Zlatan Ibrahimovic can make the difference for Milan in the Serie A title race after returning from injury, according to team-mate Brahim Diaz.

Ibrahimovic scored 10 goals in six league games to help the Rossoneri make a fast start to the 2020-21 season, but injuries have hampered him since late November.

Milan have continued to prosper without the talismanic striker, yet Diaz believes the Swede can now play a pivotal role - and not just on the pitch - after making his comeback on Saturday.

The 39-year-old came off the bench in the closing stages of a 2-0 win over Torino, Stefano Pioli's side bouncing back impressively after Juventus had put an end to their unbeaten record in midweek.

"Ibrahimovic is a player who makes the difference," Diaz said in an interview with Sky Sport Italia.

“He transfers his great experience to us. Now that he is back, we will do great things.

"He has a winning mentality and forces you to always give your best, he wants the best of ourselves every day."

Diaz made his eighth league start of the campaign against Torino, playing a pivotal role in helping his team claim three points.

The Spaniard set up Rafael Leao for the home side's opening goal, then won the penalty that allowed Franck Kessie to double the advantage before half-time.

The victory moved Milan four points clear at the summit and with nearest rivals Inter only able to draw on Sunday, hopes are high they can be crowned champions of Italy for the first time in a decade.

"We are Milan, this word is enough to understand that we always want to win, then we'll see," said Diaz, who is on loan from Real Madrid.

"We can dream. We are a very united group and we want to do great things together. The best is yet to come, we are all fine and also I feel great.

"I am happy for the penalty which I won, for the assist and for the three points against Torino. If we continue like this, little by little we will be able to do more and more."

Stefano Pioli had no doubt Milan would produce an instant response to their setback against Juventus, though he was again left counting the cost of injuries and suspension following the win over Torino. 

Serie A leaders Milan saw their unbeaten league start come to an end in a 3-1 reverse in midweek, a game that saw Davide Calabria have to deputise in midfield. 

However, the Rossoneri continued their title tilt with a 2-0 triumph over Torino thanks to first-half goals from Rafael Leao and Franck Kessie. 

"I must admit, I was not at all surprised by this performance," Pioli told DAZN. 

"I know these lads and expected them to give this kind of a response. The first half was excellent, particularly in terms of quality, and we inevitably came under pressure during the second half against a Torino side in good form."

However, Leao will miss Milan's next game through suspension due to an accumulation of yellow cards, while Sandro Tonali left the game on a stretcher and Brahim Diaz picked up a knock. 

"We don’t have any news yet, we'll have to see, they both got nasty knocks," Pioli added of the injured duo. 

"What does disappoint me is losing Leao for the next game, because I've never seen a player booked for simulation in midfield. I don't think that was in any way fair or a real understanding of the situation." 

There was some positive news as Zlatan Ibrahimovic made his comeback from a calf injury late off the bench having been expected to play no part. 

"We knew that if he passed the final test tomorrow in training, he'd be ready for a small portion of the game," Pioli said. 

"The muscular injury is behind him now, we will see what to do in the Coppa Italia. Zlatan is unique, we hope to have him in full shape as quickly as possible."

Milan bounced back from their midweek defeat to Juventus by overcoming Torino 2-0 at San Siro to take a four-point lead at the top of Serie A. 

Stefano Pioli's team suffered their first loss of the season last time out but produced a response worthy of champions, turning in an accomplished display on Saturday. 

With Zlatan Ibrahimovic making a return off the bench following his recovery from injury, Rafael Leao opened the scoring before Franck Kessie's penalty made it 2-0. 

Torino had a penalty of their own overturned in the second half but Andrea Belotti's poor header to end a rare attack summed up a disappointing performance, meaning their long wait for a league win at Milan goes on.

The hosts managed four attempts by the 17th minute and their dominance told when Theo Hernandez found Brahim Diaz, whose slick first-time pass played in Leao to dispatch a finish which the watching Ibrahimovic would have been proud of.

Torino's frustration was compounded seven minutes later when Diaz drew a hefty, last-ditch tackle from Belotti.

Referee Fabio Maresca pointed to the spot and despite checking with VAR, found no reason to change his decision. Kessie calmly sent Salvatore Sirigu the wrong way.

The crossbar prevented Ricardo Rodriguez pulling one back against his former club with a superb free-kick – Torino's first shot – while Sirigu made a brilliant stop to deny Kessie on the stroke of half-time.

Torino thought they had a lifeline when Simone Verdi went down under pressure from Sandro Tonali but, after initially giving the penalty, referee Maresca overturned his decision following a check. Tonali came off worse from the collision too, the former Brescia midfielder having to be taken off on a stretcher.

Belotti wasted his first sight of goal by heading tamely at Gianluigi Donnarumma, who pulled off a fantastic 90th-minute stop to keep out Jacopo Segre's deflected attempt to stem any danger of a late Torino comeback.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic could feature for Milan for the first time in seven weeks when the Serie A table toppers host Torino on Saturday.

The 39-year-old produced scintillating early season form, scoring 10 goals in six top-flight matches following a bout of coronavirus to establish Stefano Pioli's side as the pacesetters in the Scudetto race.

