Ibra: ‘Didn’t know about Pioli’ | Football Italia_2

  Zlatan Ibrahimovic admits he did not know Milan were keeping Stefano Pioli. ‘You learn something new here every day.’

  Ibrahimovic was speaking after he scored twice in a 2-1 win at Sassuolo, which secured Milan a place in at least the qualifying rounds of next season’s Europa League.

  “We won a difficult match against a team who play good football and we came here to win,” he told Sky Sport Italia.

  “We’re doing beautiful things, but the season isn’t over yet. We’re still vying for our objective. We want fifth place, but qualifiers are fine too.”

  The striker was then asked about his future and whether he knew anything about the club’s decision to stick with Pioli.

  “I still have three games and 10 days left here, but no-one’s told me anything and I don’t expect anything else.

  “I didn’t know anything [about Pioli]. You learn something new here every day.

  “I’m working, the team feel good and are happy. Since I’ve been here, the table says we should be second.”

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They might both be giants | Football Italia_3

  If the Serie A season had started after lockdown, this would have been a top of the table clash. It speaks volumes, however, that it was much more of a surprise for Milan to be setting such a pace than it was for Atalanta. Their match in the eerily quiet San Siro told us how far one team had come and the journey still facing the other.

  That the Rossoneri have made progress under Stefano Pioli – with additions of no little note like Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Simon Kjaer – is undeniable. The resurgence earned their coach a deserved contract extension in a U-turn well worthy of the soap opera the club has appeared in recent times. Why overhaul everything when you actually have some decent foundations in place anyway? Don’t wreck it Ralf Rangnick felt like a pragmatic decision which probably suited everyone involved.

  There was a spell of about 20 years from the early 1990s when a visit of the boys from Bergamo was a pretty much guaranteed home win for the Milanese giants, but those days are long gone. More recent times have confirmed the Bergamaschi as one of the most glorious realities of Italian football. It has coincided with a pretty shambolic spell in the post-Silvio Berlusconi age at one of Europe’s most successful sides. Under the Friday night lights, though, there was definitely more hope than despair for once.

  A lot of the credit for that must go to Pioli, although Rino Gattuso might be looking on thinking what wonders he could have done with some of the new arrivals at the club. It doesn’t feel like he has done anything revolutionary, simply given a chaotic set-up a decent structure and shape. Since football returned, Hakan Calhanoglu has looked like a different player. The reason according to him? He is playing in his preferred trequartista role – who would have thought it?

  This more gentle evolution is probably exactly what Milan needed. You could see in this game that the presence of Ibra has inspired those around him to give a little more and to think a little more of themselves. If anyone was going to give the red and black devils a bit more fire in their bellies, it was probably him.

  It is more than that, of course. Alongside belief has come a bit of stability and a growing confidence acquired with each positive result. No wonder they decided not to rip everything up this summer and start again. Financially, too, let’s be honest that it probably makes more sense to carry out a smaller scale restyling under Pioli than might otherwise have taken place.

  It was enough to stand toe to toe with one of Italy’s best at the moment and make them sweat for most of their 90 minutes. Yes, there were spells where the slick Atalanta machine threatened to sweep them aside, but there were also periods where they more than held their own. If you remember the 5-0 hammering from earlier this season, such a recovery hardly seemed possible in the space of one – undeniably lengthy – campaign.

  As for Papu Gomez and company, they were a little below their best for this encounter, which again tells us much about what we have come to expect from them. Maybe even they don’t believe – despite Juve’s setback in Udine – that the Scudetto is a serious prospect. The way they are keeping Josip Ilicic wrapped up would suggest that the Champions League is quite heavily on their mind.

  That sentence says everything about the amazing story which has unfolded at the club in recent times. To have pushed the Bianconeri so close in the league – and it might have been closer without a couple of handball penalties – would be a big enough achievement for a side of their size. The fact that they are being whispered of as sneaky outsiders for the biggest competition in the continent is absolutely incredible. We think of the Champions League as a closed shop for the big boys only, but Atalanta are rattling on that door with a wonderful disregard for the established order.

  Indeed, Friday night showed us that, ultimately, there is room for teams to rise and fall above and below their traditional positions. Milan took a step towards the Europa League which they would historically have thought beneath themselves, while Gian Piero Gasperini’s side will be in Europe’s top competition, where they have looked more and more at home. Between them, they dished up an entertaining encounter where everyone could take away a positive. La Dea looks increasingly divine with each passing game and – if this side can be held together – could be on the verge of more special moments. And the Rossoneri? They might finally be on the right track – if they show a bit of patience and good sense in how they rebuild. Who knows, they could even catch up to Atalanta one day.

