Napoli owner Aurelio De Laurentiis appeared to rule out the signing of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, insisting the club must "start from scratch" after Gennaro Gattuso replaced Carlo Ancelotti.

Ibrahimovic is a free agent after leaving MLS side LA Galaxy and the veteran striker has been linked with a return to Serie A via Napoli, former club Milan and Serie C outfit Monza.

Touted to re-join Milan, the arrival of ex-Rossoneri boss Gattuso in Naples has led to speculation Ibrahimovic could move to Napoli instead.

It comes after Napoli reportedly offered Ibrahimovic an 18-month contract before head coach Ancelotti was sacked following the club's Champions League victory on Tuesday.

Asked about Ibrahimovic, De Laurentiis told reporters: "Zlatan is a great person with a strong character. We thought about Ibrahimovic when Ancelotti was in charge, as he would've taken a certain role.

"Now before thinking about him, I have other priorities, as this is a team that must play in a different system with a very high line and a defence that cannot allow what it allowed against Parma.

"We must focus first and foremost on what we have in-house and then to reinforce the midfield. It's a pity all the work we had done for Ancelotti now has to be scrapped and we start again working for Gattuso's ideas. We start from scratch, but do not lack enthusiasm."

Gattuso's first match in charge did not go according to plan – Napoli stunned 2-1 by visiting Parma after conceding a 93rd-minute goal on Saturday.

The result left Napoli languishing in eighth in Serie A, 11 points outside the top four amid an eight-match winless streak in the league.

"I am totally in sync with Gattuso, who is a great worker," De Laurentiis said. "He did well at Milan and is the right profile for us, as was Carlo, who remains an extraordinary person.

"Now we need a great deal of patience, nerves of steel and cool heads. I tell that above all to the fans. They want to win at all costs, but football has changed and it has become far more complex."

On Ancelotti, De Laurentiis added: "I can only wish Ancelotti all the best. He is an extraordinary person and a great friend. Once we reach the end of the season, I'll look at everything and understand what went wrong or who was wrong. We will draw a definitive line."

Antonio Conte has said Lautaro Martinez and Romelu Lukaku "need a breather" after Inter were pegged back late on against Fiorentina.

Borja Valero's early goal looked to be enough to be sending Conte's side two points clear of Juventus at the top of Serie A on Sunday, but Inter were ultimately made to pay for some wasteful finishing.

Substitute Dusan Vlahovic was the hero for Fiorentina, picking up the ball in his own half before driving clear of Inter's defence and thumping a fine finish beyond Samir Handanovic in stoppage time.

Conte, whose side dropped out of the Champions League in midweek due to a last-gasp defeat to Barcelona, believes fatigue is proving the crucial factor in Inter's concession of late goals, as well as Martinez and Lukaku's shows of profligacy, with both players passing up great opportunities against Fiorentina.

"It's hard to talk about fitness levels, because we've had seven games in 21 days, with Lautaro and Lukaku playing constantly," Conte told Sky Sport Italia.

"Unfortunately, the Alexis Sanchez injury left us in a situation where we couldn't give them any respite, so I can only thank them. These players need a breather, but we cannot afford to give it to them.

"These are games where we didn't take the results we deserved. Against Barcelona, we paid for wasting several chances to score and allowing two situations where we could've done a lot better.

"It was a strong response from the team. It’s disappointing about that late equaliser, because we deserved more, both tonight and against Barcelona.

"I don't think we can complain about the effort or attitude of these lads. It is a growth process, we need patience to learn from mistakes. If we don't have patience and assume we must win every game because we are Inter, then we're not progressing.

"We are talking about players who are constantly going out there and playing 90 minutes, so inevitably there is going to be some fatigue."

The draw has left Inter level on points with Juve heading into their final match of 2019, with the Nerazzurri taking on Genoa on Saturday.

However, they will have to do so without Martinez, who received his fifth booking of the season against Fiorentina, and Marcelo Brozovic, who is likewise suspended.

Dusan Vlahovic scored a spectacular late equaliser as Fiorentina fought back to draw 1-1 with Inter and hand Juventus a boost in the Serie A title race.

Borja Valero's early strike against his former club looked set to be enough to claim the points for Inter, who had temporarily fallen into second place due to Juve's comfortable win over Udinese earlier on Sunday.

However, having seen a goal ruled out by the VAR before squandering several gilt-edged chances, Antonio Conte's side were unable to double their lead.

Fiorentina took full advantage as teenager Vlahovic stepped up with a sensational solo strike in stoppage time to secure a lifeline for under-pressure coach Vincenzo Montella while ensuring Inter could only move level on points with Juve at the top.

