Stefano Pioli hailed the united front that Milan displayed in the 3-0 win over Venezia as he marked 400 games as a Serie A head coach.

The former Lazio, Inter and Fiorentina boss saw Zlatan Ibrahimovic give Milan a second-minute lead, before Theo Hernandez's second-half double wrapped up the points.

Pioli became just the eighth head coach in Serie A, in the three-points-for-a-win era, to reach take charge of 400 matches, and said he was only made aware of the landmark by Milan's communications boss.

Victory at Venezia nudged Milan ahead of Inter at the top of the table, ahead of the Nerazzurri's clash with Lazio later on Sunday, as Pioli's men continue to show last season's title challenge was no flash in the pan.

"I believe that this should be the year of confirmation," said Pioli. "But there is still an important step between being competitive and winning.

"Against Venezia it was a very delicate match, easy only on the face of it, and we were good at making it simpler than it could have been."

Quoted by Sky Italia, Pioli said: "We played with the right approach and the right determination, we played as a team.

"We have more awareness of the past, born from all the experiences we have been having. Many young players are becoming mature, we are still a young team but we are more ready mentally."

Milan were firmly in the Scudetto hunt midway through last season but were overtaken by a fast-finishing Inter.

It would help to have a fully fit Ibrahimovic on hand throughout the next four months. His contributions dried up over the closing stages of last season, with just one goal in his final eight Serie A games after a breakneck start, yet at the age of 40 he is playing a big role this term.

Since his return to Milan midway through the 2019-20 season, Ibrahimovic has scored 22 goals in 25 Serie A away games. The Swedish striker's opener at Venezia means he has scored in six consecutive league matches away from San Siro, the second time he has achieved that during this spell with the club.

It also gave him a share of a European top-five league 21st-century record, equalling Cristiano Ronaldo's feat of scoring against 80 different clubs across the continent's elite leagues (Premier League, Bundesliga, Serie A, LaLiga and Ligue 1).

Ibrahimovic and Milan will be limited to domestic duty for the rest of the season after finishing bottom of their Champions League group.

Pioli might find that helps Milan in the long run, even though he remains frustrated by his team's performance in that competition.

He said: "Now it could be an advantageous situation to have weeks free from European commitments, but we are not satisfied to no longer be in the Champions League."

Theo Hernandez and Rafael Leao played crucial roles as Milan comfortably beat 10-man Venezia 3-0 on Sunday to return to the summit of Serie A.

Stefano Pioli's men never looked in danger of dropping points at Stadio Pierluigi Penzo and were good value for a third straight Serie A victory.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic – teed up by Leao – got the ball rolling inside two minutes as he equalled Cristiano Ronaldo's record of scoring against 80 different teams in Europe's top five leagues this century.

Leao released Hernandez to make it 2-0 early in the second half, with the French defender wrapping the win up soon after with a penalty – which resulted in Michael Svoboda's dismissal – for his third goal of the season against Venezia.

Milan swiftly took charge as the lively Leao raced into the left side of the box and played the ball right across the face of goal for Ibrahimovic to tap in.

Further chances arrived for Milan, with Leao, Hernandez and Alessandro Florenzi forcing Sergio Romero into saves, though there was little the Venezia goalkeeper could do when it came to the visitors scoring their second.

Leao was involved again, feeding Hernandez's run in behind the defence and the left-back smashed past the helpless Romero.

Hernandez put the game beyond Venezia just before the hour, expertly picking out the top-right corner from 12 yards after Michael Svoboda handled – seemingly accidentally – on the line, earning himself a red card.

It sealed a routine win for Milan, with Pioli marking his 400th Serie A match as a coach in style. He is the eighth manager to reach the milestone in the competition.

 

What does it mean? Milan keep pressure on Inter

This was very much a case of Milan getting the job done with minimal fuss – they were very comfortable throughout and impressed despite being without numerous important players.

As such, they open up a two-point lead at the top of the table. Of course, Inter – who face Lazio later on Sunday – have two games in hand, but there is no denying Milan's position is a nice one to be in.

There is no guarantee Inter will win their two bonus games. Even if they do, a four-point deficit is by no means impossible to claw back.

Hernandez leads from the back

Several Milan players impressed but Hernandez was the standout. He got forward so often from left-back that his five shots ended up being more than anyone else – similarly, his expected goals (1.86), shots on target and big chances (both three) were highs for the match, while only Leao (seven) and Ibrahimovic (six) had more than Hernandez's four touches in the box.

