AC Milan will turn their attention to cementing top spot in Italy this weekend after the gulf between the Serie A leaders and Europe’s best was exposed.
Milan have been revitalised over the last two years under coach Stefano Pioli but crashed out of the Champions League after being comfortably beaten by a second-string Liverpool team on Tuesday.
Milan did not won a single match in the competition at the San Siro. Four points and last place in Group B was a pitiful return for a club which has been crowned kings of Europe seven times but hadn’t been in the Champions League since the 2013/14 season.
“Those matches will help us in our development… it’s a shame, we desperately wanted to stay in Europe and we tried to not lose the game but unfortunately we weren’t able to do it,” said Pioli.
Pioli now has no European football to distract him from Milan’s attempt to win their first league title in over a decade, the first stage in the Rossoneri’s rebirth from the precipice of financial ruin to Italy’s top table.
His injury-hit side travel to Udinese on Saturday to take on a club which sacked coach Luca Gotti while Milan were trying and failing to prolong their stay in Europe.
Udinese have won just three times this season and should be no match for Milan, who are a point ahead of city rivals Inter Milan in a four-way title race in which former leaders Napoli and Atalanta are right on their heels.
Of Milan’s Scudetto rivals Atalanta have the trickiest task this weekend, with Verona and in-form Giovanni Simeone awaiting them at the Stadio Bentegodi on Sunday afternoon.
With 11 goals, Simeone is enjoying the season of his life and is in the hunt to be top scorer come the end of the campaign, as he is just two behind Italy forward Ciro Immobile and Fiorentina’s Dusan Vlahovic.
Making things harder for Atalanta is the postponement until Thursday evening of their winner-takes-all Champions League clash with Villarreal following a snowy night on Wednesday.
The weekend begins with Friday’s Genoa derby, a match between two struggling sides which takes on a different meaning after the arrest and subsequent resignation of Sampdoria president Massimo Ferrero for alleged involvement in fraudulent bankruptcy cases not related to the club.
Sampdoria are five points from the relegation zone and local rivals Genoa, and coach Roberto D’Aversa was as good as gone following their 3-1 home defeat to Lazio last weekend.
Ferrero’s lawyer Giuseppino Tenga said the 70-year-old was arrested in Milan while trying to bring Red Star Belgrade coach Dejan Stankovic to the Italian Riviera, and now a consortium fronted by Samp legend Gianluca Vialli is rumoured to again be preparing a bid for the club after a failed acquisition attempt in 2019.
Player to watch: Dusan Vlahovic
Serbia striker Vlahovic is having another great season with Fiorentina and last weekend made it 30 goals in 2021 with the decisive strike at Bologna.
The 21-year-old is level with Immobile on 13 at the top of the scoring charts and with bottom side Salernitana visiting Florence in Saturday’s early match he has every chance of taking the outright lead.
Vlahovic’s impressive total comes as his agent Darko Ristic was spotted talking with Fiorentina’s general manager Joe Barone last week, with rumours that the club will try to cash in on their star forward — who has refused to sign a contract extension — in January.
His current calendar year tally puts him alongside previous greats of the Italian top flight like Hernan Crespo and Gonzalo Higuain.
4 – the number of players under 22 who have netted 30 Serie A goals in a calendar year, including Vlahovic.
11 – number of years Milan have been waiting since 2011 to win Serie A.
Fixtures (times GMT)
Genoa v Sampdoria (1945)
Fiorentina v Salernitana (1400), Venezia v Juventus (1700), Udinese v AC Milan (1945)
Torino v Bologna (1130), Verona v Atalanta (1400), Napoli v Empoli, Sassuolo v Lazio (both 1700), Inter v Cagliari (1945)