Stefano Pioli is confident his Milan side will learn from a "painful" loss to Fiorentina after their unbeaten start to the Serie A campaign came to an end at Stadio Artemio Franchi.

Milan fell to a 4-3 defeat in Saturday's thrilling contest as they missed out on the chance to move three points clear of Napoli, who play their game in hand at Inter on Sunday.

The Rossoneri last tasted defeat in the top flight 18 games ago against Lazio in April, while not since August 2015 had they lost away to Fiorentina in the league.

Pioli's side were without a number of players through injury, including Fikayo Tomori, Davide Calabria, Ante Rebic and Mike Maignan, and that told in a poor display.

A mix-up between back-up goalkeeper Ciprian Tatarusanu and Matteo Gabbia gifted Joseph Alfred Duncan the opening goal, which ex-Milan player Riccardo Saponara added to before half-time.

Dusan Vlahovic also scored twice, either side of a Zlatan Ibrahimovic double that had set up a tense period in the game, before Lorenzo Venuti put into his own net from the last action of the game.

Milan have now taken just one point from their last two games, having previously been held by Inter, but Pioli is hopeful his side will bounce back.

"We have to feel the pain of this defeat and make sure it doesn't happen again," he told Sky Sport Italia. "Even in this defeat I am convinced that I have a very strong team. 

"We have to learn from this. Losing hurts, as does conceding four goals. We showed that we are able to recover, but perhaps we could have done without conceding the fourth. 

"The team played as a team and with rhythm. Sometimes we missed the last pass. We had twice as many shots as our opponents, so the performance was there. 

"We are sorry because after the international break we wanted to restart with a victory."

 

Ibrahimovic became the oldest player – and the first over 40 – to score two or more goals in a single game in Europe's top five leagues this century with his double.

However, Vlahovic stole the show with a brace of his own as he made it 27 Serie A goals in 2021, equalling Kurt Hamrin (in 1960) for the most in a calendar year for Fiorentina

Indeed, only Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski (38) has scored more goals than Vlahovic (27) since the start of 2021 in the big five European leagues. 

The Serbia international has been linked with a number of the continent's big-name clubs, but Viola boss Vincenzo Italiano wants his side to make the most of the rising star while they can.

"Right now he is a player destined for an important career, not only because he knows how to score but because of how he trains," Italiano told Sky Sport Italia. 

"If he stays this same player he is destined for a great career. I don't know what his future will be, but for now we enjoy it. In this game he was loaded with buckshot and I'm happy for him."

Stefano Pioli is remaining positive despite Milan missing the chance to go top of Serie A with a 1-1 derby draw against Inter at San Siro.

Former Rossoneri midfielder Hakan Calhanoglu scored an early penalty before Stefan de Vrij's own goal levelled the scores, and Ciprian Tatarusanu was needed to deny Lautaro Martinez after a second spot-kick was conceded.

However, the result means Milan have picked up 32 points in the opening 12 games of a Serie A season for the first time in the three-points-for-a-win era (since 1994-95) and remain unbeaten in the league after 12 games.

Rossoneri boss Pioli feels there is plenty to be encouraged by from his side's season so far and from the performance against reigning champions Inter.

"The glass is half-full," Pioli said to DAZN. "You aim to win, but it was complicated, the team showed a lot of spirit and we struggled a bit too much in the first half, but then emerged after the break.

"In all of Europe's top five Leagues, only Napoli and Milan are still unbeaten this season, and that says a lot about how we are doing.

"Inter are a strong side and we proved that we are strong too. It was a positive performance. Look at the average age difference for the starting 11 between Milan and Inter.

"We needed time to gain that experience, form that confidence and now we can fight it out with the best in Serie A. There can be difficulties, but we showed courage tonight again and both teams had the opportunities to win.

"We made a naive error on the penalty but maintained our ideas and approach to turn this around. We could've sought Zlatan Ibrahimovic more, as we didn't give him enough service, but it's also true that we fought for every ball and never stepped back.

