Arsenal could look to offload Nicolas Pepe in the January transfer window.

The 26-year-old has not lived up to his billing after being signed in 2019.

Pepe has scored once in nine appearances for the Gunners this season.

 

TOP STORY – MILAN SET FOR JANUARY PEPE SWOOP

Italian giants Milan are interested in signing Arsenal's Ivorian winger Nicolas Pepe, claims Il Milanista.

Pepe has more than two years to run on his Gunners deal, having joined on a five-year contract from Lille in 2019 for a club-record fee of £72 million (€79m).

Arsenal may be willing to let Pepe go for a little as £25m in January.

ROUND-UP 

- Chelsea's Spanish full-back Cesar Azpilicueta is on Barcelona's transfer radar, according to SPORT. The 32-year-old's contract expires at the end of this season.

- Tottenham have joined Inter in having an interest in signing Bayern Munich midfielder Corentin Tolisso, claims Kicker. Tolisso is out of contract at the end of this season.

- Fabrizio Romano reports that talks between Gavi and Barcelona on a five-year contract extension are progressing amid interest in the Spanish teenager from Chelsea.

- Jose Mourinho's Roma are considering a move to sign Atletico Madrid's Mexico international midfielder Hector Herrera in January, claims Calciomercato. Atletico are willing to cash in on Herrera, who is out of contract in mid-2022.

- Manchester City target Theo Hernandez is close to completing a contract renewal with Milan, according to Rudy Galetti. The Rossoneri have reached an agreement with him until 2026.

- FotoMac claims Mohamed Elneny's agent has reached an agreement with Arsenal for the Egyptian to leave in January. He was previously linked with Galatasaray.

- Lens midfielder Seko Fofana has been added to Newcastle United's shortlist of transfer targets, claims Foot Mercato.

What does the future hold for Kylian Mbappe?

The Paris Saint-Germain forward has long been tipped to join Real Madrid.

Madrid are reportedly preparing another approach for the France forward.

 

TOP STORY – MADRID PUSHING FOR MBAPPE

Real Madrid will make another move for Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe, according to the front page of Friday's Mundo Deportivo.

Madrid have made no secret of their interest, while Mbappe – who will become a free agent at the end of the campaign – revealed he wanted to leave PSG for Los Blancos at the start of the season.

With Mbappe's contract winding down, LaLiga giants Madrid are stepping up their pursuit.

 

ROUND-UP  

- Mundo Deportivo and Sport claim Barcelona are closing in on the signing for Manchester City attacker Raheem Sterling. The England international has found himself down the pecking order in Manchester.

Arsenal are interested in Fiorentina star Dusan Vlahovic, but there have been no talks with the Serbia international's agents, reports Fabrizio Romano. Vlahovic is also wanted by City, Atletico Madrid, Juventus, Inter and Tottenham.

- Staying at Emirates Stadium, Gianluca Di Marzio says Arsenal are ready to make a move for Juventus sensation Dejan Kulusevski.

Roma, Milan, Atalanta and Napoli are eyeing Sassuolo winger Jeremie Boga, per Foot Mercato.

- Milan are readying contract renewals for Theo Hernandez, Ismael Bennacer and Rafael Leao, claims Gazzetta dello Sport.

- According to The Sun, Manchester United are hoping to beat Barca to Milan midfielder Franck Kessie on a free transfer. Kessie has also been linked with PSG, Arsenal, Tottenham, Inter and Atletico.

Nuno Espirito Santo's future as Tottenham manager is in doubt after a slow start.

The Portuguese only took over in June but his side are eighth in the Premier League with five losses already.

Spurs were humbled 3-0 at home by under-pressure Manchester United on Saturday.

Supporters made their feelings known at full-time as boos rung out around Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

TOP STORY – SPURS READY TO REPLACE NUNO

Tuttomercato claims that Tottenham are working on a deal to have ex-Inter boss Antonio Conte replace Nuno Espirito Santo as manager.

Football Insider also reports that Spurs will sack Nuno this week, with Ryan Mason to be installed as their interim boss again.

The Standard claims that Porto head coach Sergio Conceicao is also under consideration for the job.

 

ROUND-UP 

- Le Parisien reports that Paris Saint-Germain could sensationally walk away from their contract with off-season signing Sergio Ramos, who is yet to debut for the club due to ongoing injury issues from his time at Real Madrid. PSG are said to believe they were misled about his injury status.

