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."

 

Olivier Giroud declared that Milan "are back" after inspiring their comeback win in the derby with Inter.

Giroud scored twice to cut Inter's lead at the top of Serie A to one point - though the Nerazzurri do have a game in hand - in a 2-1 win for the Rossoneri, who had fallen behind to Ivan Perisic's first-half volley.

The France international contentiously converted from close range to equalise in the 75th minute and completed the turnaround three minutes later to stun Simone Inzaghi's side, Milan's only blemish a late red card for Theo Hernandez.

"As I said before the game, this was a special fixture. You win the derby, we were struggling in the first half, but after the break for 45 minutes we got back into it," Giroud told DAZN.

"I was hoping for one or two balls into the box, the first was a bit lucky, but the second was a fine [Davide] Calabria pass.

"I am so happy for my fans, I am proud of this team that never gave up.

"We score goals in the box, so it's true I was a bit isolated in the first half, but the whole team didn't play well and we knew that.

"We proved our great team spirit after the break and we are back!

"There's a long road ahead of us, we are still in the running, but there are many games to be played and Inter remain the leaders.

"So let’s win our matches and then see what Inter do."

October 17, 2020. Zlatan Ibrahimovic's double proved enough for Milan to claim a derby day victory over their great rivals, with Romelu Lukaku's goal not enough to inspire a comeback.

Much has changed in the intervening period between then and now.

Inter recovered from that defeat by going on to win the Serie A title for the first time since 2010. Yet coach Antonio Conte and talisman Lukaku have both departed for pastures new – London, to be precise, with Tottenham and Chelsea respectively.

Milan, meanwhile, finished second, 12 points behind their neighbours, but they have had a relatively settled period under Stefano Pioli. And on Saturday, the Rossoneri truly ignited the 2021-22 title race by ending Inter's domestic unbeaten streak at San Siro – a run that stretched to 28 matches in total, since that day in October 2020.

There was no Ibrahimovic for Pioli to call on this time, but another veteran forward stepped up in the form of Olivier Giroud, whose quickfire double did the damage.

Having been on the verge of going seven points clear, the incredible turnaround leaves Inter just one point above Milan, as the title battle between the two northern powerhouses looks set to go down to the wire.

Giroud brings the Z factor

Ibrahimovic is a big miss in any game, but in particular, a derby with title hopes resting on it.

The 40-year-old has scored eight Serie A goals in Milan Derbies (six for AC Milan, two for Inter) – only Giuseppe Meazza (12), Gunnar Nordahl (11) and Stefano Nyers (11) have scored more times in this fixture in the history of the competition.

For much of Saturday's clash – 75 minutes, in fact – the void in Milan's attack was evident, the Rossoneri having managed just one attempt on target, from Sandro Tonali in the first half.

But Giroud turned that on its head, first showing his poacher's instinct to prod in from Brahim Diaz's shot-cross, before holding off his marker and drilling in a low strike on the turn three minutes later.

Samir Handanovic should have done better to prevent Milan's winner, mind. Perhaps the Inter goalkeeper had been caught unawares, given his lack of action prior to the late red-and-black charge.

"Playing with him is something I see as a challenge, something that pushes me every day," Giroud said of Ibrahimovic in a recent interview.

"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 proved an old dog can still learn new tricks (from an older dog, that is) with his match-winning turn. The former Chelsea forward converted both of his two attempts, which came from two of his four touches in the penalty area, and a combined expected goals (xG) value of 0.8, as he became the first French player to score twice against Inter in a Serie A match.

All seven of Giroud's Serie A goals this season have come at San Siro, with those strikes coming only when he has started games (eight starts in total).

 

Inter's charge hits its first hurdle?

There has been a pretty seamless transition for Inter since Simone Inzaghi replaced Antonio Conte.

Edin Dzeko has come in for Lukaku, and Lautaro Martinez is still brilliant. Indeed, Inter are scoring at a similar rate to last season, netting on average every 38 minutes in the league.

Yet they more than met their match in the form of Milan, who earned a thrilling 1-1 draw in the reverse fixture in November.

Inter had less possession (46 per cent) and won fewer duels (42 compared to 57), yet still created more chances (nine to seven) and had more attempts (11 to 10). They were unable to make the most of going ahead, though.

 

Ivan Perisic's goal – his 50th for the club – had the Nerazzurri in front by half-time but Inter have now failed to win three of their last four derby clashes, while Milan came from behind to beat them in Serie A for the first time since February 2004.

This result can hardly be considered as putting Inter into anything resembling a crisis. They have lost just two of their last 12 Serie A derbies and are still top, with a game in hand on their title rivals, though the manner of the defeat may take some coming back from.

Since the turn of the year, Inter have taken seven of the 12 points on offer and, in a title race with such fine margins (Napoli are only four points back in third), that has enabled the challengers to gain ground.

One positive for Inter, however, was a late red card for Theo Hernandez, who will face a suspension after lunging in recklessly on Denzel Dumfries.