"We were courageous in attack, but also in defence, where we accepted one-on-one situations with players like Edin Dzeko and Lautaro Martinez. We were eager to bring home another positive result."

Ante Rebic's introduction off the bench following his recovery from an ankle injury coincided with Milan's best period of the game and Pioli was full of praise for the 28-year-old, while admitting that Rafael Leao looked a little jaded after featuring in every game for the club so far this season.

"Ante is very important, as he has that change of pace and is very aggressive," Pioli continued. "We saw Rafael Leao was a little less sharp tonight, inevitably because he played practically every game for the last three weeks."

Milan travel to face Fiorentina after the international break as they look to maintain their unbeaten league record and keep the pressure on Napoli in the title race.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

"Then it is difficult to establish what Rafael's final role will be. The growth of a player allows you to find a job and a position. The important thing is the growth of its value, then we will evaluate the position along the way."

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

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

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

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

Stefano Pioli is eager to take positives from Milan's second-half performance against Porto ahead of this weekend's huge Derby della Madonnina clash with Inter.

Milan ended a club-record run of five successive defeats in the Champions League with a 1-1 draw against Primeira Liga leaders Porto at San Siro on Wednesday.

That solitary Group B point after four matches all but ends the Rossoneri's hopes of qualifying for the last 16, though, as they must win both remaining games and hope other results go their way.

Pioli's side fell behind to a Luis Diaz strike with just five minutes and two seconds on the clock – the second-fastest goal they have conceded at home in the Champions League.

Porto looked a lot sharper and should have doubled their lead when Evanilson headed against the crossbar, but Milan earned a point through Chancel Mbemba's comical own goal.

Despite remaining bottom of the group, Pioli is remaining upbeat with his side flying high in Serie A ahead of the showdown with rivals and reigning champions Inter.

"The signs are positive for us, even if the team is disappointed," he told Amazon Prime. "We wanted to find our first victory in the Champions League. 

"It is true that their pressure was strong in the first half. In the second half we did better. We moved better and their intensity in the pressure dropped.

"It is clear that conceding a goal like we did influenced our way of playing. I can't say much about the second half, especially in terms of our aggression. 

"Porto are a strong team, who last year eliminated Juventus. The level in this competition is very high. To win in the Champions League you have to deserve it. 

"The next game will be just as difficult. Inter deservedly won the championship and remain favourites to retain the title. 

"We will have to play a high level match, but we have the opportunity to do well."

Milan have won just one of their past 11 Champions League games, whereas Porto have now lost just one in nine in the group stage.

The Portuguese side had a three-day gap between their 4-1 win against Boavista and the game at San Siro, compared to a couple of days off for Milan following their win at Roma.

That was also the case prior to last month's reverse fixture, which Porto won 1-0.

"They played a day before us twice in a row," Pioli said. "If you have seven or eight days to recover it doesn't make a difference.

"But if you have three instead of four in a period where you play seven times in 21 days, it can make a difference."

Olivier Giroud was selected ahead of Zlatan Ibrahimovic up top for Milan but could not find a way through as his scoreless run in the competition stretched to 326 minutes.

At 35 years, Giroud was the oldest member of Milan's line-up and feels a lack of experience has perhaps cost his side in Europe this term.

"We're a young team but I don't want to make excuses," he told Canal+. "We also needed a little more luck. We have played some good matches in the group.

"It's tough against teams who are used to Champions League football like Porto or Atletico. Experience is important.

"Now we've got the derby with Inter and we will look to come back with the same energy and desire for that game."

Davide Calabria fired a warning to Milan as he declared Wednesday's clash with Porto to be their last chance of staying in the Champions League.

The Rossoneri are bottom of Group B, having lost all three of their matches against Liverpool, Atletico Madrid and Porto, and are on a five-game losing streak overall in the competition – the worst such run in their history.