- Barcelona are interested in a loan deal for Manchester United's wantaway Dutch midfielder Donny van de Beek, reports Sport.

- Real Madrid are considering moves for Manchester United's Paul Pogba and Chelsea's Antonio Rudiger, claims Marca.

- Theo Hernandez will ignore Manchester City 's advances and pen a new deal with Milan, reports Calciomercato.

- Tuttosport reports hot property Fiorentina forward Dusan Vlahovic wants to join Juventus amid interest from Tottenham, among others.

What does the future hold for Paul Pogba?

Pogba, who re-joined Manchester United from Juventus in 2016, is set to become a free agent at season's end.

Juve are believed to be trying to lure Pogba back to Italy.

 

TOP STORY – JUVE LEAD RACE FOR POGBA

Juventus are in pole position to re-sign Paul Pogba from Manchester United, according to Sportitalia journalist Rudy Galetti.

Pogba is out of contract at the end of the season and is reportedly not prepared to sign a new contract with United.

The World Cup-winning France international left United for Juventus in 2012 before returning to Old Trafford in 2016.

Le10 Sport, meanwhile, claims Paris Saint-Germain are circling amid interest from Real Madrid also.

 

ROUND-UP

- Diario AS reports Xavi wants to sign Bayern Munich star Kingsley Coman if he is appointed head coach of LaLiga giants Barcelona . Barca great and Al-Sadd boss Xavi is favourite to replace Ronald Koeman.

Theo Hernandez is set to snub a move to Premier League champions Manchester City or Ligue 1 powerhouse PSG in favour of re-signing with Milan, per Calciomercato.

- The Mirror says Newcastle United are struggling to prise Ajax head coach Erik ten Hag from Amsterdam. Also linked to Manchester United amid pressure on manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer , Ten Hag is reluctant to move to Newcastle due to their position in the table.

Inter have planned talks with Marcelo Brozovic regarding a new contract amid interest from PSG , Manchester United , Barca and Atletico Madrid , according to Corriere dello Sport.

Leonardo has dismissed talk Paris Saint-Germain are lining up moves for Milan duo Franck Kessie and Theo Hernandez.

Kessie's contract expires at the end of this season, so the Ivory Coast midfielder will be free to talk to other clubs in January.

Milan are eager to keep the 24-year-old, who has been linked with the likes of Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham, but have been unable to agree terms on a new deal.

Big-spending PSG are also reported to be eyeing up Kessie along with his team-mate Hernandez.

Yet the Ligue 1 giants' sporting director Leonardo has rubbished claims that approaches have been made for the two key Milan players.

Leonardo was previously a player, coach and director for the Rossoneri.

"We haven't contacted any player, there's nothing with Franck Kessie or Theo Hernandez," he said.

Milan head coach Stefano Pioli on Saturday responded to Leonardo's comments by saying: "I'm not going to comment on Leonardo's words. I'm interested in seeing the players available and that's it."

France left-back Hernandez is under contract with Milan until June 2024.

Theo Hernandez has been cleared to return to action for Milan after recovering from coronavirus.

The 24-year-old tested positive for COVID-19 upon returning from international duty with France nearly two weeks ago.

He was subsequently forced to sit out the Serie A wins over Hellas Verona and Bologna, either side of Tuesday's 1-0 loss to Porto in the Champions League.

However, Milan announced on their official website on Sunday that Hernandez's latest coronavirus test came back negative and he is now available for selection.

Stefano Pioli's side face Torino and Roma in Serie A over the next week, before hosting Porto and bitter rivals Inter in crucial games ahead of the next international break.

Fode Ballo-Toure has filled in during Hernandez's absence, but the Frenchman's return will be considered a huge positive for Pioli.

 

Since joining Milan in July 2019, Hernandez's combined 25 goals and assists has been bettered by only four defenders in Europe's top five leagues – Trent Alexander-Arnold, Raphael Guerreiro (both 28), Achraf Hakimi and Robin Gosens (both 35).

The 93 chances created by Hernandez in Serie A over that same timeframe is third to Federico Dimarco (97) and Juan Cuadrado (114), the latter of whom has often played further forward.

