Stefano Pioli believes Zlatan Ibrahimovic has the desire to help Milan beyond the end of this season, although his future still is not settled and the forward's immediate focus is on aiding the Rossoneri's 2021-22 title bid.

Ibrahimovic signed a one-year contract extension in April last year, meaning his Milan deal is again up in June.

And the superstar forward, who is now 40, is increasingly struggling for fitness, even if his goalscoring form has not deserted him.

Ibrahimovic has eight goals in all competitions this season, with no Milan player scoring at a greater rate than his average of one every 133 minutes.

However, Ibrahimovic has been limited to 12 starts and has not featured in over a month since injuring his Achilles tendon against Juventus.

Milan coach Pioli was asked for an update on both the striker's future and fitness before Friday's match against Udinese and offered a mixed response, with his recovery not as rapid as anticipated.

"[His future] would be a question for Zlatan," the league-leading coach told a news conference. "His will is very important.

"As I know him, for the determination he has, for the ambition he has and for the desire he has to help the team, I am convinced that he would want to continue playing.

"His condition is improving, albeit a little slower than we expected, but he is better.

"His path is day by day – you have to understand how the tendon responds when he starts to run. Between today and tomorrow he will return to running on the grass; in these days he has done individual work and ran on the sand."

Stefano Pioli maintained that nobody expects Milan to win the Serie A title as he was left to rue a lack of quality in their 2-2 draw at Salernitana.

The Rossoneri spurned a chance to go four points clear of second-placed Inter, and they would have slumped to a shock defeat but for Ante Rebic's 77th-minute equaliser.

It had all started so well for the leaders at Stadio Arechi, where Junior Messias put them in front just five minutes in on Saturday.

But Federico Bonazzoli levelled in the first half with an acrobatic volley after Milan goalkeeper Mike Maignan flapped at a cross, and Milan Djuric gave the bottom side the lead with a header with 72 minutes played.

Substitute Rebic came to the rescue with his first goal since September, scoring from long range, but this will go down as two points dropped for Milan in the title race.

Rossoneri head coach Pioli does not believe his team are considered to be capable of dethroning Inter, but he expects them to perform far better than they managed in a game they really ought to have won.

Pioli told DAZN: "The situation around Milan is strange. Nobody thinks we can win the Scudetto and then you ask me if we can still win the Scudetto.

"We are undoubtedly disappointed and for this reason we will try to do better from the next match. We had to produce a different performance. We were not lacking mentally, but quality was lacking."

Inter have the chance to return to the summit when they face Sassuolo on Sunday, as they only trail their city rivals by two points.

Pioli says Milan must not dwell on a setback that halted their run of three consecutive wins.

He said: "We are disappointed. We had started well and there were all the conditions to manage our advantage better. We could have dominated the game better.

"We manage to equalise, but we have to try to do better. We had to be more lucid because then the right opportunity would have come.

"We have to think about playing as we are able to do, during the week we will analyse the goals scored. It is useless to think about what we could have done, we try to secure as many points as possible and do better the things we know how to do."

Milan head coach Stefano Pioli is confident his side can handle the pressure of being top of Serie A but concedes their "table position is not correct".

After beating Inter a fortnight ago, the Rossoneri capitalised on the Nerazzurri's 1-1 draw with Napoli last weekend, moving into top spot with a 1-0 home win over Sampdoria.

Milan and Napoli had set the early pace before Inter surged into the lead in Serie A prior to the winter break, with the Rossoneri returning to the summit by one point having played one game more than their city rivals.

"The league table is not correct, because Inter and Atalanta have to recover their matches," Pioli told a news conference prior to Saturday's league game with Salernitana.

"We are focused on us. The pressures are there and it is a privilege to have them, it means that we have risen up the level and it means that the team can handle them too.

"In my players I see a lot of positivity, a lot of confidence and concentration. We know that the season is long and that we have to push hard. For us tomorrow is a very important match, not a secondary one.

"We just have to think about giving our best and the best. We need great conviction in the things we do by giving our best."

