Olivier Giroud has questioned why Didier Deschamps did not give France's senior players any advance notice of Karim Benzema's return from international exile.

Real Madrid striker Benzema was named in France's Euro 2020 squad in May following an absence of nearly six years.

He had been frozen out by head coach Deschamps since 2015 after becoming embroiled in a blackmail scandal involving international team-mate Mathieu Valbuena. Benzema has strenuously denied he was complicit in attempted blackmail.

Looking to bolster his attacking options, Deschamps decided the time was right to bring back Benzema ahead of the European Championship, but Giroud believes the move proved unsettling to France's established way of playing.

Giroud has not featured for France since their last-16 elimination at Euro 2020, when the World Cup winners bowed out on penalties to Switzerland, and it remains to be seen whether the 35-year-old's international career is over.

Addressing Benzema's surprise return, Giroud told L'Equipe: "[It] created a tactical imbalance at the team level and in the way we play. I say this frankly, and without anything against Karim.

"The France team was able to overcome this problem of tactical adaptation much later. We have seen this, especially with the Nations League [which France won in October].

"But it took a long time. Karim quickly changed our way of playing which had been well established with certain offensive profiles for five years.

"The mix didn't work overnight, especially before a competition like the Euros."

Commenting on Deschamps' decision to seemingly spring the selection on the rest of the players, Giroud said: "It was the will of the coach to proceed like that.

"He preferred that it not be heard. I can understand it. Now who am I in his eyes for him to call me first? He is the sole decision-maker.

"But I would have appreciated being warned, that he warned certain senior figures."

Giroud is second on the list of France's all-time leading scorers, netting 46 goals, of which 45 have come during Deschamps' nine years at the helm.

Only Thierry Henry (51) has more goals for France than the former Chelsea and Arsenal forward, who is now at Milan.

He was absent from the squad that won the Nations League, when Benzema and Kylian Mbappe scored in the final against Spain.

"It was a weird feeling, even though I was happy for the guys in front of my TV," Giroud said. "It's hard not to experience that with this squad that I have known for a long time, and with whom I have shared so many beautiful things. Like any sensitive person, I had a twinge in my heart."

Didier Deschamps has told his France players to end their year of mixed fortunes on a high note as the World Cup holders attempt to seal their Qatar 2022 place.

A dismal Euro 2020 effort, where pre-tournaments favourites France were knocked out in round two by Switzerland, was followed in October by Les Bleus winning the Nations League.

Now they can make sure of a return to the biggest stage as the final internationals of the year loom. France have a home game against Kazakhstan on November 13 and go away to Finland three days later. If they beat Kazakhstan, their place in next year's finals will be secure.

Deschamps wants that put to bed as soon as possible, saying: "You know what happened this summer, with our early elimination at the Euros. That didn't stop us from doing good things with the joy of winning the Nations League.

"If you add in the qualifiers, that made it three goals for us in the same year, which is rare.

"Let's make sure we get two out of three to have the peace of mind to go into next year, which will be a special year with the World Cup in November."

There were no great surprises in Deschamps' 23-player squad, which was revealed on Thursday, with veteran striker Olivier Giroud not yet back in favour. The 35-year-old striker, who sits second on France's all-time list of leading scorers, last featured in the penalty shoot-out defeat to the Swiss in Bucharest back in June.

 

Deschamps said Giroud, who is building up his fitness at Milan, is "doing some interesting things" when he plays with the Rossoneri. He started against Porto in the Champions League on Wednesday evening.

"He is not there, but he is one of the serious candidates," Deschamps said. "I can only encourage him to keep doing what he does very well."

West Ham defender Kurt Zouma earns a recall after impressing since leaving Chelsea for their London rivals, and he was joined by Hammers goalkeeper Alphonse Areola, who is on loan from Paris Saint-Germain and has yet to feature in the Premier League this season. He comes in for the injured Mike Maignan.

Manchester United's Anthony Martial and Raphael Varane miss out, with the former coming back from injury and the latter newly sidelined with a hamstring problem.