Prior to being struck down by coronavirus, Hernandez played a crucial role in France's Nations League success with a 90th-minute winner in the 3-2 semi-final victory over Belgium and an assist for Kylian Mbappe's winner in the 2-1 final triumph over Spain.

Milan have confirmed left-back Theo Hernandez has tested positive for COVID-19.

The 24-year-old played a crucial role in France's Nations League success, scoring a dramatic 90th-minute winner in the 3-2 semi-final victory over Belgium before assisting Kylian Mbappe's decisive strike in the 2-1 final triumph over Spain.

The showpiece contest against Luis Enrique's Spain was held in Milan, meaning Hernandez was able to stay in the city as he returned to his club side.

However, he is now set to miss the visit of Hellas Verona on Saturday as club action resumes.

Hernandez has enjoyed a fine start to the season with Milan, leading the Rossoneri in Serie A for assists (three) and expected assists (1.39) while also scoring once.

Fode Ballo-Toure would appear Hernandez's most likely deputy as second-placed Milan look to close the two-point gap to leaders Napoli.

Stefano Pioli's side are unbeaten this season, earning 19 points from seven matches. Victory would make this their best start through eight games in the three-points-per-win era.

A stunning goal from Theo Hernandez sent France into the Nations League final after they battled back to beat Belgium 3-2.

The Milan full-back struck in the 90th minute after Karim Benzema and a Kylian Mbappe penalty had cancelled out goals from Yannick Carrasco and Romelu Lukaku.

Lukaku thought he had won an enthralling contest for Belgium with 88 minutes gone, but it was ruled out for offside after a VAR check, and France made their luck count.

In an even opening to the game, Hugo Lloris made a stunning save to keep out Kevin De Bruyne's scuffed effort from close range before Mbappe went close at the other end.

With each side lining up in a 3-4-3 that cancelled out the other, the game began to drift before Carrasco collected De Bruyne's pass, drove into the box past Benjamin Pavard, cut back onto his right foot and drilled a shot in at the near post with Lloris wrong-footed.

It was 2-0 before the interval, Lukaku spinning away from the flat-footed Lucas Hernandez before side-footing high past Lloris, again at his near post.

France kept Belgium pinned back early in the second half but Antoine Griezmann got the ball stuck under his feet after a brilliant run and cut-back from Mbappe.

Mbappe was involved again when France finally capitalised on their dominance, slipping the ball to Benzema, who shot low on the turn beyond the reach of Thibaut Courtois.

Seven minutes later, Mbappe – who missed in the shoot-out loss to Switzerland at Euro 2020 – swept a penalty past Courtois after a VAR check saw Youri Tielemans punished for catching Griezmann.

A rasping effort from De Bruyne was tipped over by Lloris and Aurelien Tchouameni was denied by Courtois, with VAR intervening again when Lukaku thought he had prodded in a winner against the run of play, the Chelsea striker having strayed fractionally offside to meet Carrasco's cross.

Paul Pogba's spectacular free-kick cannoned off the crossbar before France's unlikely hero found the winner, Theo Hernandez rifling left-footed into the right-hand corner after Benjamin Pavard's cross found its way to the Rossoneri star.

Raphael Varane called on France to rediscover their World Cup-winning form as they prepare to face Belgium in the Nations League semi-final.

Varane won the World Cup in 2018 with Les Bleus but was also part of the disappointment of Euro 2020, which saw France eliminated at the last-16 stage by Switzerland.

France's form in 2021 includes a run of five consecutive draws across all competitions, the first time Les Bleus have gone on such a streak, up until the 2-0 win over Finland in their last outing.

Didier Deschamps' side have however remained unbeaten in their first six matches of World Cup 2022 qualification – the first time they have achieved the feat in qualifying matches for a major tournament since 2006.

And Varane implored his country to use the triumph over Finland as a confidence booster for the upcoming Nations League clash, with the winner facing either Spain or Italy in the final.

"We finished the last game very well," Manchester United centre-back Varane told reporters at Tuesday's pre-match news conference.

"We needed it to revive a dynamic, to regain that confidence. When we chained draws together, there could have been less confidence, but these are the hazards of high-level football.

"We must build on this to continue to maintain this positive dynamic and gain new momentum, with greater success.

"There are all the qualities in this group. It's up to us to succeed in triggering this confidence and success which has enabled us to be world champions.

"We know that it takes this energy, this little madness sometimes in the game to create it."