Veteran Milan forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic has not played since picking up a knock in the January 24 draw with Juventus but hinted he was close to returning on Italian radio. Pioli, however, downplayed his chances of facing Salernitana as continues to battle a niggling Achilles issue.

"He is certainly better, if not tomorrow or Sunday he will start running again and then we will evaluate his condition," he said.

"We do not yet know when he will be able to re-join the group."

Pioli added that Croatian forward Ante Rebic would come into consideration to start against Salernitana after recently returning off the bench from an ankle injury.

"He is better. The minutes with Sampdoria helped him, he entered well even if he missed the winning play," he said.

"He is a very important player for us and he will give us his contribution."

Rafael Leao was likened to Thierry Henry by Milan head coach Stefano Pioli after firing his side to a slender victory against Sampdoria.

The Portugal international scored the only goal of the game eight minutes into Sunday's clash at San Siro to send Milan top of Serie A.

Leao controlled a pass from Mike Maignan – the first Milan keeper to assist a league goal since Dida in 2006 – powered past Bartosz Bereszynski and coolly converted.

He now has 10 goals for the season in all competitions, making him the Rossoneri's joint-leading goalscorer alongside Olivier Giroud.

That is already three goals more than Leao managed in 39 appearances last season, and four more than in his first season at San Siro in 2019-20.

Of those 10 goals this season, seven have been scored in Serie A and four of them have been the opening goal of the match.

Pioli has been pleased with Leao's development and is confident there is more to come from the 22-year-old striker.

"I believe he can always do better, he must not be satisfied," Pioli said at his post-match news conference. "He has the qualities to reach the top of Europe and the world.

"He reminds me of Henry, but it is true that Rafa must be himself. Leao is an extraordinary player, but he mustn't rest on his laurels."

Milan took full advantage of Inter's 1-1 draw with Napoli on Saturday to leapfrog both sides into top spot with their win over Sampdoria.

The Rossoneri are two points in front of Napoli and one better off than Inter, who have a game in hand to play.

Pioli's side have gained 55 points from their opening 25 matches – in the era of three points for a win, they have had so many only in 2003-04 (64).

But while his side occupy top spot in a tight battle for the Scudetto, Pioli insisted he is not yet thinking about ending Milan's 11-year wait for a league title.

"Our goal does not change," he said. "We printed last year's standings at the beginning of the season and our goal is to improve on the 79 points collected last season.

"We had a perfect week and I'm happy for the guys who really gave everything, playing with intensity and determination, which allowed us to achieve these results. 

"We also know that the championship is still long: let's concentrate as we have always done to better prepare for the next match to get the best out of it."

 

Milan may be flying high in Serie A and through to the Coppa Italia semi-finals, but not every player is in the good books of supporters.

Franck Kessie appeared to be targeted by the club's ultras on Sunday amid suggestions he is not planning to sign a new contract, with his current one set to expire in July.

A banner was unfurled at San Siro that read: "Those who love Milan show it with facts; cordial goodbyes to those who are dissatisfied."

Kessie was also booed by some supporters during the warm-ups, which Pioli was not pleased with.

"I heard it. I don't think it's the right thing because we need everyone. The past teaches us it is the attitudes and behaviours of the players that make the difference," he said. 

"When I train, I don't care if he has renewed or if it's about to expire. I know these players and I see them, I see how they behave. 

"As long as they have the right attitudes, I will put them on the pitch. The Milan fans have a great heart and a great passion and are giving us great support."

Stefano Pioli believes the contract renewal of Theo Hernandez epitomises Milan’s vision of returning "to the highest level".

The France international, who had been due to be out of contract in July 2024, had been linked with a move to Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain.

However, the defender ended speculation surrounding his future by putting pen to paper on fresh terms that will keep him at San Siro until the end of the 2025-26 season.

Hernandez has been a key figure for Milan since arriving from Real Madrid in July 2019, racking up 105 appearances across all competitions – a tally only matched by Franck Kessie during that period.

