Leao crucial to Milan success as Tonali hopes for forward stay

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Rafael Leao is central to Milan's fortunes, with Sandro Tonali confident he will remain despite reported significant interest in him.

The Portugal international inspired his side to a first win of 2023, scoring the opener in their 2-1 victory over Salernitana in Serie A.

His goal comes amid increased speculation Leao will be the subject of several big-money bids during the January transfer window.

Real Madrid and Chelsea have both been linked with moves for the forward, but Tonali believes the player's love for Milan will see him stay at San Siro.

"He's always been at the centre of the project here," he told DAZN. "He does not think about the transfer market.

"He's a Milan player, and he wants to stay with us. We saw it after he scored. We just have to keep him close and love him."

The win moved Stefano Pioli's side five points off league leaders Napoli, with the latter set to face Inter on Wednesday.

The gap to the Partenopei this season has seen suggestions Milan's Scudetto defence is already at an end, but Tonali has vowed they will not quit until the title race is done.

"We have to try, we want to repeat," he added. "It's not easy to win it and then defend it, but we have to do it because we are strong and it's one of our goals."

Milan next return home to San Siro to face Roma, in what will be another major test of their credentials, before they are then in Coppa Italia action against Torino.