Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Ibrahimovic to start against Fiorentina as Pioli turns focus to Scudetto race

SoccerNews in Serie A 20 Mar 2021

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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.”

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