(Reuters) – Champions AC Milan’s spirit and quality will ensure they do not miss key forward Rafael Leao too much in the home Serie A match against league leaders Napoli, manager Stefano Pioli said on Saturday.
Leao, who has scored three goals and made three assists in six Serie A appearances this season, will sit out the game on Sunday after being handed a one-match ban.
The Portuguese international was sent off during Milan’s 2-1 win at Sampdoria last Sunday following a second yellow card for a scissor-kick which connected with the head of rival defender Alex Ferrari.
“Leao? It does not matter who will be absent tomorrow, but spirit and quality,” Pioli told reporters.
“We are ready and prepared to send to the pitch the best possible formation.”
The match represents a golden opportunity for Milan to knock Napoli off the top the table as they sit third in the standings, level on points with the leaders.
“It is a Scudetto clash, because the campaign will be so balanced that having three points or not will make the difference,” Pioli added.
“We’re two similar teams, who manoeuvre, go in depth, try not to be passive in the defensive phase… we will see tomorrow who will do better and who will do worse.”
He praised Napoli manager Luciano Spalletti for giving all his teams a clear identity.
“He is very capable, very good. He is a top coach when it comes to improving players,” Pioli said.
Pioli also said the support of the fans at San Siro will lift Milan who are unbeaten at home this season.
“The enthusiasm of the supporters is at the highest level and we get a lot of energy from them, which is what we need to play our soccer,” he said.
(Reporting by Silvia Recchimuzzi in Gdansk, editing by Ed Osmond)