Add to that his two key passes (bettered by just Leao), and it shows him in a very good light indeed.

A difficult day for Svoboda

It was a strange game for Svoboda. One moment he would show great composure, cleverly spinning away from Ibrahimovic, but then the next he would do something clumsy.

While the red card may have been slightly harsh, as the ball seemed to hit his thigh first, it was his error – passing the ball to Ibrahimovic on the edge of the box – that led to the situation anyway.

What's next?

Milan are in Coppa Italia action on Wednesday as they host Genoa, before then welcoming Spezia to San Siro in Serie A four days later. Venezia continue their fight against relegation in a week's time at home to Empoli after visiting Atalanta in the cup in midweek.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has matched a European top-five league 21st-century record, set by Cristiano Ronaldo last month, after scoring for Milan against Venezia.

The veteran forward tucked in from close range inside two minutes at Stadio Pierluigi Penzo on Sunday, bringing up his eighth Serie A goal of the season and his first of 2022.

It means Ibrahimovic has now found the net against 80 different clubs across Europe's big five leagues (Premier League, Bundesliga, Serie A, LaLiga and Ligue 1).

Since 2000, the only other player to have achieved that feat is Ronaldo, who reached the milestone with a goal in Manchester United's 3-1 win over Burnley at Old Trafford on December 30.

Ibrahimovic has now also scored in every calendar year since 1999, when he made his debut for Malmo in Sweden.

Bayern Munich midfielder Michael Cuisance has joined Venezia for a reported €4.5million fee.

Cuisance, 22, impressed in his debut season with Borussia Monchengladbach, in which he became their youngest player to start a Bundesliga match, before making the switch to Bayern in August 2019.

However, he failed to make his mark on the Bundesliga champions, playing just 333 minutes across 11 appearances in the top flight.

A loan spell at Marseille last season then offered the midfielder more regular game time as he managed 23 outings in Ligue 1, along with featuring six times in the Champions League.

Bayern head coach Julian Nagelsmann has now opted to allow Cuisance to move on as the former France youth international leaves for Venezia on a three-and-a-half-year contract.

Upon his departure, Bayern sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic said: We would like to thank Michael Cuisance for his commitment in the FC Bayern shirt and wish him all the best for his future at Venezia FC."

Venezia sit 16th in Serie A, six points clear of the relegation zone, ahead of their visit to strugglers Salernitana on Thursday.

Massimiliano Allegri has urged Juventus to "play ugly" after his side dropped two points in Saturday's 1-1 Serie A draw with Venezia.

Juve had won three successive matches in all competitions without conceding ahead their trip to Stadio Pier Luigi Penzo, where they opened the scoring through Alvaro Morata.

However, the Bianconeri wasted a good chance to double their lead through Juan Cuadrado before half-time and were made to pay 10 minutes into the second period.

Former Torino man Mattia Aramu guided a first-time shot past Wojciech Szczesny from range and Juve, who lost Paulo Dybala to an early injury, failed to muster a response.

The visitors finished with an expected goals (xG) return of 2.13 compared to Venezia's 0.54, but Juve were made to pay for a lack of cutting edge in front of goal.

Juve are now six points adrift of fourth-placed Atalanta, who face Hellas Verona on Sunday, and Allegri admitted his side need to improve in certain areas after their latest setback.

"It was a good first half, but then we had a 10- or 15-minute blackout before the Venezia goal," he told DAZN. 

"The same thing happened against Salernitana recently – we were lucky then not to concede as they hit the post – so it's something we clearly need to work on.

"We were under pressure, couldn't play the ball to feet anymore, so we should've had patience with one or two balls over the top to the strikers, but we didn't do that.

"We had to attack the space, force them into fouls and more yellow cards, but we threw away two points against a good Venezia side.

"At the start of the second half we were wandering about, giving the ball straight back. Sometimes we don't realise the game is getting 'ugly' and we don't read the moment. 

"Once that moment passed, we started playing again and pinned Venezia back into their own half, but the damage was done."

 

Allegri added: "We have players without a great deal of experience. The whole team was a bit sluggish after the restart.

"We can't seem to realise when it's the time to play pretty and those 10, 15 minutes we ought to play ugly, grit our teeth and push through."

