Mauricio Pochettino handed task of rebuilding Chelsea

Chelsea have hired Mauricio Pochettino as manager on a two-year deal with the option of another year. The Argentine coach is tasked with getting the best out of an expensively assembled squad that has underperformed at the start of a new era for the English club. (AP)
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Updated 29 May 2023

Mauricio Pochettino handed task of rebuilding Chelsea

  • The Argentine will take charge of a club that finished 12th in the Premier League
  • Pochettino's man-management skills will face a severe examination at Stamford Bridge

LONDON: Mauricio Pochettino is back in the Premier League with the tough task of putting the pieces back together after Chelsea's disastrous first season under their new ownership.
The Argentine will take charge of a club that finished 12th in the Premier League despite an eye-watering outlay of more than £550 million ($678 million) on new players under Todd Boehly's consortium.
Pochettino made his name in management by making the most of meagre resources at Espanyol, Southampton and particularly during a five-year stint at Tottenham.
Eighteen months at Paris Saint-Germain delivered the first silverware of the 51-year-old's career -- the Ligue 1 title and French Cup -- but he never appeared comfortable managing the egos of a star-studded squad before leaving in July 2022.
Pochettino's man-management skills will face a severe examination at Stamford Bridge as he tries to succeed where three managers have already failed under the new regime.
Thomas Tuchel, who led Chelsea to Champions League glory in 2021, was unceremoniously sacked by co-owners Boehly and Behdad Eghbali, of private equity firm Clearlake Capital, just seven games into this season.
At the time Chelsea sat sixth in the Premier League and few could have forseen the calamity that would follow the German's departure.
Graham Potter lasted less than seven months at Stamford Bridge, even though Chelsea paid more than £20 million to snatch the Englishman from Brighton.
Even worse was to follow as club great Frank Lampard returned as interim boss only to oversee six successive defeats in his first six matches.
All three bosses have faced the challenge of hands-on owners and a bloated squad.
Experienced defender Thiago Silva confirmed last month that the club had to extend the dressing room to accommodate a group of more than 30 players.
A major clearout is needed at the end of the season to give Pochettino a more manageable squad to work with and instill a team spirit that has been sorely lacking.
Chelsea's huge spending over the past 12 months may mean he has limited room for manoeuvre in the transfer market.
The Argentine faced a similar challenge at Tottenham, when the club punched above its weight to finish in the top four of the Premier League four times under his leadership.
The Blues' spending is under scrutiny due to financial fair play controls but much of their outlay was with one eye on the future.
Wesley Fofana, Benoit Badiashile, Enzo Fernandez, Mykhailo Mudryk, Carney Chukwuemeka, Noni Madueke, David Datro Fofana, Malo Gusto and Andrey Santos are all 22 or younger.
Chelsea have been ridiculed for putting some of those players on eight-year contracts, but the club's ownership are betting on Pochettino's record with young talent to prove them right.
He produced impressive results at Tottenham, helping turn young home-grown talents such as Harry Kane and Dele Alli into household names on a budget.
"I can't speak highly enough of him. He's a fantastic manager, a fantastic man," said England captain Kane, during their time together at Spurs.
"You just want to perform for him, work hard for him, win for him. He's very passionate. You can tell sometimes he wants to be out there himself, putting in tackles, running about.
"You respond to that. On nights like that, big occasions, you just want to do him justice."
Before appointing Pochettino, Spurs had only finished in the top four of English top-flight twice in 24 years.
He also inspired a run to the club's first-ever Champions League final in 2019 and Tottenham's struggles since his departure have led to a clamour from fans for his return.
Pochettino's reputation appears to be untarnished by his indifferent spell at PSG, given the French giants' struggles on and off the field this season.
Should he turn Chelsea's motley crew back into Premier League contenders, his status as one of the world's leading managers will be restored.

The newcomer’s guide on who to support in the Saudi Pro League

Updated 18 sec ago

The newcomer’s guide on who to support in the Saudi Pro League

  • There is much more to the Roshn Saudi League than Cristiano Ronaldo and the other top stars, as this handy guide demonstrates

There has never been more global interest in the Saudi Pro League than right now. Since the current format was founded in 1976, the SPL — also known as the Roshn Saudi League — has consistently provided strong competition for professional footballers in the region. But now, the whole game has changed; there are more eyes on the league than ever.