 

France squad: Alphonse Areola (West Ham, on loan from Paris Saint-Germain), Benoit Costil (Bordeaux), Hugo Lloris (Tottenham); Lucas Digne (Everton), Leo Dubois (Lyon), Lucas Hernandez (Bayern Munich), Theo Hernandez (Milan), Presnel Kimpembe (Paris Saint-Germain), Jules Kounde (Sevilla), Benjamin Pavard (Bayern Munich), Dayot Upamecano (Bayern Munich), Kurt Zouma (West Ham); Matteo Guendouzi (Marseille, on loan from Arsenal), N'Golo Kante (Chelsea), Paul Pogba (Manchester United), Adrien Rabiot (Juventus), Aurelien Tchouameni (Monaco); Wissam Ben Yedder (Monaco), Karim Benzema (Real Madrid), Kingsley Coman (Bayern Munich), Moussa Diaby (Bayer Leverkusen), Antoine Griezmann (Atletico Madrid), Kylian Mbappe (Paris Saint-Germain).

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."

Atletico Madrid are hoping to recover from losing to Liverpool on matchday three with a repeat of their Anfield heroics last March.

Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City will look to take bigger steps towards the last 16, while Real Madrid will go in search of another big win against Shakhtar Donetsk.

Inter can put themselves in a good position to progress, too, although city rivals Milan have got much more of a fight on their hands.

Here are some of the key Opta facts for Wednesday's Champions League matches...

 

Liverpool v Atletico Madrid: Can Suarez improve rotten recent record?

Atletico were winners at Anfield on their last visit as they claimed a 3-2 victory in the last-16 second leg in March 2020. Indeed, Liverpool have only twice beaten Spanish teams at home in 13 attempts in the European Cup and Champions League.

That said, the Marcos Llorente-inspired game last year was one of only two out of 22 at home that Jurgen Klopp has lost in this competition as Reds manager, while Diego Simeone is chasing what would only be the second instance of a third successive away win in the tournament with Atleti.

Luis Suarez will hope to haunt his old side, although recent history is against him: he's only scored one for Atleti in nine Champions League games, and none from open play. Mohamed Salah, meanwhile, needs one more goal to equal Steven Gerrard as Liverpool's top scorer in the competition at Anfield (14).

Manchester City v Club Brugge: Bad omens for Belgian champions

City's 5-1 triumph in Bruges on matchday three took their tally to six wins in seven European games against Belgian opposition, while Brugge are now without a victory over English teams in 13 attempts dating back to February 1995.

Since Pep Guardiola took charge, City have won 80 per cent (20 out of 25) of home Champions League matches, which is the best record for a coach at a single club in the competition among those to take charge of 20 or more. A first win on English soil for Brugge looks unlikely.

Might this be a chance for Raheem Sterling to impress? The England forward has been directly involved in 24 goals in 27 home Champions League games for City, a tally surpassed only by Sergio Aguero (27).

 

RB Leipzig v Paris Saint-Germain: Nkunku could outshine Messi

PSG have only lost one of their past nine away games in the group stage, but that defeat was against RB Leipzig last season. It was the only time in the previous seven meetings with French sides that Leipzig emerged victorious.

He might be enduring a difficult time in Ligue 1, but Lionel Messi has managed three goals in three games in Europe for PSG. His double in the reverse fixture was his 34th in the competition, something only Cristiano Ronaldo (37) can better.

However, perhaps the most in-form player in 2021-22 is Leipzig's Christopher Nkunku, who has been involved in the most open-play sequences ending in a goal (six) among Champions League midfielders this season. And he has four goals of his own from the first three matches.

Real Madrid v Shakhtar Donetsk: Another big win on the cards with Benzema

Madrid's 5-0 win over Shakhtar on matchday three means the past five meetings between these teams have seen an average of 4.6 goals scored per game. In fact, Los Blancos have scored 15 times in five Champions League matches against Shakhtar: that average of three per game is their best figure against a side they have faced on at least five occasions, apart from Galatasaray (3.4 per game).

Shakhtar are one of just three sides yet to score in this season's group stage, but with Madrid having lost three of their previous eight home games in the competition, this could be a good opportunity.

They will need to stop Karim Benzema and Vinicius Junior, though: they are the two players with the most involvements in shot-ending sequences in 2021-22 (31 and 34, respectively). Plus, Benzema is on a run of 10 goals in 10 home games in the competition.

 

Sheriff v Inter: Nothing shot-shy about Inzaghi's men

Inter ended Sheriff's 11-game unbeaten run in Europe last time out and will now look to secure consecutive Champions League victories for the first time since October 2018.