Should they lose to Sergio Conceicao's side at San Siro and Atletico beat Liverpool at Anfield, Milan will be unable to finish higher than fourth in the group, meaning their European campaign would be over for 2021-22.

While their domestic form has been strong – they have won 10 of 11 Serie A matches this season, something only three teams have achieved before – Milan were deeply unconvincing in the reverse match against Porto, registering only four shots, their lowest such figure in a Champions League game in almost eight years.

Calabria feels Milan deserve to have at least some points from the first three matchdays but accepts a win is now essential to their chances of going through.

"We have an outlook prepared; it's our last chance to stay in the Champions League," the defender said on Tuesday. "We believe in ourselves and we have the quality to put in a great performance right from kick-off and stay in the competition.

"Certain moments have led to the current standings. We don't deserve it but I am convinced that we have the potential to do better and take points, starting from tomorrow.

"The Champions League is a competition that comes down to the finer details and some of the details have gone against us. It's a shame because we deserve more but there's not much to say. We've been decent in the group until now, except for the game in Portugal."

Milan come into the match buoyed by Sunday's 2-1 league win at Roma, a result that ended Jose Mourinho's 43-game unbeaten home run in Serie A.

The match was not without controversy, though. Referee Fabio Maresca was criticised for his performance, as was VAR, with Mourinho walking away from a post-match interview with DAZN after claiming he feared a touchline ban if he spoke about the officials.

Milan boss Stefano Pioli insisted he and his team cannot become distracted by a growing debate over the standard of officiating in Italy.

"I believe one thing: we beat Roma because we were the better team and lost against Porto because they were better than us," Pioli said. "I can't control anything else.

"We're just going to keep our focus on what we are doing. We analysed the performance with the players and we know what we did well. We can't waste our energy on external factors.

"Now, we are thinking about the Champions League because we feel like we deserve more than zero points in the table and we have this game to confirm that – against a really tough side."

Roma boss Jose Mourinho did not want to say much following the Giallorossi's 2-1 defeat to Milan at the Stadio Olimpico on Sunday, fearing that if he did he "won't be on the touchline next week."

The loss was Mourinho's first at home in Serie A in his career, having been unbeaten for 43 home games during his time at Inter and Roma.

"Compliments to Milan," he said to DAZN immediately after the game. "I don't want to say anything else, because otherwise I won't be on the touchline next week.

"I am angry at the lack of respect shown to the Roma fans. We did not play well, but we left everything on the pitch. We have that respect, others do not, and that angers me.

"That is all."

The former Chelsea and Manchester United manager then held an equally short press conference, adding: "I made an effort and did not wait for the referee."

 

1 - Mourinho has lost his first Serie A home game, after 43 matches in a row without losing: the longest unbeaten home run for a coach since 1994/95 in the competition. Stop. #RomaMilan

— OptaPaolo (@OptaPaolo) October 31, 2021

 

Mourinho appeared to be unhappy with the performance of referee Fabio Maresca, who awarded Milan a second half penalty after he deemed Roger Ibanez to have fouled Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

On the advice of the video assistant referee (VAR), Maresca reviewed the footage at pitchside, but after several views, maintained his original decision and pointed to the spot.

Milan midfielder Franck Kessie scored the penalty to add to Ibrahimovic's first half free kick, and it ultimately proved to be the winning goal.

Maresca also sent off Milan's Theo Hernandez in the second half for a second bookable offence but Mourinho's men were unable to get back into the game, despite Stephan El Shaarawy's late strike.

Milan boss Stefano Pioli praised the courage of with his team, who moved back level on points with Napoli at the top of the Serie A table after the win.

"We played with character, with our ideas and approach," Pioli told DAZN.

"Roma are a quality side, we did very well with 11 against 11, kept trying to score more goals and that is the character we need in such important games.

"We're going through a positive period of form, so we’ve got to ride this wave, be courageous and confident, so I am very happy."

Milan forward Olivier Giroud is focused on winning Serie A with the Rossoneri as he targets league success.