Hernandez is one of Milan's best players, and his absence may just mean that, even though Inter lost the battle, they could go on to win the war provided they bounce back quickly.

Olivier Giroud scored a quickfire late double to earn Milan a dramatic 2-1 win over Inter at San Siro that moves his side within a point of the Serie A leaders.

Milan had taken just one point from their previous two matches and were on the verge of losing again as Ivan Perisic's first-half volley had Inter firmly in control of Saturday's clash.

But Mike Maignan ensured the designated visitors were not out of the game and, from pretty much out of nowhere, Milan caught Inter cold thanks to Giroud's double. 

The France international contentiously converted from close range to equalise in the 75th minute and completed the turnaround three minutes later to stun Simone Inzaghi's side, Milan's only blot a late red card for Theo Hernandez.

Denzel Dumfries had an early goal ruled out for offside and was later denied from a one-on-one by Maignan, who was also equal to Marcelo Brozovic's deflected drive.

Samir Handanovic was also needed to deny Sandro Tonali, but the breakthrough arrived in the 38th minute when Perisic volleyed in ex-Milan winger Calhanoglu's corner.

Stefano Pioli turned to Junior Messias and Brahim Diaz in the second half but Milan continued to pose little attacking threat until a dramatic final quarter to the game.

Giroud slid in to convert Diaz's deflected shot, though Inter were unhappy the goal was allowed to stand as the goalscorer clattered into Alexis Sanchez at the start of the move.

Inter failed to compose themselves and conceded another almost instantly as Giroud held off Stefan de Vrij and fired in a shot that squirmed under the hand of Handanovic.

Theo Hernandez was dismissed deep into added time for a rash challenge on Dumfries, though Milan saw out a huge win that keeps the Scudetto race wide open.

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 moved within one point of the Serie A summit with a hard-fought 3-1 win over Jose Mourinho's lacklustre Roma side at San Siro, who were reduced to nine men in the second half.

First-half goals from Olivier Giroud and Junior Messias put the hosts in a commanding position before Tammy Abraham dragged Roma back into the contest. 

After a string of Mike Maignan saves kept the hosts' lead intact, Rick Karsdorp's sending-off for two bookable offences put paid to any hope of Roma earning a point, and substitute Rafeal Leao added a third on the break late on before Zlatan Ibrahimovic missed a penalty following another red card, this time for Gianluca Mancini.

Milan were handed a brilliant start, with Giroud dispatching an eighth-minute penalty after Abraham was adjudged to have handled Theo Hernandez's fierce volley. 

Things quickly went from bad to worse for Mourinho's men. Giroud intercepted a dreadful backpass from Roger Ibanez, and although his strike came back off the post, Messias buried the rebound to double the hosts' lead after just 15 minutes.

The 2-1 half-time scoreline arguably flattered Roma, who found themselves back in the contest when Abraham diverted Lorenzo Pellegrini's shot past Maignan, seconds after being denied by the France international's reflex save.

Milan almost made another fast start in the second period, with Brahim Diaz crashing a fabulous effort against the bar on 50 minutes, before Maignan was forced into two more good saves by Abraham and Henrikh Mkhitaryan.

With 20 minutes remaining, the already-booked Karsdrop received his marching orders for a desperate lunch on Hernandez on the edge of the penalty area, killing the visitors' hopes of leaving with a result. 

Alessandro Florenzi rattled the bar from the resulting free-kick, before Leao, returning from injury as a substitute, finished the contest with a late breakaway goal, his sixth of the season.

That was not the end of the drama, with Roma's Mancini joining Karsdrop for an early bath by bringing down Leao. Ibrahimovic, however, saw his penalty saved by Rui Patricio, maintaining some respectability for Mourinho's side.

 

What does it mean? Milan apply early 2022 pressure to Inter

Thanks to a raft of COVID-19 cases and Africa Cup of Nations call-ups, Stefano Pioli was forced to select a makeshift side, but they produced a largely accomplished display to move within a single point of cross-city rivals Inter in the title race.

Milan have also now won three consecutive league games against Roma for the first time since 1996.

Mourinho's men stay seventh, six points outside the top four.

Home comforts for Giroud

Former Arsenal and Chelsea man Giroud opened the scoring with his fifth league goal of the campaign, and all of the World Cup winner's strikes for Milan have come at San Siro.

Among all the other players to have netted five or more goals in a top-five European League this season, only Bruno Fernandes and Mattia Aramu have also scored all of theirs at home.

Milan press home their superiority

Pioli has masterminded Milan's title charge by implementing an exhilarating, high-pressing game at San Siro, forcing opponents into errors in perilous positions. 

Going into this game, no Serie A team had attempted more than the Rossoneri's tally of 37 shots from high turnovers this season. This quality was on display once again, with Messias' crucial second goal originating from Giroud intercepting Ibanez's slack pass.

What's next?

Notwithstanding a continuation of the coronavirus-caused chaos that has engulfed Serie A this week, Milan travel to Venezia for Sunday's early kick-off, while Roma face a huge clash with Juventus at the Stadio Olimpico later that day.

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."

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