Zlatan Ibrahimovic double gives rampant AC Milan another win
After the 2-1 victory at Sassuolo, Milan confirmed that coach Stefano Pioli's contract would be renewed until 2022.
Veteran forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored twice in the first half to give AC Milan a 2-1 win at 10-man Sassuolo on Tuesday as they remained unbeaten since the restart of the season and guaranteed a place in the Europa League.
After a match which saw goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma make his 200th appearance for the club at the age of 21, Milan immediately confirmed that coach Stefano Pioli's contract would be renewed until 2022.
In doing so, the club ended widespread and long-running reports that the 54-year-old would be moved aside at the end of the season to make way for German Ralf Rangnick.
Milan, unbeaten in 10 games in all competitions, moved up to fifth with 59 points, enough to guarantee them at least a place in the Europa League qualifying rounds next season.
Ibrahimovic, who returned for second stint in January, got in front of his marker to head in from Hakan Calhanoglu's cross in the 19th minute.
Eighth-placed Sassuolo, themselves in the middle of an impressive run, levelled three minutes before halftime when Calhanoglu was judged to have handled following a long VAR review and Francesco Caputo converted the penalty.
Yet Milan regained the lead in first-half stoppage time when Calhanoglu threaded the ball through to Ibrahimovic.
This time, the 38-year-old Swede calmly flicked the ball past goalkeeper Andrea Consigli with his first touch and scored into an empty net.
Sassuolo then had Mehdi Bourabia sent off in first-half stoppage time and were unable to offer much of a threat after the break as Milan comfortably saw out the game.
Ismael Bennacer struck the post for the visitors and Consigli made a stunning double save from Giacomo Bonaventura.
Manager Pioli, 54, took over last October after his predecessor Marco Giampaolo was sacked after just seven games in charge.
Milan are on a nine-match unbeaten run including seven wins and are now fifth and into the Europa League places with three games left to play this season.
"I am happy and proud of the trust I have received from AC Milan," said Pioli.
"We are at the beginning of an extraordinary path. If we keep working this way, we will grow and be more and more competitive."
The fallen European giants had reportedly been in talks with former RB Leipzig coach Ralf Rangnick to take over next season.
But sports director Paolo Maldini praised Pioli for guiding the team "at a very difficult time".
"Stefano brilliantly managed both the pandemic outbreak lockdown and the re-start of the current season, with a very consistent, positive impact to the whole team.
"Stefano is the right man to lead the team that we want: successful, young and hungry."
Pioli was a surprise choice for the 18-time Serie A champions as he has never won a trophy in his managerial career over two decades that includes spells at Bologna, Lazio, Inter and Fiorentina.
Milan chief executive Ivan Gazidis said the extension was based on more than just the team's improved results.
"Stefano has shown he can deliver the vision of football we have for our club - exciting, progressive and passionate," said Gazidis.
"This is not a decision based on recent victories, but one based on how Stefano has built team spirit and unity of purpose, the way he has improved the performances of the individual players and the collective team, the way he has embraced our vision and the way he has represented himself and the club's values."
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