A Champions League victor in 2020-21 before leaving Chelsea for Milan, Giroud has not won a league crown since conquering Ligue 1 with Montpellier in 2011-12.

Milan – without a Scudetto since 2011 – are level atop the Serie A table alongside Napoli through nine rounds after their enthralling 4-2 win at nine-man Bologna last week.

"I used to say football is an everlasting new beginning and you must always be ready for the next challenge," France international Giroud, who has three goals in five Serie A appearances this season, told Football Ramble podcast.

"That's one of my regrets in my career, it's not to have finished the job by winning the European Cup with France at home to Portugal. Another is not winning the Premier League with Arsenal or Chelsea.

"I still have a lot of hopes regarding winning another league with my new club and I am focused on it."

Stefano Pioli oversaw his 100th match in charge of Milan across all competitions following Saturday's triumph over Bologna.

He has won 56 of those games, exactly as many as Massimiliano Allegri had recorded with the Rossoneri after the same tally of games.

"This might sound like a threat for someone, but I expect to reach at least another 100 more," Milan head coach Pioli said.

Milan have won eight of their opening nine games of a Serie A season for the second time in their history – previously in 1954-55.

Pioli's Milan, meanwhile, have equalled their record of away wins in a single calendar year in Serie A thanks to 14 victories, as in 1964.

Milan were made to work more than they expected after taking an early lead against short-handed Bologna on Saturday. 

After taking a 2-0 lead at the interval with Bologna down to 10 men, the Rossoneri had a second-half scare at the Stadio Renato Dall'Ara before prevailing 4-2. 

Stefano Pioli lamented his side's over-confidence heading into the break, with Milan fortunate to prevail after Ismael Bennacer and Zlatan Ibrahimovic netted late to secure the win. 

"We struggled because we mistakenly thought that the match, with two goals and one more man, was over," Pioli told Sky Sport Italia.

"Fortunately we have the qualities to take it back and we won an important match. Even in numerical superiority we have lacked clarity, we were too frantic. 

"With Ibra and [Olivier] Giroud ahead we made too many crosses, we had to play it more and move it more quickly. In the first 10 minutes of the second half we had to manage it better. 

"It is a very important victory. We know very well that the matches after the European commitments are difficult."

Coming off a 1-0 Champions League defeat to Porto on Tuesday, Milan went top of the table in Serie A with Saturday's triumph. 

Pioli said afterward that Ibrahimovic told him during the game he was "really tired" and indeed the talisman started the Bologna comeback with an own goal in the 49th minute. 

Musa Barrow equalised three minutes later before Bologna's momentum was blunted when Robert Soriano was given a straight red card in the 58th minute, leaving the home side with just nine men. 

Ibrahimovic played the full 90 minutes in starting his first league match of the season. His goal in the final minute capped the scoring. 

"We are showing that we always believe in it, that we never give up," Pioli said. "It is clear that there is a bit of tiredness because there are so many players missing and we play so many games, but it is the mentality that makes the difference and we want to win games until the end."

Zlatan Ibrahimovic joined the Champions League's 40-plus club on a miserable night for Milan, as the Swede insisted: "We have to do better."

A 1-0 defeat in Porto means the Serie A giants have yet to pick up a point through three rounds of Group B games.

They have never begun a group-stage campaign so poorly, points-wise, and it will now take a remarkable effort to claw themselves back into last-16 contention.

Luis Diaz's second-half strike gave Porto the points at the Estadio do Dragao, making the November 3 re-match at San Siro in two weeks' time particularly huge for Milan.

This is the Rossoneri's first season back in the elite UEFA club competition since the 2013-14 campaign, and it has been a tough examination to date.

Ibrahimovic promised Milan would fight for as long as they remain mathematically capable of making progress, claiming he remained "confident" of a turnaround, albeit realistic about their shortcomings on Tuesday.

"Today was our worst match in the Champions League," said Ibrahimovic. "Unfortunately we are still on zero points after three games.

