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‘We’ve been the best so far, now we must be the best again’ – Pioli challenges Milan

Soccer Football – Serie A – U.S. Sassuolo v AC Milan – Mapei Stadium – Citta del Tricolore, Reggio Emilia, Italy – December 20, 2020 AC Milan coach Stefano Pioli reacts REUTERS/Jennifer Lorenzini

MILAN (Reuters) – AC Milan coach Stefano Pioli believes his team have been the best side in Serie A this season, and he challenged his players to maintain that performance level ahead of Sunday’s final-day showdown at Sassuolo, with the Scudetto on the line.

League leaders Milan’s task is a simple one: A draw or win at Sassuolo will be enough for Pioli’s side to secure their first league title in 11 years. Defeat would allow champions Inter Milan to retain the trophy should they beat Sampdoria.

Milan have led the way for much of the campaign, with their 15-match unbeaten league run ahead of Sunday’s final round of fixtures keeping them clear of the chasing pack, two points above Inter.

“We have been the best so far but we must be the best tomorrow as well,” Pioli told a news conference on Saturday. “We prepared for the game carefully and calmly.

“It never matters what you did until yesterday, we have a great opportunity. We have built it and deserved it but we must make it happen.

“I see the same behaviour of the players, and they are calm, even though inside there must be so many thoughts and emotions. I usually don’t sleep much after the matches, and I hope it’s like that tomorrow.”

Pioli also said that veteran striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who has endured a frustrating campaign with injury setbacks, is keen to leave his mark on the season.

“Ibrahimovic would love to start tomorrow – like all of us,” Pioli added. “Ibrahimovic has been very important for us. He brought a mentality, quality, intelligence and personality that a young squad like ours needed. He remains a reference point. His team-mates have been equally as good in following him.

“Tomorrow a championship will close. Now there is a difference between winning and not winning.”

(Reporting by Peter Hall; Editing by Hugh Lawson)