'Never worried' – Pioli knew Rafael Leao would stay as Milan target Inter derby scalp

·2-min read

Stefano Pioli is set to unleash Rafael Leao on Inter in Saturday's Milan derby after keeping suitors at bay before the transfer window closed.

The exciting Portuguese forward was thought to be a target for Chelsea but remains with Milan and is poised to make his 100th Serie A appearance against the Nerazzurri.

Up to this point, Leao has started in 69 of his 99 league games, and among players born from 1999 onwards he has provided the most assists (16) in the competition.

In terms of goals scored among that age group, the 23-year-old stands third on the list with 24, behind only Dusan Vlahovic (55) and Andrea Pinamonti (25).

Pioli never believed he would lose Leao before the shutters went up on the market on Thursday, but the finality will have come as a relief to many associated with the club.

"I have never been worried about the possible departure of Leao, I have always seen him fully involved and determined," Pioli said on Friday.

Milan won the last league derby, a 2-1 victory in February when Olivier Giroud's double saw the Rossoneri come from behind to take the points, an important result on the way to a first Scudetto since 2010-11, dethroning Inter in the process.

It means Milan will be looking to win consecutive league games against their city rivals for the first time since 2011, although Inter got the better of the two-leg Coppa Italia semi-final between the teams in March and April.

Pioli said Giroud had "a crucial role" to play in Saturday's game, and stressed Milan have prepared "down to the smallest detail".

"I expect a vibrant contest: the derby is the derby and so it will be an even contest," Pioli said. "We must not lose focus for even a second, we'll have to move hard and fast. Effort, aggression and sacrifice will all be required."

The transfer window has been an inevitable distraction despite Pioli's best efforts to focus on Inter. Milan look to have traded prudently in its closing stages, agreeing loan deals for Barcelona's American full-back Sergino Dest and Wolfsburg's teenage Belgian midfielder Aster Vranckx, while also signing Schalke's young centre-back Malick Thiaw.

Pioli described the newcomers as "important players with ample room for improvement".

Dest arrives in the wake of Milan losing right-back Alessandro Florenzi to a leg muscle injury that will reportedly sideline him for around eight weeks.

"We are gutted for Florenzi's injury," said Pioli, quoted on Milan's official website. "He is a leader on and off the pitch. We're still evaluating how to proceed in order to manage his recovery in the best possible way."

Assessing what Dest brings, Pioli said: "He has quality and pace, we got him to play the full-back position but he has the right characteristics to play in other roles too."