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."

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has vowed he will not call quits on his career until he has "won something with this Milan side".

The Sweden international celebrated Scudetto success in 2011 with Milan and lifted the Supercoppa Italiana the following season, but Stefano Pioli's side are yet to lift a trophy since the striker returned in 2019.

The Rossoneri sit second in Serie A this campaign, having been displaced by Napoli – who required a last-gasp winner to defeat Lazio on Sunday – following a disappointing 1-1 draw at home to strugglers Udinese.

Pioli's team are also still in contention for the Coppa Italia as they face neighbours Inter across a two-legged semi-final tie, the first leg of which comes on Tuesday.

Ibrahimovic, who has been sidelined with an Achilles injury sustained against Juventus on January 23, insists he will not retire until he has won something with the current Milan outfit.

"My future is football, my world is football," Ibrahimovic told reporters.

"I am disappointed that I am not able to play at the moment, this really pains me, especially when the team is doing well. 

"I want to be there and help the team. We've done great things since I arrived, and now we are only missing one element: a trophy.

"We are fighting to achieve this, I won't quit until I have won something with this Milan side."

Ibrahimovic penned a one-year extension at Milan last April to keep him at the club until the end of the season.

The 40-year-old has not featured in over a month but 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.

Milan, without Ibrahimovic, will look to get back to winning ways in the league when they visit fellow title contenders Napoli on Sunday after their Coppa Italia clash with Inter.

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."

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."

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."

 

As Serie A returns this weekend, the standout fixture is the Milan derby. And this isn't just any Milan derby.

Champions Inter are setting the pace, with 16 wins and just one defeat in 22 games. They are the top scorers in the division, with 53; they have the most points, with 53. The league's second-best goalscorers are their city rivals, who are only four points behind, albeit having played a game more.

With Juventus having slipped from their perch, Milan and Inter have become Italy's trendsetters once more. They are the leading exponents of Serie A's modern trend: that of shunning catenaccio in favour of front-foot, attacking football. And, with all due respect to second-place Napoli, they are undoubtedly the favourites to occupy the top two places come the end of the season.

All this means Saturday's clash at San Siro should be one to savour...

 

'BORING, BORING SERIE A...'

Matchday 21 of Serie A saw 39 goals scored across only 10 matches. In Europe's top five leagues in 2021-22, only matchday 14 of the Bundesliga (41 goals) and matchday nine of the Premier League (40) produced more goals across a set of fixtures.

That was no aberration, either. Of the 10 highest-scoring matchdays in Europe's big five leagues this term, five have come from Italy. Indeed, Serie A has been averaging over three goals a game for the past three seasons, a rate last seen 70 years ago.

It follows that the two teams best embracing that trend are competing for the Scudetto. Not only have Inter (53) and Milan (47) scored the most Serie A goals in 2021-22, but they have embraced a style that lends itself to creating as many opportunities as possible.

Milan (eight) and Inter (seven) are the teams with the most goals after an open-play sequence of 10 or more passes. When it comes to open-play shots, the Nerazzurri are second (274) and the Rossoneri fourth (265) in the division.

Interestingly, while Inter are top for expected goals (excluding penalties) with 40.9, Milan are down in eighth on 31.3. That means Stefano Pioli's men are outperforming their non-penalty xG total by almost 11 goals (when own goals are included), a tally bettered only by Lazio (16.6). There's a ruthlessness about them this season that's keeping them on Inter's coattails.

 

RELEASE THE HAKAN

Speaking of ruthless... boy, would Zlatan love to be involved in this.

A Scudetto winner with each club, Zlatan Ibrahimovic has great history in this fixture, with eight goals in league derbies (six for Milan and two for Inter). In the history of the fixture, only Giuseppe Meazza (12), Gunnar Nordahl (11) and Stefano Nyers (11) have scored more.

The 40-year-old scored twice in Milan's 2-1 derby victory in October 2020, the only one of the past 11 in the league in which the Rossoneri have come out on top. Unfortunately for them, injury has denied Ibrahimovic the chance of dealing further damage to his old employers.

Instead, the sub-plot burden falls on Hakan Calhanoglu, who made an acrimonious free transfer to Inter from Milan at the end of last season. His 32 goals and 42 assists in 174 appearances for Milan – he was top of the charts for both in his time at the club – made his move particularly painful to bear for supporters.