For the uninitiated, picking a team can be pretty daunting, or simple, if you want to watch the best players like Karim Benzema, Neymar and Ronaldo. But here is a look at all 18 teams in the league, their star players and their current situation. Use the information to pick your favorite team to pour your stress and passion into.

Abha Club

Club colors: White and blue

Location: Abha

Abha Club are consistently and comfortable in the midtable. They were promoted to the first division in the 2018-19 season and have sat in the middle of the league ever since. They are more likely to fight against relegation than for a title right now, so be prepared for heartbreak if you decide to follow them. Goals seem to be the most complicated commodity to come by, with Eritrean Ahmed Abdu topping the goalscoring charts with two goals in seven games. However, record summer signing Karl Toko-Ekambi ($1.57 million) has already bagged a brace in his four games, so things could be on the up for the club.

Al-Ahli SFC

Club colors: Green and white

Location: Jeddah

Notable players: Riyad Mahrez, Roberto Firmino, Allan Saint-Maximin

It has been seven long years since Al-Ahli won their last title. But this season the “Al-Raqi” (read: The Classy) have splashed the cash on a star-studded squad that is more than equipped for a title push. Ex-Liverpool legend Roberto Firmino leads the line as captain and is backed up by fellow summer signings Franck Kessie, Merih Demiral, Roger Ibanez, Edouard Mendy, Ezgjan Alioki and the coveted Gabri Veiga. They are one point off the top spot and are one of the favorites to win. If you are a glory hunter, this Al-Ahli is the best bandwagon to jump aboard.

Al-Ettifaq FC

Club colors: Green, white and red

Location: Dammam

Notable players: Jordan Henderson, Georginio Wijnaldum, Ahmed Al-Ghamdi

The Merseyside connection is strong in Dammam. Ex-Reds Jordan Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum are the midfield engine room of Steven Gerrard’s team; while ex-Everton winger Demarai Gray also adds another sprinkle of “Scouse” to the Kingdom. Coincidentally, the last time Al-Ettifaq won a league title was during the 1986-87 season — the same year Everton last won a championship. Stevie G’s team were unfancied title contenders at the start of the season but are currently sitting pretty. Maybe this is the year they end decades of hurt?

Al-Fateh SC

Club colors: Blue

Location: Al-Ahsa

Notable players: Jason Denayer, Cristian Tello

Al-Fateh might not possess the star power of its league rivals, but the team still packs a punch. Best described as a sleeping giant, the club won a league title way back in 2012-13. Croatian legend Slaven Bilic is the man in the dugout who has overseen a modest start to the season as they are currently slap-bang in the middle of the table. It looks set to be a mixed bag of a season for Bilic and company. Fans of the club must be looking at their star-studded rivals with tears in their eyes.

Al-Fayha FC

Club colors: Orange and blue

Location: Al-Majmaah

Notable players: Fashion Sakala, Abdelhamid Sabiri

The Orange has had a very up and down track record in recent years. They won the First Division in 2016-17, were relegated three years later, promoted at the first time of asking and then won the King’s Cup in 2021-22. But reality has bitten hard this season as the big spending clubs around them have strengthened. A patchy start to proceedings sees Al-Fayha FC in midtable mediocrity, although they did hold championship contenders Al-Hilal to a 1-1 draw. Still, at least they have one of the best-looking kits in the league.

Al-Hazm FC

Club colors: Red, yellow and blue

Location: Al-Rass

Notable players: Toze

If relegation battles are your thing, then look no further than Al-Hazm. They gained promotion to the Saudi Pro League last season, but as all newly promoted sides find out, the competition here is unforgiving. They have yet to win a point from any of their seven games. Portuguese midfielder Toze is doing his best to drag them to victory, but the team is rooted to the foot of the table. There could yet be a great escape from the basement, but the current track record means fans will likely only have a win in the local derby against Al-Kholood to look forward to this term.

Al-Hilal SC

Club colors: Blue

Location: Riyadh

Notable players: Neymar, Salem Al-Dawsari, Ruben Neves

Ideal for those who love loads of trophies and a marquee signing or two every year. Al-Hilal is the new home of Brazilian legend Neymar, the club having pulled off the signing of the summer by recruiting the ex-Barca and PSG man. He was the icing on the cake that includes Kalidou Koulibaly, Ruben Neves, Aleksandar Mitrovic and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic. They also have Saleh Al-Shehri and Salem Al-Dawsari in their ranks, who you may remember scored Saudi Arabia’s goals that downed Lionel Messi’s Argentina at the 2022 World Cup.