Dybala hobbled off against Malmo in the Champions League on Wednesday and lasted just 12 minutes before being replaced against Venezia.

"We ran a risk, and it went badly," Allegri said. "He went off on Wednesday with a muscular issue; we hoped he was better now, but that was not the case."

Juventus, who had won 15 of their previous 17 league meetings with Venezia, could find themselves nine points off the Champions League places come the end of the weekend.

"We mustn't think about that," the coach said. "We threw away two points today, two points we should've brought home."

Juventus' winning run was halted with a 1-1 draw away at lowly Venezia in Saturday's Serie A contest as they failed to truly make up ground on the Champions League places.

Massimiliano Allegri's men had won three games in a row without conceding in all competitions ahead of their trip to Stadio Pier Luigi Penzo, but they were unable to hold onto the first-half lead given to them by Alvaro Morata.

Juve, who lost Paulo Dybala to injury inside 12 minutes, were pegged back by a long-range strike from former Torino midfielder Mattia Aramu 10 minutes into the second half.

The visitors were unable to hit back against a Venezia side that had lost their last three games and conceded 10 goals in the process, meaning they are six points behind fourth-placed Atalanta, who face Hellas Verona on Sunday.


Dybala's replacement Kaio Jorge flicked over from close range and Morata's drive forced a good save out of Sergio Romero before the Spain international managed to find a way through with 32 minutes played.

Luca Pellegrini sent a low cross in from the left and Morata got in front of his marker to flick the ball past Romero, the goal allowed to stand following a VAR check for a possible handball from Federico Bernardeschi in the build-up.

Juan Cuadrado wasted a good chance when firing across the face of goal shortly before the interval and Juve were made to pay as, following a spell of Venezia pressure, Aramu curled in a low first-time shot from range.

Allegri's side failed to create much in way of response, with their one shot on target in the second half summing up their struggles as the contest finished all square.

 

Massimiliano Allegri said Juventus are like an Easter Egg, "there's always a surprise" as the Bianconeri head coach called for more consistency amid a stuttering start to the Serie A season.

While Juventus qualified for the Champions League last 16 as group winners ahead of Chelsea, the Italian giants are fifth domestically and already 11 points off the pace.

Allegri's second spell in the Turin dugout has resulted in eight wins in 16 matches, with five defeats ahead of Saturday's trip to Venezia.

"[Saturday's] game is a high-risk one, if we interpret it in a certain way," Allegri told reporters.

"I think the players have understood the importance of this match. Therefore, we will certainly put on a good display.

"Let's see the game. It's always Easter for us, you know, we're like an egg, there's always a surprise inside. Let's hope it's a good one tomorrow [Saturday]."

Juventus have kept a clean sheet in four of their last five league games (W4 L1), as many as they had in the previous 29 matches in the competition.

Meanwhile, Juve have won, without conceding, in their last two Serie A away matches – they last kept a clean sheet in three such matches in a row in December 2018, under Allegri.

"Regarding [finishing in] first place [in the Champions League], it's a source of satisfaction, but we can't think about the Champions League right now," Allegri said.

"We have to think about the league, where we are clearly behind. Therefore we have to work on a daily basis and game after game to try and give some stability to our table.

"It is a matter of scoring percentages. We are clearly below the average, so we need to be more focused and clinical in front of the goal.

"At the moment, our scoring percentage in relation to the opportunities we create is too low for a club like Juventus. We need five chances to score a goal."

Arthur will not feature for Juventus against Venezia after the midfielder was dropped by Massimiliano Allegri for being late to training.

Juve have been underwhelming since Allegri's return for a second tenure and currently sit in fifth, nine points behind Serie A leaders Milan and seven behind Atalanta in the final Champions League qualification spot.

Allegri's team have, however, secured qualification for the next round of the Champions League by topping their group, while they were 2-0 victors over Genoa in their last league game.

As Juve prepare to visit Venezia, who have suffered 15 defeats against the Bianconeri in their last 17 Serie A meetings, Allegri confirmed Arthur will not be in the squad after the former Barcelona midfielder arrived late to training.

"It's simple, he arrived late the day before the game," Allegri told reporters at Friday's pre-match news conference. 

"So I don't think it's right and he won't be called up, but from Tuesday he'll be back with the team. These things happen."

Indeed, Arthur has only started twice for Juve this season across all competitions, making eight appearances in total for his 255 minutes with the likes of Manuel Locatelli, Adrien Rabiot and Rodrigo Bentancur preferred.

