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Pioli justifies benching misfiring Ibrahimovic at half-time against Sparta

Zlatan Ibrahimovic - AC Milan
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It seemed illogical to take off Zlatan Ibrahimovic after just 45 minutes last night, but Stefano Pioli assures it was all part of the plan.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic was missing his shooting boots during AC Milan’s Europa League matchday 2 encounter with Sparta Prague on Thursday.

The veteran striker missed a spot-kick and in turn a fine opportunity to double his side’s advantage after Brahim Diaz had put them on the front foot. A few more shots were taken by him but none found the target.

Ibrahimovic, who had looked far from his clinical best, did not return to the pitch for the second half of the match as he was replaced by Rafael Leao during the break.

Milan thereafter scored twice and marched on to a 3-0 victory over the Czech outfit, extending their unbeaten run to 23 matches.

Stefano Pioli was asked to explain the substitution of the team’s talisman post-match, and the manager said that his decision was not influenced by Ibrahimovic’s substandard performance.

Pioli told Sky Sport Italia: “We had already planned the substitution. Zlatan is a champion and probably wanted to continue, but we have another very difficult match coming up on Sunday. So, it was only right to balance out our efforts.

“The team knows what it has to do on the pitch and how to read the games. I must admit, it becomes increasingly difficult to choose the starting XI, as everyone is doing so well.”