Al-Ittihad FC

Club colors: Yellow and black

Location: Jeddah

Notable players: Karim Benzema, Abderrazak Hamdallah, N’Golo Kante

Title winners: Yes

The reigning champions of the Saudi Pro League have strengthened their squad without the major surgery that their rivals have undertaken. Real Madrid and France legend Karim Benzema adds more firepower alongside top scorer Abderrazak Hamdallah. While The Tigers also plugged their midfield with serial winners N’Golo Kante and Fabinho, it is a team-focused approach, not dissimilar to Manchester City’s. And it works, as they currently occupy the top spot once again.

Al-Khaleej Club

Club colors: Yellow

Location: Saihat

Notable players: Fabio Martins, Mansour Hamzi

Al-Khaleej have not had a bad start to the season. Tenth place might not be anything for the players to tell their grandkids about, but considering this is likely as competitive as the SPL has been, they are holding their own. Their kit colors and crest are almost identical to Norwich City — the English side with more ups and downs between the two top leagues than a rollercoaster. In that respect, Al-Khaleej will be hoping Martins can maintain his goalscoring streak, or they will be knocking on the trapdoor soon.

Al-Nassr FC

Club colors: Yellow and blue

Location: Riyadh

Notable players: Cristiano Ronaldo, Sadio Mane, Aymeric Laporte

This is the first Saudi Arabia-based team to go global thanks to the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo last season. He blazed a trail for all the superstars that have since followed, such as his new teammates, Mane, Laporte and Marcelo Brozovic. CR7 has lit the fuse for the SPL to explode, and he is the reason that Al-Nassr shirts are draped across kids in far-flung places such as Burnley. Still, league top scorer Ronaldo is the main reason to love or hate the club — your gut will decide.

Al-Okhdood Club 

Club colors: Sky blue

Location: Najran

Notable players: Leandre Tawamba, Alex Collado

You might want to look elsewhere if you are picking your new Saudi team based on shiny new Galactico signings. Collado — a loan signing from Real Betis — is about as exciting as it gets. That is not to say Al-Okhdood do not have talented players, but they are a hard sell to fair-weather fans who have grown up having FIFA as their main point of reference for players. Their football brand is not much more exciting either, with the club sitting just above the drop zone.

Al-Raed Club

Club colors: Red and black

Location: Buraidah

Notable players: Mohamed Fouzair, Mamadou Loum

Top scorer Mohamed Fouzair has been the bright spark in a miserable season for Al-Raed Club. His three goals in four games give fans something to cheer about until the cold wind of realization reminds them they are currently in the relegation spaces. They share a similar kit to AC Milan and Bournemouth but currently have the latter’s form. They do have a hotly contested derby against Al-Taawoun, with whom they share a stadium.

Al-Riyadh SC

Club colors:

Location: Riyadh

Notable players: Saleh Al-Abbas

Al-Riyadh were the beneficiaries of the expanded format of the Saudi Pro League. Having finished fourth in the first division, the expansion meant they made the cut to the big time. Unfortunately, their luck may have come at the wrong time. They have lost their last five games in a row and are relegation fodder. Al-Abbas has three goals in six games, which is a solid return, but you would only probably pick these to support if you believed in fairytales.

Al-Shabab FC

Club colors: White and orange

Location: Riyadh

Notable players: Romain Saiss, Ever Banega, Yannick Carrasco

Despite having a solid spine of international players, Al-Shabab are yet to kick into gear this season. You know you have problems around the pitch when a defensive midfielder (Banega) is your top scorer with two goals in seven games. They have a rich history and have won the league six times. They even finished fourth last term. But they have failed to build on their solid season and are sat in midtable right now. It could be a frustrating season for the fans.

Al-Taawoun FC

Club colors: Yellow and blue

Location: Buraidah

Notable players: Mateus Castro

The surprise package of the 2023-24 season so far. The Wolves find themselves in third place and mixing it with their big spending rivals. They are reminiscent of that audacious Leicester City title-winning team that were a well-oiled machine rather than a team of individuals. Castro has been a revelation and is currently pulling the strings regarding assists (seven) and goals (two). It would be hilarious if they won the league despite spending so little. They should definitely be a consideration for those who love an underdog.


