Milan kept alive their faint hopes of Serie A title glory as Hakan Calhanoglu's fine strike sealed a pulsating 3-2 win over Fiorentina on Sunday. 

Zlatan Ibrahimovic had put them ahead after nine minutes to become the oldest player to reach 15 goals in a single Serie A season, aged 39 years and 169 days, but Erick Pulgar restored parity soon after.

Fiorentina took the lead shortly after the break thanks to a cool finish from Franck Ribery, yet Milan powered back thanks to Brahim Diaz and Calhanoglu's winner 19 minutes from full-time. 

The result means Milan move to within six points of leaders Inter, whose game against Sassuolo this weekend was called off after a COVID-19 outbreak at the club.

Fikayo Tomori cleared Martin Caceres' header off the line after five minutes as the hosts started brightly, but it was Milan who struck first. 

Simon Kjaer's clipped ball over the top found Ibrahimovic and the Sweden international struck past an exposed Bartlomiej Dragowski. 

That lead was cancelled out after 17 minutes, though, when Pulgar whipped a free-kick into Gianluigi Donnarumma's top-right corner from 20 yards. 

Both sides struck the crossbar before half-time, German Pezzella denied after an inventive flick from Valentin Eysseric's corner, while Ibrahimovic clipped against the frame of the goal after being played in by Calhanoglu.

La Viola went ahead six minutes after the restart, Ribery stroking home his second top-flight goal of the season from 15 yards after he had been teed up by Dusan Vlahovic.

The Rossoneri drew level in the 57th minute, however, when Diaz reacted quickest to poke home Kjaer's knockdown from a corner. 

Ibrahimovic struck the post with a cross before Calhanoglu slotted into substitute goalkeeper Pietro Terracciano's bottom-left corner from just inside the penalty area to ensure neighbours Inter cannot relax just yet.

 

 

Stefano Pioli is hopeful Zlatan Ibrahimovic can help get Milan's campaign back on track after confirming the striker will start Sunday's Serie A clash with Fiorentina. 

Ibrahimovic returned from a thigh injury with 25 minutes from the bench in Thursday's 1-0 loss to Manchester United in the Europa League. 

He was unable to mark his return to action with a goal against his former club but has 16 for the season overall, 14 of those coming in the same number of league appearances. 

Milan have struggled for goals in the 39-year-old's absence, scoring four times in their last five games in a run that includes back-to-back blanks in defeats to Napoli and United. 

Indeed, after scoring in 38 consecutive league games, Milan have failed to score in four of their last nine, losing each of the four matches in which they did not find the net. 

Pioli is therefore glad to have Ibrahimovic, who was this week recalled to the Sweden squad after a near-five-year absence, back available for Sunday's trip to Fiorentina.

"Zlatan took advantage of his minutes on Thursday to improve his condition and will start from the first minute tomorrow," Pioli said at a pre-match news conference on Saturday. 

"I still don't know if he has 90 minutes in his legs, but his presence is important for us and he will make a big difference." 

Milan went down 2-1 on aggregate to United - Paul Pogba's strike in the second leg at San Siro ultimately proving the difference - and are left battling in just one competition between now and the end of the season. 

The Rossoneri lost 1-0 to Napoli last time out in Serie A and have won just two of their last six league games, placing them nine points behind leaders Inter. 

Juventus are a point further back with a game in hand, meanwhile, but Pioli is not throwing in the title towel yet with 11 matches still to play. 

Asked if it bothers him that many have ruled Milan out of the Scudetto race, Pioli said: "Who has said that? Maybe I should hang up some newspaper headlines in the locker room? 

"Being eliminated by United is something we regret, but we come out of the game even more aware of our qualities and that little details can make all the difference." 

Sunday's opponents Fiorentina ended a three-game winless run with a 4-1 victory at Benevento last weekend to move up to 14th. 

Cesare Prandelli's side have drawn three of their last four home league games with Milan and Pioli is anticipating a tough test in Florence.

"We're aiming for the top and must try to win every match. But I think tomorrow might be the most complicated of them all," said Pioli, who both played for and previously managed La Viola. 