 

Stefano Pioli acknowledged Milan's main focus has to be improving their proficiency in the final third after they were held to a goalless draw by Sassuolo.

Milan remain rooted in mid-table in Serie A following a wasteful display at San Siro on Sunday.

Theo Hernandez was unfortunate to have a first-half goal disallowed by the VAR, while substitute Rafael Leao hit the woodwork twice in quick succession late on.

Veteran Sassuolo goalkeeper Gianluca Pegolo also made a string of impressive saves, but Pioli says his team must take responsibility for the missed opportunities.

"We could have had more pace and movement in the first half, but in the second, we had about nine or 10 shots on goal," Pioli told Sky Sport Italia. "We tried everything, and it just wasn't going to happen.

"Sassuolo are a good team - we knew they would cause us problems. Rafael Leao did well off the bench, everyone played with effort, but with a little bit of sharpness and precision, we could have brought home the points.

"We made some technical errors today that can prove very costly indeed at this level. We can do better. I think we lacked determination and the ability to finish our chances.

"Our players worked hard today - the fact we had 10 clear scoring opportunities means we put in a good performance 0 but our biggest limitation right now is that we have to create so many chances in order to get a goal. We need to score earlier."

Krzysztof Piatek scored in the 3-2 win over Bologna last time out but failed to have an impact on Sunday, and the striker was taken off late on having cut a frustrated figure throughout.

But Pioli believes the 24-year-old - who has four league goals this season - has not been helped by media pressure.

"Last week, the media said Piatek was our saviour; now, people are going to criticise again," Pioli said.

"They need to be more balanced overall in their evaluation. It’s not just him - everyone needs to do better."

 

 

Cristiano Ronaldo passed the 10-goal mark for a 15th successive season on Sunday, making him the only player across Europe's top five leagues to accomplish the feat in the same period.

The Juventus star got a brace as the Old Lady comfortable brushed Udinese aside 3-1 in Turin, returning them to the Serie A summit for at least a few hours.

Ronaldo opened the scoring in the ninth minute, blasting home from just inside the area after the ball dropped kindly for him.

He then doubled their lead just past the half-hour mark, steering in following Gonzalo Higuain's incisive pass.

The goals took his tally to 11 for the campaign across all competitions.

Portugal star Ronaldo began his double-figure scoring streak in 2005-06 when he netted 12 across all fronts for Manchester United, following that up with hauls of 23, 42 and 26 before heading to Real Madrid in 2009.

With Los Blancos, the fewest goals he managed in a single season was 33 in his first year at the club.

In every other campaign at Madrid he scored 42 or more, with his best being a remarkable record of 61 in 2014-15.

Last term he got 28 in 43 matches for Juventus in his first campaign with the Italian side.

Theo Hernandez had a goal harshly disallowed by VAR as Milan were held to a 0-0 draw by Sassuolo in their final home Serie A game of 2019.

In-form Hernandez thought he had scored his third goal in as many games just after the half-hour mark at San Siro on Sunday, only for VAR to rule it out for a handball from Franck Kessie.

Chasing a third successive league win for the first time since last season, Stefano Pioli's side piled on the pressure after the interval, only to be frustrated by some brilliant Gianluca Pegolo goalkeeping.

Substitute Rafael Leao twice beat Pegolo in the closing stages, but the crossbar and then the post came to Sassuolo's rescue.

Early in the game, Giacomo Bonaventura's effort forced Pegolo into an unconvincing save, but Sassuolo's goalkeeper reacted brilliantly to deny Kessie's follow-up.

After turning provider for a Hakan Calhanoglu chance, Hernandez thought he had put Milan ahead with a first-time strike which took a wicked deflection on its way through.

A VAR verdict, however, intervened when picking up what appeared to be Kessie's accidental handball.

A terrible back-pass then left Pegolo in no man's land prior to the break, yet Ismael Bennacer - after rounding the stranded goalkeeper - failed to apply the finish.

Jeremie Boga struck wide as Sassuolo caught Milan on the counter early in the second half, while Gianluigi Donnarumma had to keep out a stinging shot from Georgios Kyriakopoulos.

Bonaventura was denied by a brilliant Jeremy Toljan block, before Pegolo made an outstanding stop from Lucas Paqueta's close-range effort and kept out another Bonaventura attempt.

Veteran goalkeeper Pegolo was beaten late on, but Leao's curling strike cracked away off the bar before the substitute hit the right upright. There was still time for a final stop by Pegolo to deny Hernandez as Milan's efforts proved fruitless.