Club colors: Grey and black

Location: Hail

Notable players: Bernard Mensah

It is probably the only professional club on the planet to have a silver home shirt and a grey away one. Fitting for the Knight of the North nickname, then. There are no distracting colors at Al-Tai, and few bright spots in general this season. They are closer to the relegation spots than the top of the table. Midfielder Bernard Mensah is a silver lining, mind. He has four goals in five appearances, but he alone will not be enough to save the Knights from being a blunt force.

Al-Wehda FC

Club colors: Red and white

Location: Makkah

Notable players: Odion Ighalo, Faycal Fajr

Ever picked a new team based on just their badge? No? Al-Wehda, the oldest club in Makkah, might change that for you. The Knights of Makkah have a flaming dragon on their crest that instantly catches the eye. It is more akin to an esports kit but in a good way. On the pitch, the dynamic duo of Ighalo and Fajr keeps Al-Wehda in title contention, a far cry from last season’s tilt, where they were almost relegated.

Damac Club

Club colors: Red and yellow

Location: Khamis Mushait

Notable players: Assan Ceesay, Georges-Kevin Nkoudou

Damac Club’s difficulty in scoring goals that plagued them last season is back in full effect in 2023. Summer signing Assan Ceesay has three goals, but they are in short supply elsewhere. Fans will be distraught to see they have got the third-worst goal difference in the league, too. Watching attacks against Damac — as a follower — will likely lead to stressful and nervy evenings unless they can turn it around.

UAE’s Thani Al-Qemzi eyes double target in Sardinia Grand Prix

Updated 28 September 2023

UAE’s Thani Al-Qemzi eyes double target in Sardinia Grand Prix

  • Team Abu Dhabi veteran aims for repeat victory in Olbia, with sights also on team crown

SARDINIA: There is little that Thani Al-Qemzi has not achieved in a remarkable UIM F1H2O World Championship career, and the Team Abu Dhabi star wants to add to his haul in this weekend’s Regione Sardegna Grand Prix of Italy.

The veteran Emirati driver reached the 150 Grand Prix milestone at the previous round in France, marking it with a 44th podium finish, and is back in Sardinia at the scene of a record-breaking performance last season.

After setting the first sub-30-second lap time in F1H2O history to clinch pole position in Olbia last October, Al-Qemzi powered his way to a 10th career Grand Prix victory, and he wants a repeat performance on Sunday.

“That has to be the target that I start with, because I know I can win, I have a great boat, and I have a great team behind me,” said Al-Qemzi, who relishes the prospect of another battle with Jonas Andersson, as the Swede looks to clinch a second world title.

“Of course, it will be very difficult, especially with Jonas looking so strong this time. But I always have a lot of belief in myself, and the team, and we’re going to give it everything we’ve got.”

Twice a runner-up in the F1H2O drivers’ title race, most recently to Andersson two years ago, Al-Qemzi has on six occasions finished in the bronze medal position.

That will be his minimum expectation this time, as he returns to action in Olbia lying fifth in the championship, with December’s final round awaiting in Sharjah.

The other big target is to secure a sixth successive F1H2O world team title this season, with Team Abu Dhabi currently in third place, trailing Team Sweden by five points and Sharjah Team by two.

Meanwhile, after securing his fourth F2 world title in Portugal earlier this month and signing off with another Grand Prix win last weekend, Rashed-Al Qemzi has stepped up again to partner cousin Thani, and is ready for a fresh challenge.

That includes a new race format introduced in Sardinia, which sees even- and odd-numbered boats split into two groups for Friday’s free practice, 30-minute qualifying sessions on Saturday morning, and separate 15-minute Sprint races in the afternoon.

The top seven from each group qualify for Sunday’s Grand Prix, provided that they finish the Sprint race, and complete at least 70 percent of the laps.

If less than seven boats from either group qualify, two final Grand Pix starting positions will be determined by a 20-minute Sunday morning Repechage session.