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Report: Borja Valero has convinced Conte | Football Italia

  Inter midfielder Borja Valero has reportedly convinced coach Antonio Conte, who is prepared to offer him a new deal at San Siro.

  The former Fiorentina man has stepped up after the lockdown and has been praised by Conte for his contribution in the absence of key members in midfield.

  Il Corriere dello Sport claims the coach wants to have the Spanish playmaker available in 2020-21 and the offer of a new deal should arrive shortly for Borja Valero.

  The 35-year-old has appeared 19 times in Serie A this term and has contributed two goals.

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Joao Mario leaves Lokomotiv Moscow | Football Italia

  Inter loanee Joao Mario seems set to return and thanked Lokomotiv Moscow ‘for making me feel at home during this season’.

  The Portuguese midfielder used his Instagram profile to bid his farewell to the Russian side, who seem to have failed to trigger the option to buy the player.

  “I would like to thank everyone at Lokomotiv Moscow, from the President to the coaching staff, my colleagues and the fans, for making me feel at home during this season,” he wrote.

  “It has been a pleasure to war your shirt and to fight for your colours. I’m leaving with a very positive feeling about the moments we shared together. All the best!”

  Joao Mario has played 18 games in the Russian Premier League this term, contributing one goal and five assists.

  His contract with Inter expires in June 2022.

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Dybala: ‘Juve aiming for 10th Scudetto’ | Football Italia

  Juventus forward Paulo Dybala has admitted the Old Lady are ‘already thinking about a 10th’ Scudetto in 2020-21.

  Check out the preview for Juventus v Roma on Eurotips.co.uk.

  The Bianconeri extended their own record by securing a ninth consecutive title in Italy and Dybala has claimed Juventus have the ‘strongest players in the world in every position’.

  “It can be hard to maintain concentration and ambition,” Dybala told The Guardian. “But every win is special.

  “I think that’s the most important thing. I like to win, my teammates like to win, and the club likes to win, and it’s that desire that makes us winners.

  “But, of course it helps that we have the strongest players in the world in every position. We’re proud of ourselves, to win nine titles in a row is incredible, and we’re already thinking about a 10th.”

  Juventus end the campaign at home against Roma on Saturday, before they embark on another challenge in Europe.

  The Old Lady lost 1-0 to Olympique Lyonnais at the Groupama Stadium and must turn the tie around in Turin on August 7 to join the other quarter-finalists for a mini-tournament in Lisbon, Portugal.

  “First though, we need to turn our attention to the Champions League. It’s been such a long season already.

  “The first game against Lyon was five months ago and so many things have happened in between, but we know what we can still achieve.

  “It’ll be strange to play in the Champions League without fans, and to play just one tie in each round, but first we have to win in Turin. For now, that’s all that matters.”

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Liveblog: Parma

  Join us for all the build-up and action as it happens from today’s two Serie A games, as Atalanta visit Dejan Kulusevski’s Parma and Inter take on Napoli.

  If you are on a mobile device or tablet, then follow the Liveblog HERE.

  We begin at 18.30 UK time (17.30 GMT) at the Stadio Tardini, where Kulusevski tries to earn Parma a third straight win and do it against his former club, even if he barely played for them.

  Atalanta are still unbeaten since the lockdown and are aiming for 100 Serie A goals this season, not to mention second place.

  At 20.45 UK time (19.45 GMT), Inter aim to defend that silver medal position against on form Napoli, just weeks after the Partenopei knocked them out of the Coppa Italia semi-final.

  Dries Mertens is suspended, so Arkadiusz Milik should lead the attack against Romelu Lukaku’s Nerazzurri.

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Inter make Alexis hungry again | Football Italia_2

  The last few years haven’t been the best of Alexis Sanchez’s career. It has given many the impression that he’s past his prime and is far from being the player that he used to be at Arsenal or Barcelona. The move to Manchester United has gone on to become one of the most underwhelming signings in the club’s history. There seemed to be a lack of motivation, and with the money involved, it seemed like a move dictated by greed.

  But in recent weeks, many things are pointing to the fact that the Sanchez probably hasn’t played this well since his Arsenal days under Arsene Wenger. Inter’s 3-1 win over Torino on Monday has a confirmation of that, as the Chilean notched up a couple of assists and looked in sparkling form – once again.

  For probably the first time in around two years, there seems to be a zip about Sanchez. He looks rejuvenated and gives the impression of being a player who is actually bothered about winning games for his team. He is moving quickly across the Inter front-two and his movement in the final-third is causing big problems for the opposition on a consistent basis.

  Apart from grabbing assists against Toro, the former Barca man sparkled against Brescia as well. He assisted twice again and scored once too. He got a vital assist against Sassuolo and even though he couldn’t score against Verona, the Chilean did impress with his desire to keep plugging away and nearly succeeded too.

