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Leao absence leaves Milan searching for solutions against revitalised Napoli

AC Milan will have to find a way past Serie A title rivals Napoli without  wing wizard Rafael Leao, a huge absence for the champions for Sunday night’s big San Siro clash.

 Leao is suspended after being sent off in last weekend’s fiery encounter at Sampdoria and coach Stefano Pioli will miss the Portugal winger’ lighting pace and trickery as Milan try to claim the outright league lead in Italy.

Leao was again key on Wednesday night as Milan dealt with Dinamo Zagreb to claim their first home Champions League win in nine years and move top of Group E.

The 23-year-old was fouled for Olivier Giroud’s opener from the penalty spot and then set up Alexis Saelemaekers to double Milan’s lead early in the second half with a perfectly flighted cross.

Leao has already scored three times and set up five more in his eight appearances in all competitions. Without him Milan lose a huge attacking weapon.

Giroud is back in the France fold after netting four times and both of his non-penalty goals were laid on by Leao, who was a target for Chelsea in the summer and is yet to renew his contract.

“How will we replaced him? We won’t have the same characteristics as a team… we’ll look for a different solution,” said Pioli after the Dinamo win.

Milan’s technical director Paolo Maldini said on Wednesday that Chelsea had made an informal offer for Leao in the close season which was rejected but added that “it’s pointless being a romantic”.

“When offers of a certain type are made, no-one is unsellable,” said Maldini.

Milan are level on 14 points with Napoli and Atalanta, the trio separated by goal difference in a fast start for two surprise packages. 

Napoli were in turmoil over the summer but are firmly in the early season title talk after thrilling Italian and continental audiences with their attacking football.

They are without a star of their own in Victor Osimhen, the Nigeria striker out with a thigh injury picked up during last week’s hammering of Liverpool.

However his absence didn’t slow them down at Rangers midweek as Napoli netted three times to stay top of Group A with a perfect six points.

Napoli have rattled in 20 goals in all competitions. New signings Giacomo Raspadori and Giovanni Simeone have settled in to Luciano Spalletti’s revamped team, who will fancy their chances of making an early Scudetto statement.

An action-packed Sunday also features Atalanta at Roma, who are one point behind the leading pack alongside Udinese ahead of their clash with Inter Milan.

Crisis-club Juventus have the perfect chance to bounce back from their Champions League humiliation at the hands of Benfica when they travel to bottom club Monza, who on Tuesday sacked Giovanni Stroppa and brought in former youth team coach Raffaele Palladino.

Player to watch: Nicolo Zaniolo

The Italy international started Roma’s Europa League match with HJK on Thursday,  an early return for a player had been in impressive form before being sidelined by injury last month.

The 23-year-old’s career has been blighted with two serious knee injuries but in the opening weeks of this campaign he had returned to the sparkling form which had so excited fans when he first arrived in 2018.

His link up with Paulo Dybala, Lorenzo Pellegrini and Tammy Abraham will be crucial to how Roma fare against Atalanta, who have no European commitments and look a serious proposition again.

Key stats

3 – There is a trio of teams leading the way in Serie A.

2 – Napoli and Milan are separated in the table by two goals.

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