The Nerazzurri have lost just once in their previous five Champions League away matches, but Sheriff are unbeaten in their most recent five European games on home soil, excluding qualifiers. They've also won the past two.

Inter certainly have the variety to break down Sheriff's stubborn defence. Each of their previous 17 away goals in the competition have come from open play, while their 29 shots in the meeting on matchday three were the most by an Italian side in a Champions League game since at least 2003-04.

Other fixtures:

Borussia Dortmund v Ajax

45 – Ajax's 4-0 win over Dortmund last time out was the biggest victory by a Dutch side over a German team in Europe since November 1976, when Feyenoord defeated Kaiserslautern 5-0 in the UEFA Cup.

8 – Sebastien Haller has been directly involved in more Champions League goals this season than any other player (eight – six goals, two assists). Among debutants in the competition since 2003-04, this is the highest such figure over a player's first four appearances and one more than Erling Haaland managed.

Milan v Porto

3 – Milan are one of just four sides this season to have lost all three group games. They are on a five-game losing run in the competition, the worst such streak in their history.

1 – Since scoring four for Chelsea against Sevilla in December 2020, Olivier Giroud has scored only once in 250 minutes of play in the Champions League.

Sporting CP v Besiktas

5 – Paulinho has been directly involved in three of Sporting's five goals (two scored, one assisted) in this season's Champions League. Their last player to manage more goals and assists combined in a single season was Nani in 2014-15 (six).

10 – Michy Batshuayi has attempted 10 shots for Besiktas in the Champions League in 2021-22 without scoring. Over the first three matchdays, only Inter's Lautaro Martinez (12) had more shots without finding the net.

Olivier Giroud acknowledged Milan's display in Tuesday's 1-0 win over Torino was by no means impressive but applauded the team for still managing to get the job done.

Giroud got the only goal of the game in the 14th minute, tapping in from close range after Rade Krunic flicked on a corner.

Precious few clear-cut opportunities came for Milan thereafter – their 1.1 expected goals (xG) value was better than Torino's (0.6), but 0.8 of the Rossoneri's total was attributed to Giroud's goal, highlighting the dearth of quality chances after the breakthrough.

Torino came on strong in the latter stages, with Tonny Sanabria forcing a save from Ciprian Tatarusanu and Dennis Praet having a deflected effort hit the crossbar.

It was hardly an emphatic performance from Milan, who had great trouble in their 4-2 weekend win at Bologna as well, but it moved them to the top of the table at least until Thursday and also ensured they reached the 10-match mark with nine victories for only the second time ever (also 1954-55).

And Giroud feels Milan can cut themselves some slack as long as they get results.

"We play every three days, and that's just not easy on the body," Giroud told DAZN. "Not everything was perfect, but we won and that's the most important thing.

"We played a good game, I think. Torino are a strong, physical team. They're aggressive in tackles and there were plenty of challenges with Bremer, who's a great defender.

"I'm really happy because we started well and Torino didn't really create lots of scoring opportunities. That shows we were really solid at the back, and we've taken the three points, which is the most important thing.

"We can do better at times. It's not perfect, but Torino are very tough to play against, and we got the three points. That's what I really like about this team [Milan], especially when playing at home, we want to make the fans happy with a lot of energy and passion."

Milan took full advantage of Napoli's Sunday slip-up as the Rossoneri beat Torino 1-0 in Serie A thanks to Olivier Giroud's early goal, the win putting them top of the table on Tuesday.

Napoli's 0-0 draw with Roma at the weekend meant the Partenopei only sat at the top of the pile thanks to goal difference, but Milan just about got the job done at San Siro to go first at least until Thursday.

Giroud's early effort was one of few clear-cut chances in the entire match, with the Frenchman becoming only the second player in the three-points-for-a-win era to score in his first three home league appearances for Milan (after Mario Balotelli in 2013).

For the vast majority of the match, Torino looked the better side but their inability to consistently worry the Milan defence meant the hosts were able to hold on to a slender victory.

A scrappy opening was devoid of excitement, but Milan went ahead with their first meaningful attack in the 14th minute, as Giroud met Rade Krunic's flick-on and tapped in from close range.

It was not until the final action of the first half that Milan went close again, with Krunic getting another header away, although this time it landed just wide with Giroud not there to guide it in.

