Stefano Pioli is set to unleash Rafael Leao on Inter in Saturday’s Milan derby after keeping suitors at bay before the transfer window closed.
The exciting Portuguese forward was considered a target for Chelsea but remains with Milan and is poised to make his 100th Serie A appearance against the Nerazzurri.
Up to this point, Leao has started in 69 of his 99 league games.
And among players born from 1999 onwards, he has provided the most assists (16).
Regarding goals scored among that age group, the 23-year-old stands third on the list with 24, behind only Dusan Vlahovic (55) and Andrea Pinamonti (25).
Pioli never believed he would lose Leao before the shutters went up on the market on Thursday.
But the finality will have relieved many associated with the club.
Pioli said on Friday:
“I have never been worried about the possible departure of Leao.
“I have always seen him fully involved and determined.”
Milan won the last league derby, a 2-1 victory in February when Olivier Giroud’s double saw the Rossoneri come from behind to take the points, an actual result on the way to a first Scudetto since 2010-11, dethroning Inter in the process.
It means Milan will be looking to win consecutive league games against their city rivals for the first time since 2011.
However, Inter got the better of the two-leg Coppa Italia semi-final between the teams in March and April.
“I expect a vibrant contest: the derby is the derby, so it will be an even contest.
“We must not lose focus for even a second. We’ll have to move hard and fast.
“Effort, aggression and sacrifice will all be required.”
The transfer window has been an inevitable distraction despite Pioli’s best efforts to focus on Inter.
Milan looks to have traded prudently in its closing stages, agreeing to loan deals for Barcelona’s American full-back Sergino Dest and Wolfsburg’s teenage Belgian midfielder Aster Vranckx while also signing Schalke’s young centre-back Malick Thiaw.
Pioli described the newcomers as “important players with ample room for improvement”.
Dest arrives in the wake of Milan losing right-back Alessandro Florenzi to a leg muscle injury that will reportedly sideline him for around eight weeks.
Pioli quoted on Milan’s official website:
“We are sad about Florenzi’s injury.
“He is a leader on and off the pitch. We’re still evaluating how to manage his recovery best possible.”
Assessing what Dest brings, Pioli said:
“He has quality and pace, and we got him to play the full-back position.
“But he has the right characteristics to play in other roles too.”
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