Arthur has only created four chances across those appearances, as he continues to form way below the standards he set at Camp Nou.

 

Aside from the Brazil international's misdemeanour, Allegri explained he is expecting a tough test from Venezia, who are just five points above the relegation zone.

"The next step is tomorrow's match, which I think is complicated," he added. "If I'm not mistaken, Venezia scored a lot at home: I think they didn't score a goal only with Inter. 

"However, Venezia plays and is a carefree team, then comes from a bad defeat against Verona. They had dominated the first half, tomorrow they play with Juventus and will try to make a historic feat. 

"We have to put ourselves on par with them, in terms of mentality and above all in terms of pace.

"Nobody has played on the pitch of this team, only Chiellini and I played in Venice. It's all strange because you arrive by ferry and then the field is narrower. 

"If you don't go there and play a certain game then you put yourself on a par with the others, you risk getting hurt. There are narrow fields where there are no spaces and the games become fast. 

"Just look at the results and goals scored by Venice who beat Rome and Fiorentina. Then they are a team that plays football well and creates a lot. I congratulate [Paolo] Zanetti. We have to play an important match."

Simone Inzaghi scoffed at the idea of this being a "transition year" for Inter as the reigning Serie A champions showed they are firmly in the title hunt again.

Wholesale change at San Siro has not affected the Nerazzurri's ambition, and a 2-0 win at Venezia ramped up pressure on early front-runners Napoli and Milan.

Inzaghi arrived in the close season to replace Scudetto-winning boss Antonio Conte, while star men Romelu Lukaku and Achraf Hakimi left in big-money transfers. Christian Eriksen has been unavailable since suffering a cardiac arrest at Euro 2020 while on Denmark duty.

Inter appear to have chosen shrewdly by bringing in Inzaghi from Lazio as head coach, while players such as Hakan Calhanoglu and Edin Dzeko have been acquired too.

Calhanoglu's fourth goal of the season – matching his Serie A haul for previous club Milan last term – put Inter on their way against Venezia, before Lautaro Martinez made sure with a stoppage-time penalty.

For Calhanoglu, this was the third successive Serie A game in which he has scored, the first time he has achieved that feat.

Inter duly moved within a point of Napoli and Milan, who are in action on Sunday, and Inzaghi said: "Some people said this was supposed to be a transition year to rebuild. I came in and the club helped me in everything. These players are magnificent and I think we're getting better by the day. We have to keep going like this.

"I'm coaching a group of great players and great men. We got straight down to work in the summer and despite losing Lukaku, Hakimi and Eriksen, we brought in players suited to the way we want to play. Now we're continuing to grow one step at a time."

 

Inter were dominant and deserved winners at Stadio Pier Luigi Penzo, capping a week in which they made sure of their place in the Champions League knockout stage by beating Shakhtar Donetsk. They also beat Napoli last weekend, inflicting a first league defeat of the season on Luciano Spalletti's men.

"It's a great period for us and this was a big week," Inzaghi said, quoted on Inter's website.

"We played some lovely football and the only downside was we couldn't get the second goal to put it to bed earlier. Leaving the game open against a dangerous, well-drilled side like Venezia is always risky. But it was our third game in a short space of time and the lads did a fantastic job."

There were drawbacks to the win in Venice, with Inzaghi reporting Matteo Darmian suffered a "twinge in his thigh".

"Hopefully it's nothing serious. He's a very important player for us," Inzaghi said.

And Calhanoglu came off early in the second half having needed a thigh massage during the interval.

Inzaghi said the Turkish midfielder was "doing brilliantly" for Inter, adding: "After three consecutive games I didn't want to risk him so I took him off 10 minutes into the second half."

Inter moved back to within a point of Napoli and Milan thanks to a 2-0 win at Venezia on Saturday, as Hakan Calhanoglu scored in a third consecutive Serie A game for the first time in his career.

Simone Inzaghi's men defeated leaders Napoli last weekend to boost their title defence, and they never looked like dropping points in Venice.

Venezia, who were chasing a third successive Serie A win for the first time since 1962, failed to impose themselves in the first half and deservedly trailed at the break to Calhanoglu's low drive.

Only Bayern Munich and Liverpool had scored more goals than Inter across the top five European leagues before the weekend. While that did not translate to a free-scoring exhibition this time, Inter finished Venezia off with a late Lautaro Martinez penalty to keep pressure on the top two ahead of their Sunday outings.