Andrea Belotti let Milan off the hook early in the second period when his mishit shot asked little of Ciprian Tatarusanu.

Torino came on strong towards the end, with Tonny Sanabria forcing a necessary save from Tatarusanu and Dennis Praet's deflected effort clipping the top of the crossbar, but it was too little, too late.

What does it mean? Milan not convincing

While the win puts Milan top at least until Napoli face Bologna on Thursday, their performance was hardly an emphatic statement.

The Giroud goal aside, Milan never really looked like scoring – their cumulative expected goals figure was 1.1, though 0.8 of that was attributed to the France forward's tap-in.

Thankfully for them, once Pierre Kalulu went off at the break, Milan were mostly solid in defence, with Torino restricted to only one major opportunity.

Kalulu caught short

Deployed at left-back from the start, the youngster was withdrawn at the break after struggling in the first half. He was careless in possession on several occasions and just never looked an assuring presence defensively.

Tonali takes plaudits

It was a match with few standout performances in truth, but Sandro Tonali did catch the eye. He was one of only two Milan players to play more than one key pass (two) and he worked hard throughout his 65 minutes on the pitch – his 14 duels were bettered by only three team-mates, all of whom played at least 22 more minutes.

What's next?

A trip to Jose Mourinho's Roma awaits Milan on Sunday. Torino host Sampdoria the day before.

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.

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." 

Olivier Giroud hailed Zlatan Ibrahimovic as an inspiration to younger players in Serie A, while expressing his excitement to play with the Sweden forward at Milan.

Giroud joined Milan in a reported €2million (£1.7m) deal from Chelsea in July and opened his account with a double against Cagliari at the end of August.

With that brace, the France international became the first player to score multiple times in his first home league match for the Rossoneri since Mario Balotelli in February 2013.

However, after testing positive for COVID-19 the following month, the 34-year-old striker has amassed just 224 top-flight minutes for Stefano Pioli's side, with Rafael Leao and Ante Rebic leading the line so far.

Ibrahimovic is another of Milan's options and has scored once this term, despite playing just 30 minutes in Serie A as his new campaign has been hampered by injuries to this point.

And Giroud is keen to link up with the former Barcelona and Manchester United forward as he praised the impact his team-mate can have on future generations of footballers.

"I played against Zlatan a few times," Giroud said to Serie A's YouTube channel. "He still plays at 40 and that means he's an exceptional professional.

"He takes care of himself and his body, and I also try to do so to enjoy football as long as my body will allow it.

"I think he's a great example for the youngsters and he is one of the best strikers in Serie A. I can't wait to play alongside him and enjoy him in training.

"I think we will have fun and we want to win something with Milan. With Zlatan, it will be easier."

 

Before his recent injury, Ibrahimovic was one of Pioli's key players 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 term.

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

Having brought in the likes of Mike Maignan and Fikayo Tomori alongside Ibrahimovic's experience, Giroud is hoping Milan can compete for the top spot after setting the early pace with Napoli and neighbours Inter.

"I’m very proud to play for Milan and in Serie A," he continued.

"We play football for these emotions and pass them on to the fans, and that's why I can't wait to give everything for the team and for the Milan supporters.

"I don't want to put too much pressure on us, but we want to fight for the top spot in the standings."

N'Golo Kante will miss the entirety of the Nations League Finals as Didier Deschamps is unwilling to take a risk with France's superstar midfielder, who has contracted coronavirus having just returned to fitness.

Kante was named in the French squad for the previous international break but missed out through injury, included only as an unused substitute against Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The Chelsea man has not played for his country since Euro 2020 and will not now be involved against Belgium in the Nations League semi-final, nor in either the final or third-place play-off after that.

Kante was missing from Chelsea's 1-0 defeat at Juventus on Wednesday due to testing positive for COVID-19.

France coach Deschamps acknowledges Kante would have been cleared in time for the second Nations League Finals match on October 10, but he doubts the midfielder would be in any condition to play to the best of his ability.

"It is 10 days since Monday, so you calculate," Deschamps said. "There was always the assumption that he would be there for the second game, but after 10 days without training, knowing that he was injured recently...

"I would prefer him to be there, but I also prefer him 100 per cent. Let him take advantage of this period to regain his physical freshness."