"Fiorentina are in good shape, and we are coming off a very tiring run of games. I am sure we'll step up a gear after the international break." 

He added: "I experienced a great deal in Florence as a player and then a coach, then of course the tragedy of what happened to Davide Astori leaves its mark.  

"It can never be a normal match. Florence and Fiorentina are more than opponents. Last year, the welcome I received when I returned there filled me with joy." 

Ibrahimovic's return is a big positive for Milan, but they remain without fellow attackers Mario Mandzukic and Rafael Leao, while Ante Rebic is serving a suspension. 

"We knew there could be difficulties with such a packed schedule and we've so far played more competitive games than anyone else," Pioli said of his side's recent injury woes. 

"I feel that the team has overcome the difficult moment, as recent performances have been strong and we only lost due to minor incidents.  

"There are some justifications for the number of injuries, whereas in some cases we missed something and that mustn't happen again."

Zlatan Ibrahimovic declined to discuss his Milan future following the club's Europa League exit to Manchester United on Thursday.

Ibrahimovic came off the bench in the 65th minute but could not inspire Milan to victory – the Rossoneri losing 1-0 on the night and 2-1 on aggregate against United.

The 39-year-old has been a key figure for Milan this term, netting 16 goals, including 14 in the Serie A to help the Italian giants sit second in the standings and nine points adrift of city rivals Inter.

Ibrahimovic, who turns 40 in October, is out of contract at the end of the season and has previously declined to offer any insight into his plans beyond the 2020-21 campaign.

"If we get into the Champions League, that is great too, but the objective is to win a trophy," Ibrahimovic told Sky Sport Italia post-game.

"I can't say anything about next season, all I know is that I'm here at the moment."

Ibrahimovic, who has returned to the Sweden squad ahead of the rescheduled 2020 having retired in 2016, felt Milan did not deserve to be knocked out by former club United.

"There is great disappointment, because we did very well over the two legs, we made one mistake and conceded a goal," said Ibrahimovic, who spent two years at Old Trafford before joining LA Galaxy in 2018.

"We should've made more of our chances. We didn't deserve to go out today, but this is football. You learn from the negative moments and use them to grow. We go forward and the season is not over.

"We have to come back stronger in Serie A, learn from our errors and keep improving. I want to play to win something, we are second and must continue like this to try and win the Scudetto."

Milan return to Serie A action on Sunday, travelling to Fiorentina.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic insists he is deserving of his place in the Sweden squad, even if he is no longer the same player he was when last representing his national side in 2016.

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. 

And having also impressed in Serie A this term with 14 goals in as many matches, the ex-Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain striker believes he can still make an impact.

"I don't want to be considered and called up for what I did before, but for what I can give now," he told the Swedish Football Association's official YouTube channel.

"I can't be the player I was five, 10, 15 or 20 yeas ago. Now, I have a completely different physique and a completely different game.

"But I keep a very high level. You don't have to worry. I'm not on the squad list because my name is Zlatan and I'm Ibrahimovic.

"It's because of what I add to the squad and what I have achieved. I think I deserve it."

Andersson previously ruled out a recall for Ibrahimovic, but his stance changed following a "great conversation" with the 116-cap ace in November.

Asked about those discussions with Andersson, Ibrahimovic said: "It was very positive. We examined everything and drew a line on everything that is the past. 

"We spoke with respect among ourselves. We were able to talk to each other.

"I recognise that mentality in myself. When you're a footballer at a certain level and you've the chance to represent your country it's the greatest joy there is to be able to do so. 

"It is with pride and honour that I will wear the national team jersey."

Ibrahimovic returned to Italian football in December 2019 after a two-season spell in MLS with LA Galaxy and has scored 27 goals in 41 games in all competitions.

Twenty-four of those goals have come in 32 Serie A appearances since returning to San Siro, a tally bettered only by Romelu Lukaku (30 goals in 45 games), Ciro Immobile (31 goals in 44 games) and Cristiano Ronaldo (44 goals in 42 games).