Despite dominating, Inter did not threaten the Venezia goal until the 30th minute when Sergio Romero leapt across his goal to keep Ivan Perisic's header out.

Romero was helpless soon after, however, as Calhanoglu squeezed a skidding 25-yard shot just inside the left post.

Venezia almost levelled with their very first shot five minutes later, with Samir Handanovic tipping Mattia Aramu's long-range piledriver over the crossbar.

Aramu went close from distance again just after the break, this time just missing the top-left corner after cutting in from the right wing.

Inter woke up again as Edin Dzeko tested Romero, before Ridgeciano Haps cleared a Milan Skriniar header off the line to keep Venezia in the game.

Romero made several more fine saves, but the visitors finally got the clincher at the death. Haps was deemed to have committed a handball in the box and Martinez confidently dispatched the resulting spot-kick.

If you want a true renaissance team, one that epitomises a city, look no further than Venezia.

From bankruptcy and the lower echelons of Italian football to a global fashion icon, the small side from the iconic city of Venice are the club on so many lips, attracting worldwide interest.

A football team on the water, literally, Venezia are setting trends with their must-have kits as they enjoy life back in Serie A for the first time in almost two decades, but it has not been an easy road for I Leoni Alati – the Winged Lions–, who resided in the depths of Serie D just five years ago.

Founded in 1907 and with their most significant achievement to date being victory in the 1940-41 Coppa Italia, Venezia were relegated from Serie B in 2005 and went bankrupt.

Businessman owner Maurizio Zamparini had left for Palermo in 2002, taking with him 12 players in a move dubbed locally as the "furto di Pergini" – the "theft of Pergine".

Venezia were re-founded twice – at the end of the 2008-09 and 2014-15 seasons – having been declared insolvent on both occasions. It led to the 2015 arrival of a group of American investors, and while they have been in the ascendency at Stadio Pier Luigi Penzo ever since, Venezia have soared to new heights under president Duncan Niederauer.

A former CEO of the New York Stock Exchange, Niederauer arrived in early 2020 and it coincided with Venezia going from Serie B battlers to Serie A newcomers after a breathtaking and dramatic play-off in May of this year, which led to the Venetian version of a street party – fans jumping into the canals and players celebrating on gondolas.

 In an interview with Stats Perform, Niederauer – whose Venezia have five points from seven rounds to start the 2021-22 campaign – said: "When we took over in early 2020, I think step one was just to survive in Serie B to be perfectly honest. The team was struggling in the second division. Then last season, from the outset, I thought we would be very, very competitive. I thought we built a very good team. I don't think the experts agreed with me, but we declared early in the season last year that I thought we could compete for a spot in the play-offs. The team backed that up and was really in the play-off discussion all season.

"Somewhat unexpectedly to just about everybody, we got through the play-off battles. One of the things we hoped to accomplish was to get to Serie A in two-three years. We're kind of a couple of years ahead of schedule. The good news is you're ahead of schedule. The other news when you're in Serie A for the first time in two decades, you probably don't have the infrastructure that you need, you don't have the organisational construct that you need and that was certainly true for us. While it's been very exciting to be in the first division, we've had a lot of work to do to try to get ourselves prepared as a team and organisation to be in the first division. That's where a lot of the focus was spent on in the summer. We had to upgrade the stadium, we had to add to the organisation and re-think the roster to be competitive in Serie A while respecting our approach and budget."

Venezia captured the attention of millions with their last-gasp play-off win over Cittadella – Paolo Zanetti's men were down a man and trailing 1-0 after 36 minutes, and appeared destined for another season in the second tier.

But, with virtually the last kick of the game, Riccardo Bocalon's strike three minutes into stoppage time salvaged a 1-1 draw and a 2-1 aggregate win to send Venezia back to Serie A for the first time since 2001-02.

It sparked wild scenes on the pitch as Niederauer celebrated promotion with Venezia. While the team exceeded expectations externally, their president always believed.

"We have a really different philosophy with this team. Our culture is very much one of a family. I was discouraged by many others from getting close to the players," Niederauer said. "I was told if you get close to the players, it will cloud your judgement and it won't work. I fundamentally disagree with that in any business I've ever run. If you take care of your people, they can do great things, right?

