Milan forget Barca glory for Inter showdown
AC Milan's fightback from a disastrous start to their Serie A campaign faces another stiff test Sunday when they are guests of city rivals Inter at the San Siro.
Milan's start to the season, only a few months after a runner-up finish to Juventus and just over a year after their title win in 2011, was their worst in history and left coach Massimiliano Allegri hanging onto his job by a thread.
Allegri, however, has overseen a huge change in fortunes to see his side move up to third with 13 games left and stun Barcelona 2-0 on Wednesday in the first leg of their Champions League last 16 tie.
With Juve on top, and boasting a four-point lead on Napoli, it has long been considered that either team will duel for the scudetto, especially with Milan 11 points off the pace but tied on points with Lazio (44) in fourth.
Inter, in fifth a further point adrift, have lost momentum in recent weeks and welcome a Milan side which should be brimming with confidence.
Any fears that the win against Barca would ease expectations ahead of the Inter fixture were quickly kicked into touch by Allegri.
"We can't get carried away, we have to recharge our batteries and get ready for Inter. It's another significant obstacle that we have to overcome," said Allegri after Wednesday's match.
Inter continued their progression in the Europa League on Thursday with a 3-0 away victory over Cluj for a 5-0 aggregate win over the Romanians.
Inter coach Andrea Stramaccioni's resolve was put to the test last week when he lost Argentine striker Diego Milito for the rest of the season after he suffered a serious knee injury in the first leg victory.
A humiliating 4-1 defeat for Inter away to Fiorentina then paved the way for Milan to move up to third place, and on Thursday key Inter defender Andrea Ranocchia picked up a knee niggle that could rule him out for Sunday.
Stramaccioni, however, pledged that Milan's heroics in Europe will count for nothing on Sunday.
"It's a derby match, we know that Milan are in great form, but we need to compete and we will," said Stramaccioni.
"The loss in Florence was a very bad night for us but now we go into the derby with our heads held high."
Lazio, who had fairly recently demonstrated solid title-winning credentials, now appear to be consigned to battling for a top-three Champions League place or a top-five place that would give entry to the Europa League.
On Thursday Lazio also progressed to the last 16 of Europe's second-tier competition after a 2-0 second leg win over Borussia Moenchengladbach.
They will now be glad of three days of rest and training before hoping to bounce back from a shock 3-0 reverse to Siena when they host lowly Pescara on Monday.
Juventus, meanwhile, will look to build on their lead when they host Siena in what should be billed a battle of the Bianconeri.
Both sides play in strips with vertical black and white stripes, although any similarity ends when it comes to budget and prestige.
Siena's 3-0 win over Lazio last week gave them a slight boost as they continue their bid to leave the bottom three, but, away to the 28-times champions, Giuseppe Iachini's side face a far stiffer test.
Striker Alessandro Matri, however, says Juve will be giving the visitors respect.
"It's a complicated fixture, they're in good shape both mentally and physically, they'll come here to sit back before looking to break on the counter(attack)," said Matri.
Sampdoria v Chievo (1030), Atalanta v Roma, Bologna v Fiorentina, Cagliari v Torino, Juventus v Siena, Parma v Catania (all 1300), Inter v Milan (1845)
Udinese v Napoli, Lazio v Pescara