Pioli explains huge Zlatan Ibrahimovic boost on eve of Milan derby
Zlatan Ibrahimovic has provided Milan with a major lift ahead of the derby against Inter, returning to first-team training and sharing pearls of wisdom with his Rossoneri team-mates.
Sunday's San Siro battle comes too soon for Ibrahimovic to make an impact on the pitch, but the 41-year-old striker is back in the fold, close to returning from the knee surgery he underwent last May.
It was envisaged he would be absent for around eight months, and Milan have given the veteran all the time he needs.
Head coach Stefano Pioli believes having Ibrahimovic around the squad can only be a positive as last season's Serie A champions bid to recover from a drastic dip in form.
Milan have lost three games in a row, including a Supercoppa Italiana final 3-0 thumping by Inter, and are without a win in their last six.
Discussing the return of the charismatic Ibrahimovic, who is a former Inter player, Pioli said on Saturday: "He has always been fundamental for this team.
"On Friday he resumed training with us, even if to a small extent. Unfortunately, the two games against Tottenham [in the Champions League] come too soon, and right now we don't know when he will be at 100 per cent.
"I hope with all my heart he can come back soon, especially for what he's doing. Few people would do what he's doing to come back from such a difficult and complicated injury.
"Has he talked to his team-mates? I think so, he knows how to strike the right chords."
Pioli's team have slipped 15 points behind leaders Napoli and entered the weekend in fifth place, albeit only two points behind second-placed Inter, so there is all to play for at San Siro.
"It will be a great opportunity for us and we must do everything to seize it," Pioli said. "Inter come into the match in excellent form, but we have a great desire to start again."
Since the Supercoppa loss on January 18, Milan have been beaten 4-0 at Lazio and 5-2 at home by lowly Sassuolo, putting their top-four prospects in unexpected mid-season peril.
Inter will fancy piling on more misery, but Pioli said: "We have not lost the spirit that has always distinguished us. We must go back to showing it."
Milan are determined to get back into the top four and ink themselves in for another Champions League campaign, but Pioli said: "It shouldn't be taken for granted.
"We have to win many games from here until the end to get as high as possible."