Sweden's players are due to gather on Monday ahead of their home qualifier against Georgia on March 25.

There was not the gulf some might have anticipated at Old Trafford last week as Manchester United welcomed an injury-hit Milan side.

Four days on from a superb win at rivals Manchester City, United came within two minutes of another big result and a 1-0 lead to take to San Siro, but it was an advantage they scarcely deserved.

A moment of ingenuity from Amad Diallo, heading his first United goal from an excellent Bruno Fernandes pass, had Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's men in front.

At the other end, without Theo Hernandez, Hakan Calhanoglu and, of course, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Milan repeatedly threatened but lacked the same quality. They had 15 attempts - worth just 1.0 expected non-penalty goals (xG) - and only scored with the last of them, when Simon Kjaer's close-range header evaded the clutches of Dean Henderson.

That away goal sets up an intriguing second leg in which United must now score, although they might have put this Europa League last-16 tie beyond Milan prior to Kjaer's equaliser.

As the Rossoneri fashioned only one 'big chance', from which Opta would expect them to score, United had two from just seven shots. Harry Maguire somehow hit the post and Daniel James stabbed wide, chances that contributed heavily to a superior xG total of 1.4.

Those misses may well prove costly when the tie continues at San Siro on Thursday.

Hernandez and Calhanoglu returned to the Milan XI against Napoli on Sunday and are set to be joined against United by the team's talisman.

In the week his return to the international stage for Sweden at Euro 2020 was confirmed, Ibrahimovic will enjoy another reunion, fit to play some part against his former club.

"His return is important," head coach Stefano Pioli said of Ibrahimovic, who has been out since February with a thigh injury. "He will not be able to have 90 minutes in his legs and tomorrow we will see what to do."

United were hanging on against short-handed opponents, restricted to just 41.2 per cent of the possession in the final 15 minutes, 36.4 per cent of which played out in the home side's own third. It was an encounter that should give Milan huge confidence now Hernandez, Calhanoglu and Ibrahimovic are available.

For all their exciting build-up play, the final pass was missing in Manchester. That cutting edge is returning in Milan.

Among Serie A defenders this season, Hernandez ranks joint-third for goals (five), joint-fourth for assists (six) and fourth for chances created (45) in all competitions. He is seventh across all players in the division for expected assists from open play (xG - 3.9) in league action.

Hakan Calhanoglu's numbers are even more impressive. He has created 99 chances in all competitions this term, second only to opposite number Fernandes (107) across Europe's 'top five' leagues.

Having failed to handle Kjaer and Co. from set-pieces last week, United have reason to fear Calhanoglu's delivery. No player can top the 51 opportunities he has forged from set plays. Five of his 10 assists have come from such scenarios.

Crucially, too, of course, Calhanoglu will have a 39-year-old Swede to look for, a focal point also absent last time out.

Rafael Leao played up front for 90 minutes and attempted only a single shot, having four touches in the United box. Ibrahimovic this season averages 4.8 shots and 8.5 touches in the opposition area per 90 minutes.

His xG rate is the highest in Serie A among those to play 500 minutes or more, at 0.8 per 90, and he usually takes those chances, too. With 16 goals from 80 attempts in all competitions, he scores one in five.

Maguire and James were wasteful in the first leg; it seems unlikely Ibrahimovic, always one for the big stage, will be similarly so.

If Milan can dictate the play again this week, they have the attacking talent to settle this tie.

Marcus Rashford believes there is a common winning mentality shared by Bruno Fernandes and Zlatan Ibrahimovic – something Manchester United must channel if they are to get back to winning silverware. 

Ibrahimovic is in line to return from an abductor injury when Milan host his former club in the Europa League on Thursday, with the round-of-16 tie all square at 1-1. 

The veteran forward, whose surprise return to international football with Sweden was confirmed this week, joined United on a free transfer in 2016 and was a talismanic figure during his first season in England. 

Across all competitions, Ibrahimovic scored 28 goals - including a brace in United's 3-2 EFL Cup final win over Southampton. 

