getting back to optimum condition. He needs to make the most of his opportunities.

"I think it'll be important to start with the best team possible but also bring on players who can stop our opponents from having reference points and can have a positive impact on the game. I've already decided tomorrow's starting line-up."

Milan have drawn three consecutive matches in all competitions and are level on points with second-placed Napoli, just a point behind leaders Inter.

They have won only one of their past 14 Serie A meetings with Napoli – that victory coming in November 2020 – and have lost the previous two encounters 1-0.

Pioli says his side must be resolute when they do battle with Luciano Spalletti's men.

He said: "Napoli are a great team and coached very well by Spalletti, but teams without weaknesses don't exist.

"They have the best defence in the league, they pass it well and are good in behind. Tomorrow, the team that defends better has more chance of winning.

"The environment we'll be playing in is something else to factor in when it comes to our preparations and the match: it'll be fantastic and exciting for both teams.

"The fact we’ve done well against the top sides is a sign of our strength and should give us confidence heading into tomorrow night's game.

"From now until May 22, 33 points are up for grabs. It'll be a rollercoaster that no one wants to get off. It'll be difficult for any side to be really consistent, but we need to stay focused and play to the best of our abilities."

Milan boss Stefano Pioli believes his side deserved to beat rivals Inter in the first leg of their Coppa Italia semi-final clash, but also claimed the goalless draw represented a "good result".

The Milanese giants, who are split by just two points in a fierce Serie A title race, could not be separated at San Siro, with the lively Rafael Leao and Rade Krunic going closest for the more adventurous Rossoneri. 

Milan managed 13 attempts to Inter's seven in a cagey encounter, also creating 0.70 expected goals to the below-par Nerazzurri's 0.30, but were unable to break the deadlock. 

Although Pioli felt his team merited more from the encounter, he also professed himself pleased with the result, with Italy's preservation of the away goals rule perhaps making the Rossoneri slight favourites ahead of April's second leg.

"Milan played well and deserved something more," Pioli told Mediaset. "But if we look at it over the two legs, it is a good result. I still think we deserved a victory.

"It's only a partial result, we know the second [leg] will be very difficult, but I am satisfied with the performance. 

"We've made progress over the last two and a half years, we would like to win something and make this a wonderful season.

"The team was aggressive against an Inter side with a great deal of quality. We didn't allow Inter any real shots on goal and had chances of our own.

"It's disappointing we were unable to win the match and it all goes down to the second leg, [but] I really liked the performance and we should gain even more confidence from it, because we are a team who belong at this level."

Stefano Pioli called for Milan to "turn into winners" and battle through an underwhelming run of form ahead of crucial clashes with Inter and Napoli.

The Rossoneri sit level on points with Serie A leaders Napoli, who required a last-gasp winner against Lazio on Sunday, after being held in consecutive games by strugglers Salernitana and Udinese.

Pioli's side are two points ahead of Inter, who they face in the first leg of their Coppa Italia semi-final tie on Tuesday, but the Nerazzurri boast a game in hand on both their fellow title contenders.

Ahead of what is likely to be a pivotal week, Pioli demanded improvements from his team, though he insisted Milan can only focus on the future from now on.

"It's only the first leg, but it's an important step. The help from our fans will be decisive," Pili said at Monday's pre-match news conference ahead of the cup meeting with Inter.

"We are in the decisive moment of the season. We've done an extraordinary path in the last two and a half years, but only what we'll do from tomorrow will count.

"We can be better than in the last two games. We've done a lot and it's time to reap the rewards. It's the last step, the most difficult one, which is turning into winners."

While stressing the importance of improving sooner rather than later, Pioli acknowledged that there still remains a healthy portion of the season left to play as the title race continues to ebb and flow.

"The table is telling that this is a balanced league, it's a difficult season for everybody and there are no favourites in the derby," he added.

"Those who win the most duels will have more chances to win. It's an important week, but not decisive. There is a second leg in Coppa Italia and there will be 10 more Serie A games after the match with Napoli."

Pioli also did not hide away from his side's recent struggles, after they recorded consecutive top-flight draws for the first time since December 2020.

"Numbers do not lie. We've had difficulties," Pioli continued.

"We were not able to kill the games off and we should have kept more control. Anything can happen when you defend deep, we must be more aggressive when we do not have the ball.

"We do well when we go at full pace, but we must improve handling certain situations, especially when the opponents are waiting for us. 

"We have analysed what didn't work and we are ready to put what we've learned into practice."

Juventus head coach Massimiliano Allegri previously suggested that 85 points will be required to win the Scudetto, and Pioli does not think his fellow boss was too far off the mark.

"The top five teams are in the race for the title and a Champions League spot," he responded when asked about the title race.

"Everyone has slowed down a little, 11 games are remaining and every game will be difficult. Surely more than 80 points will be needed."

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