Milan and Inter focus on derby after lengthy trips
(AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)
By ANDREW DAMPF
AP Sports Writer
ROME (AP) AC Milan and Inter need to switch their focus to Sunday's Milan derby in a hurry following lengthy midweek trips to eastern Europe.
Milan stifled a Zenit St. Petersburg comeback for a 3-2 win in an action-packed Champions League match in Russia on Wednesday, while Inter beat Neftchi 3-1 in a Europa League game in Baku, Azerbaijan, on Thursday.
After slow starts to the season, both clubs are starting to find their form.
Milan teenager Stephen El Shaarawy has scored five goals in his last four matches, while Diego Milito and Antonio Cassano are forming a potent attack tandem for Inter.
While Inter is tied for third, four points behind co-leaders Juventus and Napoli, budget-thinned Milan is in the bottom half of the standings, nine points behind.
After letting an entire squad's worth of top players leave in the offseason, Milan has won only two of its opening six matches in Serie A, raising questions over coach Massimiliano Allegri's job status. But the performance against Zenit may have marked a turning point.
"Now there won't be any more rumors about the manager's job for a few days," Milan vice president Adriano Galliani said. "This is a victory that counts for a lot. It puts us in a good position in the Champions League and it gives us morale for the derby.
"We're bouncing back and the squad is improving."
Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva, Alessandro Nesta, Mark van Bommel, Gennaro Gattuso and Clarence Seedorf all left Milan over the offseason, while Cassano went to Inter in a swap with Giampaolo Pazzini.
With UEFA's financial fair play rules coming into effect, Milan needed to trim its budget.
"We decided to change our approach out of necessity and we've got a lot of young players now," Galliani said. "If we have the courage to wait a bit, Milan will be great again."
While Inter looked shaky in a 3-1 home loss to Roma in the second match of the season, the Nerazzurri were much sharper in a 2-1 win over Fiorentina last weekend, getting goals from Milito and Cassano.
Milito, Cassano and 39-year-old captain Javier Zanetti each did not make the trip to Baku to rest up for the derby. Inter playmaker Wesley Sneijder is working his way back from a thigh injury and is questionable for Sunday.
The biggest injury problem for Milan has been striker Alexandre Pato, who has yet to play this season after injuring his thigh in August. He started training again Thursday.
Also this weekend, Juventus visits a Siena squad weighed down by a six-point penalty for match-fixing.
Juventus was held to a 1-1 draw by Shakhtar Donetsk in its first Champions League match at its new stadium on Tuesday, a match that was boycotted by many hard-core "ultra" fans upset with new rules governing fan banners and ticket sales.
"It was important not to lose," Juventus defender Giorgio Chiellini said.
After going all of last season undefeated for its first Serie A title since before the 2006 match-fixing scandal, Juve has a 45-match unbeaten streak in the Italian league. Milan holds the record at 58, set over the 1990-91, 91-92, and 92-93 seasons.
On Friday, Juventus coach Antonio Conte was set to see whether his 10-month ban for match-fixing will be reduced by an arbitration court. The ban stems from when Conte was coaching Siena two seasons ago.
As for Napoli, the southern club hosts Udinese in the wake of a police raid with documents seized at the club's training facility and president's offices relating to player contracts.
Napoli forward Edinson Cavani leads the league with six goals in six matches.
Udinese captain Antonio Di Natale is back with the squad after being held out of last weekend's 0-0 draw with Genoa for disciplinary reasons.
Napoli was visiting PSV Eindhoven in the Europa League on Thursday, while Udinese was at Liverpool.
Lazio, which is tied for third with Inter, was resting Miroslav Klose for its Europa League match with NK Maribor, then faces newly promoted Pescara, which has won two straight.
Across town, Roma has been in crisis mode all week following its 4-1 loss at Juventus, with much of the blame being tossed onto offensive-minded coach Zdenek Zeman.
Roma's American president, James Pallotta, has flown into town to get things back under control ahead of a match with Atalanta.
Also this weekend, Alberto Gilardino faces old squad Fiorentina, having already scored five goals for Bologna. And new coaches debut for Chievo Verona and Cagliari.
Chievo fired Domenico Di Carlo and hired Eugenio Corini on Tuesday and Cagliari hired Ivo Pulga and Diego Lopez to replace Massimo Ficcadenti.
Chievo hosts Sampdoria and Cagliari visits Torino.
In other matches, Genoa hosts Palermo and Catania faces Parma.
Updated October 4, 2012