"I remember saying to the players early in the season, 'Just to be clear, I work for you, you don't work for me. You tell me what you need to be successful, I just want to clear all the clutter so you can play.' They really took it to heart and they knew they could count on me. I think what you saw was a group of guys, who throughout the season, believed more and more in themselves. It culminated in that evening in late May... the players on the field, I said, 'Guys, that was unbelievable'. They said, 'Pres, not really, that's what family does'. We didn't want the story to be about Pasquale Mazzocchi's red card but about our promotion to Serie A... I thought that was a pretty strong culture which benefited a lot.

"To be there in person. It's a weekend, my wife and I, we will never forget. It's our favourite city in the world. We were there together the night of the match. I held it together surprisingly well until I saw her on the field and then I burst into tears because I think I was just so proud of them for what they did. If you watch the celebration, it's not a group of people who sort of like each other, sort of know each other, it's a family celebrating a shared success. Lots of tears and joy. If I had a do-over, I don't think I'd jump in the canal again, but at the moment, the players were doing it and seemed like the right thing to do. We had been in it together, so how could I not do it? It was a surreal experience. The celebration over the weekend... I said to my wife, when we don't remember each other's names, we will remember floating down the canal during that parade because it's like no other celebration in the world. It's a long emotional answer, but it was a really, really special evening."

Having stepped into the precarious world of Italian football, Niederauer added: "People ask me, what other sporting ventures are you going to do in Europe and the answer is none. Our second home is in Italy. My wife and I spend a lot of time in Italy. Venice has been our favourite city for a long time.

"When the opportunity came up to do this and do something special for these kids and this city, I don't think we would've done this anywhere else to be honest. I wasn't on the hunt for a football team to run from the United States. I just thought all the stars aligned and it seemed like an opportunity to do something really, really special. The pay-off was watching these young men perform above everyone's expectations except ours. I said to them at the start of the season, 'Guys, you're really, really good. Don't let anyone tell you you're not good. You're a good team and if you play for each other like family plays for each other, you can do spectacular things this year.' That's what happened, it's not any more complicated than that."

Fast forward to this season and Venezia are riding an unprecedented wave. During the 2020-21 campaign, their popular Nike jerseys – both home and away – were a hot commodity, despite the team being a relative minnow.

But at a time when the jersey industry is booming, and fashion and football more entwined than ever, Venezia have hit record heights since switching to Italian manufacturer Kappa. All three jerseys – now collectors' items – were swiftly sold out.

While a strategic plan to turn heads on and off the pitch, it's something not even Niederauer could have anticipated following the collaboration with a brand closely tied to Italian football.

"If you're in the city like Venice which is at the centre of art, fashion and history, I think it's incumbent on us to do our best to have the club aligned with the virtues of the city and the strengths of the city," Niederauer said as he discussed the global branding and fashion-forward identity ahead of Monday's clash with Fiorentina.

"Step number two which was a little less obvious, I like and respect Nike a lot. The current CEO is someone I've known for a long time. In fairness to Nike, we weren't big enough as a small second division club in Italy that had not been particularly well run previously. I don't blame them for not spending a lot of time with us. If I'm honest, I probably would've made the same decision if I were Nike. It seemed like it was time for us to find a partner that was closer to home who we could really collaborate with and almost co-author the designs.

"I thought this year was a really, really important year to make a statement. We left it to the design team and the design team collaborated with Kappa. It was a little bit rushed, but you see the results of what they produced... we're about to drop the fourth jersey in a couple of weeks here. All three we have released are all in the top 20 globally. That was purposeful. I don't know if we will hit all the right tones again every year, but for this year, I thought it was really important we take some risks and go over the top to design something special. Kudos to the design teams. I had basically nothing to do with it except turn them loose. What I like about the third and fourth jerseys, both were down in collaboration with foundations which support sustainability in Venice. We think part of our purpose as a club is we have to be part of the community and part of the city. Venice is obviously beautiful but not without its challenges with climate change. Proceeds from the third and fourth jersey go towards those organisations. We've tried to position ourselves as a global brand. It's early, early days but the jerseys are helping us do that. Now it will come down to can we perform in Serie A and stick around for a while?"

A few years ahead of schedule, now is when Niederauer's ambitious plan of turning Venezia into a viable business clicks into gear, with the former Goldman Sachs banker leaning on his financial background as the club learn from past mistakes.