UIM F1H2O World Championship leading points positions

1. Jonas Andersson 43

2. Erik Stark 28

3. Ferdinand Zandbergen 27

4. Bartek Marszalek 20

5. Thani Al-Qemzi 19

6. Peter Morin 18

7. Shaun Torrente 17

8. Sami Selio 15

9. Filip Roms 11

10. Brent Dillard 11

PGA Tour says LIV merger attracts unsolicited investor interest

Updated 28 September 2023

PGA Tour says LIV merger attracts unsolicited investor interest

  • Bloomberg News said inclusion of outside investors could help appease politicians who have voiced concerns the deal would amount to a takeover of a US institution by LIV Golf, bankrolled by the PIF
  • Talks with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund and DP World are progressing, with the goal of reaching a definitive agreement by Dec. 31

NEW YORK: PGA Tour said its planned merger with Saudi-backed LIV Golf and DP World Tour has garnered unsolicited interest from investors as it continues to finalize an agreement with the Public Investment Fund and the DP World Tour.

The PGA said that while it did not solicit additional investment interest, it has a responsibility to members, sponsors and fans to thoroughly evaluate all potential options.

“Our focus continues to be on finalizing an agreement with the Public Investment Fund and the DP World Tour, however, our negotiations have resulted in unsolicited interest from other investors,” PGA said in a statement on Wednesday.

Any investments that come from the talks will be made into PGA Tour Enterprises, a subsidiary of the PGA Tour, which it would permanently control.

Bloomberg News, which earlier reported the news, said inclusion of outside investors could help appease politicians who have voiced concerns the deal would amount to a takeover of a US institution by LIV Golf, bankrolled by the PIF.

PGA said additional investor interest is not about politics, but because the PGA Tour has, for the first time, created an investment vehicle in PGA TOUR Enterprises and its business is strong.

PGA added talks with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund and DP World are progressing, with the goal of reaching a definitive agreement by Dec. 31.

In June the PGA Tour, DP World Tour and LIV circuit announced an agreement to merge and form one unified commercial entity.

Real Madrid back to winning ways as Girona go top after their 6th straight victory in Spanish league

Updated 28 September 2023

Real Madrid back to winning ways as Girona go top after their 6th straight victory in Spanish league

  • The win at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium moved Madrid to second place, one point behind Girona, which came from behind to win 2-1 at Villarreal
  • Girona are two points ahead of fellow Catalan club Barcelona, the defending champions that had their five-game winning streak halted by a 2-2 draw at Mallorca on Tuesday

MADRID: Real Madrid got back to winning ways by beating Las Palmas 2-0 on Wednesday while Girona are top of the Spanish league after their sixth straight victory.

Brahim Díaz and Joselu scored for Madrid, who were coming off a 3-1 loss at city rivals Atletico Madrid after opening the season with five straight league victories.

The win at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium moved Madrid to second place, one point behind Girona, which came from behind to win 2-1 at Villarreal.

Girona, who are enjoying their best-ever start to the league with six wins and a draw in seven games, host Madrid on Saturday.

“It’s not easy to win six in a row in the first division,” Girona coach Michel said. “We have to enjoy this moment. The game against Madrid will be precious, against one of the best teams in the world.”

Girona are two points ahead of fellow Catalan club Barcelona, the defending champions that had their five-game winning streak halted by a 2-2 draw at Mallorca on Tuesday.

Madrid were in control from the start at the Bernabeu and missed chance after chance until Díaz finally opened the scoring with a high shot from near the penalty spot three minutes into first-half stoppage time.

The hosts had 18 attempts in the first half alone, with eight of them on target. Las Palmas had no shots on target until after halftime.

Newly arrived striker Joselu grew increasingly frustrated after failing to capitalize on several good scoring opportunities until finally finding the net with a header in the 54th.

Díaz started in place of new signing Jude Bellingham. The 20-year-old England midfielder started on the bench for the first time this season after scoring six goals in his first seven matches with Madrid in all competitions.

Forward Vinícius Junior, returning from injury, also started on the bench. He replaced Joselu early in the second half.

“The players are well aware how important it is to rotate,” Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti said. “I try to manage the squad and we have to do that the best we can in the coming games. That will be the case until the next international break because fatigue does play a big part and there are lots of injuries in this period.”

Madrid endured yet another injury setback when defender David Alaba was substituted in the first half because of an apparent muscle problem. The club has been playing without goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and defender Éder Militão because of long-term knee injuries.

It was the fourth loss for promoted Las Palmas, who beat Granada in the previous round for their first win of the season.


Girona rallied to beat Villarreal and extend their stunning start to the season.

Dani Parejo put the hosts ahead by converting a 49th-minute penalty kick, but Artem Dovbyk and Eric García gave Girona the lead with goals in the 56th and 61st minutes.

Girona, controlled by City Football Group, the parent company of Manchester City, opened the season with a 1-1 draw at Real Sociedad.

