AC Milan v Sampdoria - San Siro, Milan, Italy - January 6, 2020 AC Milan's Zlatan Ibrahimovic reacts. Photograph:( Reuters )
AC Milan stand 12th in the Serie A points table, while Inter Milan and Juventus are on top of the table with 45 points each.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic's return failed to inspire AC Milan as the fallen giants of Italian soccer were held to a 0-0 draw at home by Sampdoria in Serie A on Monday, failing to score for the third league game in a row.
The 38-year-old Swede, who helped Milan win their last major title - Serie A in 2011 - before leaving the following year, was brought on to a rousing reception from the San Siro crowd in the 55th minute.
But Milan could still not find a way past their opponents, who are hovering just above the relegation zone, and the match ended amid the familiar sound of jeers from their supporters.
Meanwhile, Atalanta, who handed Milan a 5-0 thrashing in their previous game, repeated the scoreline at home to Parma as they closed the gap on fourth-placed AS Roma to one point.
Milan were left 12th in the Serie A standings, below Verona on goal difference.
"We played nearly all of the match in their half of the pitch but we lacked quality and, without that, it's difficult to win," said Milan coach Stefano Pioli. "We kept getting into their penalty area but didn't make the right choices."
He said that Ibrahimovic, who has signed a six-month contract, made a positive impact.
"He brought character but the team are not used to having someone with that physical presence in the area and did not provide enough crosses."
It could have been worse for Milan as 16th-placed Sampdoria missed several good chances in the second half.
Manolo Gabbiadini was denied by goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma following a mistake by Ismael Bennacer and had an even better chance after pouncing on a poor Davide Calabria pass, but fired over the top of the goal.
"It was almost a perfect performance, we were just missing a goal," said Sampdoria coach Claudio Ranieri. "The team expressed themselves well, I am satisfied."
Atalanta had no such scoring trouble as they took their tally to 48 goals in 18 games - exactly three times Milan's total.
Alejandro Gomez fired them ahead with a long-range effort, Remo Freuler completed a one-two with Gomez for the second and a half-volley from Robin Gosens made it 3-0 before halftime.
Josip Ilicic volleyed the fourth on the hour and weaved his way through the Parma defence to complete the rout 11 minutes later.