Soccer-Milan derby an opportunity not to be missed, says Pioli

FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football - Serie A - AC Milan v Atalanta - San Siro, Milan, Italy - January 23, 2021 AC Milan coach Stefano Pioli during the match REUTERS/Daniele Mascolo/File Photo

(Reuters) - Struggling AC Milan will give it their all to end their winless streak when they play in-form rivals Inter in Serie A on Sunday, hoping to prove they still have the spark that helped them win last year's title, coach Stefano Pioli said.

Milan are without a win in four Serie A games, culminating in a 5-2 thrashing at home by 16th-placed Sassuolo in their last league outing.

They were also beaten 3-0 by Inter in the Italian Super Cup in January, and crashed out of the Coppa Italia in the last 16 against 10-man Torino.

"We studied a game plan, with our last matches and the Supercoppa taken into consideration," Pioli told a news conference on Saturday.

"It is a great opportunity for us (to get back to winning ways) and we have to do everything to seize it. Inter come into the match in excellent form, but we have a real desire to win... We want to put on a great performance."

"We have to do better, because the last few performances have not been up to the mark," he added.

"Everything that has happened to us in these three years has not been a coincidence... We have not lost the spirit that makes us special (but) we must show it again."

Milan are fifth in the standings on 38 points, 15 behind runaway leaders Napoli, but they are still in the last 16 of the Champions League where they face Premier League side Tottenham Hotspur on Feb. 14 and March 8.

"The Champions League is an important goal, it should not be taken for granted," Pioli said.

"If we look at the table of the other European leagues, Napoli's season stands out. On our side, we have to win as many games as we can from now until the end of the season to finish as high as possible."

The Italian coach will be boosted by the return to training on Friday of veteran striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic who has not played a game all season after having surgery on his knee last May.

"Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been vital for this team... Unfortunately, the two games with Tottenham come too soon, and at this moment we don't know when he will be fully fit," Pioli said.

"I hope with all my heart that he can return soon, especially for how he is doing. Few people can do what he is doing to return from such a serious and complicated injury."

(Reporting by Anita Kobylinska in Gdansk; Editing by Christian Radnedge)

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