Stefano Pioli warned his Milan players against complacency after they took a significant stride towards Champions League qualification with a resounding 3-0 win over top-four rivals Juventus on Sunday. 

Brahim Diaz opened the scoring on the stroke of half-time before Franck Kessie missed the opportunity to double their advantage shortly before the hour mark, when Wojciech Szczesny pawed away his penalty. 

It mattered little in the end, though, as substitute Ante Rebic and Fikayo Tomori sealed a first away Serie A win against the Bianconeri since March 2011 inside the final 12 minutes. 

The victory was Milan's 14th away from home in the league this season, with only Inter in 2006-07 (15) registering more in a single campaign in the history of the competition. 

Pioli was thrilled with his side's efforts, but says they need to quickly turn their focus to Wednesday, when they return to Turin to face Torino. 

"This was a team that believed, that showed a spirit of sacrifice, that gave it's all and showed quality, too," he told Sky Sport Italia.  

"We want to thank our fans, who really moved us this morning with their support, but now we have another game coming up and that might be even more difficult than this."

The win moved the Rossoneri up to third in the table, three points above Juve, who dropped down to fifth with just three games remaining. 

Pioli hailed the determination of his team after they scored three goals away to Juve for the first time since January 2010. 

"We have had big wins this season, but admittedly this was a head-to-head, with the table so tight and so much in the balance," he added. "Unfortunately, it is not the final game of the season so we still have to keep going.

"When it comes to determination, team spirit and preparation to sacrifice, we were perhaps the best team in Italy for a long period of time.

"There was inevitably some mental fatigue after a long campaign, but we knew that today we had to step it up and put in a different performance.

"When it was time to make challenges and fight for every ball, we did not hold back."

Rebic replaced Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the 66th minute, the Sweden international limping off with a knee injury. 

Pioli, though, is confident it is nothing serious. 

"Zlatan was not at 100 per cent, he had half a training session with us on Friday, but he wanted to be here at all costs," he said. 

"He has a sore knee, but I don't think it's anything serious. We'll evaluate it."

Romelu Lukaku believes Zlatan Ibrahimovic has helped to raise the level of Serie A and is not dwelling on their heated clash earlier this season.

Lukaku had to be dragged away from Ibrahimovic after the Milan striker apparently insulted his mother during January's Coppa Italia derby.

The Belgium striker equalised from the penalty spot in a 2-1 win for Inter, while the Sweden veteran was sent off.

Ibrahimovic denied allegations of racially abusing Lukaku during the spat and, after inspiring Inter to a valedictory Scudetto triumph, the younger man seemed to have no intention of retaining any ill-feeling towards his former Manchester United team-mate.

"We were losing 1-0, I missed a goal, I was a bit angry," he told Corriere Della Sera.

"His words struck me. I'm not happy with having reacted like that but don't let myself get pushed around. 

"I am humble and calm, I am a winner and I fight to death for my team-mates and for the victory."

Lukaku looks likely to fall short in this season's Capocannoniere race as he sits on 21 goals behind Cristiano Ronaldo on 27.

Ibrahimovic has 15, although his haul comes from 18 appearances, compared to 33 for Lukaku, giving him a superior minutes-per-goal rate (95.47 v 127.29).

Lukaku feels Ibrahimovic and Ronaldo plying their trade in Serie A only adds to the division's appeal, with Jose Mourinho's appointment as Roma head coach this week providing similar lustre.

 

"[Ibrahimovic is] a great player, he has won wherever he has played, he has scored more than 500 goals," he said.

"We need players of this level in Serie A. He wants to win for himself, me for Inter, Ronaldo for Juve, now there is Mourinho at Roma.

"They are all good things for Italy. The level is raised, let's hope Inter win again [next season]."

Although ending Juventus' decade of dominance in Italy was joyously celebrated by Inter and their fans, Lukaku conceded there are pangs of regret of Antonio Conte's men bowing out at the group stage of the Champions League this season.