The Red Devils also lifted the Europa League in that season under Jose Mourinho although by the time of their final triumph over Ajax, Ibrahimovic was sidelined by a serious knee injury. 

He returned to action ahead of schedule but departed to LA Galaxy midway through the following campaign. 

United now frequently look to Portugal midfielder Fernandes for inspiration. 

The former Sporting CP star has scored 35 goals – the most of any Premier League player in all competitions since his United debut on February 1 last year – and provided 21 assists in 65 appearances for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side. 

"Yeah, you could say so," Rashford told reporters when asked whether Ibrahimovic and Fernandes were similar.

"Mentally they're both just winners. They want to win games, win trophies. 

"That's the atmosphere and the culture at this club. We need to start doing it now, winning trophies and taking steps in that direction. 

"The game against Milan is another opportunity for us to get one step closer. 

"Ever since we unfortunately got knocked out of the Champions League the focus has been to win the Europa League. We're not going to be happy with anything less than that." 

Longevity in the sport comparable to Ibrahimovic is something a long way away for the 23-year-old Rashford. 

The home leg against Milan was the first of United's games this season that the England international sat out after a minor injury he sustained during the derby victory over Manchester City, while he is also managing a shoulder complaint. 

Nevertheless, Rashford dismissed any concerns over burnout. 

"I know my body and I know what I can do physically," he said, with his availability an ongoing boost to Solskjaer after Edinson Cavani suffered a reaction in the final training session before the trip to Italy, forcing him to pull out of the travelling party. 

"I take one game at a time. It's the life of a footballer – we can rest when we retire. 

"I recover from games and injuries quite well, so I have no doubts or fears on that. 

"To be honest, I just focus on the next game at hand. That's how I deal with it. My focus is just on being available for games." 

Another player from the United production line that yielded Rashford, Teden Mengi, has signed a contract extension until June 2024. 

Mengi is currently on loan at Wayne Rooney's Derby County. 

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is back in Milan's squad to face Manchester United but Stefano Pioli is yet to determine his involvement and admitted "he does not have 90 minutes in his legs".

Sweden great Ibrahimovic, who on Tuesday confirmed he is to come out of international retirement, suffered a thigh injury in the 2-1 Serie A win at Roma on February 28 and has not featured since.

It meant Ibrahimovic missed the Rossoneri's Europa League last-16 first-leg tie against his former club at Old Trafford last week, in which Milan secured a useful away goal in a 1-1 draw.

However, Ibrahimovic has trained for an injury-hit Milan this week and is in line to play a part in a crucial second leg at San Siro.

Ismael Bennacer is also back involved but head coach Pioli still has several other issues to contend with.

"Ibra and Bennacer are recovered, they are important for us and they are among the squad," Pioli said.

"For the others, [Davide] Calabria, [Rafael] Leao, [Alessio] Romagnoli and [Ante] Rebic, we have to wait for tomorrow morning. We'll take a few more hours to decide.

"His [Ibrahimovic's] return is important, he will not be able to have 90 minutes in his legs and tomorrow we will see what to do."

Ibrahimovic has 16 goals across all competitions this season and in United faces a team with who he enjoyed EFL Cup and Europa League success under Jose Mourinho – although the latter final he missed out on due to a serious knee injury.

United now have Ibrahimovic's former Paris Saint-Germain team-mate Edinson Cavani among their ranks, a player who claimed the Swede's status as the club's all-time leading scorer.

Asked which striker is better, Pioli diplomatically replied: "Ibra is a champion. I have never coached Cavani, he is a great player, but I hold on to Ibra."

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been called up by Sweden for the World Cup qualifiers against Kosovo and Georgia, paving the way for him to play at Euro 2020 this year.

Stefano Pioli says it is understandable Milan are struggling to cope with a crippling injury list after losing further ground in the Serie A title race.

Milan fell to a 1-0 loss at home to Napoli on Sunday through Matteo Politano's strike early in the second half, the Inter loanee's fourth goal in his past eight league games - as many as he managed in his first 17 appearances of the campaign.

