Maignan 'like a lion in a cage' as Pioli confirms goalkeeper's return
Stefano Pioli has confirmed Mike Maignan will make his first appearance since September when Milan host Atalanta on Sunday, saying the goalkeeper has resembled a "lion in a cage" while out injured.
Maignan has been out since suffering a calf injury in France's 2-0 Nations League win over Austria on September 22, missing Les Bleus' run to the World Cup final in Qatar as well as a large portion of Milan's campaign.
Ciprian Tatarusanu has made 16 league starts as Milan's stand-in goalkeeper this season, and the Romanian made several key saves in last week's hard-fought 1-0 win at Monza.
However, Pioli is excited by the return of a goalkeeper he believes was Serie A's finest last season, with Maignan set to start against fellow top-four contenders Atalanta at San Siro.
"Mike will play," Pioli said at Saturday's pre-match press conference.
"Tata did his duty fully. He struggled in the beginning because he hadn't played for a long time, then he found rhythm and made a good contribution. He hasn't been very well lately.
"Mike has been a lion in a cage, he's doing well and is very motivated, he will certainly give us a great contribution. He was the best goalkeeper last season and he gives us a lot.
"However, he is a player who hasn't played for five months. He will need some time, but we are expecting a lot and I am very happy with his return."
Maignan kept 17 clean sheets in 32 league games as Milan won the Scudetto last season – more than any other Serie A goalkeeper.
Meanwhile, the 27-year-old's save percentage of 79.41 was only bettered by one goalkeeper to make at least 10 appearances in Serie A last term – Torino's Etrit Berisha with 80.49 per cent.
Maignan is not the only Milan star returning from a lengthy period on the sidelines, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic being an unused substitute on two occasions this month as he awaits his first outing since undergoing anterior cruciate ligament surgery.
Asked whether the 41-year-old's long-awaited comeback could arrive on Sunday, Pioli said: "It could, the first call I made with him was to get him back with the group against Torino.
"Ibra is getting better and better. He knows how much he worked and suffered to be available again. Now he's available, he's ready to play."
Milan have won their last three matches across all competitions, with each victory coming via a 1-0 scoreline.
The Rossoneri are yet to win four consecutive games at any point this season, while they have not posted four successive victories without conceding since February 2018 (a run of five).