Villarreal are winless in three matches in all competitions.


Fourth-place Athletic Bilbao drew 2-2 against Getafe at home, while Cadiz and Rayo Vallecano finished 0-0.

Valencia lost 1-0 to visiting Real Sociedad.

Inter crash to first defeat as Osimhen boosts Napoli past Udinese

Updated 28 September 2023

Inter crash to first defeat as Osimhen boosts Napoli past Udinese

  • Domenico Berardi hit the winner as Sassuolo claimed all three points to follow up last week’s win over Juventus
  • After a defeat and two draws, champions Napoli returned to winning ways with Osimhen playing a starring role in a 4-1 win over Udinese

MILAN: Inter Milan crashed to their first defeat of the Serie A season on Wednesday, going down 2-1 at home to Sassuolo as controversial striker Victor Osimhen starred for Napoli despite an apparent rift with the champions.

Inter went into the game with a perfect record of five wins in five and looked in control at 1-0 ahead thanks to a Denzel Dumfries goal on the stroke of halftime at the San Siro.

Sassuolo leveled in the 54th minute when Nedim Bajrami scored with a long-range effort which caught out goalkeeper Yann Sommer.

Domenico Berardi hit the winner 10 minutes later as Sassuolo claimed all three points to follow up last week’s win over Juventus.

Inter remain top of the table on goal difference ahead of AC Milan who earlier defeated Cagliari 3-1.

“After a good first period where we should have scored more than one goal, but we lost our focus especially after the equalizer,” said Inter coach Simone Inzaghi.

“Losing in front of our home crowd hurts us, we have to understand what happened, even if the schedule, with our next match on Saturday, doesn’t really give us time to take a step back.”

After a defeat and two draws, champions Napoli returned to winning ways with Osimhen playing a starring role in a 4-1 win over Udinese.

The Nigerian striker scored his fourth goal of the season after 39 minutes with Khvicha Kvaratskhelia ending a long goal drought by finding the net in the second half.

Osimhen, top scorer in Serie A last season, had cut a controversial figure at the weekend when he showed his displeasure at being taken off by coach Rudy Garcia in the 0-0 draw with Bologna.

On Tuesday, his agent threatened Napoli with legal action for having published a video on the club’s TikTok account, since deleted, mocking the striker for missing a penalty in that game.

Osimhen removed photos of himself in Napoli colors from his own social media, fueling speculation that he will demand a move in the next transfer window.

“I have a very good relationship with Victor,” insisted Garcia.

“I am happy for him because he scored tonight. After the match in Bologna, we were all frustrated, angry, Victor in particular, because he missed the penalty.

“On the sporting aspect and on other levels, especially on TikTok, there have been a lot of things to manage in recent days,” smiled Garcia.

“But I can assure you that Victor loves this jersey and that he is invested in 100 percent in our project.”

Napoli are now fifth in the table with 11 points, four points behind the two Milan clubs.

AC Milan fought back from a goal down to defeat Cagliari.

Milan were without injured goalkeeper Mike Maignan as well as strikers Olivier Giroud and Rafael Leao.

Cagliari, searching for a first win of the campaign, grabbed a shock 29th-minute lead through Angolan winger Zito Luvumbo who capitalized on a mix-up in the Milan defense to shoot past Marco Sportiello.

Milan, however, hit back with Noah Okafor levelling in the 40th minute when he beat goalkeeper Boris Radunovic from a cross by Christian Pulisic.

In first-half injury-time, Fikayo Tomori added Milan’s second thanks to the work of Yacine Adli who was starting a game for only the second time since his arrival at the club in July 2022.

Stefano Pioli’s side made sure of the three points on the hour mark when Ruben Loftus-Cheek hit the target.

The win was a fifth in six matches for AC Milan who are level on 15 points with Inter.

“We deserved our victory in a match which was not a formality,” said Pioli who celebrated his 200th win as a coach in Serie A.

However, he admitted there had been “naivety” over the goal Milan conceded.

“We know that it is the matches against our direct rivals for the title which will impact our place in the table, but these matches which, on paper, seem simple will be very important at the end of the season,” he added.

Empoli, who sacked coach Paolo Zanetti last week after a 7-0 thrashing at the hands of Roma, celebrated their first win of the season.

Tommaso Baldanzi scored the only goal in a 1-0 win over Salernitana.