 

What does it mean? Milan entrenched in mid-table

It has been a frustrating season for Milan and, approaching the halfway stage, the Rossoneri sit 10th. Pioli will at least be able to take solace in the fact his side are only four points shy of eighth-placed Atalanta, though Milan will require a mighty upturn in form to make a push for the Champions League places.

Hernandez hitting his stride

Though he was unfortunate to have his goal ruled out, Milan's full-back put in another accomplished display in both defence and attack. If there is one bright mark from the Rossoneri's season so far, it is the form of the ex-Real Madrid youngster.

Piatek's struggles continue

Having netted from the spot against Bologna last time out, Piatek will have been hoping for an upturn in his fortunes, but he cut a frustrated figure in a lone striker role and was well contained by Sassuolo's defence.

What's next?

Atalanta are Milan's final opponents of 2019 on December 22, while Sassuolo face struggling Brescia on Wednesday before rounding off their year against Napoli.

Cristiano Ronaldo scored twice as Juventus returned to winning ways in Serie A, easing to a 3-1 triumph over struggling Udinese on Sunday.

Maurizio Sarri finally fielded Ronaldo, Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain together from the start – and the trio were influential in helping the reigning champions record a first victory in three league outings.

The result was a formality by half-time at Allianz Stadium, Ronaldo getting a brace as Udinese struggled to cope with a pumped-up home team eager to bounce back from a 3-1 loss away to Lazio the previous weekend.

The Portugal international opened the scoring in the ninth minute, firing home a loose ball with an instinctive first-time effort, while it was Higuain's well-weighted throughball that set up for a second, finished with his left foot.

Leonardo Bonucci added a third before the interval, flicking in a header at a corner from centre-back partner Merih Demiral via a deflection off the underside of the crossbar, allowing Juve to ease up in the second half.

As the tempo dropped, the hosts relied on the evergreen Gianluigi Buffon - making his 478th Serie A appearance in place of the injured Wojciech Szczesny, drawing him level with Alessandro Del Piero's club record in the competition – to keep Udinese at bay.

The veteran goalkeeper - guilty of a costly error in the 2-2 draw against Sassuolo earlier in December - twice denied the lively Kevin Lasagna, while he also turned away a fierce drive from Seko Fofana.

However, there was little Buffon could do to stop Ignacio Pussetto getting a consolation goal in stoppage time, preventing the former Italy international recording a clean sheet.

Ronaldo had been denied a hat-trick by the post in the closing minutes but Juve coasted to a result that sends them above Inter, although the Nerazzurri can reclaim top spot when they travel to Fiorentina in Sunday's late kick-off.

What does it mean? Sarri sees forwards combine

Having worked so well in the second half of the 2-0 Champions League victory over Bayer Leverkusen in midweek, Dybala, Higuain and Ronaldo had the chance to show they can function from the outset. They did just that, combining impressively on a number of occasions. 

So, was Sarri's starting XI a one-off, or a sign of things to come? This was, admittedly, the ideal game to experiment in; Juventus have won more matches against Udinese than any other Serie A opponent. It will be fascinating to see if they are all selected again for trickier tests in the future.

Ronaldo still going strong

The forward - who turns 35 in February - may not quite have the blistering pace that was once such a trademark, but he remains a ruthless finisher. His goals demonstrated just how dangerous he is when presented with a sight of the target.

Lasagna goes cold on big stage

The Italy international was starved of service in an opening half that was one-way traffic towards the Udinese goal. In the second, however, he failed to capitalise on the opportunities that came his way, including twice allowing recovering defenders to make crucial blocks when seemingly in the clear.

What's next?

Juventus go up against Claudio Ranieri's Sampdoria on Wednesday in their final league outing before the mid-season break in Italy. Udinese, meanwhile, round out 2019 with a home game against Cagliari next Saturday.

Juventus goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny will miss the Serie A clash with Udinese after feeling discomfort in his right shoulder ahead of Sunday's game.

In a statement on social media, Juve said Szczesny reported the problem on the morning of the match and will be rested as a precaution.

Gianluigi Buffon looks set to start in goal at Allianz Stadium after completing 90 minutes in the midweek Champions League win over Bayer Leverkusen.

The 41-year-old kept a clean sheet in Germany but made a glaring error in his last Serie A appearance, the 2-2 draw against Sassuolo on December 1.