Varane is joined in the France camp by the Hernandez brothers, Lucas and Theo, who could feature in defence together against Belgium.

The pair, who appeared at the news conference in tandem, assured that whoever starts will give their all to ensure that their team are in the final on Sunday.

"We are brothers but on the field, we are partners," Lucas Hernandez said.

"The most important thing is that everyone wants to win. These are special moments.

"When the matches start, we don't know who will start, but we will be united, we will give each other advice. We're all going to pull in the same direction."

Theo Hernandez echoed his brother's sentiments, adding: "We will help each other. It doesn't matter if it's me or Lucas playing. The other will be there to help him at all times."

Anthony Martial has reportedly been permitted to explore his options by Manchester United.

Martial has fallen down the pecking order at Old Trafford since Cristiano Ronaldo's return.

France international Martial scored four league goals for United last term, after netting 17 times in the 2019-20 Premier League campaign.

 

TOP STORY – DORTMUND PLOTS MARTIAL MOVE

Borussia Dortmund are bracing for Erling Haaland's departure by plotting a move for Manchester United forward Anthony Martial, claims 90Min.

Haaland, who has a release clause in his contract that activates in mid-2022, is being chased by a host of top clubs, including Premier League champions Manchester City, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain, Barcelona, Liverpool and United.

Martial is still contracted to the Red Devils until 2024, having penned a five-year deal in January 2019, amid reported interest from Barca, Tottenham and Arsenal.

 

ROUND-UP

- The Transfer Window podcast claims City owner Sheikh Mansour wants to hijack Madrid's bid for PSG star Kylian Mbappe and sign him "at any cost". Mbappe has also been linked with United and Liverpool.

- Barcelona are looking at Reims' Spanish head coach Oscar Garcia as a replacement for under-pressure boss Ronald Koeman, per RMC Sport.

- Madrid midfielder Isco has held numerous rounds of negotiations with Serie A challengers Milan about a move to Italy, according to Todo Fichajes.

Barca are considering a move for Porto's Colombia international forward Luis Diaz next off-season, claims El Nacional.

- Diario AS says Theo Hernandez is ready to commit his long-term future to Milan amid interest from PSG and City.

Theo Hernandez declared Milan are focused on going one better than last year as they bid to become Serie A champions for the first time in 11 years.

French left-back Hernandez was a driving force behind Milan's latest win, coming off the bench to set up Brahim Diaz's opener against Venezia before scoring the second himself in a 2-0 victory.

Milan were not at their best on Wednesday evening, but coach Stefano Pioli's team have four wins and a draw from their opening five Serie A games, and such form is a temptation to start looking further down the line.

Hernandez, who was afforded a break from the starting XI after a hectic start to his campaign, became the first Milan player to score and assist as a substitute in Serie A since Maxi Lopez pulled off the feat against Udinese in February 2012.

He has become a key figure for the Rossoneri, who started last season at breakneck pace too, but faded in the closing months as San Siro rivals Inter scooped the Scudetto, Milan finishing in second place.

Speaking about the Venezia game, Hernandez said: "We knew it was an important match and that it would not be easy, we've come from a series of very tough matches.

"Pioli gave me some rest, I went on trying to do my best. We work every day to improve, it is a season in which we are better."

Quoted widely in the Italian media, Hernandez said: "We have to win these games, all of them. A place in the Champions League? No, something more: we have to play to win the Scudetto."

Milan fielded the youngest starting XI in a Serie A match this season (24 years and 166 days), with Pioli shaking things up to good effect just before the hour mark by introducing Hernandez, Alexis Saelemaekers and Fikayo Tomori.

By that stage, Milan had not had a shot on target, and that remained the case until Diaz put them in front after 68 minutes.

Hernandez became the first Milan defender to both score and assist in a Serie A fixture since the 2004-05 season, the furthest point back at which Opta has collated such data.

Pioli does not mind talk of titles but warned they will not come easily, with the coach saying: "We have to ride this enthusiasm and empathy we have created with our fans.

"Everyone has the desire to win; the difference is made by those who prepare themselves best to win.

"If my players think they can win the Scudetto then let them make an enormous effort, this is the only way to win."

Real Madrid are desperate to bolster their attack.

Paris Saint-Germain's Kylian Mbappe and Borussia Dortmund forward Erling Haaland are both on the list.