Real Madrid and Borussia Monchengladbach progressed out of a tough round-robin section that also featured Inter and Shakhtar Donetsk.

"Leaving in the group stage was a great disappointment, we should have qualified in that group," he added.

"Real Madrid are strong, but we were better than the other two.  Next year we have to overcome the group, then anything can happen."

Hakan Calhanoglu needs to score more goals if he is to reach his full potential, according to Milan head coach Stefano Pioli.

The Turkey international scored his fourth Serie A goal of the campaign on Saturday as Milan bounced back from consecutive defeats to beat Benevento 2-0 at San Siro.

That goal means Calhanoglu became the fourth Turkish player to score 50 goals in the top five European leagues since the turn of the millennium after Mevlut Erdinc (92), Nihat Kahveci (76) and Halil Altintop (67).

He is still five goals away from his top-flight total from last season and Pioli wants to see more from the 27-year-old in that department.

"In my view, Calhanoglu has not yet achieved his maximum potential. He provides quality, solidity, hard work, he plays with the team," Pioli told DAZN.

"He just needs to be a little more precise on assists and the final ball, keep his head up and check for the options.

"I think he must be motivated to score more goals because with the talent he has, he should set himself much higher targets and aim for double figures."

Zlatan Ibrahimovic made his first appearance for the Rossoneri since he received a red card in the 3-1 win over Parma on April 10 and he was in typically industrious form.

The Sweden international had seven shots – four more than any other player on the pitch – while he contested three more duels than any other Milan player (13).

Despite not finding the back of the net, Pioli was pleased with the 39-year-old's contribution.

"Ibrahimovic is a champion and a champion makes everyone around him raise their game," the Milan boss said.

"Missing him was certainly damaging to the team, but we have reacted to the difficulties and showed character.

"It's an advantage not to give the opposition defence a regular point to focus on, so Zlatan has this great tactical intelligence and knows how to move around trying to find the space."

The result moved Milan a point in front of Atalanta and three ahead of Napoli and Juventus into second place, but all three rival sides have a game in hand to play on Sunday.

Pioli takes his side to Juve next weekend in what will be a crunch game for his side's hopes of qualifying for next season's Champions League.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is being investigated by UEFA for "an alleged financial interest in a betting company", European football's governing body has confirmed.

Earlier this month, Swedish publication Aftonbladet claimed Ibrahimovic was potentially in breach of FIFA regulations due to apparent involvement in the Maltese gambling company Bethard.

It was claimed that a business Ibrahimovic owns holds 10 per cent of Bethard's shares, making it their fourth-largest shareholder.

Ibrahimovic's association with Bethard was nothing new, as the former Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain star became their global ambassador in 2018.

But the Aftonbladet report was the first time allegations of a more substantial involvement were brought to light and now UEFA is taking the claims seriously.

A statement issued by UEFA read: "In accordance with Article 31(4) of the UEFA Disciplinary Regulations (DR), a UEFA Ethics and Disciplinary Inspector has today been appointed to conduct a disciplinary investigation regarding a potential violation of the UEFA Disciplinary Regulations by Mr. Zlatan Ibrahimovic for having an alleged financial interest in a betting company.

"Further information regarding this matter will be made available in due course."

FIFA's ethics code prohibits the involvement in betting enterprises for players, officials, referees and intermediaries.

It says: "They are forbidden from participating in, either directly or indirectly, betting, gambling, lotteries or similar events or transactions related to football matches or competitions and/or any related football activities.

"They shall not have any interests, either directly or indirectly (through or in conjunction with third parties), in entities, companies, organisations, etc. that promote, broker, arrange or conduct betting, gambling, lotteries or similar events or transactions connected with football matches and competitions;

"'Interests' include gaining any possible advantage for the persons bound by the Code themselves and/or related parties."