Mattia Perin has been added to the matchday squad as Maurizio Sarri's men aim to overtake leaders Inter, who visit Fiorentina later on Sunday.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been offered the chance to join ex-Milan associates Silvio Berlusconi and Adriano Galliani at third-tier Monza on a two-and-a-half-year deal.

Galliani, the Rossoneri's former chief executive, said he had spoken with the Swede in an audacious attempt to lure him to the Serie C side.

Confirmation of the contract offer comes after former Milan owner Berlusconi, who purchased Monza in 2018, publicly outlined his desire to reunite with Ibrahimovic.

The 38-year-old has been a free agent since leaving LA Galaxy after two seasons in MLS.

"After Berlusconi gave me a mandate, I made the offer to [Ibrahimovic's agent] Mino Raiola," Galliani, now CEO at Monza, told Corriere della Sera.

"He suggested I talk about it directly with Zlatan, who I speak with every night."

Galliani explained his pitch: "Come to us, stay six months in Serie C. Then next year we go up to Serie B and in two seasons we are in Serie A."

Monza are on track to win promotion this term, but signing Ibrahimovic would still represent a major surprise.

The former Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester United star has been heavily linked with either a return to Milan or a move to Napoli.

Rumoured suitors Bologna have ruled themselves out of the race, with director Walter Sabatini telling Tuttomercatoweb: "Ibrahimovic will not be coming to Bologna. He has made other choices."

Manchester United could be set to land the most sought-after striker in Europe.

According to a new report, Erling Haaland has identified the Red Devils as his preferred choice from a long list of suitors containing Juventus, Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig.

The teenager met with the two Bundesliga clubs in midweek, but United appear to have moved to the front of the queue.

 

TOP STORY – HAALAND SENDS MESSAGE TO SOLSKJAER

Salzburg star Haaland has told compatriot Ole Gunnar Solskjaer he wants to move to Old Trafford, according to the Mirror.

United have been linked with the 19-year-old for several months and the Norwegian connection could lead him to the Premier League.

However, Haaland's high-profile agent Mino Raiola reportedly wants to keep all options on the table as the January transfer window moves nearer.

The striker's father, Alf-Inge, was said to have visited United's training ground in November, while Haaland held talks with Bundesliga teams Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig this week.

 

ROUND-UP

- Inter's firm interest in Fiorentina winger Federico Chiesa could lead to a transfer tug-of-war with Serie A title rivals Juventus, according to CalcioMercato.

- The Nerazzurri have been linked Alessandro Florenzi, but Atalanta are now in pole position to sign the Italy international if he leaves Roma in January, says Gazzetta dello Sport.

- Rest time might be at a minimum for Kylian Mbappe when the club season winds down. According to Le Parisien, French Football Federation president Noel Le Graet will give the Paris Saint-Germain star the chance to compete at the Olympic Games in Tokyo, which begin less than two weeks after the Euro 2020 final.

- Chelsea are considering launching a January bid for Leeds United loanee Ben White, claims the Daily Mail. Brighton and Hove Albion, White's parent club, are reportedly willing to accept offers of £25million.

- Mundo Deportivo suggests LaLiga heavyweights Barcelona are monitoring Thiago Alcantara's situation amid rumours the midfielder has become unhappy at Bayern Munich. Thiago swapped Barca for Bayern in 2013.

- West Ham's victory over Southampton will not be enough to save Manuel Pellegrini from the sack, says the Daily Star. Carlo Ancelotti and David Moyes are among the possible replacements.

Fiorentina star Franck Ribery is set to miss 10 weeks after undergoing surgery on his ankle on Saturday.

Ribery, 36, suffered the injury during Fiorentina's 1-0 loss to Lecce in Serie A on November 30.

Fiorentina announced on Saturday that the French attacker had undergone surgery and they expect him to resume full training in around 10 weeks' time.

"Franck Ribery today underwent surgery for stabilisation of the tibiofibular syndesmosis," a club statement read.

"The operation, carried out by Professor Gabel, was a complete success.

"The player will return to Florence on Sunday and begin his rehabilitation plan. He will resume exercise in two weeks.

"[He] is expected to resume full training in around 10 weeks' time."

Ribery has scored two goals and provided two assists in 11 league matches this season.

Fiorentina, who are struggling in 13th in Serie A, host league leaders Inter on Sunday.

Stefano Pioli has urged his Milan players to mark the club's 120th anniversary celebrations with a victory against Sassuolo on Sunday.

Previous Rossoneri stars will be in attendance at San Siro as Milan, who have won Serie A 18 times and the Champions League or European Cup on seven occasions, remember their fine history.

The glory days appear an awfully long time ago given Milan started this round of fixtures 10th in the table with a return of 20 points from 15 games.