The defeat leaves Pioli's men nine points behind leaders Inter, having themselves been at the summit just a month ago.

Milan were again without striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic against Napoli, as well as Mario Mandzukic, while Ante Rebic and Hakan Calhanoglu have also spent time on the sidelines.

That told as the Rossoneri failed to find a way past David Ospina from their five shots on target, though Pioli pointed out fellow heavyweights Inter and Juventus would also struggle if they were without their best players.

"When you are missing that many players, it does make a difference, especially when they are players who also bring experience and leadership," he told Sky Sport Italia.

"We had to play many games without a real centre-forward, so considering all of that, the team deserves praise for all they've been able to do in the circumstances.

"Try to imagine Inter without [Romelu] Lukaku, Lautaro [Martinez] or [Alexis] Sanchez; maybe Juventus without [Cristiano] Ronaldo, [Alvaro] Morata or [Federico] Chiesa.

"We had more than half the season without Zlatan, while Rebic and Calhanoglu were also injured for long periods.

"We showed all week that this is not just a strong team, but a special one. Unfortunately, there wasn't enough tonight.

"We should've either been more courageous or sat back more, but tonight we tended to be somewhere in-between and were caught in no man's land."

Milan have now won just two of their past six league matches and are only six points better off than fifth-placed Napoli, who also have a game in hand to play.

And with the second leg of their Europa League last-16 tie with Manchester United to come on Thursday, three days before a trip to Fiorentina, Pioli accepts fatigue is now playing a big part.

"It was a very tough and tiring week. I saw a performance that was sufficient, but that's not enough," he said.

"We returned from Manchester at 3am on Friday morning. It's obvious the Europa League is more stressful and damaging than the Champions League, especially when we started in September.

"Having said that, we are Milan and would never want to be without that European presence. We weren't expecting to be in second place, but now that we are here, we want to keep hold of it.

"Inter have the momentum - they really started to step on the gas after their Champions League exclusion and it allowed them a full week to prepare for every game.

"We are not looking ahead or over our shoulders; we just stay focused on our path."

Napoli, previously without an away win in four league outings, are now unbeaten in their past six league encounters with Milan at San Siro since December 2014.

The home side's misery was compounded late on when, shortly after Theo Hernandez had a strong penalty shout rejected, substitute Ante Rebic was dismissed for dissent.

Despite now being closer to fifth place than first, however, midfielder Sandro Tonali insists Milan are still looking up the table rather than down.

"I don't think there is fear, otherwise we'd lose every game," he said. "We are here and must continue to aim high and not give up now."

"This is not the game we prepared - it was not what we intended to do. Napoli closed down all the spaces and we didn't create enough scoring opportunities.

"The ones we did create with Rafa Leao were not converted and then Napoli scored their first real chance."

Milan legend Paolo Maldini has dismissed suggestions Zlatan Ibrahimovic is bigger than the club.

Ibrahimovic has been a revelation since returning to Milan for a second spell in late December 2019, with the evergreen 39-year-old spearheading the club's Scudetto charge this term.

The former Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain striker – out of contract at the end of this season – has scored 14 Serie A goals in 2020-21 to help Milan up to second position, six points adrift of city rivals Inter.

Maldini is now technical director at Milan and rates Ibrahimovic as a "huge resource", but he believes the club sit well positioned to withstand the Swede's departure if he does not extend his contract at San Siro.

"The truth is, the club is above any player because the players pass through, and the club remains," Maldini told So Foot.

"There are players who leave a different mark than others, and Zlatan is one of them.

"He's a motivator. He's a character that can seem complicated to deal with, but for those who manage to draw all of his qualities, he's a huge resource.

"The club is above any player, and that goes for everyone, because it comes from our way of being leaders in our field."

Milan's excellent season has given them a chance of securing a first Serie A title since the 2010-11 campaign, while they are on course to return to the Champions League for the first time since 2013-14 when they were knocked out in the last 16 by Atletico Madrid.

Despite their lengthy absence from European football's showpiece competition, Italy and Rossoneri great Maldini is adamant Milan are still a hugely attractive proposition for new players.