"We must remember that this team is back in the Champions League after so many years and games like this will give experience to the whole group."

Speaking to Mediaset Canale 5, he added: "Players were missing, but this is part of football. I just got back and I'm happy to play."

Injuries and COVID-19 cases have left Milan depleted, but Ibrahimovic said: "I don't want to find excuses. In the next match we have to do better. There are three games left and, as long as there is a chance, we will try. I am confident."

The Swedish striker was used as a substitute, coming on just before the hour mark to become the first outfield player aged 40 or over to appear in the Champions League since Ryan Giggs for Manchester United in April 2014.

Ibrahimovic also became just the second 40-year-old to appear for Milan in the competition, after former defensive stalwart Alessandro Costacurta.

Milan head coach Stefano Pioli accepted his side were second best on the night in Portugal, praising Porto's efforts.

The Italian outfit have lost their last five games in the Champions League, but two of those came against Atletico Madrid at the last-16 stage eight seasons ago.

Pioli said of Porto: "They did better in terms of clarity, technique and how they were on the pitch. We didn't start well, we had to manage the ball better.

"There were situations where we could have created some more danger, but we didn't succeed in doing so. The performance wasn't the best. At this level, if you don't play with clarity it becomes difficult. They did better than us."

Luis Diaz's second-half finish propelled Porto to their first win in the Champions League this season as they beat Milan 1-0 to leave the Italians staring at an early exit.

Sergio Conceicao's side were demolished 5-1 by Liverpool in their previous European outing, while Stefano Pioli's men suffered last-minute heartbreak against Atletico Madrid to leave both sides winless from their first two Group B games.

Diaz looked to seize the early initiative but was denied by the woodwork after just four minutes, with Medhi Taremi then spurning a series of chances.

However, Diaz managed to break the deadlock at Estadio do Dragao after the interval to condemn Milan to consecutive European away defeats for the first time since April 2012.

Diaz almost offered the hosts the perfect start, the Colombia international drilling a low drive against the left post before Taremi curled narrowly wide.

Olivier Giroud then misdirected a header after Rafael Leao's cross created Milan's first presentable opportunity, with Taremi missing a headed chance of his own before poking wide as Porto failed to make their first-half dominance pay.

Taremi remained persistent in his pursuit of the opener after the interval, dragging a left-footed strike narrowly off target after capitalising on Fikayo Tomori's mistake.

Tomori made amends with a last-ditch block to deny Otavio before Mateus Uribe arrowed just the wrong side of the left-hand post, but Porto did not have to wait much longer for their deserved opener.

The visitors felt Ismael Bennacer was fouled by Taremi in the build-up but referee Felix Brych disagreed as Diaz fired into the bottom-right corner after 65 minutes, with Pepe angling a rare left-footed effort wide three minutes later.

Pioli's team never looked like finding a late equaliser as Porto recorded their seventh clean sheet in their last eight group-stage matches in the competition.

Olivier Giroud was relieved to get back among the goals as Milan fought back to beat Hellas Verona 3-2 at San Siro on Saturday.

The Rossoneri looked to be heading for a first defeat in 30 home Serie A meetings with Verona when Gianluca Caprari and Antonin Barak put them 2-0 up before half-time.

Giroud headed in just before the hour mark to spark Milan's revival, with Franck Kessie levelling the scores from the penalty spot before a late decisive own goal from Koray Gunter.

The result put Stefano Pioli's men top of the table ahead of Napoli's clash with Torino on Sunday.

In scoring his third goal in his first two Serie A home games, Giroud matched a feat only previous reached by Oliver Bierhoff, Alexandre Pato, Mario Balotelli and Carlos Bacca since 1994-95.

The former Arsenal and Chelsea striker, who had missed four of Milan's previous five games, admitted it had been a long time coming to be back on the scoresheet.

"I've waited a long time for this moment. I missed the competition," Giroud, who last scored in the win over Cagliari in August, told DAZN.

"In the first half, we didn't do well but the reaction was important. I don't feel 100 per cent yet but I am growing and I feel more free.