He has had 37 goal involvements in all competitions (19 goals, 18 assists), a tally bettered only by Zlatan Ibrahimovic (45) among Milan players since Hernandez's first outing.

Indeed, only three defenders in Europe's top five leagues have been directly involved in more goals across the same stretch: Achraf Hakimi, Robin Gosens (both 39) and Trent Alexander-Arnold (45).

Pioli feels the Rossoneri have made a statement of intent by keeping the attacking full-back at the club.

"It's a beautiful sign of a club that has a vision for the present and the future," the head coach said.

"Theo's renewal is an important signal for the whole environment. Having players who feel this sense of belonging and a club that thinks about the present and the future is symbolic of a club that wants to return to the highest level."

Following last weekend's 2-1 victory in the Derby della Madonnina, Milan are one point behind leaders and city rivals Inter heading into the final 15 games of the Serie A season.

Pioli, who is aiming to guide the Rossoneri to a first Scudetto since 2010-11, has praised the growth in maturity demonstrated by his young squad.

"I am absolutely convinced that, beyond the other matches, the team is much more aware and mature than it was a year ago," he added. 

"But it is normal that this is so. We are very young, but we have gone through many experiences, and we have grown. 

"We know that every game has an important specific weight and will have to be approached with great attention. The only thing that matters is tomorrow."

Rafael Leao says Milan's sights are firmly set on lifting the Coppa Italia following their thumping quarter-final win over Lazio.

The Rossoneri reached the semi-finals of the competition after putting the Biancocelesti to the sword 4-0 in San Siro.

Leao and Franck Kessie were on target either side of an Olivier Giroud double as Stefano Pioli’s side built on the momentum from their Derby della Madonnina victory over Inter on Saturday.

Milan subsequently set up a rematch with their neighbours in the last four of the Coppa Italia, in which they have now won 13 of their last 18 home games.

And Leao, who also assisted the first of Giroud’s brace, says he and his team-mates have high expectations after the Portugal international found the net for the second successive round.

"After the derby – a very important game for us – we arrived for tonight fired up, and I thought we had an extraordinary performance. It was the right result," he told Sport Mediaset.

"Now we're in the semi-final, the Coppa Italia is a competition Milan wants to win. 

"I am always ready to help my team with goals or assists, but the most important thing is that the team got into the semi-final."

Pioli also heaped praise on the performance of Milan, who are full of confidence having now won six of their last eight matches – including the extra-time success over Genoa in the previous round of the Coppa – in all competitions.

"We made the most of the derby victory to give ourselves even more energy, belief and conviction," the head coach added.

"The whole atmosphere is very positive, we were focused and in control for the full 90 minutes.

"These are always special games to prepare and very stimulating. The Coppa Italia is a competition both clubs want to win, so we will try to give our best against opponents we know are very strong."

Stefano Pioli says Zlatan Ibrahimovic is like "a lion in a cage" in his quest to return from injury, but revealed he will not be available for Milan's Coppa Italia quarter-final showdown with Lazio.

His side's top scorer in Serie A this season with eight goals, Ibrahimovic is currently sidelined with an Achilles tendon injury, having limped off during the first half of last month's stalemate with Juventus.

The 40-year-old's absence was evident for most of last weekend's derby with Inter; the Rossoneri registering just one shot on goal until Olivier Giroud's quickfire double completed a dramatic turnaround.

Milan welcome Lazio to San Siro in the last eight of the Coppa Italia on Wednesday, although it comes too soon for Ibrahimovic.

But Pioli insists the striker is doing everything in his power to return as soon as possible.

"Zlatan is a lion in a cage," he told Sportmediaset. "His motivation is to help the team on the pitch. 

"Tomorrow, he won't be [available]; we'll see for the next ones."

Pioli also praised the contribution of Giroud, who has drawn criticism from some sections despite taking his tally to seven for the campaign with that derby brace, while also becoming the first Frenchman to net twice against Inter in Serie A.

When asked whether his display against the Nerazzurri deflected the criticism, the head coach said: "I don't know, the detractors are always there. What matters is the trust we have. 