There is also no Kingsley Coman, who has been restricted to just eight minutes since the previous international break, or Thomas Lemar, as he battles a hamstring issue.

Steve Mandanda has been dropped after losing out to Pau Lopez in the Marseille goal, while Olivier Giroud's recent return for Milan is not enough for a recall – a "sporting choice", Deschamps explained, after other forwards impressed last time.

But the defence now looks a lot healthier, as Bayern Munich men Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernandez are able to rejoin the squad, as does team-mate Dayot Upamecano, who had to pull out last time. Deschamps listed Hernandez's brother Theo as a midfielder.

Crucially, the calf injury that kept Kylian Mbappe out of France's most recent games has subsided, meaning Deschamps must again attempt to strike a balance in attack, where Antoine Griezmann and Karim Benzema excelled in the Paris Saint-Germain forward's absence.

Griezmann, who has Deschamps' backing after a tricky start to his second stint at Atletico Madrid, scored twice against Finland – the first assisted by Benzema – as Les Bleus bounced back from draws with Ukraine and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

"What happened is in the past," Deschamps added. "There is a title to play for. We have a semi-final to play against one of the best teams in Europe and the world, if not the best.

"We have given everything to qualify for the Finals. Now, we are there. We keep the same state of mind; we want to go for the title."

France squad:

Benoit Costil (Bordeaux), Hugo Lloris (Tottenham), Mike Maignan (Milan); Leo Dubois (Lyon), Lucas Digne (Everton), Lucas Hernandez (Bayern Munich), Presnel Kimpembe (Paris Saint-Germain), Jules Kounde (Sevilla), Benjamin Pavard (Bayern Munich), Dayot Upamecano (Bayern Munich), Raphael Varane (Manchester United); Matteo Guendouzi (Marseille), Theo Hernandez (Milan), Paul Pogba (Manchester United), Adrien Rabiot (Juventus), Aurelien Tchouameni (Monaco), Jordan Veretout (Roma); Wissam Ben Yedder (Monaco), Karim Benzema (Real Madrid), Moussa Diaby (Bayer Leverkusen), Antoine Griezmann (Barcelona), Anthony Martial (Manchester United), Kylian Mbappe (Paris Saint-Germain).

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been ruled out of Milan's Champions League clash at Liverpool after suffering an injury setback.

The 39-year-old former Manchester United striker made a goalscoring return for Milan as a substitute against Lazio on Sunday, coming on to tap in the second goal in a 2-0 Serie A victory.

That followed a four-month knee injury lay-off, and the Swedish frontman has now reportedly suffered discomfort in an Achilles, forcing him out of plans for Wednesday's Anfield tussle.

That means coach Stefano Pioli will name Ante Rebic or former Arsenal and Chelsea striker Olivier Giroud as his attacking spearhead when he selects his side to face Jurgen Klopp's Reds.

Pioli stated Giroud would not be able to play a full 90 minutes, having returned from a spell on the sidelines after testing positive for COVID-19.

Speaking in a news conference on Tuesday, Pioli said: "Zlatan has had an inflammation; he gave it a go this morning but it's useless to take risks at this point of the season.

"I see AC Milan with Zlatan and I absolutely think we'll have him back soon. Absences are a part of football; I'll need to choose between Ante and Olivier but we have the cover."

Ibrahimovic has abundant Champions League experience, scoring 48 goals in the competition from 120 games, with nine of those coming for Milan between 2010 and 2012 in a previous spell with the Rossoneri.

The Swede has scored for more teams in the Champions League than any other player (six – Paris Saint-Germain, Milan, Ajax, Juventus, Inter Milan, Barcelona).

He arrived from LA Galaxy midway through the 2019-20 season and helped Pioli take Milan into the Champions League for the first time in eight years with last term's second-placed finish in Serie A. 

They last featured in the competition in the 2013-14 campaign, a worrying drought for the club that have won the European Cup or Champions League on seven occasions.

"Our growth over the past year is clear for all to see," Pioli said. "Our experiences have helped us to grow and improve, and the beginning of this season has shown that this team knows how to play and how to approach games.

"The level is higher now; it's what we wanted and it's a chance for us to show that we can mix it with the best."

Milan have won just one of their last 13 games against English opponents in European competition (D4 L8), with that lone victory a 4-0 drubbing of Arsenal at San Siro in the Champions League in February 2012.

