STADIO GIUSEPPE MEAZZA, MILANO, ITALY - 2019/10/31: Stefano Pioli, head coach of Ac Milan, looks on before the the Serie A match  between  Ac Milan and Spal.  Ac Milan wins 1-0 over Spal. (Photo by Marco Canoniero/LightRocket via Getty Images)
(Photo by Marco Canoniero/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Stefano Pioli, Milan head coach acknowledged and praised the maturity of his players for thriving without the injured striker Ibrahimovic.

Stefano Pioli praised his Milan players ability to perform well in the absence of their striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

DTOPSHOT - AC Milan's Swedish forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic celebrates after scoring his team's second goal on a penalty kick during the Italian Serie A football match AC Milan vs Bologne at the San Siro stadium in Milan on September 21, 2020. (Photo by MIGUEL MEDINA / AFP) (Photo by MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP via Getty Images)
(Photo by MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP via Getty Images)

The players intensified their hold on top spot in Serie A with a 2-1 victory at Sampdoria on Sunday thanks to goals from Franck Kessie and Samu Castillejo.

GENOA, ITALY - DECEMBER 06: (BILD ZEITUNG OUT) Samu Castillejo of AC Milan celebrates after scoring his team's second goal during the Serie A match between UC Sampdoria and AC Milan at Stadio Luigi Ferraris on December 6, 2020 in Genoa, Italy. (Photo by Sportinfoto/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)
(Photo by Sportinfoto/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)

Milan gained the win in the absence of Ibrahimovic, who is nursing an injury but expected to return soon.

Ibrahimovic has scored 10 goals in six Serie A games this season, and his presence was missed against Sampdoria, but Milan managed to get the job done in Genoa.

“I continue to be surprised by the maturity of these players,” Pioli Stefano told Sky Italia.

(Photo by Dino Panato/Getty Images)
(Photo by Dino Panato/Getty Images)

“Even though it was probably the youngest side we’ve had all year. They never let themselves get downhearted by bad results or go overboard with good ones, they really impressed me.

“We all know how much Zlatan has helped us to improve and everyone wants him back as soon as possible, but every player contributed here.

“I told the lads we are a real team. This is a group that makes the most of every situation, even the most negative, to prove what they can really do.

“It’s the first time we were missing Ibra, Simon Kjaer and Ismael Bennacer, who are leaders of the side, but they used this opportunity to prove they could keep the team going.

“It means we have the enthusiasm and the energy to face down every challenge.

“These lads give their all throughout the week, these are the most difficult games after the Europa League, so winning them when we are considered the target for many other clubs, that is satisfying and we should celebrate.”

GENOA, ITALY - DECEMBER 06: Alexis Saelemaekers and Brahim Diaz of AC Milan run to celebrate with team mate Franck Kessie after his penalty gave the side a 1-0 lead during the Serie A match between UC Sampdoria and AC Milan at Stadio Luigi Ferraris on December 06, 2020 in Genoa, Italy. (Photo by Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images)

However, Pioli Stefano admitted Milan can feel rivals for the Scudetto breathing down their neck.

“I believe this weekend’s results, show the strongest teams are coming, they are closing up,” said Pioli Stefano

“I am convinced Inter, Juventus and Napoli are still going to be challenging all the way to the end.

“How can you think Juve aren’t favourites after they won for nine years in a row? Or Inter with their investments, or Napoli with their talent?”

Milan conceded from a corner against Sampdoria when Albin Ekdal squeezed the ball in, and Pioli acknowledged his side have a tendency to switch off at set-pieces.

“The last goal we conceded from open play was against Napoli,” he added.

“We need to be more focused on set plays. It’s true we’re not the tallest squad, but I think we had more chances from dead-ball situations than Sampdoria did.”

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