If found guilty, Ibrahimovic, 39, faces a ban from all football-related activity for up to three years.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is being investigated by UEFA for "an alleged financial interest in a betting company", European football's governing body has confirmed.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been ruled out of Milan's clash with Lazio, but head coach Stefano Pioli is confident fit-again Mario Mandzukic is ready to step up and fill the void.

Sweden international Ibrahimovic sat out Wednesday's 2-1 home loss to Sassuolo with a muscular problem and is not ready to return for Monday's Serie A trip to Stadio Olimpico.

The 39-year-old, who this week signed another 12-month extension with Milan, also missed the recent win against Genoa through suspension.

Rafael Leao filled in for Ibrahimovic in those two matches, but Mandzukic - a second-half substitute in both games - is in line for a first league start since joining in January after shaking off an injury issue of his own.

"Ibrahimovic is better but he won't be there tomorrow. He should be back for the following match," Pioli said at a pre-match news conference on Sunday. 

"Mandzukic and Leao will play for the place tomorrow. Mario is feeling better and has the characteristics to give himself the right contribution in the opposition box."

Former Juventus striker Mandzukic has featured seven times in total for Milan, his only start coming in the 2-2 Europa League last-32 first leg with Red Star Belgrade in February.

He has yet to score, assist or create a chance across his 119 minutes of Serie A action for the Rossoneri and has managed just three four shots, three of those on target.

Rafael Leao has played double the number of league games over that same period of time, scoring one, assisting one and creating nine chances.

The versatile Portuguese forward can play right across the frontline, but Pioli is not yet sure where he will be used in the long term.

"The Leao project continues regardless of his role," Pioli said. "It only goes to show his maturity and willingness to grow, which is normal for such a young player.

"It is difficult to establish what Rafael's final role will be. The growth of a player allows you to find a job and a position. 

"The important thing is he continues to grow and we will continue to evaluate the position along the way."

Milan have an identical league record with and without Ibrahimovic in their side this season (W10 D3 L3), and they average 1.9 goals with him in the side compared to 1.8 without.

Since rejoining the club at the start of 2020, Ibrahimovic has scored 25 goals in 35 Serie A appearances - only Luis Muriel (26), Romelu Lukaku (32), Ciro Immobile (36) and Cristiano Ronaldo (46) have found the net more often across that period.

Meanwhile, his scoring rate of 108.24 minutes per goal is bettered only by Ronaldo (88.41) and Muriel (64.42) among players to have scored at least 10 times.

"Ibra has raised the level of quality and personality, his charisma has helped everyone to grow," Pioli said following confirmation of Ibrahimovic's new contract on Saturday.

"His teammates have been good at following this path and having a growth with great constancy and will. 

"We have all grown and have become a team of a higher level. Everyone has given their contribution."

Milan star Zlatan Ibrahimovic said he has silenced his doubters after proving age is just a number following his contract renewal.

Ibrahimovic has starred since re-joining Milan on a free transfer from LA Galaxy in December 2019, the veteran striker scoring 15 goals in 17 Serie A matches this season.

The 39-year-old – now contracted to the Rossoneri until the end of 2021-22 – has netted 17 goals across all competitions in an injury-hit 2020-21 campaign, while the evergreen Swede has 28 goals in 45 appearances in his second spell with Milan.

"I think it will be positive. Even if someone had doubts before I arrived," Ibrahimovic told MilanTV. "I have shown that age doesn't matter.

"It's all about mentality. I always want to improve and do the best I can.

"I just want to feel good physically and be able to do the things I know how to do."

Ibrahimovic, who won the 2011 Scudetto during his first spell with Milan, has helped the Italian giants up to second position this season – 10 points adrift of city rivals and leaders Inter, though they are only a point clear of Atalanta and Juventus.

"I try to help everyone, it's a motivation," former Manchester United, Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona star Ibrahimovic said.

"It gives me adrenaline to see these young people and their growth, from the first day I arrived until today, I have seen growth from each of them.

