Olivier Giroud says Milan's squad are fully focused on the Serie A run-in as the Rossoneri aim to achieve "something unique" by winning a first Scudetto since 2011.

Milan came from behind to record a last-gasp 2-1 victory over Lazio in their last outing, and remain two points clear at the top of Serie A after title rivals Inter lost their game in hand at Bologna on Wednesday.

Stefano Pioli's team are unbeaten in 12 Serie A matches ahead of Sunday's meeting with Fiorentina (seven wins, five draws), but each of their last four fixtures of the campaign pits them against top-half opposition.

Giroud, whose only league title to date remains a shock Ligue 1 triumph with Montpellier in 2011-12, says the Rossoneri are relishing being involved in an absorbing fight for the Scudetto, and insists being crowned champions of Italy would represent a "unique" achievement for Pioli's men.

"We're heading towards the end of the season and it's only normal that there's more pressure," Giroud told the club's media channels. 

"But the group, the whole squad, is fully focused on the goal, which is to win the next game.

"Each and every player has to dream, think, eat and breathe to win the Scudetto, we're so close and everyone wants to win it, we can't hide from this fact.

"I hope this final run-in will be great for our fans, and I hope we will experience something unique, all together."

Giroud netted his ninth goal of the Serie A season in Milan's comeback win over Lazio, making this his best goalscoring league campaign since he scored 12 goals for Arsenal in the Premier League in 2016-17.

France's 2018 World Cup winner has also scored more goals against Lazio than he has against any other opponent for Milan (three in two appearances), and said the dramatic nature of their victory made it "even better".

"We showed great team spirit, we never gave up and always believed we could win the game," he added. 

"To win like this is even better, it's a great emotion in front of 10,000 Milan fans at the Stadio Olimpico. We played a good game and believed in the win until the end."

Milan are looking to secure the Serie A title off the back of a tremendous run of defensive form. Since the start of 2022 across the big five European leagues, only Liverpool (six) have conceded fewer than the eight goals shipped by Pioli's men in their 15 league matches.

Milan moved back to the top of Serie A as Sandro Tonali's stoppage-time goal sealed a deserved 2-1 victory over Lazio on Sunday.

Stefano Pioli's side had been usurped at the summit by local rivals Inter after their 3-1 win over Roma on Saturday, but victory at the Stadio Olimpico means the Rossoneri regained their two-point lead at the top.

Ciro Immobile had given Lazio an early lead with his 25th league goal of the season, but Olivier Giroud pulled the visitors level shortly after the interval.

Tonali then poked home two minutes into stoppage time to seal a dramatic three points and spark jubilant scenes among the travelling supporters. 

Didier Deschamps says those who jeered Jonathan Clauss on his full debut are not true supporters and their opinion therefore does not count.

Clauss was handed a first start for Les Blues in Tuesday's 5-0 friendly win against South Africa, four days after earning his maiden cap as a late substitute against Ivory Coast.

However, the occasion – and indeed France's emphatic victory – was somewhat overshadowed by the reaction Clauss received from a section of his country's own fans.

The 28-year-old was targeted at Stade Pierre-Mauroy, the home of club side Lens' fierce rivals Lille, and Deschamps has praised the full-back for the way he handled the boos.

"I wanted to make him as comfortable as possible, so I find it regrettable to say the least what happened," he said at his post-match news conference.

"It goes against what the France team is, but it didn't stop him from bouncing back. Those who foolishly protested with whistles, it was faded by what he was doing on the pitch."

Asked if the jeers call into question France's decision to stage friendlies away from the Stade de France, Deschamps said: "No, I don't think so.

"But the fact we're talking about it, even if it was only a few people, encourages them to do it. It must be a non-subject – there's no place for it in a stadium.

"There is a rivalry between clubs, which I understand, but here we are with the France team. 

"I ask them to do everything possible to unite the team. The other people are not supporters; they don't matter."

Clauss can be pleased with his display, having intercepted the ball more times than anyone (five), while only Adrien Rabiot won possession more often (14 compared to seven).

In an attacking sense, meanwhile, only Olivier Giroud (eight) and Kylian Mbappe (20) had more touches in the opposition box than the defender's five, level with Lucas Digne.

"He has a lot of dynamism and is able to defend," Deschamps added. "I told him not to play with the handbrake today."

Mbappe scored twice in France's routine victory and assisted Matteo Guendouzi's first international goal late on after Khuliso Mudau had been sent off for the visitors.