  He looks hungry for goals and hungry to contribute to goals as much as he can. The media has often been critical of his attitude in recent years. Reports have even suggested that he comes across as the selfish character who will be happy if he scores, even if his team loses. Whether that is true or not is anyone’s guess, but that doesn’t really ring true at Inter – at least from the outside.

  In recent weeks and months, Antonio Conte has been crying out for some depth and variety in attacking areas. He had tried to sign a target man like Olivier Giroud or Edin Dzeko in the summer and that didn’t work out. Sanchez was going through an injury patch and Conte decided to move Matteo Politano on, despite everything.

  The Torino game saw Conte rest Romelu Lukaku, who had picked up a slight knock. For how important Lukaku has been to the Nerazzurri this season, not risking him at this point of the season was a big decision to make. But the fact that Conte trusted Sanchez to do a job beside Lautaro Martinez said a lot about how he’s earned the manager’s trust with recent performances. And he didn’t let anyone down.

  He isn’t quite the tall and wiry forward that Conte ideally wanted in Giroud or Llorente and he isn’t the sort that Lukaku is either. But Sanchez brings that street-smart attitude that Conte really likes in his forward. That is exactly why he had a liking for Carlos Tevez at Juventus and for Diego Costa at Chelsea. And perhaps, that is why he likes Lautaro Martinez as well. Sanchez has this aura about him which can instil a work-ethic into a team, as it did for Arsenal back in the days. Sanchez’s workhorse nature allowed Giroud and Mesut Ozil to thrive in the freedom they got.

  This might only be a spell for Sanchez. But like Christian Eriksen, even he took a while to get to grips with Conte’s approach to the game. The injury on international duty didn’t help. More than that, he had one of Europe’s best striker pairing starting ahead of him and he had acquired a reputation for not being the best of characters either.

  But somehow, the 31-year-old has fought through it all to become a very reliable goalscoring option for Inter at such a critical point of the campaign. They just have this assurance now that if any of Martinez or Lukaku don’t play, they have someone to fall back on. They didn’t have that with Politano or in the first-half of the campaign.

  With talks reportedly ongoing about Inter signing him on another loan, Man Utd should ideally be looking at Sanchez’s form with some attention. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men use quick attacking transitions and they too need depth to compete on all fronts, despite being unbeaten in 18 straight games. Sanchez’s future might be uncertain but it still rings true that on his day, he can still be a match-winner.

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Pioli: ‘Not just Zlatan’ | Football Italia

  Coach Stefano Pioli said Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been ‘important’ to help Milan turn their season around but stressed there have been several factors ‘allowing us to deliver excellent performances’.

  The Swede, who turns 39 in October, was on target against Sampdoria yesterday, when his brace helped the Rossoneri secure a 4-1 win at the Marassi.

  Zlatan joked he doesn’t age after the performance and Pioli has again praised the veteran’s impact at San Siro since January but underlined that there are other factors

  “Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been very important for our development, but there hasn’t been only this,” Pioli said at the post-match press conference.

  “The work we have put down in the past months, the arrival of [Simon] Kjaer and a change of positions on the pitch.

  “There’s a number of things that have allowed us to deliver excellent performances with the right continuity.”

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Ter Stegen doubt for Napoli clash | Football Italia

  Barcelona goalkeeper Marc-Andre Ter Stegen is reportedly in doubt to feature in the Champions League Round of 16 with Napoli on August 8.

  According to Spanish newspaper Diario AS, as reported by Football Espana, the German international is struggling with a persistent knee problem.

  He already missed Barcelona’s last Liga game of the season at Alaves and is bound to require surgery to resolve the issue.

  As that would keep him out for up to three months, it’ll probably only be done after the Champions League is completed.

  If Ter Stegen can’t make it, then former Fiorentina and Juventus goalkeeper Norberto Neto will go in goal.

  Barcelona drew the first leg of their Champions League Round of 16 tie with Napoli, 1-1 in February, and are due to play the second leg on August 8.

  The Blaugrana are missing several key players already, as Arturo Vidal and Sergio Busquets are suspended.

  Jean-Clair Todibo, Samuel Umtiti, Ousmane Dembele and even Antoine Griezmann are also carrying injuries.

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Highlights: Verona 3_2

  Hellas Verona ended their winless streak by thrashing sorry SPAL with an early Samuel Di Carmine brace and Marco Davide Faraoni header.

  The Stadio Bentegodi side had lost momentum in recent weeks after securing mid-table safety, but wanted to bow out with a good result in their final home game of the season.

  Di Carmine immediately pounced on poor defending to score twice, then Faraoni added a third after the restart.

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