"Our philosophy is you do your best to leave every situation better than when you found it. That's already been accomplished. I think our next objective is to build a sustainable club that, I don't think is competing for Champions League in the next few years, but at least is a club that you come into every season not solely focused on salvation," he said, with Venezia since signing former Manchester United and Argentina goalkeeper Sergio Romero as the club benefit from the picturesque city as a recruiting tool.

"You come into the season where you're expected to be a mid-table team. A mid-table team in Serie A given our investment approach and how we identify players, we have a long way to go to be as great as Atalanta have become at this. But if you built the foundation in the youth academy that we're doing and on your first team, and if you can get to that point where you're mid-table pretty predictable, I think we can run quite a profitable and sustainable franchise. We wouldn't look beyond that yet. We would have another decision to make. It would be arrogant to start thinking of those things before we prove ourselves. The next three years is about proving that the model works, proving we can stay in Serie A, proving that we can be a mid-table team and then hopefully start to reap all the seeds we planted in the youth academies, which were grossly underinvested."

The plan for Venezia goes beyond the first team, with the increased infrastructure leading to the establishment of their first ever women's team on top of a revamped stadium and facilities – a new headquarters set to open next September – as Niederauer bets on the future.

Niederauer – whose Venezia could draw three consecutive Serie A games for the first time since April 1962 – added: "You have to be conscious about the past because if you don't look back a bit to understand what you can learn from history, you're making a big mistake. Our approach was really simple and I think we were fortunate in the pandemic because as a Serie B team who weren't really drawing a lot of fans and didn't have a global brand, the revenue that ticket sales and merchandise were accounting for before we really organised and set ourselves on a better path, was small enough that it didn't poke a big hole in our boat last year. Our salaries were well under control – I think we had the 13th or 14th highest payroll in Serie B. We are pretty thoughtful about it. Our approach this season hasn't changed too much. We obviously want to be competitive and would like to stay, so you're willing to spend a bit of money to do that. I would bet you that our payroll is the lowest in the league. I would bet you our coach is not only the youngest coach but probably one of the lowest paid, but we think he is one of the best and that's why he has a four-year contract. We believe in him and are willing to bet on him. The players deserve continuity. We're not the type that would change coaches if the team isn't performing. That's on us more than it's on him – we are the ones that assembled the roster. It's up to Zanetti to do the best he can with it.

"We didn't overspend. We stuck to our strategy – we find young talented players. We did spend a little money acquiring some of them? Yes. My background would suggest that if you buy undervalued assets in the long run, as long as you take a long view, your returns will be just fine. That's what we convey in every decision. These are long-term investments. We didn't panic when we lost the first two games of the season. When you have a strategy, you don't divert from it and you don't let your emotions get the best of you. I don't find it that complicated. We have a challenge ahead of us. Serie A is a great league but I think we've built a really good roster. We're improving with every match. I like our chances of surviving and then the sky is the limit after that."

 

"Last year, at the start of the season, in Italian football everyone talks about salvation," he continued, with Venezia boasting the youngest player in Serie A this season with at least one goal and one assist – 19-year-old American sensation Gianluca Busio. "I said, 'Guys, I know I'm going to sound a lot like Ted Lasso here, I apologise, but we're not going to talk about salvation'. And they're like, 'Pres, what do you mean? We all talk about salvation.' I said, 'I'm going to stand up and say you're a play-off team, I believe that you are. I believe you will be in the conversation for promotion this year. So if that's our goal, why would we talk about salvation? We're not going to talk about salvation, I don't want you talking about it in your interviews and I won't in my interviews other than to dismiss it.' They were completely confused.

"At the beginning of this season, I said, 'I'm not a hypocrite, but this year we talk about salvation. This year it would not be realistic not to talk about salvation. So this year it's OK to talk about salvation.' But last year, we did not say a word about it on purpose because I thought our ambition should not just be about to survive but to win. I think they got it. It's a little bit unorthodox for Italy, but I think we have a few people starting to mimic what we're doing.

"There's a lot of people betting on this project and I like our chances, if we can stick to the long-term view and not waver from it, I really like what we're building here."

Steve Bruce's days at Newcastle appear to be numbered.

Rumours of possible replacements are swirling, with plenty of managers having been mentioned. 

Frank Lampard may well lead the race.

 

TOP STORY – LAMPARD FAVOURED TO REPLACE BRUCE

Frank Lampard is the leading candidate to step in once Steve Bruce is inevitably shown the door at Newcastle, The Sun reports. 