It was Calhanoglu who scored Inter's goal in the 1-1 draw in the reverse fixture this season, meaning Milan could become the third side, after Chievo and Fiorentina, against whom the Turkey star has scored in his first two Serie A meetings.

Among Serie A midfielders this season, only Antonio Candreva (59) has created more chances than Calhanoglu (50), while his 13 direct goal involvements are second only to Sergej Milinkovic-Savic (15). Not that Milan needed any reminders about his threat.

 

DERBY DAZE

Inter have won more games (67) and scored more goals (247) against Milan than any other team in Serie A history. They are also enjoying a run of six wins and only one defeat in the past 11 derbies, in which time their rivals have kept just a single clean sheet.

Since that loss to Milan in October 2020, Simone Inzaghi's side have gone 28 home league matches without defeat. This is their longest such run in the competition since a 46-match streak between April 2008 and November 2010, which was ended by a defeat in the derby courtesy of a goal from, yep, Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Form, as well as recent history, is on Inter's side. Since the beginning of last season, they have lost only four of 60 Serie A matches – fewer than half the number of any other team (Atalanta are next best, with nine). In a league table of that time frame, Inter would sit top on 144 points, 16 clear of Milan in second.

 

HALF-MEASURES

Each of these teams is averaging more than two goals per game this season, they have both scored in 21 different league matches and they have each won by two goals on six different occasions. Again, it's safe to expect some attacking football.

If you want specifics, we would suggest not going anywhere midway through the first half. The average times at which Inter and Milan have scored and conceded the first goal in a game this season are between the 27th and 38th minutes. Best wait until the break before grabbing that espresso.

Olivier Giroud is enjoying his "healthy competition" with Zlatan Ibrahimovic and says his Milan team-mate is pushing him to become a better player.

Ibrahimovic has made a big impact in his second spell with Milan since returning to the club in January 2020, scoring 36 goals in 66 appearances in all competitions.

That includes a return of 33 goals in 52 Serie A outings, which is the eighth-most of any player in the division over that period.

He has been restricted to just 12 starts in all competitions this campaign, but he has again proved his worth by finding the net eight times.

With his strike against Udinese in December, Ibrahimovic joined Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in scoring 300 career league goals across Europe's top five divisions.

Amid reports in Italy that Milan are prepared to offer him another contract until the end of next season, Giroud is grateful he has the chance to learn from the 40-year-old.

"Playing with him is something I see as a challenge, something that pushes me every day," Giroud told the Colinterview - Oh my Goal YouTube channel. 

"It's an opportunity to have him as my partner, to learn something more. 

"He's an example for many strikers and when I was young I loved him, both on the pitch and for his strong character, and for the fact that he's demanding every day. 

"It's a healthy competition between us."

 

Giroud has made a steady enough start to life at San Siro after joining from Chelsea last July with six goals and one assist in his first 20 appearances, 11 of those being starts.

Those six goals have come at a rate of 0.46 per 90 minutes, a tally bettered only by Ibrahimovic (0.67) among Milan players.

The former Chelsea striker has spent various spells on the sidelines through injury and illness but now feels ready to start contributing more as Milan target a Scudetto success.

"I had some unusual physical problems. I got COVID in September after what was a good start, and then I had back problems," he said. 

"I forced it too hard and got hurt after testing negative. I was in the squad for Liverpool, played and got hurt. The pain lasted six weeks and I didn't play for a while. 

"After that, I had ankle and ischium problems for a month. In the meantime, I did everything to keep fit, I took all preventive measures.

"But now I feel very good and have the possibility to play without pain. That is a luxury when you are a professional player and above all, when you're 35."

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."

Milan lost further ground to Inter in the Serie A title race after they were held to an insipid 0-0 draw by Juventus at San Siro.

Stefano Pioli's side suffered a damaging 2-1 home defeat to Spezia on Monday and a return to winning ways never looked likely against an unambitious Bianconeri outfit, who failed to register a single shot on target.

The hosts' woes were compounded when Zlatan Ibrahimovic hobbled off in the first half, with neither set of players stepping up after that to prevent Milan and Juve drawing both their games in a single Serie A campaign for the first time since the 1991-92 season.

The stalemate meant Milan ended the weekend in third place, four points adrift of leaders Inter having played a game more, while Juve remained in fifth.