"All are willing to do their best, then in my opinion they understood the sacrifice that must be made to be where we are today."

Milan technical director Paolo Maldini has revealed Zlatan Ibrahimovic is "very close" to signing a contract extension, while Gianluigi Donnarumma has also been urged to stay at the club by head coach Stefano Pioli.

Ibrahimovic has helped to rejuvenate Milan since returning to San Siro in January 2020 on an initial six-month deal that was extended by a year ahead of the 2020-21 campaign.

The 39-year-old is due to become a free agent when his latest deal expires at the end of June.

Reports in Italy suggest the evergreen striker is happy to remain with Milan for another year, however, and Maldini has provided a positive update on the contract talks.

"There are only small details missing and therefore we are very close to the renewal," he told Sky Sport Italia.

Ibrahimovic has 25 goals in 35 Serie A appearances since the start of 2020 - only Cristiano Ronaldo (46), Ciro Immobile (33), Romelu Lukaku (32) and Luis Muriel (26) have found the net more often across this period.

Meanwhile, his scoring rate of 108.2 minutes per goal is bettered only by Muriel (58.2) and Ronaldo (84.5) among players to have scored at least five times.

The former Manchester United striker registered his seventh league assist since rejoining in Saturday's 3-1 win over Parma, although he was later sent off for dissent - the sixth red card he has received in his Serie A career.

It somewhat marred what should have been a special occasion for Ibrahimovic, who brought up his 300th career victory in Europe's 'top five' leagues - 170 of those in Serie A - thanks to his team-mates seeing the job through at Estadio Ennio Tardini.

Gianluigi Donnarumma made four saves against Parma, including an impressive quickfire double stop early in the second half to deny Andrea Conti and Graziano Pelle, highlighting his importance to the side.

The Italy international is another who could leave San Siro as a free agent in a few months, but Pioli is hopeful the club's undisputed first-choice goalkeeper will commit to fresh terms.

"I would advise Gigio to stay at Milan because it is a top club and we are building something here," he told Sky Sport Italia. 

"I call my players fighters who haven't won yet, but are training to win trophies."

Hakan Calhanoglu completes the trio of Milan players with uncertain futures as he reaches the end of his contract, with the attacking midfielder reportedly holding out for a longer deal than the club are prepared to offer.

Asked for an update on the contract situations, Maldini added: "These are choices everyone has to make. I am not here to judge, I am here to do what is best for the club.

"I also know that you need two parties to be happy in order to strike a deal."

Milan, who strengthened their grip on second place with a club-record 13th away Serie A win of the season, also have the option of turning Fikayo Tomori's loan move from Chelsea into a permanent deal.

Tomori has impressed since joining in January and leads Milan defenders in blocks per 90 minutes (1.1) in Serie A this term, while the centre-back completed 93 per cent of his passes against Parma.

"He has made a wonderful impact and settled in so quickly," Pioli said. "He has other characteristics of pace and of playing out from the back that can certainly improve us as a team. 

"He is a player who is certainly giving us a lot and the intention is to keep him."

Milan boss Stefano Pioli praised the determination of his players to see out the win against Parma following the dismissal of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who has denied insulting referee Fabio Maresca.

The Rossoneri were cruising in Saturday's Serie A clash thanks to first-half goals from Ante Rebic and Franck Kessie, only for Ibrahimovic - who played a part in both goals - to be sent off for dissent with an hour played.

Riccardo Gagliolo pulled a goal back for Parma six minutes later, but Milan survived a few nervy moments and added a late third at Estadio Ennio Tardini through substitute Rafael Leao.

Referee Maresca, who sent off Inter boss Antonio Conte in January, reached straight for his red card after Ibrahimovic had said something following the awarding of a free-kick to Parma.

It is the sixth time the striker has been dismissed in Serie A since his debut in the competition in 2004-05 - the joint-most for a forward alongside Francesco Totti, Goran Pandev, Domenico Berardi and Mauricio Pinilla - and Pioli has shed light on what was said.