The Telegraph claims Lampard and former Borussia Dortmund boss Lucien Favre top the new owners' wish list.

The 43-year-old Lampard was sacked by Chelsea in January 2021, about six weeks after Favre, 63, left Dortmund. 

 

ROUND-UP

- Liverpool are keeping a close eye on Ousmane Dembele, who is out of contract at Barcelona at the end of the season, Mundo Deportivo reports.

- Dortmund and RB Leipzig are the top potential landing spots for 19-year-old Salzburg striker Karim Adeyemi, reports Sky Sport Germany.

- Feyenoord will make another effort to prise Amad Diallo from Manchester United in January, according to The Sun, after a potential loan move fell through due to injury during the last transfer window. 

- Club Brugge and Belgium midfielder Charles De Ketelaere is drawing interest from Milan and Napoli, says Calciomercato, with Everton and West Ham also monitoring the 20-year-old.

- Former Manchester United goalkeeper Sergio Romero is expected to finalise his deal with Venezia on Tuesday, reports Fabrizio Romano. 

Stefano Pioli felt Milan demonstrated their strength in depth in a 2-0 Serie A victory over Venezia at San Siro.

Pioli rung the changes following the draw with Juventus on Sunday, with Fode Ballo-Toure coming into a new-look defence for his first start.

The Rossoneri dominated possession but did not register a shot on target until Brahim Díaz turned in a first-time cross from substitute Theo Hernandez midway through the second half.

Marauding full-back Hernandez, who came on along with Fikayo Tomori and Alexis Saelemaekers just before the hour-mark, doubled Milan's advantage eight minutes from time as they moved level on points with leaders and fierce rivals Inter.

It had been a frustrating evening for Milan until Diaz struck with his third goal of the season but Pioli believes they showed the progress they have made, with key men absent once again.

The Milan head coach said: "The team broke [Venezia down] by playing a game with intelligence and clarity, continuing to push and create. We have more than one quality player and they are used to win games."

He added: "I disagree that we were not brilliant in the first half, just a little bit of quality was lacking. I am not surprised by the players who have not played much so far, they are all strong.

"Importantly, it means that the team is there and is fine, they believe in it [his approach] and play. We are only at the beginning, I have a very deep squad, apart from a few too many injuries at the moment. They are all players who can help the team."

Pioli knows there is plenty of room for improvement after his side made it four wins out of five games without defeat in Serie A this season.

"In the first half we lacked precision but we managed it in the second half playing with intensity and attention," he said.

"In many things you can improve. All the matches give us interesting ideas, there are many situations where we can grow "

Pioli revealed Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Olivier Giroud and Simon Kjaer are making progress with their recoveries from injury, but he is unsure if they will be fit to face Spezia on Saturday.

Hernandez became the first Milan defender to have both scored and delivered an assist in a Serie A game since Opta collected such data (2004-05), finding the back of the net with a sweet strike.

Milan moved level on points with Inter at the top of Serie A after Theo Hernandez came off the bench to inspire a 2-0 win over Venezia.

Stefano Pioli rung the changes following the draw with Juventus on Sunday and the Rossoneri endured a frustrating evening until Hernandez set up Brahim Diaz for the opening goal midway through the second half.

Neither side had registered a shot on target until Diaz volleyed home from point-blank range at San Siro on Wednesday, but Hernandez added a second goal to seal all three points.

Victory for Milan continued their impressive start to the Serie A season despite being depleted by injuries, with this their fourth win out of five matches without defeat.

Riccardo Bocalon's last-gasp goal confirmed Venezia's promotion to Serie A, as they claimed a 2-1 aggregate victory over Cittadella in the Serie B play-off.

Venezia were last in Serie A in 2001-02, but having led 1-0 from the first leg, their hopes of a return to the top flight were dented when Federico Proia scored in the 26th minute to put Cittadella ahead on Thursday.

Indeed, their chances appeared to be slim as Cittadella piled on the pressure, with the visitors mustering 16 attempts in total, with five – including their goal – on target.

But a battling Venezia performance, which also included Mattia Aramu, who had already been subbed off, being sent off for foul language, came good in the 93rd minute when Bocalon struck to secure a long-awaited return to the big time.

Venezia, who finished fifth in Serie B, follow Empoli and second-placed Salernitana into the top tier for the 2021-22 campaign.

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