Milan did most of the pressing in the early stages, with their best effort coming in the 20th minute when Wojciech Szczesny got down well to paw away Rafael Leao's strike from the edge of the penalty area.

They suffered a blow shortly after the midway point in the first half when Ibrahimovic sustained an injury and was replaced by Olivier Giroud, the France international largely toiling in attack before the interval.

The former Chelsea striker saw a header kept out by Szczesny in the 70th minute – one of very few chances in a miserable second half. 

Juve appeared content to settle for a point for much of the match, with Massimiliano Allegri stretching his unbeaten run against Pioli as a coach in Serie A to a whopping 16 games - with 11 wins and five draws.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has revealed he urged Kylian Mbappe to leave his comfort zone and join Real Madrid after being approached for advice by the Paris Saint-Germain forward. 

Mbappe was the subject of two big-money bids from Madrid in the last transfer window and recently revealed he asked PSG to grant him a move away.

The France international is out of contract at the end of the season and continues to be linked with a free transfer to the Santiago Bernabeu.

He has spent five seasons with PSG, the first of those on an initial loan from fellow Ligue 1 side Monaco, whom he represented for two campaigns.

More than six years after bursting onto the scene, former PSG striker Ibrahimovic believes it is time for Mbappe to test himself in a new league.

"Only Kylian can answer you about where he has to go. It depends on what he wants, what he thinks," Ibrahimovic told L'Equipe.

"Me, I would have gone. But if I am PSG, I would try to keep him. It's him who will decide. PSG want to keep him, obviously, but does he want to stay?

"I also think that there are other clubs that want him: if you are a manager, and you have the means and you do not want to take Mbappe, you are in the wrong business. 

"He asked me [for advice], yes, and I told him: 'If I were you, I would go to Real'.

"I had the chance to play in different teams, different countries, with different champions, and that's how I learned and grew. 

"Playing at home all your career is easier, in my opinion. Whereas if you pack your bags and go to other places, it's an adventure."

Ibrahimovic himself spent four seasons with PSG and scored 156 goals, a tally bettered only by Edinson Cavani (200) in the club's list of all-time goalscorers.

Mbappe is fast closing in on Ibrahimovic in that regard as he has 151 goals in 198 appearances for the Parisians in all competitions since his debut in September 2017.

That is the fourth-most of any player from Europe's top five leagues across that period, behind Cristiano Ronaldo (158), Lionel Messi (168) and Robert Lewandowski (212).

 

While Mbappe is a guaranteed starter for PSG when available, goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma has struggled to hold down a place in the side since joining from Milan.

Donnarumma played a key part in Italy's Euro 2020 triumph and impressed across six years at San Siro, but he has had to share goalkeeping duties with Keylor Navas this term.

That has come as a shock to Milan striker Ibrahimovic, who spent two and a half years playing in the same side as the Italian stopper.

"I am very surprised. But I know it's not easy for the coach, and I know Navas is a great goalkeeper too," he said.

"They have two phenomena in goal. In my world, Donnarumma is the number one today.

"I don't know if it's good to alternate goalkeepers, or if it's more of a favour you do to one of them. I'm used to having a goalkeeper who is number one and is always the same. 

"And about Donnarumma there is no question: he is the best in the world, and that's that. I played with him, I know what I'm talking about."

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."

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."

Theo Hernandez and Rafael Leao played crucial roles as Milan comfortably beat 10-man Venezia 3-0 on Sunday to return to the summit of Serie A.

Stefano Pioli's men never looked in danger of dropping points at Stadio Pierluigi Penzo and were good value for a third straight Serie A victory.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic – teed up by Leao – got the ball rolling inside two minutes as he equalled Cristiano Ronaldo's record of scoring against 80 different teams in Europe's top five leagues this century.

Leao released Hernandez to make it 2-0 early in the second half, with the French defender wrapping the win up soon after with a penalty – which resulted in Michael Svoboda's dismissal – for his third goal of the season against Venezia.

Milan swiftly took charge as the lively Leao raced into the left side of the box and played the ball right across the face of goal for Ibrahimovic to tap in.

Further chances arrived for Milan, with Leao, Hernandez and Alessandro Florenzi forcing Sergio Romero into saves, though there was little the Venezia goalkeeper could do when it came to the visitors scoring their second.