"He is proving to be the footballer for whom he was purchased. [He is] a valuable player and a person of great depth who is making a great contribution to the team."

 

Milan boss Stefano Pioli believes failure to beat Inter in their next Serie A game will end their title chances and leave them to battle for a Champions League qualification spot instead.

The Rossoneri ended the weekend four points adrift of leaders Inter having played a game more after a dire 0-0 draw with Juventus at San Siro.

It marked the first goalless draw between the two giants in the Italian top flight since December 2007.

Milan face their neighbours on February 5, with Pioli suggesting anything less than a win will be fatal to their Scudetto hopes.

"We knew the games against Juventus and Inter would say a great deal about our future," he told DAZN.

"If we don't beat Inter, then our campaign will be very similar to last season, when we won at the end to go second and risked crashing out of the Champions League places.

"We have our way of playing and must realise that if we want to achieve something extraordinary again, we need to give everything. I saw many individual performances of a very high level today.

"We had the right performance for our circumstances and the opposition, but were lacking precision in the penalty area.

"We tried to be dangerous and limited Juventus to no chances. I don't think it was a tactical issue, as we had players in the box, but got the final ball wrong.

"The state of the pitch didn't help either, as we had some bad first touches, had to take extra touches to get it under control and that slowed us down."

Indeed, Zlatan Ibrahimovic's first-half withdrawal through injury was caused by the state of the pitch, Pioli confirmed.

"Ibra felt pain in the Achilles tendon," he added. "He blamed the pitch, which was very hard, so we hope he can recover over the next few days."

Milan's Pierre Kalulu was part of a defence that did not allow Juve a single shot on target and the 21-year-old wants to see an improvement in attack.

"It's a positive statistic for everyone in the team and not just for us defenders," he told Milan TV. "We did well and must continue like this.

"It's an important game for us and for the fans. Compared to tonight, we need to do better up front if we are to bring home the three points."

Stefano Pioli is paying no attention to his poor record against Massimiliano Allegri ahead of Milan's crunch clash with Juventus at San Siro on Sunday.

Milan boss Pioli has lost 11 and drawn four of his 15 meetings with Allegri in Serie A – the longest winless run for one head coach against another in the three-points-per-win era 

That includes a 1-1 draw in their most recent meeting four months ago when Ante Rebic cancelled out an early Alvaro Morata opener.

The Rossoneri are seven points better off than Juve with 22 games played, however, and Pioli is looking to end his disappointing run against Allegri in this latest encounter.

"I don't like to look back too much," he said at Saturday's pre-match news conference. "The past doesn't count, only tomorrow's game.

"It's a negative fact, of course, and one to try to change immediately."

 

Milan may be three places in front their opponents, but they suffered a shock 2-1 loss at home to Spezia last time out to miss out on the chance to move top of Serie A.

Juve are unbeaten in their last eight league games, meanwhile, winning six and drawing two, which is their best run in the competition since 12 without defeat in December 2020.

And Pioli is anticipating a far different test to earlier in the season when Juventus were still seeking their first win of Allegri's second spell in Turin.

"Juve have grown since our last game and are in positive form, but we are also doing well," he said. "We'll have to fight ball by ball and inch by inch.

"It's evident that Juventus are now in a great moment of form compared to the start of the season. We will have to put in a great performance.

"It's an important game, but it won't be decisive. Juventus are showing their strength, so being able to win would be important for our spot in the table."

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is available to face Juve and is seeking a third league goal against his former side, with those previous two strikes coming at San Siro in 2010 and 2020.

Should he find the net, he will become the oldest player to score against Juve in the Italian top flight at the age of 40 years and 112 days, overtaking Silvio Piola.

The Sweden international has not scored a home goal since September, but he remains an important player under Pioli.

"He's had his chances but he hasn't taken advantage of them," Pioli said. "With Juventus we won't have 10 goals but there will be situations where he can be decisive for us."

Massimiliano Allegri shut down talk of a Scudetto challenge as his improving Juventus prepare to face Milan at San Siro on Sunday.