In doing so, Mbappe became the first player to net in five successive France matches since Karim Benzema did so between November 2013 and June 2014.

The Paris Saint-Germain striker is 25 goals short of Thierry Henry's record of 51 for France, but Deschamps insists his side are not a one-man team.

"It's not Kylian and the others, but Kylian with the others – that's important.

"His legs were on fire today. His ability to score and accelerate places him among the world's most outstanding players."

Wissam Ben Yedder was also on target for France, as was Olivier Giroud with his 48th international goal, moving him within touching distance of Henry's all-time record.

Giroud will be 36 by the time the 2022 World Cup comes around in November and Deschamps could not offer any guarantees over his long-term future in the squad.

"I've had discussions with him, as I have with many players," Deschamps said. "I don't know about the future and neither does he.

"But when he's here, he has the ability to score. His profile is well known – he's a support striker. He has this sense of the goal and is important for us even without scoring."

Kylian Mbappe says he is targeting Thierry Henry's France goalscoring record after scoring twice in Tuesday's 5-0 friendly thrashing of South Africa.

Mbappe was in fine form as the world champions dispatched the Bafana Bafana in Lille, bending home a superb opening goal on 23 minutes before winning and converting a 75th-minute penalty. 

With his first goal of the contest, Mbappe became the first player to net in five successive France matches (a total of nine goals) since Karim Benzema did so between November 2013 and June 2014 (he posted seven strikes).

The 23-year-old also added an assist during a fantastic display, teeing up Matteo Guendouzi for his first France goal at the death, meaning he also became the first player in the 21st century to record an assist in five consecutive games for Les Blues.

Speaking to TF1 in the immediate aftermath of France's dominant win, Mbappe, who remains 25 goals short of the Arsenal legend's tally of 51 international strikes after his double, predicted he will draw level with Henry sooner than anticipated.

"Of course [the record is a target]," Mbappe said. "Of course, I've always wanted to be the first everywhere, in the French national team [as well] as in the club. 

"There is still a long way to go. What Titi did, no one else has done. [But] I think I can get there much faster than you think."

The pacey forward, who has been the subject of intense transfer speculation ahead of the expiration of his PSG contract this summer, also became the second-highest goalscorer in PSG history earlier this month, surpassing Zlatan Ibrahimovic's 156 goals for the club in a Champions League defeat to Real Madrid.

On the international front, meanwhile, he is not the only striker within Didier Deschamps' setup with Henry's record in his sights. 

Olivier Giroud's first-half goal put Les Blues 2-0 up against South Africa, and the former Chelsea and Arsenal man is almost certain to beat Mbappe to the landmark, requiring just three more goals to draw level with Henry after his 48th France strike.

Kylian Mbappe's double helped France to a 5-0 win over South Africa in Lille, with Olivier Giroud, Wissam Ben Yedder and Matteo Guendouzi also netting during a dominant display from Didier Deschamps' team.

Mbappe bent home a stunning opener before Giroud doubled France's advantage after 33 minutes, with the Milan striker moving to within three goals of his country's all-time goalscoring record with his composed finish.

Paris Saint-Germain star Mbappe won and converted a 76th-minute penalty and Ben Yedder poked home a fourth with nine minutes remaining.

South Africa finished the game with ten men after Khuliso Mudau's late dismissal, with Guendouzi joining the scoring late on as the world champions recorded a seventh consecutive win.

Giroud met Lucas Digne's fifth-minute cross with a firm header to force a strong save from Ronwen Williams, before Mbappe miscued a right-footed finish from 12 yards out after being picked out by the full-back.

But the PSG striker opened the scoring in spectacular fashion on 23 minutes, retrieving Antoine Griezmann's cross before bending a stunning strike into the top-right corner from the edge of the area.

Les Blues needed just 10 more minutes to double their lead, with Griezmann again turning provider when he fed Giroud, who rounded Williams to roll home his 48th international goal. 

Williams made strong near-post saves from both Giroud and Mbappe as France continued to dominate after the break, before the impressive Digne crashed a fine volley against the upright on the hour.

Mbappe marked a starring performance with another goal with a quarter of an hour remaining, drawing a foul from Siyanda Xulu with a terrific burst into the penalty area before rolling the spot-kick into the bottom-right corner.

There was still time for Ben Yedder to add some gloss to the scoreline when he prodded over the line from Paul Pogba's header, before Mudau capped a terrible night for South Africa by seeing red for an awful challenge on Adrien Rabiot.