However, Ibrahimovic suffered a hamstring strain after netting a brace in a 3-1 win at Napoli on November 22, before a calf injury in training last month further delayed his return.

Pioli told reporters on Friday that he did not expect the former Sweden international to return but he was listed in a 24-man squad published on Milan's website on the day of the game.

The Rossoneri's lead at the Serie A summit is down to a point after they suffered a first league defeat of the season at home to Juventus in midweek, the reigning champions running out 3-1 winners as Federico Chiesa scored twice.

Milan's form without Ibrahimovic this season has held up very well, with a 70 per cent win ratio in the matches without him edging 66.7 per cent from four wins and two draws with him on the field in Serie A.

However, Pioli's men average slightly more goals (2.3 to 2.1), shots (17 to 15.6) and crosses (12.8 to 11.2) per 90 minutes with Ibrahimovic as their attacking spearhead.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been ruled out of the Serie A clash between Milan and Juventus on Wednesday.

The 39-year-old striker has been sidelined since being substituted in the 3-1 win at Napoli on November 22.

The former Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain star has missed seven league games for the Serie A leaders, although the Rossoneri have fared well in his absence, winning five and drawing two of those matches.

Stefano Pioli's side are alone in Europe's top five leagues in that they have not lost a top-flight match since the 2019-20 season was initially shut down from last March.

They head into the match with champions Juve at San Siro knowing a win would move them 13 points clear of the Bianconeri, who are fifth with a game in hand.

Ibrahimovic had offered hope he could be fit to face his former club after recent injury trouble, posting training footage to social media on Monday with the caption "Tick tock tick tock".

Head coach Pioli, though, says the player is not fully fit and admitted to scolding him for causing a stir two days before the game.

"I told him off because, after that footage, I was peppered with phone calls," Pioli told reporters.

"He is better and he's working well, but he won't be in the game tomorrow."

Rafael Leao has performed well in Ibrahimovic's absence, scoring in the 2-1 win at Sassuolo and the 2-0 victory at Benevento in the past two and a half weeks, becoming the second-youngest foreign player to reach 10 Serie A goals for the club, behind only Alexandre Pato.

Pioli believes the 21-year-old's development is a sign of the way Milan have improved in the past year. The Rossoneri have taken 37 points from their first 15 league matches this term, the first time they have done so in the history of the competition in the three-points-per-win era.

“He’s growing a lot, he has characteristics that we must try to enhance in the right way," said Pioli. "The important thing is to see the will to grow and improve on a daily basis.

"All matches are opportunities to prove our worth. We have to concentrate on the game and raise our level because they are strong opponents, with experience, and they have been winning for years.

"We're showing we can play for it and we'll therefore play to win. We have scored 17 points more than last year. This is the right path, but we can't speak of a decisive match after 15 rounds."

Zlatan Ibrahimovic's arrival at Milan last year "was a godsend" that helped transform the club, according to head coach Stefano Pioli.

The ex-Sweden international returned to San Siro for a second permanent spell with the Italian giants roughly a year ago, making his second debut as a substitute against Sampdoria on January 6.

He has been in sensational form since then, scoring 20 and assisting six goals in 24 Serie A matches in 2020, a tally bettered only by Ciro Immobile (34 goal involvements in 33 games) and Cristiano Ronaldo (38 in 29).

Ibrahimovic's haul includes a return of 10 goals in six league matches in the first half of this season, two of those strikes coming in Milan's 3-1 win over Napoli in November before he limped off with an injury that has kept him sidelined since.

That double saw him match Gunnar Nordahl for the second-most Serie A goals from the first eight games played of a season, behind only Marco van Basten (12 in 1992-93).

Ibrahimovic is also the oldest player to net at least 10 goals in the first eight Serie A matchdays, and Pioli has hailed the veteran striker's impact over the past 12 months.

"When he arrived, we knew it was a delicate moment, it was a godsend, it gave a shock and energy that the team did not have at that moment," Pioli said at a news conference previewing Sunday's trip to Benevento. 

"The January transfer market has given us a hand in the past. But let's think about the match against Benevento."

As well as struggling with niggling injuries, Ibrahimovic has also spent a spell on the sidelines this term with coronavirus.

Milan have fared well in the 39-year-old's absence, however, winning six and drawing two of the eight Serie A matches he has missed for a 75 per cent win rate, compared to 66.7 per cent across the six games he has started.

But while Pioli is unwilling to rush Ibrahimovic's return, he is understandably eager to get one of his key men back on the field.

"He can't wait to get back, but we need caution," he said. "I hope he can come back as soon as possible."

Another key performer for Serie A table-toppers Milan this season has been full-back Theo Hernandez, who has chipped in with three goals and an assist in his past three outings.

Hernandez was directly involved in 11 league goals – six scored and five assisted – in 2020 and also completed the most successful dribbles in the competition (57).

That includes a last-gasp winner against Lazio last time out, though Pioli can see the former Real Madrid man getting better with time.

"He has played for [Real] Madrid and has incredible potential," Pioli said. "With work, he is improving day by day, proving to be at a high level. 

"But he can still improve in both phases of the game."

Page 11 of 11
© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.