Pioli, quoted on Milan's official website, said: "Many of us have never played in the Champions League, but football is football. We know what to do and how to try and play against a really strong side.

"We've prepared really well for this game. There are no easy fixtures in this group; our opponents are all highly competitive and have been playing European football for a while. It's a chance for us to start writing our own history; we have a lot of belief in our own quality."

Milan on Thursday revealed Olivier Giroud has tested positive for coronavirus.

Giroud opened his Milan account with a double in a 4-1 Serie thrashing of Cagliari on Sunday.

The 34-year-old striker has now been forced into isolation after returning a positive COVID-19 test.

"AC Milan announce that Olivier Giroud tested positive for a molecular test carried out at home," the Rossoneri said in a statement.

"The local health authorities were immediately informed. The player is fine but must remain in fiduciary isolation.

"It should be noted that Olivier has not had contact with the rest of the team since the championship game against Cagliari."

Giroud joined Milan in a reported €2million (£1.7m) deal from Chelsea in July.

Stefano Pioli is open to fielding Olivier Giroud alongside Zlatan Ibrahimovic this season after the Frenchman opened his Milan account with two goals against Cagliari.

Giroud curled in a delightful first-time shot to get off the mark on his San Siro bow and doubled his tally from the penalty spot in Sunday's Serie A clash as Milan ran out 4-1 winners.

With that first-half double, Giroud became the first player to score multiple times in his first home league match for the Rossoneri since Mario Balotelli in February 2013.

Ibrahimovic has been Milan's go-to man up top when fit since returning to the Italian club in January 2020, but the veteran striker is currently sidelined with a knee injury sustained in May.

Pioli hopes to have Ibrahimovic back after the international break in two weeks' time, however, and he is not against tweaking formation to pair the Swede with Giroud in attack.

"I am very open to all situations," Milan head coach Pioli told DAZN. "I'll take it one game at a time to pick the best line-up for that match. 

"When we have the need for two strikers, I will not hesitate to use them together. I just hope to have everyone back to full fitness."

 

Ibrahimovic watched from the stands as Giroud added to goals from Sandro Tonali and Rafael Leao, which came either side of Alessandro Deiola's temporary equaliser in the first half.

Milan scored four-plus goals in the opening half of a Serie A fixture for the first time since November 2011.

Asked if he is looking forward to linking up with former Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester United striker Ibrahimovic, Giroud said: "He is a great champion and very important in the locker room. 

"We want to play together, but I am happy playing with any of my team-mates. It doesn't matter who plays, it's important to respect the decisions of the coach."

It was the first time Giroud has scored a league brace since April 2018, for Chelsea against Southampton, and the 34-year-old revelled in the manner his home debut turned out.

"I'm very proud to play for Milan and in a stadium like San Siro," he told DAZN. "I'm happy with the team performance because we started the game playing our style of football. 

"We really connected on the pitch and could've scored more, while the support from the fans was incredible."

Giroud has inherited the number nine shirt at Milan, which is one of the most iconic jerseys in football but has more recently become a poisoned chalice of sorts.

Mario Mandzukic, Krzysztof Piatek and Gonzalo Higuain have all failed to live up to its reputation, yet Giroud is unfazed by the weight of expectation.

"I heard there was something special about the number nine shirt, but I am not superstitious," he said. "I believe in myself and my abilities. 

"As a kid, I watched Marco van Basten, Jean-Pierre Papin and Filippo Inzaghi wear this shirt, so it makes me happy to be here now."

Milan have won their opening two Serie A games this season, just like they did last time out, but face a tough run of games upon their return to action next month.

The Rossoneri meet a Lazio side sitting top of the division on goal difference and rivals Juventus in their next two league matches, either side of kicking off their Champions League return with a trip to Liverpool.

"We've got a remarkable run of games coming up after the break, so we need to keep this mentality and enthusiasm," Pioli said.

"If we really want a positive future, we must treat everyone as first-choice players. We're missing some at the moment, a couple more might arrive, but we must train the way we want to play and play the way we train.

"We are getting used to playing entertaining football and enjoying ourselves, but we must also remember that the great teams are also capable of winning ugly."

Olivier Giroud scored his first two goals for Milan to help his side maintain their winning start to the Serie A campaign with a convincing 4-1 victory against Genoa at San Siro on Sunday.