"Trust me, Milan haven't qualified for the Champions League for eight years, but when Milan call, players around the world are still dreaming," he said.

"Of course, we are looking to the future, but the past, which we must respect, matters. When your name is Milan and you call a player, you are one of the three most successful clubs in the world. We must always remember this.

"I believe that Milan, in Italy without the slightest doubt and in Europe as well, is considered a virtuous club."

Milan faced Manchester United in the first leg of their Europa League last-16 clash on Thursday, and they host Napoli in Serie A on Sunday.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic said he is open to extending his Milan contract if technical director Paolo Maldini "wants".

Ibrahimovic has been a revelation since returning to Milan for a second spell in January last year, the evergreen 39-year-old spearheading the club's Scudetto charge this term.

The former Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain star – out of contract at season's end – has scored 14 Serie A goals to help Milan up to second position, three points adrift of city rivals Inter.

Asked about his future, Ibrahimovic told RAI's Che Tempo Che Fa via RAI: "I don't know, let's see. If Paolo wants, I am up for it.

"The season is still long, there are many games left.

"We always play to win, even if they can play once a week."

Nursing an injury, Ibrahimovic has been sidelined as he participated in the Sanremo music festival during the week.

Ibrahimovic was in attendance for Milan's 2-0 victory at Hellas Verona on Sunday.

"I am Zlatan, I feel the responsibility and I feel like a leader. This team is the only one that made me feel thrilled. I want to teach, I want to be a guide," he added.

"When I say something, they others are like: 'Ok, we are doing it'. Today I wanted to be in Verona, I felt it inside.

"When I spend a day without them is like staying without my sons."

Stefano Pioli did not see any shortage of commitment from his Milan side in the 1-1 Serie A draw with Udinese, but conceded the quality was lacking.

Franck Kessie scored a 97th-minute penalty with the last kick of Wednesday's encounter at San Siro, as Milan's title hopes took another hit – Inter now have the chance to move six points clear should they beat Parma on Thursday.

Milan's equaliser came courtesy of a remarkable error from Jens Stryger Larsen, who inexplicably handled in the area as Udinese looked to see out what would have been just a second away win in their last eight league matches on the road.

The Rossoneri were without their talisman Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who is set to miss up to three weeks with a thigh injury, and Milan head coach Pioli acknowledged his team were missing the "characteristics" the 39-year-old brings, while also bemoaning Mario Mandzukic's absence.

"We wanted to win, it's a shame," Pioli told DAZN. "We knew that it would be difficult against a team with everyone behind the ball.

"I saw determination and a lack of clarity. There was a lack of quality and rhythm, not anger and determination.

"We start again as always with the next match. Each game has its own story. On Sunday we found an opponent who wanted to play, Udinese instead play this [defensive] type of game.

"Today we lacked the right characteristics to face this type of match, we lacked the two real strikers in the squad. [Rafael] Leao and [Ante] Rebic have other characteristics.

"Now we must try to resume our run. A half positive result, let's think about the next game."

Leao and Rebic both struggled to assert themselves against Udinese's three-man defence.

Rebic – the second-highest scorer in Serie A in the back half of the season (since January 29), behind Inter's Romelu Lukaku – failed to have an attempt on goal or create a chance, while Leao only tested Juan Musso with a tame flick late in the first half.

Pioli did not look to single out his attackers, however, though he acknowledged Leao in particular has a lot to add to his game.

"I always expect a lot from my players," Pioli said. "Rafa has characteristics more suited for attacking spaces.

"When he finds a closed defence, he still doesn't have the shrewdness to anticipate the defender."

Ibrahimovic was watching on from close to the bench and was seen looking disgruntled at Milan's display.

"We didn't come out of this game satisfied, he's like everyone else," Pioli explained.

The good news for Milan is that, in Kessie, they have a midfielder on 10 goals in all competitions this season, though nine of them have come from the penalty spot.

Kessie's cool finish, timed at 96:20 was the latest Milan have scored in Serie A since 2017, while the Ivory Coast international has now netted 25 league goals in total for the Rossoneri – matching Robinho's tally.