But, if their efforts to sign Haaland are unsuccessful, Robert Lewandowski could reportedly be targeted.

 

TOP STORY – LEWANDOWSKI TO MADRID?

Real Madrid will turn to Bayern Munich talisman Robert Lewandowski if they are unable to sign Erling Haaland from Borussia Dortmund, according to Diario AS.

Madrid are reportedly determined to sign in-demand star Haaland, who has also been linked with Manchester City, Manchester United, Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus, Liverpool, Barcelona and Bayern.

But Lewandowski has emerged as an alternative for Madrid should they miss out on Haaland.

Madrid are also eyeing PSG star Kylian Mbappe on a free transfer.

 

ROUND-UP

- Calciomercato reports Juventus are considering a move for Barca forward Ousmane Dembele. The France international has been linked with United and Liverpool, while he is yet to agree terms over a new deal at Camp Nou.

City are interested in Milan full-back Theo Hernandez, claims the Manchester Evening News. The Frenchman has flourished at San Siro, also attracting the attention of PSG.

- The Manchester Evening News says United have earmarked West Ham star Declan Rice as their principal midfield target at the end of the season.

The first international break of the 2021-22 campaign has arrived, and with it comes an opportunity for many national teams to start afresh.

Following the conclusion of the Copa America, Gold Cup and Euro 2020 in quick succession, all roads now lead to the 2022 Qatar World Cup.

For a number of players, the September qualifiers provide an opportunity to make an impression, while for others it is potentially a first taste of international football. 

With the games coming thick and fast over the next week or so, Stats Perform has looked at those in contention to make their senior international debuts.

Albert Sambi Lokonga (Belgium)

Belgium's golden generation of talent missed another opportunity to turn promise into something more tangible when losing to eventual winners Italy in the Euro 2020 quarter-finals.

Roberto Martinez has decided against wholesale changes after that disappointment, with Lokonga the only outfield player in line for his first cap, having failed to get further than the bench – against Greece in June – after previous call-ups.

A product of the same Anderlecht youth system that oversaw the development of Romelu Lukaku, Youri Tielemans and Leander Dendoncker, among others, Lokonga sealed a move to Arsenal in July after impressing in the Belgian top flight.

The £15million signing has not had the best of starts to life at Arsenal, the Gunners finding themselves bottom of the English top-flight table having played at least three league matches for the first time since October 1974.

Lokonga, noted for his ability to play in front of the defence, featured in just two of those games yet still trails Granit Xhaka alone in terms of passes (113 to 139) and successful passes (97 to 118) and is behind only Sead Kolasinac for interceptions.

 

Claudinho (Brazil)

Citing concerns over the availability of his European-based contingent due to clubs being reluctant to release players to red-list countries, Tite has named a bloated Brazil squad for this month's triple-header of World Cup qualifiers.

Those complications appear set to deny Raphinha a debut, having impressed during his first year in the Premier League with Leeds United. 

Raphinha ranks seventh in the division for dribbles attempted since the start of last season (142), completing 42.96 per cent of those. He also ranks in the top 10 for chances created over that period with 68.

But Claudinho remains in line to be capped for the first time, called up after helping his country secure Olympic gold at Tokyo 2020.

The midfielder, whose signing at Zenit was announced not long after the Olympic tournament had concluded, described his call-up as "a dream come true".

Theo Hernandez and Moussa Diaby (France)

It is out with the old and in with the new as far as France's first post-Euros squad is concerned – to an extent, at least, with Olivier Giroud one of nine players to make way from the previous group named by Didier Deschamps.

Injuries have also played a part in that, potentially giving a quartet of uncapped players the chance to impress in the upcoming qualifiers with Bosnia-Herzegovina, Ukraine and Finland.

Hernandez, a more natural left-back option than brother Lucas, will feel his first call-up is long overdue following back-to-back campaigns as a regular for Milan, whom he joined from Real Madrid. 

Since making his Rossoneri bow in September 2019, no defender in Serie A has completed more dribbles than Hernandez (133), while only Federico Dimarco (87) and Juan Cuadrado (107) have created more chances than his 86.

Monaco midfielder Aurelien Tchouameni and Roma's Jordan Veretout may also feature during this international break, but perhaps the most exciting of the new additions is Bayer Leverkusen winger Diaby.