The Rossoneri were made to work hard for last week's 1-0 win over Sampdoria but proved far too strong for Genoa as they put on a show for their returning supporters, scoring all four goals in the first half.

Alessandro Deiola netted Genoa's first goal in six league games versus Milan to cancel out Sandro Tonali's opener, but Rafael Leao's heavily deflected strike and Giroud's double gave the hosts breathing space at the midway point.

Milan were happy to keep hold of possession from that point on as they cruised to a seventh league game without defeat stretching into last season.

Tonali lifted the ball over the Genoa wall and just out of back-up goalkeeper Boris Radunovic's reach to get Milan up and running inside 12 minutes with just his second Serie A goal.

Stefano Pioli's side were pegged back soon after through a Deiola header after the midfielder was picked out by a smart Joao Pedro pass – the first goal Milan had conceded in seven league matches.

But Leao restored his side's advantage in rather fortuitous circumstances as his shot took a big touch off the back of Brahim Diaz – Milan's match-winner last weekend – and flew past Radunovic.

Giroud's first Milan goal followed seven minutes later, the Frenchman curling a first-time shot into the far-left corner when played in by Diaz, and he had a second before half-time when converting a penalty awarded for a Kevin Strootman handball.

Milan then went through the motions and did not register a single attempt on target in the second period, with Charalampos Lykogiannis going closest to scoring for the visitors when testing Mike Maignan 10 minutes from time.

Olivier Giroud was dropped by France boss Didier Deschamps on Thursday in a move that casts early doubt on the striker's World Cup prospects.

The decision to omit France's second highest goalscorer of all time was taken by Deschamps ahead of the three World Cup qualifiers that await Les Bleus in early September.

Giroud, who turns 35 at the end of next month, has scored seven times for his country in the past 12 months but did not find the net at Euro 2020.

Pre-tournament comments, which were interpreted as Giroud criticising Kylian Mbappe, saw the veteran forward complain of a lack of service.

Mbappe was disappointed with those remarks, particularly with Giroud making them in public rather than in the dressing room, and it remains to be seen whether they have played their last game together at international level.

Les Bleus were favourites going into Euro 2020 but went on to lose on penalties to Switzerland in the second round, and now they must focus on qualifying for the World Cup, as holders.

They face Bosnia-Herzegovina, Ukraine and Finland in the first seven days of September.

Speaking about Giroud, who has swapped Chelsea for Milan since last season, Deschamps said: "It's my choice today. It's up to Olivier to perform, he's still available.

"His situation has changed with his transfer to Milan, where he's found a lot more game time."

Giroud insisted during the European Championship that he intended to play on for France beyond the tournament.

"I'm not finished, far from it. Count on me, grandpa is not dead!" Giroud, who was one of the key members of France's World Cup-winning squad in 2018, told Le Figaro.

"I'm almost 35 but have the hunger of a 20-year-old guy. I know how to do it with the team."

Deschamps handed first call-ups on Thursday to Giroud's Milan team-mate, left-back Theo Hernandez, Monaco midfielder Aurelien Tchouameni and Roma playmaker Jordan Veretout, along with Bayer Leverkusen winger Moussa Diaby.

He also recalled Manchester United forward Anthony Martial, who has been involved in both Premier League games for the Red Devils this season after overcoming a long-term injury, and Bayern Munich defender Dayot Upamecano.

France squad: Hugo Lloris (Tottenham), Mike Maignan (Milan), Steve Mandanda (Marseille); Lucas Digne (Everton), Leo Dubois (Lyon), Presnel Kimpembe (Paris Saint-Germain), Jules Kounde (Sevilla), Dayot Upamecano (Bayern Munich), Raphael Varane (Manchester United), Theo Hernandez (Milan), Kurt Zouma (Chelsea); N'Golo Kante (Chelsea), Paul Pogba (Manchester United), Aurelien Tchouameni (Monaco), Corentin Tolisso (Bayern Munich), Jordan Veretout (Roma); Karim Benzema (Real Madrid), Kingsley Coman (Bayern Munich), Moussa Diaby (Bayer Leverkusen), Antoine Griezmann (Barcelona), Thomas Lemar (Atletico Madrid), Anthony Martial (Manchester United), Kylian Mbappe (Paris Saint-Germain).

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