"I was focused on the match," he told Sky Sport Italia. "Zlatan told me that he argued with the referee and that the discussion went on, but he told me that he had not offended the referee.

"The discussion took place and the referee soon reached this decision."

When asked by Sky Sport Italia if he had any idea what Ibrahimovic said, Pioli added: "He told me he said to the referee, 'You really don't care what I tell you?'"

Parma attempted 308 passes in the second half to 10-man Milan's 119 and had double the number of attempts on target to their opponents' two after the interval.

But Leao's strike at the end of a swift counter led by Diogo Dalot ensured Milan came away with a 13th away league win of the season - a club record in a single top-flight campaign.

Milan's 16 away wins this season in all competitions is the joint-most they have managed in a single campaign, meanwhile, alongside 1992-93 and 2004-05.

Pioli is pleased with the way his side reacted to Ibrahimovic's red card but cannot explain why his team have performed better on their travels this campaign.

"The positive is that my team managed to get the victory with great determination today," he said.

"Parma are tough to play, we messed things up ourselves at one stage, but the important thing was to win.

"The statistics show we do better away from home. It's strange and we are evaluating the reasons, but the games are quite similar when playing behind closed doors.".

Milan are back to within eight points of leaders Inter, but of more significance to Pioli is the seven-point gap to fifth-placed Napoli, who like each of the teams around the Rossoneri have a game in hand.

"We want to take Milan back into the Champions League. We've got strong competition from Juventus, Atalanta, Napoli, Lazio and Roma, so we have to take it one game at a time and keep going," Pioli said.

"These are all teams capable of winning eight or nine in a row, so we can take absolutely nothing for granted. Maybe we wasted too much time and energy thinking about the future or other situations. 

"If you think too much about the game in a month’s time, you won't focus enough on the one that is coming up.

"We need to get back to the points average we had at the start of the season, but we can only do that if we take it one game at a time."

Ten-man Milan were made to sweat in their 3-1 win against Parma at Stadio Ennio Tardini after having Zlatan Ibrahimovic sent off for dissent as they tightened their grip on second place in Serie A.

Last week's 1-1 home draw with Sampdoria all but ended the Rossoneri's Scudetto hopes, but they responded with all three points on Saturday to boost their top-four prospects.

Ibrahimovic claimed an impressive assist for Ante Rebic's early opener and played a big part in Franck Kessie's goal that had Milan in control at the midway point.

However, the veteran striker was dismissed on the hour mark for something he said to the referee and Riccardo Gagliolo pulled back a goal soon after, but substitute Rafael Leao settled Milan's nerves with a third goal in added time.

David de Gea's future at Manchester United has been the topic of conversation for months.

The situation has become muddied in recent weeks during the Spaniard's period of paternity leave but De Gea is back in England and playing second fiddle to Dean Henderson.

De Gea has been at Old Trafford since 2011 but United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has started Henderson for seven games in a row.

 

TOP STORY – DE GEA TO EXIT UNITED

De Gea's representatives are already sounding out potential buyers and he is set to leave Manchester United this off-season, according to the Daily Mail.

The 30-year-old is contracted with the Red Devils although no transfer fee has been mentioned yet.

The report claims Real MadridParis Saint-Germain and Atletico Madrid are potentially interested clubs.

ROUND-UP

- ESPN reports Barcelona will continue to pursue Borussia Dortmund's Erling Haaland but a source has said a deal will be "very difficult".

- Tottenham defender Juan Foyth is on loan at Villarreal this season and the Spanish club want to sign him permanently for less than the €15.3million (£13m) option fee, according to Football Insider.

Jerome Boateng will leave Bayern Munich as a free agent at the end of this season with the club opting not to offer him a new contract, reports Kicker.

- Sky Sports are claiming that Zlatan Ibrahimovic is ready to ink a one-year extension with Milan.