Franck Kessie's penalty salvaged a last-gasp point for Milan against Udinese at San Siro but Zlatan Ibrahimovic's absence was felt as the Rossoneri's title hopes took another blow in a 1-1 draw.

Leading scorer Ibrahimovic is set to miss up to three weeks with a thigh injury and on Wednesday's evidence Milan could struggle to cope.

With leaders Inter in action on Thursday, Milan would have moved to within a point of their city rivals with a victory, yet a mistake from Gianluigi Donnarumma looked set to cost them.

Rodrigo Becao's 68th-minute header found its way past the Italy goalkeeper, but Jens Stryger Larsen's inexplicable handball enabled Kessie to rescue a point from the penalty spot with the last kick of the game.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic declared "I have been the best on this stage" as the Milan star made his controversial debut at the Sanremo festival.

Ibrahimovic has been criticised for attending the music event, which spans four days, while Milan fight for the Serie A title.

It also comes as the 39-year-old forward nurses an injury, forcing him to miss Wednesday's clash against Udinese at San Siro after exiting Sunday's win away to Roma.

But Ibrahimovic looked comfortable on Tuesday, stepping out on stage as co-presenter while joking with fellow presenter Amadeus.

"It is an honour to be here, but also an honour for you to have me here," Milan's top goalscorer Ibrahimovic told Amadeus.

"Normally I feel big, powerful, but here I feel small. Still bigger and more powerful than you, though."

Ibrahimovic added: "First of all, there will be 22 singers in the competition, 11 against 11, otherwise it's not right.

"Seeing as there are 26, sell four of the singers, I hear Liverpool are looking for players. If not, put them in the garden and I'll get them working.

"The second rule is about the stage. It's too small, made for small people like you. I need the stage to be 105 metres by 68 metres, like the pitch at San Siro.

"No stress, don't worry, as long as Zlatan is here, everything will be fine. Zlatan's Festival lasts 90 minutes plus stoppages.

"I have been the best on this stage. Not just tonight, but of all time."

Ibrahimovic has scored 14 Serie A goals this season – only Juventus superstar Cristiano Ronaldo (19) and Romelu Lukaku (18) have managed more – as Milan sit second in the table, four points behind leaders Inter.

Ante Rebic has been passed fit to partner Rafael Leao up front but it remains to be seen if Alessio Romagnoli will start when injury-hit Milan face Udinese in Serie A on Wednesday.

Rebic scored the winner in the Rossoneri's 2-1 victory over Roma on Sunday before being withdrawn due to injury.

Milan head coach Pioli says the Croatia international will be ready to start against Udinese and Leao will take his place in the team after coming off the bench at the weekend to replace Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Asked about Rebic's fitness, Pioli said: "He's fine, he can start against Udinese. On Sunday he played a great match, his characteristics are important for us. There is no doubt about his qualities."

Pioli said following the much-needed win over Roma that he suspected Ibrahimovic, who is appearing at the Sanremo music festival, was weary rather than wounded and the talismanic striker will not face Luca Gotti's men.

Milan are taking no risks over Ibrahimovic's fitness, with a Europa League showdown against his former club Manchester United to come next week.

Hakan Calhanoglu will also miss the encounter with Udinese, which second-placed Milan will start knowing a victory would leave them just a point behind leaders Inter, while Ismael Bennacer and Mario Mandzukic are expected to return next week.

Leao has not scored since January 9, but Pioli has full faith in the 21-year-old.

"Up until a few days ago we talked about an improved Leao and inside the game," he said. "I'm satisfied with Leao, tomorrow he will start from the beginning.

"From a mental point of view he is ready, he has grown a lot."

Captain Romagnoli was left out of the starting line-up at Stadio Olimpico and Pioli refused to be drawn on whether the defender will be restored to the side.

"The matches are all important but also different, for me to be able to choose is great luck," Pioli said. "Only tomorrow morning we will try the starting eleven, we will choose the most suitable team and the best players."

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