The Paris Saint-Germain product scored twice and assisted another in Leverkusen's opening two Bundesliga games of 2021-22, while Alphonso Davies is the only player in the division to have attempted more dribbles this term (24 to his 22).

Known for his blistering pace and ability to take on opponents, Diaby could well provide Deschamps with a different option in an attack already packed full of talent.

 

Otavio (Portugal)

Three new players have been called up by Fernando Santos, who is looking to the future after his Portugal side's reign as European champions came to an end in July.

Goncalo Inacio is injured, but Diogo Costa and Otavio could each make their senior debuts during this international window, with the latter the name on many lips right now.

Otavio has tallied 11 goal involvementss in each of the past two Primeira Liga campaigns for Porto and has made a fast start to the new season with two assists in his first four games.

Since the start of last season, only team-mate Mehdi Taremi has provided more assists (12) in the Portuguese top flight than Otavio's 10, coming from 51 chances created.

The Brazilian-born attacking midfielder was granted Portuguese citizenship earlier this year and will be eager to show that Brazil's loss is very much Portugal's gain should he get some minutes over the next week.

Ricardo Pepi (United States)

The dual-national drama surrounding Pepi appears to have reached a resolution as the FC Dallas forward has seemingly pledged his allegiance to the United States over Mexico.

After breaking into the Dallas side two years ago and featuring regularly last year, 2021 has been quite the season for the El Paso-born youngster.

Pepi, who does not turn 19 until next January, has 11 goals and two assists in 21 games this term and scored the decisive kick in last week's penalty shoot-out win for MLS against their Liga MX counterparts in the All-Star Game.

He has 13 MLS goals in total, the fourth-most ever by a teenager – ahead of Freddy Adu – and just nine short of the record held by Diego Fagundez.

On the basis of the past four months in particular, the USMNT could have a potentially world-class player to lead their line for a number of years to come.

 

Karim Adeyemi (Germany)

For the first time in 17 years, Germany will play a match without Joachim Low in their dugout either as assistant or head coach when they face Liechtenstein on Thursday.

Hansi Flick is tasked with ushering in a new generation of German talents, with help from the old guard, many of whom were key to his successful spell at Bayern Munich.

Away from regulars such as Thomas Muller, Leon Goretzka, Joshua Kimmich and Manuel Neuer, Flick has included four uncapped players in his first squad – David Raum, Nico Schlotterbeck, Florian Wirtz and Adeyemi.

A technically gifted and supremely fast winger, Adeyemi has long been considered one of Germany's most promising young players, having cost Salzburg a reported €3m when he was 16.

Adeyemi, who left Bayern six years earlier, has been given the chance to spread his wings with Salzburg and has been strongly linked with Red Bull sister club RB Leipzig.

He already has six goals in six Austrian Bundesliga appearances this term, just one less than he managed in 29 top-flight appearances last time out – a return he will be looking to build on if he is given the nod by Flick.

Justin Bijlow (Netherlands)

The Netherlands are another European heavyweight going through a transitional period of sorts after turning to veteran coach Louis van Gaal for a third stint in charge.

Frank de Boer failed to get the most out of this talented Dutch squad and already Van Gaal has put his own mark on the team by calling up a few newbies.

There will be plenty of focus on the goalkeeping position as, with Jasper Cillessen not fully fit and Maarten Stekelenburg recently retiring, Joel Drommel and Bijlow can stake a claim to be the long-term number one.

Bijlow is considered one of the finest young goalkeepers in Europe and already has 45 Eredivisie games under his belt for Feyenoord, where he is a real fan favourite.

The 23-year-old has kept 15 clean sheets across those appearances and boasts a save percentage of 72.16. Van Gaal can seemingly rely on the young stopper, as he has made just one error leading to a goal.

Milan returned to winning ways with a 2-0 victory over Benevento at San Siro that moves them back up to second place in Serie A.

The Rossoneri dropped to fifth following defeats to Sassuolo and Lazio, but they battled to a much-needed win in Saturday's clash with Filippo Inzaghi's struggling Benevento.

Hakan Calhanoglu picked out the bottom-right corner inside six minutes to give Milan the lead and Theo Hernandez added a second from close range with an hour played.

That proved enough as Milan moved a point in front of Atalanta and three ahead of Napoli and Juventus, but all three sides have a game in hand to play on Sunday.