Stefano Pioli feels qualifying for the Champions League could "change everything" for Milan – particularly when it comes to retaining three key members of his first-team squad.

Gianluigi Donnarumma, Hakan Calhanoglu and Zlatan Ibrahimovic are all out of contract at the end of the season, while the Serie A club also face a decision over whether to sign on-loan defender Fikayo Tomori on a permanent deal.

However, ahead of the resumption of domestic duties after the international games in March, Pioli made clear the focus for everyone is on finishing the campaign strongly.

Milan sit second in the table and despite their form tailing off in 2021 – they have lost five times in the league since the turn of the year, having gone unbeaten in the competition in the first half of the season – they have a glorious opportunity to finish in the top four.

"In the eyes of Ibra, Calhanoglu and Donnarumma I see serenity," Pioli told the media about the trio on Friday.

"Their future is now for us - it would change everything for us to go to the Champions League. I see a lot of concentration and attention."

Tomori had made 12 appearances in all competitions since his arrival from Chelsea in the mid-season transfer window, with the temporary deal including a purchase option.

"We are very satisfied with how he has started, he is a smiling boy, he gives us important characteristics," Pioli said of the centre-back. "We must continue to do well without thinking about the future."

Milan are in early action on Saturday, taking on Sampdoria at San Siro.

The Rossoneri have failed to win in any of their last five home games in all competitions, a run that included a 1-0 defeat to Manchester United that ended their involvement in the Europa League.

Catching Serie A leaders Inter - who sit six points clear and have a game in hand - may be difficult but Pioli has set a points target for his players to work towards in the closing months.

"We have always taken responsibility with great conviction and confidence," he said.

"There comes a decisive moment - everything we have done so far is to be here right now. We want to get to the end of the season without regrets.

"Ten games are a lot and there are still many points to play for, 75 could be the right threshold to reach the Champions League but it is difficult to make calculations.

"The fight will be very tough, we have to think about the next game."

Zlatan Ibrahimovic broke down in tears at a media conference on Monday after revealing his return to the Sweden squad has not been easy for his family.

The Milan striker was recalled by Janne Andersson for this month's World Cup qualifiers against Kosovo and Georgia, plus the friendly with Estonia, paving the way for him to potentially play at Euro 2020.

He celebrated his first call-up in nearly five years by posting a picture on Twitter of himself in a Sweden shirt with the caption: "The return of the God."

Ibrahimovic, who turns 40 in October, is Sweden's all-time leading scorer with 62 international goals, the last of those coming against Denmark in November 2015. 

Speaking at a media conference on Monday, an emotional Ibrahimovic revealed the difficulty of leaving his family to join up with the national team. 

"I had Vincent [his son] here, who was actually crying when I left him. But it's okay...," he said, before breaking off in tears.

"This takes time away from my family and it's not an easy thing. If you have two kids crying every time you leave them, it's a bit hard. I'm human, even though I'm Superman.

"They are very proud."

Ibrahimovic has impressed in Serie A this term with 15 goals in as many matches, and the ex-Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain striker believes he can still make an impact on the international stage.

"I'm just a piece of the puzzle, among many pieces. I'm here to do better, if Janne thinks I can,” he added.

"If you ask me, I'm the best in the world, but that doesn't help me much here. I've promised to decide matches, so now it's up to me!

"I'm just glad I'm here. I'm proud, I'm not demanding anything and I want nothing. I just want to contribute what I can. If Janne felt I cannot contribute or do what I have to do, then we wouldn't be here.

"As of today, I want to keep going as long as I can. I don't want to regret anything when I stop. That thought came into my head after the injury [in 2017].

"You should continue as long as you can with what you love. Football is what I want to do; that's what I love.

"I am who I am. But I'm not here to have my own show."

Milan star Zlatan Ibrahimovic insisted there is no rush over a new deal at San Siro after inspiring the Scudetto hopefuls in Serie A on Sunday.