Leao was involved again, feeding Hernandez's run in behind the defence and the left-back smashed past the helpless Romero.

Hernandez put the game beyond Venezia just before the hour, expertly picking out the top-right corner from 12 yards after Michael Svoboda handled – seemingly accidentally – on the line, earning himself a red card.

It sealed a routine win for Milan, with Pioli marking his 400th Serie A match as a coach in style. He is the eighth manager to reach the milestone in the competition.

 

What does it mean? Milan keep pressure on Inter

This was very much a case of Milan getting the job done with minimal fuss – they were very comfortable throughout and impressed despite being without numerous important players.

As such, they open up a two-point lead at the top of the table. Of course, Inter – who face Lazio later on Sunday – have two games in hand, but there is no denying Milan's position is a nice one to be in.

There is no guarantee Inter will win their two bonus games. Even if they do, a four-point deficit is by no means impossible to claw back.

Hernandez leads from the back

Several Milan players impressed but Hernandez was the standout. He got forward so often from left-back that his five shots ended up being more than anyone else – similarly, his expected goals (1.86), shots on target and big chances (both three) were highs for the match, while only Leao (seven) and Ibrahimovic (six) had more than Hernandez's four touches in the box.

Add to that his two key passes (bettered by just Leao), and it shows him in a very good light indeed.

A difficult day for Svoboda

It was a strange game for Svoboda. One moment he would show great composure, cleverly spinning away from Ibrahimovic, but then the next he would do something clumsy.

While the red card may have been slightly harsh, as the ball seemed to hit his thigh first, it was his error – passing the ball to Ibrahimovic on the edge of the box – that led to the situation anyway.

What's next?

Milan are in Coppa Italia action on Wednesday as they host Genoa, before then welcoming Spezia to San Siro in Serie A four days later. Venezia continue their fight against relegation in a week's time at home to Empoli after visiting Atalanta in the cup in midweek.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has matched a European top-five league 21st-century record, set by Cristiano Ronaldo last month, after scoring for Milan against Venezia.

The veteran forward tucked in from close range inside two minutes at Stadio Pierluigi Penzo on Sunday, bringing up his eighth Serie A goal of the season and his first of 2022.

It means Ibrahimovic has now found the net against 80 different clubs across Europe's big five leagues (Premier League, Bundesliga, Serie A, LaLiga and Ligue 1).

Since 2000, the only other player to have achieved that feat is Ronaldo, who reached the milestone with a goal in Manchester United's 3-1 win over Burnley at Old Trafford on December 30.

Ibrahimovic has now also scored in every calendar year since 1999, when he made his debut for Malmo in Sweden.

Veteran striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic will miss Milan's Serie A game with Empoli on Wednesday due to a knee injury.

Milan head coach Stefano Pioli confirmed the 40-year-old Swedish forward's absence along with Rafael Leao leaving him short of attacking options.

Ibrahimovic has netted seven league goals this term for Milan, who have only managed one point from their past two games, slipping four points behind leaders Inter in the league

"[Leao] won’t be there tomorrow, he’ll be back against Roma. Ibrahimovic won’t be there tomorrow because of an overload on his knee," Pioli told reporters.

Pioli was more positive about captain Alessio Romagnoli's prospects of playing, along with Theo Hernandez after illness amid an injury crisis at the club, without Simon Kjaer, Davide Calabria, Ante Rebic and Pietro Pellegri also out.

"Theo has become more complete, now he does the defensive phase better too," Pioli said.

"He gives us a lot on the attacking side. He’s better, I hope he’ll be in top condition tomorrow."

Pioli added that he paid little attention to the criticism levelled at his side lately, following Sunday's 1-0 home loss to Napoli who leapfrogged them into second spot.

"I read little, but some things are useful to improve," he said. "Against Napoli, Milan played a good match.

"We make mistakes that are not allowing us to get results, clearly we need to do something more. We need more quality."

Pioli added: "When results don’t come it’s right to be less calm, but also more determined.

"We have to think about tomorrow’s game, we want to get back on track after a home defeat. We wanted to score more points in the first half of the season than we did last year. It won’t be possible, but we want the three points tomorrow."

Milan have 39 points after 18 games, but have only collected eight points from their past seven league games.

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