The Bianconeri are on an eight-match unbeaten run in Serie A, their longest such streak since December 2020.

Having lost three times in six matches in a tough spell in October and November, Juve have won six and drawn two to close back to within a point of the top four, with Milan seven points ahead in second and champions Inter a further two clear at the top of the table.

Allegri, though, is not prepared to look beyond the challenge of facing the Rossoneri, who have lost only once in the past four league meetings with Juve, having been beaten in 14 of the previous 17.

"We're experiencing a good moment, but the path is still long because there are so many games left, and we're behind in the table," he told reporters on Saturday.

"Tomorrow is a great game to play. I'm sorry there are only 5,000 spectators; it would be nice to play these great events with full stadiums. It's an important match for the standings and we need to do well.

"We can't get too far ahead with things. We face Milan now, who have done a great job in the past year and a half. Congratulations to Stefano [Pioli], who has done an excellent job.

"We have to play an important game to keep close, to get to the end of February in the best condition in the table. We can't think too far ahead at this moment, or talk about the Scudetto."

Allegri delivered Milan their most recent league title back in 2011, after which they could only watch on as Juve embarked on a run of nine consecutive Scudetti before their run was halted by Inter last season.

Pioli's arrival has signalled a shift in the balance of power, though. Milan were second in 2020-21, a point above Juve in fourth, and are the obvious challengers to Simone Inzaghi's Inter this term.

 

Indeed, since the start of 2020-21, the Nerazzurri are the only side to have won more games (43) and earned more points (141) than Milan (39 wins and 127 points). In a league table of that time frame, Juve would be fifth.

Allegri suggested Juve are taking some inspiration from Milan's modern model as they look to move into a new era.

"Milan worked well, they did things in an orderly way and they chose good players. They're fighting for the title," Allegri said.

"Juve had nine wonderful years and won two trophies last season. This year, without [Cristiano] Ronaldo, there is more space for other players. We've played games with six players between the ages of 20 and 23.

"Young players give you strength, but they lack experience. You can only improve by playing matches."

The future of Paulo Dybala remains unclear but the Argentina star has history against Milan, with seven goals and five assists in 12 league games against them.

While he did not comment on contract talks with Dybala, Allegri certainly believes the forward is improving.

"Paulo is better physically. He's growing, he is very calm and this helps him because he can play more freely," he said.

"I would say he has less responsibility on his shoulders and I'm happy with what he's doing. He will give us a lot between now and the end of the season."

Stefano Pioli has revealed the referee apologised after ruling out what should have been a valid Milan goal in Monday's defeat to Spezia.

The Rossoneri slumped to a shock 2-1 loss as Emmanuel Gyasi scored with almost the final kick of a thriller at San Siro.

Title rivals Inter drew 0-0 with Atalanta on Sunday, but Milan failed to claim a win that would have sent them to the Serie A summit.

The hosts dominated the first half and took a deserved lead through Rafael Leao, just after Theo Hernandez had missed a penalty.

Yet their profligacy cost them in the second half when Kevin Agudelo equalised.

 

Milan were then left furious as Junior Messias' fine late effort was struck off due to a premature whistle from referee Marco Serra, who had blown up for a foul on Ante Rebic.

Serra appeared to realise his mistake, though that did nothing to appease Milan, who subsequently hit the bar through Zlatan Ibrahimovic only for Gyasi to snatch a last-gasp winner on the counter.

While Pioli was keen to point out the official's error, he acknowledged Milan did not control the game well enough.

"I tried to calm my players down, but I didn't manage as Spezia's goal proves," he told DAZN.

"We knew it was an injustice, we have ourselves to blame, but we share responsibility with the referee.

"I am sorry to say that. He even apologised, maybe that wasn't even a fault. It's a shame.

"However, we should have scored more goals in the first half. It's a bad night and we must react now."

 

Milan had 25 attempts in total, with eight on target. It was the most shots they have managed in a Serie A defeat since December 2017 against Verona (31).

Leao was a standout performer with four shots and as many key passes, while Ibrahimovic, making his 150th league appearance for the club, had a team-leading eight efforts.