"This victory is a joy. I can't wait to go and celebrate with my team-mates. In the first half, there was a lack of nastiness and quality. We could only do better in the second half, and that's what we did."

Pioli was left delighted with the endeavour shown by his side in the second half as they now prepare for a key Champions League group game with Porto on Tuesday.

"My team believe in what they do and put their soul into everything," he told DAZN.

"We tried to play from the back but they were very aggressive in the first half. They took away our space and often left us with just the long ball. We were not very dynamic and we suffered.

"The best thing about this group is to see everyone involved. The credit doesn't go to me, but it's the air we breathe. The boys put individuality aside to put themselves at the service of the team.

"We should enjoy this game but prepare for Porto. We've recovered some players and we've lost some. The more rotations there are, the better we can do." 

Arsenal spent almost £150million on new recruits during the last transfer window.

But the club are reportedly set to let Alexandre Lacazette go, leaving them short in experienced attacking options.

Manager Mikel Arteta is known as a meticulous planner and wants to be ready for Lacazette's departure.


TOP STORY – GUNNERS SET SIGHTS ON DCL AND WATKINS

Arsenal have Everton's Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Aston Villa's Ollie Watkins in their sights as they plan for Lacazette's exit, so say The Sun.

Lacazette is in the final year of his contract and the Gunners are unlikely to offer him a new deal, meaning he will depart either in January or at the end of the season as a free agent.

Arteta wants back-up to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and has the England forwards on the club's shortlist.

 

ROUND-UP

– Cash-strapped Barcelona have €16m to spend in the January transfer window according to Mundo Deportivo, with the publication also claiming Manchester City winger Raheem Sterling is among their top targets, potentially on loan given their financial challenges.

Robert Lewandowski appears to have had a change of heart and will renew his deal with Bayern Munich, reports Fichajes. The star striker had been linked with a move away from the Bundesliga champions.

– MilanNews.it reports that Milan are in negotiations with head coach Stefano Pioli about extending his contract following a bright start to the season.

– Man City are keeping an eye on Barcelona's 19-year-old midfielder Nico Gonzalez, according to Fichajes.

Milan head coach Stefano Pioli encouraged his players to "dream" of winning the Scudetto after equalling their best-ever start to a Serie A season thanks to a 3-2 win at Atalanta.

The Rossoneri held on to secure victory away to Atalanta and move into second place on 19 points after seven league fixtures, matching the record they set in the title-winning 2003-04 campaign.

Davide Calabria opened the scoring after less than 30 seconds – the third-fastest goal in Serie A for Milan since the 2004-05 season (since Opta started to collect this data), with only Rafael Leao (six seconds against Sassuolo) and Sulley Muntari (18 seconds against Juventus) netting faster.

Sandro Tonali and Leo were also on target for high-flying Milan as Pioli welcomed talk of a trophy challenge.

"We have to play to win every single game, we played with quality and energy," Pioli said, with Milan searching for their first Serie A crown since 2010-11.

"This test closes a positive period in which the team has always responded, even in Champions League defeats. It means we are growing.

"Is Tonali talking about the Scudetto? It's right that the guys ride this dream, at every game we have the chance to show that we can compete.

"It's a two-year journey, but now we must not be satisfied, but remaining humble and respecting our opponents. Tonight we did well what we missed in the first half hour against Liverpool, we were very dynamic."

Pioli also reserved special praise for former Atalanta midfielder Franck Kessie, who has featured regularly for Milan this term despite having just one year left on his contract.

It remains to be seen whether Kessie will remain at San Siro beyond 2021-22 amid links with the likes of Manchester United, Liverpool and Tottenham.

"[I] never had doubts about Franck's behaviour, the contract events exist but he played an amazing game," Pioli said. 

"[It was a] high level from everyone, but his, in particular, was an excellent race from a physical and technical point of view. He remains a regular member of this team, but like other members of the squad."