But Les Blues were not done yet, adding a fifth when Guendouzi bent home his first international goal after latching onto Mbappe's pass.

Aurelien Tchouameni experienced a "beautiful" moment in his career with his first France goal, but he is now keen to move onto his next objective. 

After establishing himself at Monaco in the 2020-21 season, Tchouameni has been producing consistently excellent displays in the heart of their midfield.

Since the start of 2021, he ranks third across all players in the top five European leagues in terms of possession won (387) and tackles won (83), while he is joint-second in terms of duels won (408).

Tchouameni was unsurprisingly drafted into the France set-up by Didier Deschamps last year, while the likes of Liverpool, Chelsea and Real Madrid have all been credited with an interest in the 22-year-old. 

He opened his senior international account in his eighth appearance with a last-gasp winner in a 2-1 success over Ivory Coast on Friday but was keen to keep his feet on the ground. 

"It's the fruit of my labour. I hope to remain calm. It's beautiful what's happening to me, but I have goals. Scoring my first goal was one, so now we move onto something else," Tchouameni told M6. 

"The team and the staff really help me show my personality on the pitch and that's what makes me feel great on the pitch. 

"In the first half, we attacked a lot and Ivory Coast had the opportunity to break through on the counter. We tightened the screws in the second half and I don't think we even conceded a single chance. 

"At the end we were rewarded, and that's good." 

Tchouameni's winner came after Olivier Giroud cancelled out Nicolas Pepe's opener in his first France appearance since Euro 2020. 

The goal will have boosted Giroud's chances of retaining his place in Didier Deschamps' squad ahead of the World Cup in Qatar later this year. 

"He did what he does with his club. He always has this quality of scoring, especially in the air. Of course, it made him happy," said Deschamps. 

"He returned to the group, which he knows well, and it was all the better for us. 

"When we have friendlies we must take advantage of them. There will be a second on Tuesday [against South Africa], so I will make changes to distribute the playing time to the maximum number of players." 

France have now won six straight games for the first time since 2016 and are undefeated in their past 19, scoring 43 goals during that run. 

Aurelien Tchouameni's first senior international goal secured France a last-gasp 2-1 friendly victory over Ivory Coast at the Stade Velodrome on Friday. 

Nicolas Pepe put the visitors ahead in Marseille, but Olivier Giroud marked his first Les Bleus cap since Euro 2020 with a rapid equaliser midway through the first half. 

The game looked destined to be heading for a draw with Kylian Mbappe remaining an unused substitute five years to the day since his international debut. 

However, Tchouameni – the Monaco midfielder linked with the likes of Chelsea and Liverpool – headed Matteo Guendouzi's corner home in the 93rd minute to complete the turnaround and give France the win. 

Olivier Giroud has revealed he and Didier Deschamps are set for talks about the striker's future with France.

A return to favour for Giroud this week came about after Real Madrid's Karim Benzema pulled out of the squad for friendlies against Ivory Coast and South Africa due to injury.

Veteran striker Giroud has impressed with Milan this season, but the 35-year-old's efforts had not been enough to initially persuade coach Deschamps he should be part of the current group. This late call-up shows the Qatar 2022 World Cup later this year may not be out of reach for Giroud.

With 11 goals, the former Chelsea and Arsenal frontman is the joint-leading scorer across all competitions for Serie A leaders Milan.

His last appearance for France was as a substitute in the 3-3 draw with Switzerland at Euro 2020 last June, which was followed by defeat on penalties and a dispiriting last-16 exit for the pre-tournament favourites. Subsequent exclusion from Deschamps' squads mean there has been plenty to chew over.

"It was not easy, but I digested it and I think it was seen in my performance with AC Milan," Giroud told French newspaper Le Parisien. "It is planned that we will discuss my situation with the coach during the get-together."

Giroud said the call from Deschamps on Saturday to confirm he would be called in "brought me a lot of joy". He sits just five goals behind Thierry Henry in France's all-time scoring charts after netting 46 times in 110 games, and the chance to add to each tally has arisen.

France host Ivory Coast in Marseille on Friday, before tackling South Africa in Lille next Tuesday.

"I feel ready to make my contribution to the France team in the role that the coach gives me," Giroud said. "One thing is for certain: my determination to bring something to Les Blues remains intact."

Deschamps, speaking at a news conference on Monday, spoke of the difficulty that can be associated with status as a footballer, particularly if that long-held status no longer applies.