Ibrahimovic was on target as Milan kept their title hopes alive with a come-from-behind 3-2 victory at Fiorentina.

The 39-year-old – who has rejuvenated Milan since returning in January 2020 – is out of contract at the end of the season and the evergreen forward is yet to extend his deal.

Asked about his future post-game in Florence, Ibrahimovic told Sky Sport Italia: "I want to see what I do on the pitch and prove that I deserve a renewal!

"It's all under control, we have a good rapport and we'll see what happens. There's no rush."

Ibrahimovic opened the scoring in the ninth minute before two unanswered goals from Erick Pulgar and Frank Ribery put Fiorentina 2-1 ahead six minutes into the second half.

Milan hit back through Brahim Diaz and Hakan Calhanoglu to move within six points of leaders and city rivals Inter, who have a game in hand.

Aged 39 years and 169 days, Ibrahimovic became the oldest player in Serie A history to score 15 goals in a single season.

Ibrahimovic is also the first Milan player to score 15-plus goals in his first 15 appearances in a single Serie A season in the three points per win era (since 1994-95), while he is the fifth foreigner to do so since 1994-95.

"No, let's not talk about my age! I feel like Benjamin Button, the more time goes on, the more I feel young," said Ibrahimovic, who has 17 goals across all competitions this season.

Milan returned to winning ways following their Europa League last-16 exit at the hands of Manchester United on Thursday, and Ibrahimovic – who is back in the Sweden national team after retiring in 2016 – added: "After a defeat and going out of the Europa League, now we have the Scudetto to fight for. A comeback like this was very important.

"We had spirit, mentality, we were 2-1 down, but we wanted to win at all costs. We showed the character of this team and we must continue like this.

"I am taking on my responsibility to help this team any way I can, on and off the field. The team reacted well, this is an intense period of the season and now some have a break. Some don't."

Stefano Pioli says Milan "scraped the bottom of the barrel" as they came from behind to seal a dramatic 3-2 Serie A win over Fiorentina on Sunday. 

Hakan Calhanoglu struck 18 minutes from full-time to move the Rossoneri to within six points of leaders Inter, who have a game in hand after their clash with Sassuolo this weekend was called off after a COVID-19 outbreak at the club.

The result meant Milan equalled their record of 12 away wins in a single top-flight season and ended a run of three games across all competitions without a win. 

That included a Europa League last-16 defeat to Manchester United, and Pioli acknowledged his side had to dig deep to bounce back from that setback.

"This was the most difficult game because we were coming off the disappointment of the Europa League," he told Sky Sport Italia. 

"We had been playing every three days for many months and knew we had to scrape the bottom of the barrel for the remaining drops of energy to get it done."

Zlatan Ibrahimovic had earlier put Milan ahead to become the oldest player to reach 15 goals in a single Serie A season, aged 39 years and 169 days, and the striker insisted afterwards they are still very much in the title race.

Pioli agreed with the veteran Swede and said Milan will do everything they can to reign in neighbours Inter. 

"Ibra is right to talk about the Scudetto because we were up there most of the season," he added.

"We're not that far away now and we have the quality to play every single game for a victory. Whether we achieve it is another matter, but we can certainly try.

"Naturally, we started the season with very different objectives, as we were aiming to be in the top four. 

"Now we are there, we want it to be a positive campaign right to the end. I've always said there will be four very happy teams at the end of the season and three who won't be."

Pioli also highlighted the contribution of Ismael Bennacer after he was introduced for Sandro Tonali shortly before the hour mark. 

The Algeria international completed 30 of his 31 attempted passes and enjoyed a pass completion rate in the opposition half of 95.2 per cent. 

"I would agree that although Tonali and [Soualiho] Meite are doing well, Isma has some specific characteristics that work really well with our system," Pioli said. 

"He'll go on international duty now and hopefully get some minutes in his legs so he'll make a big impact in the final push of the season."

Milan are next in action at home to Sampdoria on April 3.

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