"We could have won the game, somehow we lost," said Pioli, whose side finished the match with an expected goals (xG) value of 2.5.

"We knew we had a good chance, Leao's goal should have given us self-confidence, we failed to seal a win that we strongly wanted, but the season is still long."

Milan remain second, two points behind Inter and one ahead of Napoli in third, with Juventus next up on Sunday.

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."

Stefano Pioli hailed the united front that Milan displayed in the 3-0 win over Venezia as he marked 400 games as a Serie A head coach.

The former Lazio, Inter and Fiorentina boss saw Zlatan Ibrahimovic give Milan a second-minute lead, before Theo Hernandez's second-half double wrapped up the points.

Pioli became just the eighth head coach in Serie A, in the three-points-for-a-win era, to reach take charge of 400 matches, and said he was only made aware of the landmark by Milan's communications boss.

Victory at Venezia nudged Milan ahead of Inter at the top of the table, ahead of the Nerazzurri's clash with Lazio later on Sunday, as Pioli's men continue to show last season's title challenge was no flash in the pan.

"I believe that this should be the year of confirmation," said Pioli. "But there is still an important step between being competitive and winning.

"Against Venezia it was a very delicate match, easy only on the face of it, and we were good at making it simpler than it could have been."

Quoted by Sky Italia, Pioli said: "We played with the right approach and the right determination, we played as a team.

"We have more awareness of the past, born from all the experiences we have been having. Many young players are becoming mature, we are still a young team but we are more ready mentally."

Milan were firmly in the Scudetto hunt midway through last season but were overtaken by a fast-finishing Inter.

It would help to have a fully fit Ibrahimovic on hand throughout the next four months. His contributions dried up over the closing stages of last season, with just one goal in his final eight Serie A games after a breakneck start, yet at the age of 40 he is playing a big role this term.

Since his return to Milan midway through the 2019-20 season, Ibrahimovic has scored 22 goals in 25 Serie A away games. The Swedish striker's opener at Venezia means he has scored in six consecutive league matches away from San Siro, the second time he has achieved that during this spell with the club.

It also gave him a share of a European top-five league 21st-century record, equalling Cristiano Ronaldo's feat of scoring against 80 different clubs across the continent's elite leagues (Premier League, Bundesliga, Serie A, LaLiga and Ligue 1).

Ibrahimovic and Milan will be limited to domestic duty for the rest of the season after finishing bottom of their Champions League group.

Pioli might find that helps Milan in the long run, even though he remains frustrated by his team's performance in that competition.

He said: "Now it could be an advantageous situation to have weeks free from European commitments, but we are not satisfied to no longer be in the Champions League."

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."

Milan head coach Stefano Pioli has his sights set on signing a "complete defender" during the January transfer window.

The Rossoneri were rocked when Denmark captain Simon Kjaer was ruled out for the rest of the season after suffering a knee injury at the start of December.

Pioli declared following that major setback that he wanted to sign a replacement for centre-back Kjaer went the transfer market opened this month.

The 56-year-old on Wednesday stated that he will only bring in a player who ticks all the right boxes.

He said during a press conference: "We have clear and shared ideas. Kjaer's injury forces us to have an eye on defence. I have not made any other requests.

"We are looking for a complete defender, it's too important a role.

"We want one who can accept defensive one-v-ones with great timing and to have courage in the defensive phase.

"The defenders have to be the playmakers. They must have the ability to play, make the right choice even in possession of the ball.

"It will not be a roaring market for anyone, but I'm sure we'll find the right player."

Second-placed Milan return to action following the mid-season break with a Serie A clash against Roma at San Siro on Thursday.

They trail Inter by four points but Pioli believes they can mount a strong bid to win the title.

He said: "I don't care much about what they say outside Milanello. I see players who are aware, winning would be an extraordinary feat. But we have to believe in it and I expect a lot from everyone.

"We can do it if we keep the balance. We have pressure because we have been good at creating it with the results, then we'll do the math in the end."

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