Where Giroud was once a first-choice pick, that is not now the case.

As a player, Deschamps retired on a high at the age of 31, after captaining France to Euro 2000 glory, two years on from leading the team to the World Cup.

Giroud, a 2018 World Cup winner, is playing on later into life and wants to be clear that he expects no favours, nor barriers placed in his way, based on past achievements.

"It's not because I have a status that it should create privileges or restrictions," he said. "The important thing is to have players who are 200 per cent determined towards a goal."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

France head coach Didier Deschamps is focused on the present and not concerned by the future after calling up Olivier Giroud to replace Karim Benzema.

Giroud has not featured for Les Blues since their exit to Switzerland at Euro 2020 last June, but the 35-year-old has come back into contention after an injury to Benzema.

The Milan striker sits just five goals behind Thierry Henry in France's all-time scoring charts after netting 46 times in 110 games.

Though Giroud was omitted from Deschamps' recent squads, he now has a chance to impress in friendlies against Ivory Coast and South Africa.

Deschamps, speaking at Monday's news conference, was keen to turn the attention away from Giroud as he insisted the former Arsenal and Chelsea forward does not have to prove himself.

"The most important thing for me is to be consistent and fair in my speech with the players, whether it's Olivier or others," he told reporters.

"Olivier is going to join us, and he doesn't have to do more or less. He was part of this team that was successful, it was also without him, and he remains selectable, as I have always said. 

"But don't ask me about the future. Of course, his presence is linked to Karim's injury. But there is no particular attention around him, he is part of the group."

Asked whether Benzema and Giroud could feature together down the line, Deschamps added: "It's not a question of relationships, there's competition, too, but it goes further than that. 

"History shows it is always a great difficulty for a player who has a status that he deserved to have, to no longer have this status. 

"It is very difficult to live with, not to say impossible. But it's human and it's not specific to Olivier. It's more complex. I did not call him to tell him that he will have 30 per cent playing time and see how he reacts. 

"He can accept anything, it's only ten days, but again, I don't want to make a case apart, and there have been quite a few in this case. 

"A player who has status needs to have an important role. I am convinced of that."

Arsenal's William Saliba, who is currently on loan at Marseille, has also been handed a late call-up after Bayern Munich's Benjamin Pavard withdrew.

"We have been following him for a while, I talk a lot with Sylvain Ripoll [France's Under-21 coach], who has known since the weekend, just in case," Deschamps said of Saliba. 

"The schedule meant that William was playing last night [Sunday], so I waited until after the match to make his call-up official, but what he does in the Under-23s and for his club, in a system that is not identical but similar, is interesting. 

"He is a good defender, fast, who has a good heading game, and exudes a lot of calmness in his play."

Deschamps stressed that France's upcoming friendlies are important, while he was glad to not be in the position of Portugal and Italy, who will battle for World Cup qualification in the play-offs.

"I know that many players have had very important matches before and will have very important ones after," he added. "It will be full in Marseille, full in Lille, and it is our duty to be efficient. 

"You think that these two friendlies have little value, but I know very well that we have to win them, because otherwise, they will increase in importance. 

"And I prefer to be in my place than in the place of my Italian and Portuguese counterparts. I am happy to be among the 14 nations that have already qualified [for Qatar]!"

Olivier Giroud has been handed a recall by France and a chance to put himself firmly back in Didier Deschamps' World Cup plans.

The Milan striker has not featured in a match for France since Les Bleus exited Euro 2020 at the hands of Switzerland last June.

He has 46 goals for his country in 110 games, which puts him only five strikes behind Thierry Henry on the team's all-time list.

It appeared Giroud's international career might be over as coach Deschamps opted against calling him into recent squads.

However, a calf injury sustained by Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema, ruling him out of Sunday's game against Barcelona, has led to Giroud landing a summons to join up with France for the upcoming friendlies against Ivory Coast and South Africa.

The French Football Federation announced the news on its website, adding that the France staff wished Benzema "a swift recovery".

Deschamps spoke about Giroud after excluding him from a 23-player squad on Thursday, pointing to the 35-year-old's impressive form for Milan.

Giroud has helped Milan top Serie A, scoring eight goals in 20 games in the league, ahead of Saturday's trip to face Cagliari.

Assessing Giroud, Deschamps said: "It's going well for him at the moment. He's scoring important goals with Milan. I'm happy for him.