Milan have scored the most goals of any Serie A side in the opening half-hour of games this term, while Benevento have conceded the most, and this contest followed the script.

Calhanoglu exchanged passes with Franck Kessie, played the ball out to Alexis Saelemaekers and got on the end of the return pass to steer a shot past Lorenzo Montipo.

The Benevento keeper did well to save a powerful strike from Rafael Leao soon after and also denied Zlatan Ibrahimovic with his outstretched leg from a one-on-one.

Ibrahimovic was thwarted again by a couple more Montipo saves early in the second half, either side of Iago Falque firing one inches wide at the other end.

However, the next Montipo save on Ibrahimovic paid dividends for Milan as attacking left-back Hernandez was in the right place to turn in the rebound.

Benevento would have moved out of the bottom three with a point, but they could not offer much in response as Milan saw out a deserved victory.

What does it mean? Milan back to winning ways ahead of tough run-in

Stefano Pioli challenged his Milan players to show their fighting spirit on the back of successive losses and they did exactly that with a fairly routine victory on home soil.

This win – just their second in nine home matches in all competitions – moves them into second place and puts pressure on the chasing pack to win their games on Sunday.

With a trip to Juventus next weekend, and a visit to fellow top-four rivals Atalanta also still to come, Pioli's men need to use this win as a platform to rebuild some momentum.

Hakan at it again

The midfielder created and finished off a well-worked Milan opener, with Kessie also deserving of praise for dummying Saelemaekers' pass for his team-mate to convert.

Calhanoglu, who became the fourth Turkish player to score 50 goals in the top five European leagues this century, ended the contest with a game-high 48 passes in the opposition half.

Zlatan denied

The veteran striker missed Milan's last three games through suspension and injury but was deemed fit enough to start against Benevento.

He had a few good opportunities to score but could not find a way past inspired keeper Montipo from any of his seven shots, five of which were on target.

What's next?

Milan have that huge showdown with soon-to-be-dethroned champions Juventus a week on Sunday, while Benevento host Cagliari in an equally important clash the same day.

Lucas Hernandez is determined to prove his worth for both club and country as the Bayern Munich defender aims to hold off competition, including potentially from his own brother, to remain a regular for France.  

Hernandez suffered knee and ankle injuries in his first year at Bayern, though he has by no means been a regular this season when available for head coach Hansi Flick.  

The 25-year-old has made 17 Bundesliga appearances – 12 of which have been starts – and also eight outings in the Champions League, helping the German club reach the quarter-final stage in Europe.  

He started at left-back for Les Bleus on Wednesday, the reigning world champions opening their qualifying campaign for Qatar 2022 with a 1-1 home draw against Ukraine.  

"Yes, of course. I'm someone who always wants to play," Hernandez - who joined Bayern from Atletico Madrid in June 2019 - told the media on Thursday.  

"I was injured a lot last year but this year the injuries have left me alone. I played, I wanted to restore confidence to the club that bought me two years ago. There were times when I was frustrated, angry when I was on the bench.   

"At Bayern, the competition is very strong. I had times when I played less, but I still have confidence in myself, I have always worked in training.  

"There is also a lot of competition in the France team too, we are always in danger. It's up to me to hang on."

Hernandez was a reliable option for France boss Didier Deschamps in the successful World Cup campaign in Russia in 2018, though appreciates he cannot just take his place for granted.  

Younger sibling Theo is one of those hoping to force his way in. The 23-year-old has yet to make his debut for the senior team but is excelling at Milan, contributing five goals and six assists this season.  

He has created 45 chances in total in the 2020-21 campaign, putting him behind only Hakan Calhanoglu for Stefano Pioli's squad. His tackle success rate, meanwhile, sits at 64.1 per cent.  

"At the moment offensively, he is very strong," Lucas said of Theo. "He has this confidence to take the ball and break through the lines easily. He is having a very good season.   

"It was already the case last year; I hope that one day he can be here [with the France squad]. It is not for me to choose that. It is not my choice.   

"In previous years, when he was at Real Madrid or Real Sociedad, he had a little more trouble. But since he has been in Milan, he is confident – and it shows in the stats, with assists and goals. He's very offensive. 

"He's my brother, I have that family feeling. He's a very good player, I like him a lot. I hope he can be here one day."

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