Pioli's side have recorded back-to-back victories, though, and the head coach wants to make that three in a row on a special day for Milan.

"Tomorrow's celebrations are just a reminder to the players that this is not just any club," Pioli told a news conference.

"Tomorrow's game is very, very important; we get to honour a great history of this club, we have the chance to honour it if we play well and we win.

"I'm not interested in anything after tomorrow at the moment; I'm solely focused on the game tomorrow. We'll be facing a team that play very good football, they have very gifted players especially up front, and so we need to be at our best."

Pioli became Milan's third manager of 2019 when he was hired in October.

The club have not qualified for the Champions League since finishing third in 2012-13 and Pioli knows he faces a challenge to restore Milan to the previous heights.

"Milan – for Italian football, European football and world football – has been a top club," he added.

"For a very long time it was one of the best clubs in the world with a winning spirit and incredible play. A very well-organised club, Milan was an example to follow for everyone.

"Tomorrow's game will be very important on an important day, a lot of football coaches and players will be present.

"I hope to do well, but I don't know what I will be remembered for in the future. There are things I'd like to be remembered for, but this is not the right moment."

Mattia Caldara, who is yet to feature for Milan in Serie A since joining in 2018 due to a knee injury, has been named in the squad for Sunday's game.

Maurizio Sarri has challenged his Juventus side to fight against the Champions League hangovers that threaten to derail their bid for a ninth consecutive Serie A title.

Juve have dropped points in four of their 15 league games this season, two of which came immediately after midweek Champions League fixtures.

They drew 1-1 with Lecce in October following a win over Lokomotiv Moscow and were held to a shock 2-2 home draw by Sassuolo this month after beating Atletico Madrid, before losing 3-1 to Lazio a week later.

Those results have left them trailing leaders Inter by two points and Sarri has demanded they do not suffer a similar fate against Udinese on Sunday after the 2-0 win over Bayer Leverkusen that concluded their Group D campaign in midweek.

"The risks of dropping the intensity levels and dropping points after Champions League games is visible in the statistics," he told a media conference. "You can't argue when it happens two or three times.

"We've got to find out why it keeps happening and fix it. There are differences playing in Serie A to the Champions League, but it's not true to say the European opponents are more open. Bayer Leverkusen focus mainly on possession, while Lokomotiv Moscow tend to clam up.

"Perhaps subconsciously our minds can drift to other targets after so many Scudetto titles in a row, but that is something we must absolutely fight against. If we are to be competitive in the Champions League, we need to be competitive in Italy, too."

Udinese are led by caretaker coach Luca Gotti, who was part of Sarri's staff at Chelsea last season.

They have failed to win any of their past four Serie A games, but Sarri is expecting a tough match at the Allianz Stadium.

"Gotti is very talented," he said. "Udinese can transform any long ball into a scoring opportunity, so we've got to be wary of that.

"They are a dangerous team that knows how to close down well and make the game tight. They have strikers who work well and can be dangerous in different circumstances."

Midfielders Adrien Rabiot and Emre Can have struggled for game time this season, with the pair starting only five times between them in Serie A, while Can was omitted from the Champions League squad for the group stage.

Sarri says both can expect to feature against Udinese and has suggested Rabiot – a free transfer following his departure from Paris Saint-Germain during the off-season – has not yet adjusted to life at the club.

"He has struggled to settle into our football, but that is normal," he explained. "He also came off an injury and struggled more in the first half in Germany [against Leverkusen], but he came out towards the end. He is also quite introverted, which doesn't help him to settle.

"Can was immensely disappointed [at being left out of the Champions League squad]. Either Can or Rabiot will certainly play and both of them may well be on the pitch for a portion of the game."

Inter have cancelled their news conference in protest at Italian newspaper Corriere dello Sport publishing what the club described as an "offensive letter" about head coach Antonio Conte.

Conte was due to speak to reporters to preview their away Serie A match against Fiorentina on Sunday.

But Inter released a statement saying the media session would not be going ahead because Corriere had published a critical letter and added their own comment indicating agreement with its content.

Inter's statement read: "Yesterday [Friday], the Corriere dello Sport published an offensive letter towards our coach, justifying its aggression in the comment.

"In order to send out a message to all media outlets that they must "guarantee respect for people", there won't be a press conference today."

Inter also clashed with Corriere earlier this month when striker Romelu Lukaku and former Manchester United team-mate Chris Smalling featured on a front page along with the headline "Black Friday" ahead of their meeting with Roma in Serie A.

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