"I've got decisions to make. I know what Olivier is capable of doing with us. He remains available to France even if I haven't called him up for this get-together."

Now, though, Giroud comes into the picture once again, eight months out from the World Cup in Qatar.

France play Ivory Coast in Marseille on March 25, and South Africa in Lille four days later.

France boss Didier Deschamps insisted his decision to drop Kurt Zouma was "only a sporting choice" and not linked to an incident that saw the defender appear to attack a pet cat.

Zouma was called up for World Cup qualifiers against Kazakhstan and Finland in November but was notably absent when Deschamps named his latest squad on Thursday.

Animal welfare charity the RSPCA has begun the process of bringing a prosecution against the West Ham player and his brother Yoan after video footage emerged of the alleged attack on the cat in February.

Zouma has continued to be selected by West Ham boss David Moyes in spite of public outrage, although the 27-year-old has been fined "the maximum amount possible" – reported to be £250,000 – and has apologised.

Deschamps was asked about the reason for leaving Zouma out of his plans for friendlies against Ivory Coast and South Africa, and stressed he had not taken off-field factors into account.

"I don't know if it's a strong choice," he said of Zouma's omission. "I don't know, because I haven't called him up systematically.

"In November, he came because Raphael Varane was injured. This remains a sporting choice, only sporting, as with all the choices I make.

"I've had him on the telephone and spoken with him about this affair, but I'm not going to go back over that. I've spoken about it. It remains solely a sporting choice."

Zouma started four games for France in 2021 but was often not actively involved, as Deschamps indicated.

There was also no room in France's latest 23-player group for Olivier Giroud, despite the veteran striker helping Milan lead the way in the Serie A title race.

Giroud has not featured for France since Les Bleus exited Euro 2020 at the hands of Switzerland last June.

Deschamps said: "It's going well for him at the moment. He's scoring important goals with Milan. I'm happy for him.

"I've got decisions to make. I know what Olivier is capable of doing with us. He remains available to France even if I haven't called him up for this get-together."

The head coach handed first call-ups to RB Leipzig forward Christopher Nkunku and Lens defender Jonathan Clauss, saying he had been impressed with their club performances and adding: "I think now is the right time to have a look at them."

France play Ivory Coast in Marseille on March 25, and South Africa in Lille four days later.

France squad: Areola (West Ham), Lloris (Tottenham), Maignan (Milan); Clauss (Lens), Digne (Aston Villa), L Hernandez (Bayern Munich), T Hernandez (Milan), Kimpembe (Paris Saint-Germain), Kounde (Sevilla), Pavard (Bayern Munich), Varane (Manchester United); Guendouzi (Marseille), Kante (Chelsea), Pogba (Manchester United), Rabiot (Juventus), Tchouameni (Monaco); Ben Yedder (Monaco), Benzema (Real Madrid), Coman (Bayern Munich), Diaby (Bayer Leverkusen), Griezmann (Atletico Madrid), Mbappe (Paris Saint-Germain), Nkunku (RB Leipzig).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Olivier Giroud provided the decisive touch as Milan claimed a potentially vital victory in the Serie A title race, beating fellow Scudetto hopefuls Napoli 1-0 at Stadio Diego Armando Maradona.

Milan's record in Naples is dreadful, having gone into Sunday's clash with one win in their most recent 14 visits, but the rare success here put them back to the top of the table.

Both teams had penalty shouts controversially turned down inside the opening 15 minutes, though otherwise there were few major flashpoints in an even first half.

Proceedings opened up following Giroud's 49th-minute poacher's effort, yet Milan held firm to leave with a valuable win that puts them three points clear of Napoli and two ahead of Inter.

A ferocious start saw Amir Rrahmani blaze over from inside the box for the hosts and Milan's Ismael Bennacer have a penalty claim ignored after being nudged over by Kalidou Koulibaly inside the first five minutes.

Napoli then thought they were unfairly denied a spot-kick soon after, with Victor Osimhen seemingly tripped from behind by Fikayo Tomori in the box.

A closely contested first half finished goalless and the breakthrough arrived soon after the restart, Giroud instinctively turning in Davide Calabria's wayward shot.

Napoli substitute Adam Ounas almost levelled with 15 minutes to go when his curling left-footed effort went agonisingly wide.

Osimhen tested Mike Maignan from a tight angle following a surging run, and that proved to be the final chance for the hosts, who were fortunate not to concede again in stoppage time when Alexis Saelemaekers wasted a glorious opportunity.

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