Milan will look to continue their title charge when they host Hellas Verona at San Siro on October 16 after the upcoming international break.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic will remain sidelined for Milan's trip to Atalanta on Sunday, but head coach Stefano Pioli says the ageless striker "could play forever".

The Sweden international has featured only once for Milan since undergoing knee surgery in June and was on the scoresheet in that 2-0 win over Lazio on September 12.

Either side of a two-year spell in MLS with LA Galaxy, Ibrahimovic has not played more than 19 games in a single league campaign in European football since 2016-17 in his first of two seasons with Manchester United.

Prior to his recent injury lay-off, though, he was a key player under Pioli as he registered 25 goals in 37 Serie A games between his second debut for the club on January 6, 2020 and the end of last season.

That is a tally bettered by just five players across that period – Duvan Zapata (27), Luis Muriel (30), Romelu Lukaku (35), Ciro Immobile (37) and Cristiano Ronaldo (50).

Of those, only Muriel (64.1) and Ronaldo (89.9) boast better minutes-per-goal records than Ibrahimovic (114.5).

And with Ibrahimovic turning 40 on the day of Milan's clash with Atalanta at Gewiss Stadium, Pioli does not believe retirement is in sight for the Swede, who has pulled out of his country's upcoming fixtures.

"I don't know how many years Zlatan can still play. But from what I see, his enthusiasm and his desire to train, I could also say that he could play forever," Pioli said at a news conference on Saturday previewing the Atalanta match.

"He may not be 100 per cent for many games but his passion for this sport is incredible. Zlatan does what he likes. If I could give him a gift, I would extend his career as much as possible.

"Zlatan is not available for the game, but he is feeling better and will use the two-week break to recover."

 

Milan have accrued 16 points from six matches this season and will equal their best start to a Serie A campaign in the three points per win era should they beat Atalanta.

The hosts held champions Inter to a 2-2 draw last week, but they have won just one of their five home league matches against Milan since Gian Piero Gasperini took charge in 2016-17.

Though Pioli is still expecting a tough test on Sunday in an early-season test of his side's Scudetto credentials.

"They are a strong team in every way, tactically, technically and physically. I expect a determined and complete Atalanta," Pioli said.

"I watched their game against Inter and it was spectacular. We have played many games of late but the same is true of our opponents. We will just try to play our best game."

Milan head coach Stefano Pioli was left frustrated that key decisions went against his side in their 2-1 Champions League defeat to Atletico Madrid.

The Rossoneri were deservedly ahead through Rafael Leao after 20 minutes at San Siro before Franck Kessie received a second yellow card for catching Marcos Llorente on the foot.

The home side survived until the 84th minute when substitute Antoine Griezmann swept home a fine first-time finish to level the scores on Tuesday.

Then, deep into injury time, referee Cuneyt Cakir awarded a penalty against Pierre Kalulu for handball, allowing Luis Suarez to net the 97th-minute winner.

"More than anger, there's disappointment. We were close to an important result," Pioli told Sky Sport Italia.

"At 11 versus 11, we played much better. It's a shame because a little more attention was needed for the first goal. The boys made an important effort and losing complicates qualification for us.

"We're still missing that piece that can make the difference. We're not missing much. We played great football for half an hour, [and] we suffered when outnumbered. It's a performance that must give us confidence."

He added on the Kessie red card: "Franck had already been booked. It didn't look like a second-yellow offence in the 30th minute of the first half. The referee was certainly not the best on the pitch tonight."

The result put Atleti two points behind group leaders Liverpool and four clear of Milan, who lost to Jurgen Klopp's side on matchday one.

Diego Simeone admitted Atletico had been second best until Kessie's dismissal changed the course of the contest.

"In the first 30 minutes, they put us under pressure and we didn't have the tools to get out," he told reporters.

"Then, they were left with a man down and the game changed from there. We managed to impose ourselves in the second half.

"We have great room for improvement. We need to find that consistency in creating play and doing the right actions."

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